So, as I was saying, I came to understand earlier this year that the practice of zhan zhuang was something that is hugely beneficial to my health, and that yiquan, which is based on zhan zhuang, is the martial art with which I most identify.
Neither of of these insights is particularly new, of course; I’ve been saying as much on this blog and elsewhere for some years now. However, it hadn’t been clear to me what I could do about it, as my previous study in yiquan hadn’t had any clear way to progress.
The week I spent studying with Master Yao Chengguang in July of this year, however, clarified things for me. Master Yao has established a well-thought-out curriculum, through which students can progress to instructor level. I decided it was time that I committed to that path so, in late August, I contacted Master Yao again, explained that I wanted to train until I could qualify as an instructor in his lineage, and asked to join his school.
This path was outlined in his website – which as it happens went offline in June, just before I trained at the Zongxun Wuguan! However, I have a copy. The progression is:
- Stage 1: complete the Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced courses before taking an exam.
- Stage 2: Study yiquan theory, skills, and combat training, before taking a final exam.
- Stage 3: Become a training intern for 3 months in order to obtain an instructor’s certificate.
To clarify what that means, of the 27 modules in Master Yao’s curriculum, the Elementary course covers Modules 1-4. the Intermediary covers Modules 5-16, and the Advanced is Modules 17-27.
So, having established what I was aiming for, I was able to arrange a week off work in late September and, twice a day, attended class. I don’t know that I particularly need to go into detail as it’s all pretty mundane. I went, I trained, I left. By the end of the week, I was exhausted: it’s hard work.
There was usually one other student, and sometimes up to three or four, all Chinese. We were all about the same kind of level, some a bit better, some not quite as good, but with no huge differences. What really helped was that everyone was willing to help the others, pointing out problems, and explaining the correct method. This kind of collaborative learning is incredibly helpful as far as I’m concerned, My Chinese is just good enough to get by, and of course Master Yao is accustomed to teaching foreigners, plus I have his books and DVDs, so there weren’t really any communication problems.
It’s not quite the same as when I trained here in 2008, but not dissimilar. Then, there were students living in the school; now, the living areas are being used more by Master Yao and his wife, and there are no residential students. In 2008, I felt that the school was too aggressive in its training; now, I understand that Master Yao is keeping the art of yiquan authentic, a true and practical martial art. Then, I was bothered by Master Yao and other students smoking in what is basically a poorly-ventilated basement apartment and now… yeah, that still bothers me, to be honest, though I’m far less worried about it than I was then, if only because well, a smoke-filled basement, Beijing’s pollution, same same.
Also, in that regard, that’s what the masters of Master Yao’s generation are like. I had the privilege, also in 2008, of training with baguazhang Master Sun Zhijun, who also smoked heavily during classes. Many do. Sadly, Master Sun died recently, and it’s made me realise that the older generation are passing away now. These are the last real masters; they’re the last to have been trained in the old way, the last to have made their living primarily through martial arts. This is my last opportunity to train with a living legend of martial arts, and I intend to take that opportunity.
Counting the material I covered in 2008 when I first trained with Master Yao for a month, the week I did in June, and the week I’ve just completed in September, I have completed approximately 22 to 23 of the original 27 modules, with a 28th having been added since the curriculum was originally developed. That means roughly 6 modules to finish before I’ve covered all of the material; then I’ll need to work hard to review it all before I can consider taking the test to complete Stage 1. I’m fortunate that the week in which I’m writing this is a holiday in China, so I’m able to make a solid start in reviewing things, but I have a goodly way to go before Stage 2!
My next visit will be for a week at the end of this month, October 2017. Master Yao says we’ll be focussing on tui shou – the hands-on partner work that I haven’t been able to train on my own. Crikey. If I thought the weeks in June and September were hard work, this promises to be far more so…. I’ll keep you updated…