Becoming A Seventh-Generation Disciple of Yang Lu Chan

This is the story of how three men from the US became seventh-generation disciples of Yang Lu Chan, the creator of Imperial Yang style of tai chi.

On the 25th April and until to the 5 of May, Ray Abeyta and Wolf Carter from the Texas School of Tai Chi in El Paso and Michael Paler from Colorado Springs will on the invitation of Dr. John Fung, officially a sixth-generation disciple of Imperial Yang Style will visit Beijing, to spend 10 days learning from his kung fu sister Wei XiLan the daughter of the late GM Wei Shuren. These three men will become the first Americans to be included in this particular linage of tai chi.

The story began when on the request of Ray Abeyta, Dr John Fung a 6th generation lineage holder of Imperial Yang living in Sydney Australia visited El Paso to teach a number of seminars. On seeing the dedication, skills, plus attitudes and personalities of Ray, Wolf and Michael as well as with much reflection Dr Fung decided to ask them if they would like to become disciples and join the Imperial tai chi family.

Dr John Fung’s lineage: 

Wei Shuren – Wang Yongquan – Yang Jianhou – Yang Luchan.

Yang Lu Chan
Yang Lu Chan

This in itself is a huge deal for the tai chi community in the United States as Ray and his fellow tai chi brothers are all keen to return and share their knowledge with those who attend their classes as well as further afield.

Ray said. “There are other Yang family organizations, but this is the only one considered Imperial Yang style. You have to remember originally, Yang Lu Chan was hired by the emperor to teach his guards how to fight. He was the best fighter in the land back then. That continued in Beijing, where he continued to teach people. We are going to become official disciples of this linage. Very few people are picked. I don’t deserve it, but I’ll take it. I’ve going to do my best to honour the art.”

Knowing what I do of Ray I know this to be true as he is already sharing the information he’s learned from Dr. John Fung not only to the people in his existing classes in El Paso, but also to students in Santa Fe where he teaches every three months, and also with some people up in Colorado Springs. Anywhere people want to learn, Ray will share with them.

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Wei Xinlan daughter of the late GM Wei Shuren, Dr John Fung, 6th Generation Lineage holder, Sifu Wolf Carter, Sifu Ray Abeyta, Sifu Michael Paler, 7th Generation Lineage holders.

Catching up with the group on my return to Beijing from Cebu I enjoyed listening to their stories and the whole groups enthusiasm for this rare art which is effectively what Bruce Frantzis calls Old Yang Style Taichi. An art that comes directly from Yang Lu Chan who was said to have only taught the emperor’s guard, the aristocracy and a select few disciples to a high level of excellence. The best of these students were his sons Yang Chien Hou, and Yang Pan Hou and Wu Chuan Yu from which Wu Style Taichi originates and which then subsequently led to the development of Sun Style Taichi.

Over some delicious Yunnan food we discussed taichi and martial arts related topics. Listening to John Fung and Ray I was struck by their genuine openness, kindness, knowledge and of course passion to share this fascinating art.

A delicious dinner of Yunnan food with my new friends, the day before the left Beijing.
A delicious dinner of Yunnan food with my new friends, the day before they left Beijing.

If you are ever in Sydney, Australia or Texas, USA and would like to learn more about Imperial Style Taichi. Check out the following links:

Sydney: with Dr John Fung – www.imperialtaichi.com

Texas: Ray Abyeta – Www.TexasSchoolTaiChi.com

Colorado Springs: Michael Paler – www.taichicoloradosprings.com

At http://www.studymartialarts.org we are keen to support those on their various epic martial arts journeys so please let us know if you have anything you would like to share.

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The Brilliance of the Chinese Longsword

By Jonathan Bluestein

The purpose of this very long article is to familiarize readers with a uniquely Chinese weapon – the Miao Dao. During the 20th century, this sword has been pushed out the spotlight in favour of the much more popular Dao (Broadsword), Da Dao (Huge Broadsword), Guan Dao (a staff with a huge broadsword blade at its end), and the Jian (the Chinese straight, double-edged sword). Historically-speaking however, the Miao Dao was very popular on the Chinese battlefields, and nowadays it is regaining its popularity in various martial arts communities in China, south-east Asia and the West alike. The article shall first discuss the history of the sword, later its structure and utility, and at last its training methods, usage in the martial arts and the characteristics of it in fighting.

The weapon’s history and name

mingsworddrawing1678According to my teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan, the first Miao Dao date back to about the 5th century. It emerged around the time when round hilt guards first became widespread in Chinese sword design. It was known by many names throughout history. Originally it was mostly commonly referred to as simply ‘Chang Dao’ (長刀; Longsword). Later in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1644 AD, 1644-1911 AD), it was plainly called ‘two-handed sword’. At that time, it was also commonly known as ‘Mao Dao’ (矛刀; Spear-sword). Another name for it over the centuries (beginning in the Song dynasty, 960 – 1279 AD) had been ‘Zhan Ma Dao’ (斩马刀) – Horse Cutting Sword. An appropriate name for a blade which is big, heavy and fearsome enough to cut down horses’ legs and stab them to death. This may sound archaic, but modern Miao Dao forms still feature movements which can be used for such horrendous purposes, and the weapon can be demonstrated to easily cut through the corpses of large animals (this I saw myself on Chinese documentaries, even when the cutting swords were held by only moderately-skilled individuals). The sword was also wielded by cavalrymen, and when used in that fashion it was most often utilized for stabbing (rather than hacking, cutting or slashing).

The modern name, ‘Miao Dao’ means ‘Sprout Sword’, and refers to the resemblance of a grounded sword (blade in ground and handle facing upwards) to that of some sprouts (such as sunflower sprouts). My teacher has told me that the reason the sword began to be called by this name was confusion in pronunciation, with ‘Miao Dao’ sounding similar to ‘Mao Dao’. This error persisted and the name stuck.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) there had lived a famous martial artist by the name of Cheng Chongdou (程冲斗 ; Also known as Cheng Zongyou 程宗猷). He was born around 1561 in Anhui province. He is said to have been called by a representative of the Chinese emperor to teach army troops in Tianjin when he was 62 years of age. Skilled with many weapons, he wrote a famous book about the usage of Miao Dao, titled ‘Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn’ (单刀法选) – ‘Selected (most important) Techniques of the Single Sword’. In the book are also notably featured other weapons, such as a crossbow (being carried by the soldiers as he wields the Miao Dao) and a short dagger (which is depicted as been carried passively or thrown at an opponent). The image to the left is from his book.

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In the picture: An image from Cheng Chongdou’s book, Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn. The book features a lot of illustrations of soldiers carrying crossbows, together or without a Miao Dao. As seen here, the crossbow took a whole-body effort and quite a lot of time to load, and could not have been used together with the Miao Dao. At the time, a popular tactic would have been to utilize projectile weaponry from a safe position or shelter, and resort to an all-out charge at the enemy once ammunition ran out. It is interesting that in this book, the soldiers are often both archers and infantrymen, while in European Medieval armies there would have been a greater distinction between the two fighting classes. It seems that the crossbow, being easier to shoot with than the bow, allowed for more versatility in its uses among the soldiers.

At around the same period (of Cheng Chongdou) had lived another very famous martial artist – General Qi Jiguang (November 12, 1528 – January 5, 1588). He holds a mythical position in Chinese military history and culture. During his lifetime and career, the Chinese army was busy fighting off Japanese pirates, and it is more than likely that at the time, Miao Dao and Katanas crossed blades on the battlefield. Indeed, in the 14th century painting below, dated before the time of Cheng Chongdou and Qi Jiguang,  we already see Japanese pirates (Wokou 倭寇) wielding what appears to be Katanas (this is also evident in other paintings of these pirates), and it is known that many of them were former Samurai (those who wish to read more about these pirates can do so here: http://www.nippon.com/en/features/c00101/ ). In any case, Qi Jiguang had also written a book about the Miao Dao, titled ‘Xīn Yǒu Dāo Fǎ’ (辛酉刀法). The words ‘Xīn Yǒu’ refer to the year the book was released in during the Ming dynasty (58th year of a 60 year cycle), and ‘Dāo Fǎ’ means ‘Sword Methods’. Together – ‘The Sword Methods of the 58th Year’. General Qi Jiguang also famously issued Miao Dao swords to many of his soldiers when fighting the Mongols. The Mongol front was far from that Qi Jiguang had with the Japan, which goes to shows the sword had proven much versatility in usage under different conditions and upon various terrains.

WakouAttack

In the beginning of the 20th century, master Guo Chengsheng (1866-1967) combined his extensive knowledge of Pigua Zhang (a Chinese martial art) with that he had of the Miao Dao, and created a second variation for the Miao Dao form (known as ‘Er Lu’ – Second Road), with the aid of his friend, master Ma Yingtu. Both the first (original) and second form are mostly closely associated with the techniques shown in Cheng Chongdou’s book, Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn. Here is a video of my teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan, performing the Er Lu Miao Dao form:

My gongfu has descended from Guo Chensheng’s lineage:

Cheng Chongdou, Qi Jiguang and others in ancient times >>>>>>>>>>>>>  Mr. Yang (18th century) >>>> Xie Jinfen (18-19th centuries) >>> Liu Yuchun (19th century; instructor at the Nanking Central Martial Arts Academy. Was a master of Pigua, Tongbei and Miao Dao) >>> Guo Chengsheng (1866-1967) >>>  Guo Fengming >>> Pang Zhiqi & Wang Lianhe (20thcentury) >>> Zhou Jingxuan (in the video above) >>> Jonathan Bluestein.

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In the picture: Guo Changsheng’s son, Guo Ruixiang (born 1932), himself a famous master. Note the closeness of the blade to the thigh as it passes in a circular fashion near it – a trademark of Miao Dao movements. The Guo family still manufactures and sells their own Miao Dao.

Though Guo Changsheng’s teachings of the Miao Dao had been of traditional battlefield techniques, over time his forms spread across China, with the majority of people practicing them in altered versions, adhering to the mindset and framework of modern sports Wushu. Thus, it came to be that as in the past, relatively few people still practice the Miao Dao as originally intended.

Physical appearance and design

The sword which bears the greatest similarity to the Miao Dao in design is strangely the Japanese Katana. This must be an uncomfortable piece of truth for the Chinese and Japanese, a large percentage of whom had been seriously resenting each-other (for good reasons) over the last few centuries.

Some claim that the Miao Dao is the sword that inspired the creation of the Japanese Katana. This sounds reasonable given the fact that Japan had borrowed significant portions of its culture, art, philosophies and even its entire writing system from China. However, Katanas are evidenced to have existed in Japan already countless generations ago – from at least the 14th century (The abovementioned Ming Dynasty in which the Miao Dao became commonplace, was only established in 1364). This puts into question the former claim of native Chinese influence, and it is possible that there had been cross-influences in the development of both swords. Nonetheless, it is still claimed by some that the Miao Dao influenced the creation of the Katanas before that time, perhaps even as early as the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD).

I have also encountered claims that Cheng Chongdou, author of the Miao Dao book Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn I mentioned earlier, was influenced by the Samurai school called Shin Kage Ryu (新陰流; ‘New Shadow School’), and that Qi Jiguang, author of the other Miao Dao book, Xīn Yǒu Dāo Fǎ, based his work upon a Japanese swordsmanship manual he acquired in battle. We cannot tell how much of this is true. In modern times, the body mechanics of traditional Koryu styles are extremely different to Chinese Miao Dao methods. Furthermore, the Katanas had always been shorter than the Miao Dao, and the substantial difference in both length and weight, as well as handle size, etc, makes for a very different wielding experience. Such things would be compared more thoroughly later in the article.

Another important point to consider is that Shin Kage Ryu was founded in the middle of the 16thcentury (when Qi Jiguang was already middle-aged and Cheng Chongdou was a child). This means that for this styles to have influenced any of the two, it ought to have become very influential and widespread within less than 30-40 years – so wide spread as to reach the shores of a different continent, wherein it would be used by several people and influence two major military figures in a foreign army.

While possible, this is unlikely. To add to this unlikelihood, Qi Jiguang’s book is said to have been written circa (1560) – around the time Shin Kage Ryu was founded, and at most not long afterwards. The comparisons drawn with Shin Kage Ryu seem to have been based on matching supposed similarities between written manuals, which is often a poor way to make such judgments, especially when the persons involved are self-taught on the art of sword wielding.

I was told, in confidence by a martial arts historian whom I trust, that there is in existence a decent and authentic Japanese drawing of a very (!) notable Japanese samurai, a founder of a known system, wearing Chinese armor of his period. This would be a very clear proof that Samurai warfare was influenced by Chinese methods. Unfortunately, I was sworn to refrain from revealing, in public or private, who is the person in question and what was his style, because this information has been handed out in trust and secrecy. Other records of Chinese influence over Japanese sword arts also exist.

In terms of metalworking, it is important to remember that Japan, unlike China, had always been scarce in natural resources, and especially high quality steel. This had forced Japanese swordsmiths to become more innovative in their art, and also significantly prolonged the time it took them to produce blades. These facts made the Katana a very prized weapon – the weapon of professional warriors (Samurai) and the aristocracy. Blades like the Miao Dao, on the other hand, could have been more readily made in China, and their commonality made them less valuable – financially, culturally, artistically and otherwise.

The entire cultural perception of these weapons varies significantly. This would soon be illustrated when comparing their innate structural attributes and physical form, but can already be witnessed by a keen eye in the pictures presented so far in the article. For instance – above in the first image in this article, we see a soldier throwing the sword in the air and catching it. This type of action is unheard of in Japanese Koryu arts as they are practiced today. Not to mention the fact that Miao Dao forms utilize classic stances from Chinese gong fu – Ma Bu, Gong Bu, Hou Bu, etc – which are not identical to those used in Japanese arts. With regard to the significance of the sword to its owner – the Japanese Samurai often considered the words to be ‘his soul’, and would bow to it before practice. That type of near-religious practice is not something a Chinese warrior would do. At least, it is not something the Chinese have kept in practice into modern times.

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In the picture: An image from Cheng Chongdou’s book, Dān Dāo Fǎ Xuǎn.

Historical documents teach us that Miao Dao were always fairly long – so long at times, that some varieties could not have been unsheathed single-handedly with ease when the scabbard is attached to the body, and to speed the process bearers would be aided in this action by their partner before or during combat. We see this in the picture above (though ironically, the swords featured in the image are in fact easily sheathable by a single person). At a greater length this would make sense, as the swords would be too long to be carried at the waist, and would have to be positioned on one’s back.

At that position, having a friend to do the drawing for your saves a lot of time. This was also common practice with Japanese Odachi.

Though Miao Dao lengths can vary greatly, one constant has been that they are always notably longer than most Japanese Katanas, and therefore not suitable for quick drawing and with a tendency for clumsiness at indoor fighting. Unlike the Chinese straight sword (Jian), these swords were not originally intended for dueling – they were first and foremost instruments war. This is important to remember for another reason. The Miao Dao’s greatest enemies on the battlefield were not other Miao Dao, but spears and staffs (AKA cut-off spears), because they had a significantly longer reach. The Miao Dao has the edge to cut through these weapons (and even harder objects), but that requires timing, skill and very specific angles. I shall go more into these things as the article progresses.

The length of the Miao Dao used in my lineage varies proportionally to the height and measurements of the practitioner. The handle should be anywhere between the length of one’s forearm and fist put together, and the distance between one’s elbow and the edge of the pinky finger. That is pretty long compared with a Katana’s handle, and has several purposes. First and most important, to make it easier to switch hand positions. Second, so a wider grip could be used – making for a more effective lever, and allowing for arms and shoulders to open more in movement (this is important for utilizing the structural mechanics of wielding a Miao Dao in the Pigua style). Interestingly, because the length of the handle reflects that of a person’s forearm and palm, and the grip slides along and changes all the time, training with the Miao Dao also coincidentally aids in learning to work with an opponent’s arm when empty-handed, teaching a certain type of sensitivity in this regard.

The height of the blade reflects utility of action. A characteristic Miao Dao technique which we use involves an upwards slashing with the sword, following the drawing of a large circle. To increase effectiveness and partially hide the sword from the opponent’s field of vision, the sword’s circle is drawn as close to one’s body as possible, passing very near to one’s legs (the unskilled can actually cut themselves). Given that the blade is in this sort of action almost perpendicular to the ground in the moment before the upward slashing maneuver, it ought to be short enough to avoid hitting the ground, yet long enough to maximize potential reach. For a person of modest height such as myself, at 170cm (5’7) tall this makes the length of Miao Dao most appropriate for me about 135cm (4’4).

Another member of your gongfu family, Etai, is about 196cm (6’4) tall, and his Miao Dao is proportionally longer.  Still, at the more common length of about 135cm (4’4), the Miao Dao is fairly close to the upper-end of longer Medieval Broadswords (~130cm) and is comparable with the length of traditional Claymores (120-140cm), while being smaller than most Greatswords (130-180cm).

Note that unlike their mistakenly stereotyped image, the ‘Chinese’ are not necessarily a short people at all (and respectively, their swords are not necessarily small!). Up north in Tianjin city where my teacher resides, many males exceed the height of 182cm (6’), and northwards to Tianjin people can be even bigger.

The length of the Miao Dao, though suggested as limiting at times in close quarters within walls, has of course the advantage of reach, and the latter is not limited to offense. With a shorter sword, when another weapon is aimed at one’s lower extremities, one is often forced to crouched in order to parry, or jump to avoid being hit or cut (as common in Katori Shinto Ryu). The Miao Dao is long enough to defend these parts without resorting to such methods, and the body can be used for other purposes instead (though forward leaping, as opposed to jumping in place, does exist in the practice of this sword).

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In the picture: A samurai with an Odachi.

Interestingly, the length of the Japanese Odachi (大太刀; Greatsword; also ‘O Katana’) tends to be the same as that of Miao Dao (sometimes much longer), though the former has never been nearly as popular as the Katana.   In the Heihan period (9th-12th century Japan), the Odachi were rather common, similar in length to the Miao Dao, and was likewise carried on one’s back (rather than at the waist like Katana), and often unsheafed by two people. The handle though always maintained reminiscence to the Katana, with a tight grip.

Despite the similarities in older samples, in many examples today we see that the Odachi’s blade is shorter and often more curved, and its handle longer, than those of the Miao Dao, which would call for significant changes in the way these two weapons are wielded. Both weapons were nonetheless used by cavalry. I speculate that the change in the Odachi’s design, as compared with the Miao Dao, may have been in order to save precious steel, and ease the forging process (which is challenging for extremely long swords using traditional Japanese methods). By lengthening the handle and shortening the blade, the swords still maintained its superior reach while on horseback. Also, a cavalryman has to change the reach of his weapon, but is often limited since when the horse is stationary, he cannot advance or retreat much. A longer handle, such as that of the Odachi, is useful for adjusting one’s fighting range in these conditions. The infantryman would benefit more from the Miao Dao’s design, which gives more blade at the expense of an extended hilt.

Odachi practice is very rare, but still survives among some Koryu schools in Japan. The Kôden Enshin ryu Ken-Pô school, for instace, still has people practicing with this weapon. Their Odachi is much larger than a standard Miao Dao, and its wielding appears vastly different. The length itself justify the different usage, more so than the weight, since it prevents the wielder from passing the blade close to the floor. While Miao Dao could potentially be used indoors at times, despite their clumsiness in such an environment, the Enshin ryu shinken are simply too long.

All that being said, there are Odachi which feature almost identical design to the Miao Dao. By the beginning to middle 17th century though, the Japanese governments forbade the production of blades above a certain length. From that century onwards the Odachi almost became extinct, and endured mostly as a religious artifact in various shrines as a symbolic prayer to gods for gods of war. Most of the original blades were either lost in time, purposely destroyed, or cut to length to fit the new laws.

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Japanese Odachi (from therionarms.com – a wonderful weapons shop)
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Miao Dao.
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In the picture: A classic old Chang Dao (‘longsword’). Examine the most notable differences: Existence of a large round pommel-ring. Different guard design. Handle cylindrical rather than elliptical. Blade becomes thicker towards the end. The top (unsharpened) part of the blade is thinner than in the Miao Dao.

For the Miao Dao, a greater length also equals a greater weight. It would be a mistake to simply compare the weight of two swords as it appears plainly on scales, though. It tells one nothing of their balance and handling. Most battlefield weapons, even the huge Chinese great spears, do not feel too ‘heavy’ when held in place or in one’s hands for a few moments. The weight of a weapon becomes significant only after one has trained with it for a while in a given session, and especially following its swinging with the true intent of causing harm.

A weight difference of mere 500 grams (17oz) can make for a huge difference when having to swing a weapon for a while with full force (because of the lever and momentum). This any Western Boxer knows well, as even heavy training gloves rarely weigh more than 470 grams (16oz). Katanas do not tend to exceed 900 grams (2.1lbs, 34Oz), while the Miao Dao can easily top 1400 grams (3.1lbs, 49Oz). There is therefore usually more than a 500 gram (17Oz) difference in weight between the two (comparison is for swords without the scabbard). The Japanese Odachi though can weigh as much as a Miao Dao and more.

What the Miao Dao earns in powerful momentum with its weight, it loses in agility to the swift katana. It takes much greater skill and strength to wield the Miao Dao as quickly and accurately as its Japanese counterpart. Knowing this, the Miao Dao is understandably less evasive and more confrontational, as due to its length and weight, it is more challenging for its wielder to bounce the blade around the opponent’s attacks. The latter option exists, but is favoured to a lesser degree.

Unlike its length, the general shape of Miao Dao tends to remain constant. The curve is slight, similar to classical katanas. One does not see overly-curved Miao Dao. Some Chang Dao variations exist which are completely straight. It would have been interesting to see a more curved Miao Dao, as such a novelty may come to combine the strategies of both this weapon and the Chinese Dao.

One interesting design choice for the Miao Dao is the handle material, which is most commonly mildly-smooth wood. This differs greatly from the traditional emphasis in the design of katana handles, which stresses a firm grip, with anti-sliding folds & crevices and usage of materials like leather, woven rope and dried stingray skin.

Here too we are hinted to the differing functionality of these swords. The Katana, which at its later development was mostly thought of as a dueling weapon, is meant to end a fight with one or two blows, requiring a firm grip for a single decisive action.

The Miao Dao, a battlefield weapon, assumes that if you remain alive, you would be fighting for quite some time, and would be changing your grip a lot throughout. It is also possible that in China, given that the greater part of the country does not border the ocean (more common in Japan), something like a stingray was not in the thoughts of many sword designers. But in any case, this is more of a functional choice.

Apart from the length of combat, the Chinese two-handed weapons in general tend to normally show more favour than their Japanese counterparts for a sliding of hands across the gripping surface (a preference also maintained with staffs and spears of all sizes). Our Miao Dao in particular, which is heavily influenced by staff techniques (and vice-versa), is fond of this mechanism. Too rugged a grip is therefore considered a limiting factor, and wood is a more forgiving material in this respect. Anyone who shall get a hold of a traditional, well-made Katana will feel that it is almost impossible to slide the grip like one could do with a staff, which is exactly what the makers of this sword intended. Perhaps, the grip may solve the riddle as to whether there had truly been a Japanese influence on Chinese methods. Wherein ancient Miao Dao techniques and body methods similar to what is being used today, it would have been impossible for it to have a grip like that of the Katana. The opposite is also true – if the grip was identical to that of modern Katanas, then the ancient Miao Dao could not have been used in the same fashion as it is utilized in modern times.

hilts
In the picture: Classic Katana hilt designs. All three show a favouring of a firm grip over maneuverability of the palm across the hilt. Notice the beautiful carvings intertwined with the rope. These are never found on traditional Miao Dao, even though the Chinese are no strangers to the art of miniature carving, and such wondrous items are still extremely popular in Chinese markets today.

The blunt upper section of the blade (‘Mune’ in Japanese) is often thicker than in Katanas, and sometimes rounded. This is no arbitrary choice. This part of the sword is commonly used to strike down an enemy, parry his weapon or even break it. When using the Miao Dao in this fashion, it can resemble a medium staff in its mechanics. Unlike with European swords, a pommel at the butt of the handle is uncommon nowadays (attribute shared with Katanas), but may have been more common in the past. Metal rings are sometimes present instead, but are actually detrimental to the appropriate execution of some techniques as they make the gripping of the tip of the hilt more cumbersome.

Generally speaking, the Chinese seem to have not considered their Miao Dao as fine works of art.

Most of them are plain and boring in appearance – nothing like the colorful and alluring Japanese Katanas. The Hada (grain of the blade) is most often absent. The Tsuba (hand guard) is dull and uniform, and has no holes in it or carvings on it. At most it may match in colour the butt of the sheath and that of the handle. The sheath itself is tied with a simple rope and bears little decoration, if any.

Here is not an artistic sculpting in wood and steel or the carbonized soul of the warrior. Here is found a metal instrument for the sole purpose of killing.

From the standpoint of medieval European swordsmanship, the Chinese and Japanese hand guards may seem too small or even poorly designed. But it is their size and circular shape which allows them to support well the top section of the upper gripping palm, and serve as pivoting point to lean against when maneuvering the blade. A cross-shaped guard like that of a Claymore, Greatsword or Broadsword may be more efficient in stopping an incoming blade, but offers less of a pivoting lean, and can possibly interfere with some Miao Dao techniques that require tight angular shifting of the hands and blade. It is therefore a matter of give and take – some functionality is always lost for another useful trait.

Wherein you are enjoying this article, please support its author – take a look at Shifu Bluestein’s ground-breaking book – Research of Martial Arts.

Methods of training

The Miao Dao is primarily practiced either with solo movements and combinations or with a long form. Usually, one would learn the solo drills first, then the form, and after a period of training the form diligently will also carefully practice applications with fellow students. Sparring is exceedingly dangerous to attempt, even with wooden swords. A weapon whose original purpose was to cut through horses with heavy and powerful strikes is not akin in its movements to a Kendo Shinai, which seeks to score points and is constantly probing around like a housefly looking for sugar. I am not familiar with fixed partner drills with the Miao Dao, although with wooden version is it easy to adapt the common staff and spear ‘push-hands-like’ drills to be used with this weapon.

Like other Pigua movement forms (Tau Lu), the Miao Dao form is geared towards the 1 and a half minute mark, when practiced at full speed; emphasizing solid anaerobic endurance and a very rapid pace. The form as demonstrated by master Zhou earlier in the article lasted some 65 seconds, rather than 90, since he purposely omitted a few movements along the way, and had performed it faster than most people can.

The length of this form is characteristic of Chinese martial arts, but not so of Japanese (including Samurai) arts. Its intensity reflects the needs and calling of warfare, while the shorter kata practiced in Japanese Koryu styles mirror the reality of life and death duels with swords, engaged by professionals, in which the victor is usually decided more quickly. These are of course generalizations, and there are many exceptions. However, we still see that the originators and inheritors of the arts had differing fighting concepts in mind.
Though traditionally the way to practice the Miao Dao form is at either ‘walking speed’ or as one would fight in combat (90~ seconds per repetition), I personally believe that the practitioner can greatly benefit from very slow and intentional practice. Because of my background in Xing Yi Quan, I take care to practice almost everything I know at a rate which would put the common turtle to sleep. A long form such as that used with the Miao Dao can easily be stretched to over 4 minutes. Experience has taught me that this is the best method for gaining a deeper understanding and true control of whichever movement in the martial arts one chooses to practice.

The Japanese schools have traditionally been keen on cutting practices for the testing of blades. Once, the Samurai would volunteer to cut the heads and limbs of criminals (dead or alive), or simply find a good opportunity to kill someone. Later, it became more common (to this day) that Japanese schools would test their blades against rolled-up tatami mats or bamboo – both said to mimic well the feeling and difficulty of cutting through human flesh and bone. The cutting in itself is a science in the Japanese schools, which is taught to perfection, and concerns many minute details of execution and post-cutting examination. I am not aware of similarly organized ‘testing protocols’ in the Chinese arts (or with the Miao Dao for that matter), though the Chinese would also occasionally test blades by cutting through bamboo like the Japanese (tatami mats are uncommon in China). I was informed, however, that shifu Scott M. Rodell has written a book on the subject, titled ‘A Practical Guide to Test Cutting for Historical Swordsmanship’, and perhaps he has researched the matter more thoroughly.

Characteristics of practice and application

Generally speaking, the Miao Dao is a distinctly Chinese weapon. The stances used in training and fighting are classical stances from traditional Chinese martial arts, with no exceptions. The basic frontal-cutting stance is neither Gong Bu (Bow Stance) or Ma Bu (Horse Stance), but a stance in which the most of the weight is on the rear leg. Several variations could be used. I favour Xing Yi’s San Ti stance (70% of weigh on rear leg, rear foot at 30-45 degrees, front foot pointing straight ahead). Other use Baji Quan’s 60-40 stance, with both feet on the same line and pointing at 45 degrees. When charging at full speed, the stance is often shifted into Hou Bu (Monkey Stance), with most of the weight on the front leg, and about 10% of it on the rear foot, which is either at the back or should-width apart from the other.

Why are these stances important? Because when charging with the Miao Dao, the front foot would move first, the legs would cross very close to each other, and the stepping would be springy and agile. To allow for this mechanism, which is identical to ‘Chicken Stepping’ in Xing Yi Quan (not to confuse with the same name in XinYi LiuHe Quan), the rear leg should be ‘charged’ with weight, and the front leg ‘empty’ enough to advance comfortably from a stationary position. Then when no longer stationary, it Is easier throwing the weight from leg to leg, using Hou Bu. In other words – charging instantly with the Miao Dao is difficult to do when one has a 50-50 weight distribution between the legs (Ma Bu) or when most of the weight is on the front leg and one is using a long frontal stance (Gong Bu). The same advantage is used for withdrawal of one’s leading foot and evasion when another weapon has targeted one’s front leg.

Nonetheless, from said positions, it is also common to lean the weight forward momentarily in order to increase one’s reach with the sword and be able to stab or cut a retreating or evading opponent.

This would be seen later down the article in the description of the movement ‘Dian’.

Ma Bu is also used, but primarily when the blade is transitioning and slashing from side to side with very specific techniques. I have seen practitioners on internet videos standing in ‘ma bu’ with their toes pointing sideways. That is a Karate ‘Sumo Stance’, or ‘Shiko Dachi’. A correct Ma Bu has both feet parallel. In the case of the Miao Dao, the width of this stance reflects more the needs of the moment – it is less important, in the context of the form itself, how low the stance is (though a lower Ma Bu in training is always favourable in terms of developing good skills).

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In the picture: My teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan, in a ‘ready’ stance. He is slightly leaning forward as this is a part of a demonstration for a particular technique which immediately followed.

I once read an article in which a person stated, when comparing Japanese Katana and Western Rapier fencing: “A long lunge (with a rapier) can strike a lethal hit from well outside the effective distance of a man with a long cutting sword”. This is not the case with the Miao Dao, which not only contains in its arsenal the affective combination of the Gong Bu stance and thrusting, also has the advantage of a very long handle to aid these mechanics and drive the blade well into its target. Then again, without solid prior foundations in empty-handed stance work, it would be difficult to hold a low and stable ‘lunge’ position with a weapon as heavy as this.

The Miao Dao’s blade is more flexible than it seems. It takes well to vibration, and those skilled in issuing power from a short range (cun fa jin) can use this skill to an extent with the Miao Dao. This is useful when the Miao Dao clashes and is pressed against another weapon for more than a second. Then after gaining an advantage through sensitivity, a sudden issuing of explosive power, to which is added a small circular movement, would send the opponent’s weapon flying far enough to allow an opening for stabbing, cutting or slashing. The blade can also effectively parry sideways with explosive power issued into it, and those trained with the Chinese large spear would feel at home with such a technique.

The Miao Dao in my lineage has a very close relationship with the eyebrow-level staff (Qi Mei Gun). As the name suggests, the staff is matched to the height of the practitioner’s eyebrows. In Pigua it is better known by the name of its form – Feng Mo Gun – ‘Crazy Demon Staff’. The Miao Dao is nearly as long as this staff, and the height of both is limited just to the extent of preventing them from touching the ground while rotating them next to one’s body, whilst still keeping an effective range.

The two weapons share so many similarities, that after 2 years of practicing Feng Mo Gun well (and quite a few years of practicing Xing Yi spear prior), I was able to learn and practice ‘decently’ the Miao basics and form within a single week. The mechanics are that similar.

Both staff and sword carry the ‘whipping’ flavor of Pigua into their movements. These objects may be solid, but the body which wields them is pliable and agile. It is interestingly easier to ‘whip’ with a weapon than with only one’s body, as the added weight at the edge pulls on one’s limbs, forcing the body to be thrown. Therefore, Pigua features a rare scenario in which, at least in my opinion, its weapons practice is easier and less physically demanding than its empty-handed practice. With the latter, one does not have a weight to counter the whip, so all of one’s core muscles have to work extra-hard to control the abundant momentum.

These common whipping mechanics also mean that the Miao Dao works through the Pigua principle of “a pearl in a jar”. It is said that the power manifestation in Pigua should be like the continuous flowing motion of a pearl spinning in a jar. This is a very interesting concept, which sets Pigua apart from other arts. In Taiji Quan, it can be said that one uses listening power (Ting Jin) in order to sense a weakness in the opponent’s structure. In Xing Yi Quan, the practitioner can use subtle circles, vibrations and explosive powers in order to shock the opponent and penetrate his defenses. In Aikido, one attempts to unite with the momentum of his opponent, blend with it, and then lead it. Pigua is much more violent. It is like a tornado. It generates an immense momentum, passes through the opponent, and sweeps everything it touches with big swinging, coiling attacks. The momentum keeps rolling, and this is a theme in all Pigua movements and forms, including the Miao Dao’s. With the sword in hand, the practitioner would use the added weight as a guide for his body, and follow the momentum of the sword into the next movement.

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In the pictures:  Master Ma Juxiang (马俊祥), student of Guo Ruixiang (son of Guo Changsheng), demonstrating the flowing momentum of Pigua in the Miao Dao form.

Sometimes, the Miao Dao would be extended further to slash or stab with just one arm holding it. This helps speed one’s momentum and gain some distance, and reveals an interesting aspect of Miao Dao gongfu – that it can in fact be wielded single-handedly with many of its techniques. The two-handed grip simply provides more power and stability when the sword makes contact.

In both Feng Mo Gun and Miao Dao, the hands are ‘alive’ – switching positions and places quite a lot and often. The rear of one’s palm is also used for stabilizing the handle, as well as rotating it. Because the Feng Mo Gun is a single piece of wood, the hands commonly slide along much of its length. While using the Miao Dao, the hands usually move along a much smaller cross section. The rotation of the handle often feels like rotating a volleyball in one’s hands. The handle itself is a straight line, but it is constantly drawing circle, as if it had been a bridge between two opposing sides within a ball.

These medium-sized rotations lend themselves well to people who have practiced Internal martial arts, who may find this sword’s mechanics easier to comprehend than others.

In Japnese Koryu styles, it is more common than with the Miao Dao to step off the line of attack. This works well for the Miao Dao two when fighting against a slower weapon, such a big spear.

Against smaller weapons though, while the Miao Dao can be evasive like the, it prefers a head-on collision with small circles used to divert, rather than going around the blade of the other person. This preference, which involves sticking to the opponent’s weapon, is more characteristic of Chinese martial arts, and shows Pigua’s inclination to ‘roll’ one’s momentum unto another like an overbearing wave. It is enabled by the weapon’s heavier weight and greater length, and also due to its use of sophisticated body mechanics (‘shen fa’) and the Dan Tian. Sticking to the opponent’s weapon, especially the spear, with one’s Miao Dao, is meant to reach the body while keeping the opponent ‘in check’, and preferably cutting his fingers on the way. This is demonstrated nicely in the following three images, featuring my teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan:

Page 19Tui Dao (pushing) 3Tui Dao (pushing) 4-2

Along with sticking, other characteristic techniques are sideways slashing – usually diagonal and not horizontal, and upward or downward cutting, with the weapon passing very close to one’s body and centerline. When coming up from below, this assures the opponent would have a more difficult time assessing the incoming sword’s distance and length, as it seems to be a part of your own body. Whichever technique one may use, the sword does not ‘stop’ at the target or slightly past it, buy continues with its momentum for what may be otherwise considered ‘an overkill’. This requires that the practitioner be able to recycle large-scale momentum shifts – something which Pigua’s empty-handed practice develops.

Along with sticking, other characteristic techniques are sideways slashing – usually diagonal and not horizontal, and upward or downward cutting, with the weapon passing very close to one’s body and centerline. When coming up from below, this assures the opponent would have a more difficult time assessing the incoming sword’s distance and length, as it seems to be a part of your own body. Whichever technique one may use, the sword does not ‘stop’ at the target or slightly past it, buy continues with its momentum for what may be otherwise considered ‘an overkill’. This requires that the practitioner be able to recycle large-scale momentum shifts – something which Pigua’s empty-handed practice develops.

Along with sticking, other characteristic techniques are sideways slashing – usually diagonal and not horizontal, and upward or downward cutting, with the weapon passing very close to one’s body and centerline. When coming up from below, this assures the opponent would have a more difficult time assessing the incoming sword’s distance and length, as it seems to be a part of your own body. Whichever technique one may use, the sword does not ‘stop’ at the target or slightly past it, buy continues with its momentum for what may be otherwise considered ‘an overkill’. This requires that the practitioner be able to recycle large-scale momentum shifts – something which Pigua’s empty-handed practice develops.

Along with sticking, other characteristic techniques are sideways slashing – usually diagonal and not horizontal, and upward or downward cutting, with the weapon passing very close to one’s body and centerline. When coming up from below, this assures the opponent would have a more difficult time assessing the incoming sword’s distance and length, as it seems to be a part of your own body. Whichever technique one may use, the sword does not ‘stop’ at the target or slightly past it, buy continues with its momentum for what may be otherwise considered ‘an overkill’. This requires that the practitioner be able to recycle large-scale momentum shifts – something which Pigua’s empty-handed practice develops.

Wing Chun’s notion of “the fastest way between two points is a straight line” does not apply to the Miao Dao (and neither to Pigua Zhang for that matter). This weapon excels at cutting and slashing more so than stabbing, and requires angular momentum. All of its techniques involve circles (stabbing included), which are more commonly large, and the weapon is always in a process of drawing a curve of one kind or another.

In the video:  Master Zhou is showing how Pigua ‘Gua’, or ‘Hanging power’, can be used with the Miao Dao to entangle an incoming weapon’s momentum with one’s own.

Fighting methods

It is impossible and uncalled for to specify here all of the actual methods, so I would only be writing of a few of them in order that readers could gain some perspective.

One very common technique is Dian (点). It means ‘to Dot’ – like the action of using a brush to abruptly and gracefully place a dot on a canvas while reaching from afar. It has the feeling of trying to shoot a basketball into a very far hoop, with one’s entire body and intention extending from within towards the target, sending the power through the back. The hands send a wave which travels through the spine in a very noticeable manner (unlike its more refined variation in arts like Southern Mantis, Xing Yi and Bagua). The wave snaps at the tip of the blade like a whip, with the final ‘snap’ provided for by the rear palm, which grabs the end of the handle.

Below is shown one variation of Dian, with Zhou shifu leaning his weight unto the front leg. Another variation would be to go into an empty stance (most of the weight on the rear leg) while leaning over and above. The latter variation is very reminiscent of empty-handed movements in Pigua and Tongbei.

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Another trademark Miao Dao technique is ‘Pi Dao’ (劈刀), or ‘Axing Dao’. It can at times be performed very similarly to how one would execute the same movement with a spear, though the range of motion with the Miao Dao tends to be larger. The technique calls for a forward-downward cutting, like Xing Yi’s Pi Quan. Before the chopping, one may use an upward-backward motion for deflecting and lifting up and away the opponent’s weapon (Tiao  挑), which is followed by the forward-downward cutting.

There are generally at least 4 possible ways to use this. The chopping motion can be with either the blunt or sharp side of the blade. The deflection can be without flipping the blade (which sticks to the opponent’s weapon and keeps it close), or with a fast twisting of the Miao Dao, which tends to bounce the opponent’s weapon away. It is interesting to note in this respect that the Miao Dao can be used to smack someone without killing them.

Pi Dao 1 Pi Dao 2 Pi Dao 3 (using the spine of the sword) Pi Dao 4 (using the spine of the sword)

In one online video demonstration I saw a Miao Dao wielder holding the sword with one hand, using the other hand to parry and stick to the opponent’s thrusting spear, and then stabbing with the Miao Dao. Needless to say, that person recreated his knowledge of Miao Dao wielding from books. It makes no sense to try and manipulate a spear with a hand, when you are already holding a weapon which is supposed to be sharp enough to cut through most spears, and is at the least heavy enough to slam it away, or stick to it effectively. An attempt to manipulate a spear with one hand, while the opponent is grasping it with two hands, can easily lead to the opponents sliding the spear into one’s body, or across one’s arm or palm, stabbing or cutting them in the process. The same people who had produced that video where also demonstrating techniques in which one evades the spear with the body, and then advances to strike with the Miao Dao. That in turn is a misunderstanding of Spear mechanics. The spear can be drawn back just as quickly as it was thrust forwards, and one has to keep the Miao Dao ‘checking’ the spear by being nearby to it or sticking (unless one is already very close to the opponent.

Conclusion

The Miao Dao is a sophisticated weapon in terms of the body mechanics and stepping methods utilized with it. Yet it is surprisingly straight forward and simple in its actual application, if its wielder has the skills for using it. Its brutality and decisive nature in action make the finesse and lightness of the Chinese straight sword blush in their relative femininity; its strength and expansive cuts put fear in the hearts of those who stand before it – even when these are merely students of a friendly teacher in a cooperative setting. It provides a very interesting counter-balance to the school of thought in European swordsmanship, and embodies in it much of the cultural and physical traits of Chinese martial arts. Its practice is a blessing, for it hones the senses, improves one’s perception of combat, aids in developing a truly whipping body and limbs, and is overall a delight and much fun to play with. May the chance come upon you, do not miss training with this exceptional instrument of warfare past, which had made a great impact on China’s martial history.

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Wherein you liked this article, please support its author –  take a look at shifu Bluestein’s ground-breaking book – Research of Martial Arts.

Shifu Jonathan Bluestein is the head of the Tianjin Martial Arts Academy, and teaches Xing Yi Quan and Pigua Zhang in Israel. He is also a martial arts author and researcher. His list of published articles, most available for free reading with links (and on this blog), can be found at the following link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jonathan.bluestein#Articles_I_published_outside_of_Wikipedia_.28On_Martial_Arts.29

If you liked this article, please ‘like’ the page of shifu Bluestein’s school on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/tianjinacademy

For those interested in studying Miao Dao from a qualified teacher, do visit the official website of Shifu Bluestein’s instructor, Master Zhou Jingxuan:  http://swz.weebly.com

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All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan may be contacted directly via email:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com .

The Best Pictures from the 2015 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Every year, in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, the city of Harbin hosts the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, featuring massive ice and snow sculptures. At night, the sculptures are colorfully illuminated and visitors can climb and play on some of the structures. The festival officially opened on January 5 this year, and will ran through until the 5 February. The winter festival draws several million tourists each year, from China and from abroad. All brave -10 degrees celsius  or more freezing temperatures to enjoy the atmosphere and fun.

Here are a selection of the best pictures from this years 2015 festival.

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Tickets for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival and the Ice and Snow World in 2015 are sold according to two time periods: a.m. and p.m. Afternoon tickets seem better value for money (if staying over 6 hours), but few stay for the full nine hours in the cold. Children under 1.2 meters go free.

Morning Tickets (9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.)

  • Adults: 150 yuan (25 USD)
  • Children (above 1.2 meters accompanied by an adult): 120 yuan (20 USD)

Afternoon and Evening Tickets (12:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.)

  • Adults: 300 yuan (49 USD)
  • Children (above 1.2 meters accompanied an adult): 160 yuan (26 USD)

Harbin and the ice festival, definitely offer the opportunity for a winter break with a difference.

 

 

 

10 Mistakes Foreign Martial Arts Students Make in China

China awaits! The Great Wall; steamed dumplings, Shaolin monks and Qingdao beer. Already your mind is racing with wild expectations. However, before you leave home, remember this is a chance to immerse yourself in a strange new culture. This is not just any trip. This is a journey! By Studying Martial Arts you will interact with local communities more deeply than a traveler passing through.

Whether you experience a culture shock or not, there will be moments when you realize you’re doing something “wrong”. It might be small things like explaining you’re learning to sleep (Shuìjiào) instead of Chinese Wrestling (Shuāijiāo) or raising your glass higher than your elders when toasting. Then of course there are the obvious blunders like behaving like an ass on weekends away from your kung fu school or incessantly bitching about the fact things aren’t the same as they are back home.

China is a country made up of 22 provinces and 56 ethnic minority groups many of which have very different cultures, languages, dialects, customs and peoples. It has a population equivalent to the population of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and all of Western Europe combined. Its bigger than an entire continent, so its not surprising that its developed differently to other counties you may be more accustomed to.

Each  province and city will have its own speciality that you’ll learn along the way. You’ll make mistakes and discoveries but its all part of learning, but there are some no-no’s that foreigners before you have commonly committed. Learn from their blunders and avoid these common mistakes made by foreign martial arts students who head of to study martial arts in China month after month, year after year.

1. Not making the most of National Holidays and Weekends

In order to make the most of your weekends and time off from training you’ll need to put a plan together. Spending a little time at the local bathing center on the weekend can be a welcome treat allowing the body rest and recuperation. However, there is a distinct difference between the mighty Roman gladiator and spending hours plodding around in the dark like the walking dead.

If you want to sight see or travel, tickets need to be purchased in advance, planning and preparation is the key. As will be your willingness to travel alongside millions of other travelers. Last years golden week saw half a billion Chinese make various trips and journeys. That’s a lot of pot noodles and chicken feet, so don’t underestimate the need to plan ahead. The Travel China Guide has always been very helpful for trip planning and site seeing information. Here you’ll find The Chinese Public Holiday Calendar for 2015-2017.  

 “Last years golden week saw half a billion Chinese make various trips and journeys”

One of the best things about the school consultation offered through Study Martial Arts is the travel advice and support you can get. It will help you get the most out of sight seeing opportunities both near and far. Plus its all good stuff and FREE for SMA members and those who have booked their experience through StudyMartialArts.Org.

2. Assuming You Can’t Get By on the Basics

Does everyone speak English? No. Do a lot? Yes. The number of English language learners in China has risen over the past decade. In tourist areas and capitals, its easier to find English speakers, but you shouldn’t expect it. Being open friendly, smiling, and using gestures as well as interesting ways to get your message across in a friendly way will do wonders for you. When I first arrived in China many of my friends who had much more experience speaking the language than me would be amazed at how well I would do with the most basic of Chinese. The only difference was my playful disposition and imagination. 9 out of 10 times I would not only get what I wanted but often get much more in return. This ranged from free lifts, meals, KTV invites and of course lasting friendships. Treat English like a welcome surprise, if you find it be happy, but if you don’t remember there was no promise it would be given to you anyway. Remember not to make your martial arts adventure in China a duplicate of your life in Europe or the USA etc.

At the sometime don’t assume no one speaks English either. There are approximately 400 million English learners in China so it shouldn’t be used as a language to insult people stealthily. English comprehension is often much higher than speaking ability due to shyness and how the language is taught.

If you want to get a head start on your language learning the SMA Welcome pack offers students who book through StudyMartialArts.Org $400 usd worth of language learning and martial arts materials pre-trip all at no cost!

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3. Drinking the Wrong Way

You owe it to yourself not to be the drunken foreigner and more importantly the wrong type of drunken foreigner and let yourself down. Remember the purpose of your journey. Heavy drinking won’t help you reach your aims and objectives and may cause you, your hosts or school and Shifu to loose face (embarrassment).

Drinking in China and smoking is common place. With cheap alcohol and cigarettes everywhere, this is not the best place to run away to if you want to change these bad habits. This must start at home.

Most social drinking in China is primarily associated with eating. Most drinking takes place around the dinner table and meals as a way to cement relationships and do business. As a topic this subject could easily have its own blog entry but that will be a story for another day.

Here are my top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China in brief.

1. Showing respect when drinking is probably one of the first things someone will explain to you. When drinking tea or when drinking alcohol with a superior clink your cup/glass lower. Its super simple and easy to remember. But its much appreciated by your elders, fellow guests, shifu’s. The rest of the customs and rules need not be learnt straight away and are things you’ll pick up on or learn as you go. As a foreigner you’ll not be expected to know them or everything.

2. When inviting or being invited out for dinner or meals in China. The standard rule of thumb is usually the inviter pays unless stated otherwise.

3. When drinking follow the lead of others at the table in terms of speed quantity and times. Whatever you do avoid mixing baijiu and beer. You should remember drinking in China can start very slowly but once the individual toasting starts it can be rapid and all those small cups will start catching up on you especially if you’ve insisted on drinking out of turn.

4. If you don’t want to drink have an excuse prepared in advance or warn your host of this. Excuses related to health tend to be the best. Having tried many over the years these where best received by hosts and guests. If you’re not going to be drinking much but still want to show respect have tea ready in your cup and don’t empty the cup (ganbie) just drink as you wish (suiyi).

5. Eat, eat and eat. Show appreciation and be a good guest.

4. Failing to Address People Properly 

In China much of how you address or interact with someone will depend on your relationship to that person. Just like the rituals associated with drinking and food, failing to address people properly can be a hinderance to building good relationships, gaining favor or simply getting the information you desire. The physiological fact is that when you start calling people auntie, uncle, brother or sister you should in most cases have the inclination to treating each other better and like family. This is good news if you join a good kung fu family.

Here are the most common ways to address people that are not directly related to blood relationships and can be applied generally.

Auntie (阿姨 a-yi) given to any woman around the age of your own mother.

Uncle  (叔叔 shush) given to any man around the age of your own father.

Big brother ( 大哥 da-ge) given to any male older than you.

Little brother ( 弟弟 di-di) given to any male younger than you.

Big sister (大姐 da-jie) given to any female older than you.

Little sister (小妹 xiao-mei/妹妹mei-mei) given to any female younger than you.

Grandma (老奶奶 lao- nainai/老婆婆lao-popo) given to any female around the age of your own grandmother.

Grandpa (老爷爷lao-yeye/ 老公公lao-gonggong) given to any male around the age of your own grandpa

Teacher

老師 老师 lǎoshī Teacher “Laoshi” may sometimes be used as a polite reference to a more highly educated person, who may not necessarily be a teacher.

Master

師父 师父 shīfù Master See Sifu for further information.
師傅 (skilled worker) 师 傅 shīfù Master See Sifu for further information.

Driver (司机si ji) General term for a taxi or bus driver.

Buddy (哥们儿ge men er) A term used between men when being friendly

Beautiful girl (美女mei nv) Often used when addressing young women who work in the service industry.

Mr (先生xian sheng)

Ms (小姐xiao jie)

Mrs (女士nv shi)

Thankfully the general terms above is likely to more than enough to help you get by day to day. If however, you’d like to learn more you can watch this short video highlighting the staggering amount of different words for family members in China.

5. Not Making the Most out of China’s Vast Bus & Train Network

China has an abundance of travel options for the intrepid martial arts traveller. From low budget airfares to high speed trains, bus services and slow trains.

Chinese-conductors-007

Elong and Ctrip are two of the best airline ticketing companies in China. Both companies handle domestic and international flights and their websites are easy to use. Often it’s going to be worth comparing domestic flight prices with high speed train tickets as they are pretty competitive in comparison to the high speed trains. The cheapest way to travel is normally by long distant bus and depending on the journey can often be faster than long distant trains.

“If you want to buy a ticket travel or book into a hotel you’ll need your passport.”

If you do choose to travel by train you can easily pick up tickets from one of the many ticket offices near stations or dotted around cities. Simply search online for information and go prepared with train numbers, dates and useful phrases.

Traveling overnight by train can be both fun and enjoyable. If you’ve got money to spend go for the soft sleeper. Soft sleepers are (4 birth cabins) and idea in a group of 4. If their are non available or you are on a budget then the hard sleeper will do (6 birth cabin).

Seated or standing options for long journeys is something you’ll want to avoid. It will be an experience but it usually doesn’t make for a fun journey. If you’ve no other choice and there are no tickets left you can often ask to be upgraded. So use your relationship building skills with the conductors and service staff to gain favor.

As an alternative when no seats are available the dinning car can offer some welcome rest, however you will be obliged to buy overpriced food and drink throughout the journey if you wish to remain in the seat.

The last option of course is to bring your own stool and tea flask like the seasoned local traveler you are becoming. NOTE: Definitely bring your tea and flask. 

For both trains and buses you should plan to be at the stations 30-40 minutes before they leave. With stations being so big , walking time, confusion and queues mean you’re likely to miss the train if you cut it too fine. Most importantly, if you want to buy a ticket travel or book into a hotel you’ll need your passport.

Here’s a more in-depth article on all you need to know about buying and using train and bus tickets in China.

6. Not Making the Most out of the Cheap Internal Flights 

China has two great, reliable budget air travel companies. These are Ctrip and elong. Both have English website versions and don’t charge foreigner site users more for flight purchases. The only downside is that they no-longer offer their cash and delivery service, purchases must now be made by credit card.

So plan your internal flights ahead of time. Check for deals and book well in advance of Chinese holidays. If you follow these rules it could be that flying will be very competitive in comparison to purchasing train tickets when you consider the potential time you might lose during transit, money spent while traveling and of course the convenience of plane travel.

7. Clinging to Western Comforts and Society as well as Westerners themselves and Not Embracing your New Found Freedom. 

Martial arts students in China have a much wider range of opportunity than tourists. You not only have a real chance to experience another culture. You have a chance to leave any previous cultural trappings and personal baggage behind you and start afresh. Affectively, you can drop out of both western and the modern Chinese rat race and return to a simpler way of life without the negative influences of celebrity, trash tv, news or politics. After all you are paying for the opportunity to live a unique way of life and train. Don’t waste that opportunity by hanging out every rest period online or by spending time with westerners who are a negative influence, simply because they are western and familiar.

Tourists come to China to see the sites, but you are a martial arts student. You have specifically come to learn kung fu in China! You have signed up to experience a way of life that allows you the space and time to train martial arts day in day out. One of the side benefits of this training is that you will be able to find the space and time to breath literally and metaphorically. You can’t do this if you seek every trapping and convenience from the West that you left behind.

Studying martial arts in China offers you a much wider range of opportunity than many other potential activity. You can discover not only the real China but more importantly the real you. Don’t waste this by clinging to familiar crutches.

“StudyMartialArts.Org will even pay their SMA students for articles.”

Whether your reasons for coming to China have been to study martial arts or simply for travel and adventure. The fact you decided to become a martial arts student changed all that. Your focus for the time you are at the school should be mastery and reaching new levels of skill, whatever they maybe. This is the reason you became a student, not making training your priority defeats the purpose and is annoying to the students who are doing just that. Your behavior has the potential to be either positive or negative. Students with a lack of discipline or demonstrating a lack of effort aren’t likely to be warmly welcomed. So if you’re not truly dedicated get ready to get the cold shoulder from the long-term students in your class. Skill level is not as important as attitude.

In short.

1. Focus on your training nothing else matters. It’s your priority now, so train hard and be honest with yourself.

2. Drop negative influences and old crutches.

3. Don’t spend longer than you have to on Facebook or social networks. Keep it to an hour or two max and at the weekend.

4. Leave news, politics, opinions and celebrity to others. Drop all negative influences and only keep what is essential.

5. Pick up a good book, you know the ones you’ve been planning to read and never have. Begin studying and focus on your own mind, body and spirit.

6. If you feel inspired write and journal your progress. This will allow you to keep track of your progress and your discoveries. If what you’re writing is good and you have a story to tell www.StudyMartialArts.Org will even pay their SMA students for articles! 

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 8. Not Practicing Your Foreign Language Skills

Maybe part of the experience for you is learning the language. You’ve spent months in preparation using the free language learning resources from SMA or you’re taking classes for Studying Chinese and preparation to actually use it, but now you hear it everywhere you’re too intimidated to use it. The biggest mistake would be letting all the work go to waste because you’re shy. Another big mistake would be thinking that the Chinese language classes at the kung fu schools will be of any real help. Usually, these classes offer a token introduction and are not structured. The quality is generally low and is interrupted by new arrivals. My advice is to make the most out of the SMA language resources. SMA provides language learning materials for our students that actually work. Some are free and some we will order in advance of your arrival at the school. Which means that when you arrive you will have a HKS (Official Hanban language learning materials). These include a text book, workbook and accompanying audio CD’s. Here is the StudyMartialArts.Org list of Kung fu Schools and Universities in China that actually can provide students a  quality martial arts and Chinese language learning experience. 

If you’re in a country where the language interests you, you are in the most ideal classroom and take full advantage of it. Whether it feels scary or not, take every opportunity to practice. Here are 5 Hacks for Learning a Language Abroad, even eavesdropping on stranger’s conversations is an opportunity to learn something new and test your language skills!

9. Forgetting the RMB has a Value 

Sound strange? Think again. As a previous long term martial arts student and now resident I have to admit I get tired of having to haggle. However, this is unavoidable, therefore it’s important to know the value of your money and what things cost not in comparison to your respective country but in terms of the cost in China. When fresh faced martial arts students arrive at a kung fu school your first job when outside the school will be paying for things and learning the subtleties of a good haggle.  If you’ve got the right attitude your fellow kung fu brothers and sisters at the school will help keep you right.

Foreigners in China getting ripped off or paying over the odds for things is not a new phoneme. Don’t reenforce that through ignorance or lack of care, after all you may have lots of money or might only be there for a short time but others at the school will be there for longer and on budgets. Don’t make that harder for them by allowing yourself to be taken for a ride or paying silly prices for essential items in and around the school.

10. Handing Over Responsibility for Your Own Learning

Ultimately you must be mature enough to take responsibility for your own learning, development and progression. Yes you are paying tuition and you will be taught, however without hard work (kung fu) you will get little in return. The most important aspects of any martial art training is in the development of the foundation. The bitter pill of training, overcoming pain, repetition and boredom through persistence. This is up to you and can’t be put on anyone else.

“The most important aspect of any martial arts training is in the  development of the foundation”.

If you’ve decided to study martial arts in China, you will make a few mistakes. Don’t let this scare you off though. Instead, remember you chose this journey for a reason, and make sure to take full advantage of the opportunities. Immerse yourself in your study and the experience and grow with each mistake.

When you do mess up, you might not know why right away, so ask your martial brothers and sisters, locals or friends and when you look back, you’ll probably laugh when you remember the wrong things you said or did!

It’s not about how many times you fall its about how many times you dust yourself off and pick yourself up!

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Etiquette for visiting Buddhist Temples

SMA bloggers

When traveling to Buddhist temples why not prepare yourself and learn about Buddhist temple etiquette?

While traveling its important to be respectful of other cultures and traditions. Being, humble and modest were travel is part of the journey to greater levels of awareness. We hope this information will be helpful to any www.StudyMartialArts.Org students wishing to pay their respects at the Shaolin Temple or any other Buddhist Temple they may visit on there journey.

Below are some top tips.

Buddhist temples

  • Take off your shoes and hats before entering. There will almost always be a sign outside of the temple pointing visitors to the designated area for shoes and hats. The many pairs of visitors’ shoes clumped together will tip you off.
  • Cover your shoulders. Since it gets very hot in Asian countries during the summer, many tourists forget to cover their shoulders and legs before entering places…

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11 Things Your Jiu Jitsu Instructor Won’t Tell You

Bunch of Manly Stuff

Instructors are instructors…they’re professional, they teach, they’ll give you attention and hope for the best.  Jiu jitsu instructors are no different…they teach, they’ll give attention and like any other teacher, they’ll get frustrated at times.  We are after all, human.  While I’m absolutely in love with jiu jitsu (shoo-shizzu if you prefer) and love being around my students, sometimes I’m just not in the mood to roll, teach or learn.  That being said, I asked 10 different BJJ instructors from different clubs and different skill levels to tell me things that they normally wouldn’t tell their students (or teachers).  While no disrespect intended on my beloved art, and on the promise of anonymity, here are the top-10 things your jiu jitsu instructor won’t tell you:

DISCLAIMER: These are quotes from various instructors from various gyms with minor adjustments (such as “we” instead of “I”) made for the flow of the article that has been…

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An Ode to the Bully

imageBeware the bully, his shoulders held high,

See how his chest puffs, his gaze holds your eye

Note now the lopsided lope of his stride,

Observe affectations that betray his pride.

He paces his habitat, the Friday night pub,

As he searches for victims amongst the hubbub

The shy the fearful, the innocent or weak

The wealthy the happy, the loner the freak

His gaze flits to and his gaze flits fro,

Scanning the crowds for that tell-tale show

He watches for clues, for evidence to stack

Until he finds the pup that strays from the pack

Predators, you see, never like their prey

To be tricky to taste, or to have to pay

With their own blood for their evening meal

Preferring instead to trick, trap or to steal

“For what good is a feast,” they seem to say,

“If it’s so hard earned as to spoil my day.

Or end my days or cause on me

The pain and suffering I intended to thee.”

And so they wait, and pick and choose,

Until they find a victim whose

Attention is spent on a phone or a book,

Too busy with text to take time to look

Above and beyond their own personal space,

Into the crowd for an unfriendly face

Or who’s defences are downed by a whisky too many,

As they stumbles alone off to ‘spend a penny’.

Or those who through their signals alone,

Declare their fear of the dark, the wide unknown

Or perhaps those whose bodily cues seem to say

That they don’t present a risky buffet.

The fidget, the hunch, the averted eye,

The mumbled words, the timid reply.

For the lost and the lonely, they serve such a rich

Juicy and succulent victim sandwich

image

But all this grand strategy, this plan of attack

Do little more than to point to the crack

In his armour, the chink, the fatal flaw,

The Achilles heel, the open back door.

The bully you see doesn’t like it when

The fox’s tail gets pecked by the hen

So more often than not the medicine, the cure,

Is little more than a good punch in the jaw.

The Art of Expressing the Human Body

SMA bloggers

Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do: A Philosophy of Physical Self-Perfection

by David Quigley

It is a safe assumption that almost everyone has heard of Bruce Lee.  He was and remains arguably the most famous Asian-American star in the history of film (sorry, Jackie Chan).  And anyone who has seen any of his films cannot help but notice his amazing physique, speed, agility, and flexibility.  However, what a lot of people do not realize – especially those outside the martial arts world – is that Bruce Lee was a philosopher obsessed with fitness, or what he called, the art of expressing the human body.  Indeed, Bruce Lee was a philosopher in every aspect of his life, and focused a lot of his writings on honest self-expression and self-perfection.  Even the martial art he developed, Jeet Kune Do (or, the Way of the Intercepting Fist), is in itself a philosophy.

Bruce lee Hd Wallpapers_8

JKD is not…

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Ouch.

image

Is it just me, or does anybody else out there associate colours with different days of the week?  Here’s how it goes for me: Monday is blue, Tuesday is kind of light grey, Wednesday is a decent orange – but not as bright as an actual orange, Thursday is dark brown, Friday is black, Saturday is white, and Sunday is kind of a ruddy red.

I don’t know why, but it’s been that way since school. Probably it was imprinted on me when I learnt them on colour-coded flash-cards, and everyone else in my class has the same associations whilst those down the corridor, with a different teacher, have different colours, or stripes, or cartoon animals.

So much of our world isn’t actually what’s really there, but a dangerous cocktail of our expectations and interpretation of reality.  We take input from our sensory organs, send it to the brain, and the brain decides what the most sensible interpretation should be.  We all carry our own little versions of the Matrix in our heads, telling us what’s happening and what’s probably going to happen next.

Take pain, for example.  I mean all it is, really, is your brain telling you something’s happening.  It takes an electrical signal, makes a decision that that thing is unadvisable or unwanted, and provides you with a cheery little warning.   Really, it’s the same signal that tells you you’re being stroked, or tickled, or gives you that random itch on the one occasion when you can’t reach your nose – just a little louder.

In fact if you want to find out which bits of you hurt and which bits of you don’t without going through the trauma of stabbing yourself all over with a compass*, tickling can be a useful (and if you bring a friend perhaps fun) alternative.  If it tickles, there’s a cluster of nerve endings.  If there’s a cluster of nerve endings, it’ll hurt more than a bit that doesn’t tickle.

There is, of course, a reason for this – nerve endings are clustered around areas of the body that need to be protected, to give the best possible early warning that they’re threatened.  Which is why you must escape a tickle.  And why palms, feet, belly neck and armpits are classic areas of child torture and cruelty for fathers everywhere.

But it’s not real, you know.  It’s the matrix.  And like Keano, you can break it if you know how.  You can manipulate that mix of expectation and interpretation and turn it into your best weapon.  I’m not talking about how to hit the bits that hurt, though.  That rarely works, particularly in the middle of an adrenaline fuelled, alcohol filled fight.  After all most fights include one of those things, probably both, and both are pretty effective pain-killers.

No, I’m talking about manipulating the pain response, the interpretation of pain signals, and using it as a disruption to turn things in your favour.  Playing your opponent on a string like a puppet master, if you will.  And so, without further ado, I bring you How Not to Get Hit’s patented three rules of pain.

imageOne – the brain can only process (give or take) seven things at any one time.  If you provide more than seven signals, or stimuli, when defending yourself (a series of relatively hard & committed strikes, slaps, or pushes will do) to as many targets as you can get to, it will become increasingly hard for your opponent to respond.  Anyone out there who grew up on eighties Manga, think the seven finger exploding heart technique from Fist of the North Star.  But manage your expectations – no hearts will explode in the execution of this technique.  What will happen though, if each strike is hard enough to send a disruption signal to the brain or is aimed at an area where this disruption signal is hard-wired (like the eyes, groin or throat), is that the attacker will find all the distractions a confusing fog of movement and will likely become less responsive to a) one big mother sucker punch to get them the hell off you and / or b) a hardy shove on the chest, away and slightly downward to break posture, create distance, and get out of there.

Two – the anticipation of pain is worse than the pain itself.  If you can get your attacker to fear pain, then it is likely their will to fight will be reduced in proportion with their belief in their ability to win without injury.  Your ability to fight will, in turn, increase with your belief in your ability to win.  To continue my eighties film analogy, this is the bit where they found the glowing green blood on a leaf in Predator: “If it bleeds, we can kill it”.

Now this can be tricky, since as we mentioned earlier the first thing to go when the adrenaline (or vodka) kicks in is pain sensation.  So instead of going for pain, go for the areas of the body which pain was designed to protect, the vital areas.  Attack the eyes, the throat, the plexus, kneecaps, groin, feet and hands.  Areas of high sensitivity, and areas that the body is hard-wired to protect.  Get a good shot in one of these areas and watch the pain cut through, as the bring tries to protect something it actually needs to survive this fight in the first place.

Also, threaten pain.  Now if he’s attacking you, waving your fist ain’t gonna cut it – we’ve already established that in his assessment of you he’s seen nothing he finds particularly scary.  However if you introduce something that will trigger that response, then the stakes are changed.  Normally I wouldn’t be the one to encourage a weapon since pulling a knife is actually a pretty good predictor that you, yourself, are going to get stabbed.  However if your life is in danger, then picking up something that your attacker fears will do them damage, and waving it about, can be a pretty effective means of halting an attack as self-preservation kicks in.  What’s around you – any ash-trays, chairs or bits of wood?  Get creative; I once saw a kid pick up a bicycle and wave it at his attacker – who stopped, perhaps out of confusion more than anything else.

Three – pain is worse than the anticipation of pain, if it’s unpredictable.  Fear of the unknown is our most powerful, and debilitating fear.  Apart from giant hairy spiders and, for some reason, the witch from the Moomins.  Or is that just me (last obscure 80’s TV reference, I promise).

Now, for the record, we’re getting more into control & restraint territory here than self-defence so if you’re just reading for personal safety purposes, you can skip this bit as it really isn’t relevant.  Still with me?  OK.

Now, what bugs me a lot in martial arts, is when somebody gets a good lock then uses it as an opportunity to test out their newest pressure points.  It’s normally junior grades who do this, as soon enough one finds out the hard way that the quickest way to get a badger to furiously break out of a cage is to poke it with a stick.

However in the process of manipulation, control and restraint giving someone a reason to expect a certain pain from a certain direction is very effective at reducing their resistance to pain from another.  Think of it as an attack on a castle.  You move all your forces to repel an attack on the East wing, which leaves you wide open when the sneaky force advancing behind uprooted trees to breach the West wing (Shakespeare reference that one – pat yourself on the back if you got it).  Get half a lock on, make a big show of a kick or a punch being brewed up in eyeshot, then get a sneaky one in out of their line of site from the other side in a wizardly example of misdirection.  You’ll find it a very effective way of breaking resistance, creating confusion and controlling direction.

So there you have it.  How Not to Get Hit’s introduction to pain.  I’ve barely touched the surface here really, you could fill a whole book with this stuff but at least here, with a bit of though, play and practice, you’ll find something that comes in handy one day.  Whatever colour, or pattern, or cartoon animal, you personally feel that day to be.

*You know, like you did at school to your friends in maths class.  A friend of mine, John, once was asked by another friend, Andre, if he could stab him in the hand with a compass.  Expecting a playful poke, he unwisely agreed.  What he was not expecting was for Andre to suddenly grab his write, pin his hand to the table, raise his compass high above his head like a talisman, and bring it down with all his might**.  It got noisy.  To the best of my knowledge he still can’t wiggle his little finger.

**He should have – this is a guy who once threw a wheely-bin through a classroom window, and took a box of Rice Crispies onto the school bus only to, in turn, throw them at people and shove them up his nose screaming “set the crispy bits free!” at the top of his voice.  Unpredictable, is what I’m saying.

Why The Modern World Is Bad For Your Brain And What Shaolin Monks Do About It

shifuyanlei

yellow mt3-00085 Most of us love our smart phones. I use mine all the time to keep in touch with my family in China. But the constant multi-tasking of texting, emailing, social media and apps is over stimulating our brain and increasing the production of the stress hormone cortisol according to Neuroscientist, Daniel J Levitin, who has written a new book about his findings. So does this mean we have to throw away our smart phones? At The Shaolin Temple we tread the middle way, using Zen techniques to keep us tranquil and focused while still being a part of the modern world. Here I share with you seven Shaolin tips to help you stay calm in a crazy world IMG_0815

  1. Take Small Regular Vacations  Turn your mobile phone to aeroplane mode or switch it off completely two hours before you go to sleep. The same goes for when you workout…

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