LaoMa talks to Dragon Yawn about his beginnings

A few weeks ago we posted the first installment of Dragon Yawn with LaoMa. Today we are posting the second interview. This one is a bit longer, so we’ve included a quick list of topics covered and short cuts at the bottom of this blog post.

As many of you know, LaoMa is known to jump around in topics a little bit, so take the time to listen through all his stories in this episode! Please be forgiving on the start times for each of the listed topics - you may come into the conversation a little early or late to the topic but you’ll be in the general vicinity if you click on the link.

However, it is best listened too in the proper order here!!

Dragon Yawn talks to LaoMa

Many of you will remember our close friends Tactical KungFu and MMA in Durham. We held classes there for a few years and made close friends we cherish!

Michael has started a great video series named Dragon Yawn in which he interviews local martial artists and talks on various other subject. And he’s snagged LaoMa into that web!

We’re excited to present the ‘teaser’ version of Dragon Yawn’s stories with LaoMa. This video is a little rough because it was meant to be a test run of the equipment. However, as his students will know, once LaoMa starts, he can talk for a while. It’s interesting stuff - as would be expected - so instead of letting the start of the story of his journey to China fall away, Michael has posted this rough cut of the interview.

We are looking forward to many more stories and laughs coming our way through this collaboration with TKFMMA and Dragon Yawn!

Feel free to use the “Comment” link below to leave thoughts or suggestions of favorite stories we can ask him to recount in future episodes.

Chinese farmer gone live!

The New Yorker recently had an article about a small farmer who put a visual taste of her live online daily. It is a fascinating look into contemporary Chinese life interacting and being changed by the internet. My how things have changed from LaoMa’s time in China! We can see things moving forward before our eyes!

The stream is also a good challenge for students to practice finding characters in a dictionary. We often talk about how you need both the character and the pinyin to find an English translation in a dictionary. This resource gives us a taste of the reverse. You are given the pinyin and an
English translation - providing you with the challenge of using those two to find the character!

Here’s a taste of the first bit of the article. Click on the picture or HERE to read the whole story.

Three years ago, Liu Mama was an unremarkable middle-aged farmer from the Dongbei region, in northeastern China. Then she started presenting her life on the social-media platform Kuaishou. Liu Mama’s son-in-law, who would later assume the role of her trusty cameraman, introduced her to the live-streaming craze, and they decided to try it out, for laughs. The first videos, each less than a minute long, show Liu, short and squat, black hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, dressed in a red mian ao (a cotton-padded jacket)—the archetype of the good farmer’s housewife—sitting at the kitchen table. She’s chewing on pork ribs and fish heads while composing crude rhymes about the glories of rural life. “Chowin’ on a pork bone / mouth covered in oil / Bringin’ me good luck / two years on,” she hollers between bites.

YeYe’s 91st Birthday Celebration!  Part II:  After Banquet Group Photo Studio Portraits!

In our last Blog about YeYe’s 91st Celebration (before the intervening video of my 77th!), I tried to recreate and outline my memory of the banquet and my first realization of the status I had been given as Ding Hongkui’s, “Di Yi Waiguoren Xuesheng,” or “First Foreign Student.”  But an added surprise was still in store for me, although most of the other participants were all aware of this added and anticipated treat.

A riotous midnight parade from the 4th floor banquet hall down into the eerily deserted and winding, narrow, completely empty streets of what would be called Wuchang’s “downtown” to arrive in mass at an ancient high ceiling photography establishment’s entrance display room and on into large portrait studios in the rear, where we were to be arranged, more or less herded, onto a bleacher style seating platform.

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My reference above to a “riotous parade,” and “more or less herded” is a reference to the amount of alcohol consumed that night at the banquet feast.  This was one tight, happy bunch by the time the banquet ended and we stumbled out and down the streets to the photography studio.  Maotai (also the name of a village or area of southwest China where maotai, the alcoholic beverage comes from), a fiery concoction of distilled sorghum, is just one hell of a sledgehammer drink, but food must be consumed along with it or psychotic reactions are the norm.  Baijiu (White Devil) a category of clear liquors of which Maotai is member.  Chinese feel that the food cushions the alcohol effect.  Drinking this stuff with food slow the effects, otherwise just maotai by itself will fry the brain!  More on this as we continue.

Photography portrait studios were common enough in small town America before and during WWII, we’ve all got wedding pictures of our parents or grandparents taken in them, but they were long gone by the mid 1980’s.  So, it really was a deja vu experience to enter this establishment, and a complete surprise to me as no one informed me where we were going, I was just along for the ride or midnight stroll as it was.  It was entering this studio that I had a further revelation about YeYe’s position in the community where we lived and his importance to it.  First of all, having the whole studio open to us at this late hour made me feel like being in a Mafia Don’s entourage.  The whole downtown was rolled-up for the night and here we were marching in drunken relvery as a rather unruly and boisterous mob.  (Not everyone was tipsy, but I was for sure the only designated driver, if one was needed.  Wives of some guests were pretty much in control of themselves, and there were no fights within my hearing or eyesight, as there were at the wake of his wife who died a few months later.)

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The thing that really gave me an insight into my teacher’s high level of standing in the Wuchang community (later expanded into the larger Wuhan community, and later still into the National Wushu community that I was to discover years later here in America when the Internet World Wide Web materialized) on this excursion was the sight of single portraits of a phalanx of local Illustrious figures of one kind or another.  The framed photos were huge, 3 to 4 feet high, hand colored and arranged high on the tall walls,  lining both sides of the long, narrow display entranceway with its glass cabinets of equipment and photographs.  What hit me like a mailed fist to the forehead were these framed pictures marching down the walls making a right and left turn to meet at the focal point of Ding Hongkui’s portrait on the far wall into the studios, looking more like a bald Albert Einstein contemplating universal cosmic theories while holding a hooked smoking pipe, than a Martial Art Master and foremost authority of the Tang System!!

By this time my head was exploding with trying to keep all the kaleidoscopic events, facts, experiences, both known and unfathomable to me, and to make some sense out of just what the hell was happening and why I was allowed to be here in the first place!  If I had any reason to be at the banquet filling his wine cup it escaped me, though well trained monkeys can do something like that, but at this very important photographic event I was still ushered to his left side as a trusted lieutenant or family member, while my friend and translator, Liang Guojian, beside me at the banquet, was led up to the top right end spot in third row.  I was later to learn that my position was purposeful and at the order of Grandfather Ding, so that even the inebriated friends who pushed each other out of the way for better seats near the living legend did not even try to bother me and usurp where I sat.  I was to learn later, and very glad I was oblivious to the fact until after his death and the splitting up of his school, many of his students, long-standing and ranked as well as newly joined had, let’s say in today’s jargon, “issues” with the foreigner.  At the time, at THIS time, I was in the seat of Heaven at the left hand of the Almighty.  And had no clue as to why.

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The portraits:  of the three accompanying this blog, the one of Ding YeYe holding a pipe came from his family and was given to me by them.  Selden scanned it and the quality is due to not being able to take it out of its frame.  But it does offer a peek and idea of what I write about above.

The two group portraits, with their backdrop of a Chinese landscape with a pagoda sitting upon the promontory heights, will draw this story of an extraordinary Martial Art teacher’s 91st Birthday Celebration to temporary halt, but the conclusion of the group photo shoot won’t truly arrive until the last and final entry to the tale.  Suffice here to mention the small group portrait was meant to be of Dr. Chen and his associate partners in his ground-breaking venture, and YeYe and his top teachers, senior students, and the strange out-of-place mustachioed waiguoren.  The larger group I think included more of the medical establishment, wives and deserving wushu people who survived the evenings festivities and maotai ganbei (dry cup) challenges!

Throw Back Thursday: Boxing!

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taiji Boxing.jpg

Teacher Laura Stone, Bloomington, Indiana Taiji School. Laura, now living and teaching in the Netherlands (www.thestudiotaichi.com, has been a long time senior student of William C.C. Chen of NYC. I was first introduced to Taijiquan by William in his NYC school in 1964 and studied with him during the 70s and early 80s. I would accompany Laura for weekly trips, staying with William's students and taking all the classes he offered, and would host him in workshops at my taiji school in Norfolk, Va. Laura would accompany and assist him in these workshops. I finished his short form and studied both push-hands and taiji boxing. Laura is very adept with the boxing techniques and here shows her pummeling me with a couple of them!

Throw Back Thursday: First photo

YeYe 1985-1. August, Year of the Ox.

YeYe 1985-1. August, Year of the Ox.

YeYe 1985-1. August, Year of the Ox. First photo I took of Ding Hongkui as I was being led by the Pavilion on my first trip to Snake Hill. I was so impressed with this man. Three days later he accepted me in his school as first foreign student in 60 years of teaching at Snake Hill Pavilion. Though known, respected and admired throughout China (as I was to discover over and over in my travels carrying his photos) for his Wushu expertise and overall reputation in Chinese Martial Arts, he was addressed simply as YeYe, or Grandfather. Ding YeYe's special knowledge concerned the Tang System and in this photo he was teaching Bagua Jian, the straight sword form of this system. Although I initially thought I would be studying taijiquan only, when I arrived for my first class (at 5:00 a.m.) I joined this class and began studying this waigong sword form. It was the first of some 30 forms I learned during this sojourn.

Beginnings

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My 53 year odyssey, thus far, with this fascinating and magnificent art form, began in an other worldly encounter with William C.C. Chen in his New York City school back in 1964.  My actual training did not begin then, mainly due to lack of schools and teachers, but six years later in 1970 when a friend and college classmate, Larry Mann, began teaching it in his Norfolk, Virginia, KungFu School.  By 1975 when I took my first trip to China, I had joined Larry and classmate Billy Hook in the founding of the Tidewater T'ai Chi Center, and soon after established my own school in Norfolk, the Tidewater T'ai Chi Club.
 

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In 1985 I fell into the most magical period of my life when I was able once again to not only journey to China, but to live, work and train there -- a vastly different China than the one I experienced a decade before, and a completely different world than that of today, some three decades later.

When I embarked on the 1985 trip, I left the Tidewater Club in the good hands of dedicated senior students who tried their best to keep it functioning during my absence.  I was recently given these photos by Kam Hitchcock-Mort, the senior-in-charge, the other two students are Warren Pretlow and Chris Walters. Many of the students in the group portrait joined the class while I was away and are unknown to me.  One Lady in particular though, Anita Adams, between Warren and T.T. Liang’s calligraphy on Taijiquan, is healthy and in her 90’s and we are still in contact! In the picture of Warren and Kam with the double broadswords I can tell, with her bowed head and the smile crinkling around Warren’s eyes, that a mistake just took place infeatured the two-person, shuang dao set.

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I completely lost contact with Chris over the years since returning from Wuhan’s Snake Mountain, but Warren, after graduating from an Oriental Healing School in California, established a thriving, dynamic and successful Taijiquan/Qigong/Acupuncture School in Anchorage, Alaska where I have had the honor of being “visiting pubah” several times.  Kam retired from librarian work in California and Texas and lives with her retinue of exotic dogs and cats in coastal Virginia.  The three of us reunited finally during my 60th year (Confucius’ milestone, ‘Year of Obedient Ears!’) in both Alaska and Texas (Alaska is the magical land north of the Lower 48, and ya don’t mess with Texas!).

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In 1989 I transferred what was left in a storage locker of the Tidewater Tai Chi Club to Dr. Jay’s Magic Tortoise Taijiquan School here in the Triangle Area of Central North Carolina.  After 26 marvelous years with him and Teacher Kathleen Cusick, I am now at the Black Bamboo Pavilion School, with Violet Anderson in charge, which has become my final Taiji Jia!

Spring Festival and Lantern Festival

lantern Festival 1

Some photos, taken by and shared by London taiji shimei Lia, on the Second Annual Lantern Festival held in west London's Chiswick Garden Park.  When I first looked at these beautiful photos I thought they were the size of those I remembered seeing during my three Lantern Festivals in China, that were festooned in mountain park trees, but the silhouettes of people in one photo (the swan below) show the huge size of these London displays!

Spring Festival and Lantern Festival:

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Lantern Festival 3

These festivals are linked together in China in a way a lot of foreigners are unaware of.  I was privileged to experience 3 of these "Holidays" while living in Wuhan, Wuchang, Hubei Province. Of the three Chun Jie  ! or Spring Festival (what we in the West call Chinese New Year) I spent one of these years in Hong Kong when it was still a British Colony, the other two in Wuchang, but I participated in all three Lantern Festivals 元宵節! with friends and Wuchang, Snake Hill Pavilion classmates.

Lantern Festival 4

Lantern Festival cannot be mentioned without considering Spring Festival. The Big One! The Mother of all Chinese holidays! If you take Easter, our Spring Festival, with its new clothes, new spring flowers; New Year with its alcohol celebration and year-changing rituals; Christmas with its family traveling and gift giving; Thanksgiving with its special food dishes and family meal; throw in 4th of July with unlimited fireworks, mix them all together for 2 to 3 weeks of raucous noise and gunpowder scented streets, a replacement of an annual animal totem and---you have a glimpse of Chinese Spring Festival, or Chun Jie!  Our concept of a one night new year out on the town just doesn't quite fit the bill.  But then comes Lantern Festival...!

Lantern Festival 5

The spectacle of Chun Jie, with its weeks long celebration, incessant fireworks, accompanied by bottle rocket and firecracker injuries to adults and, way too many, young children (my one Spring Festival attendance in Hong Kong was quite different from that of the Mainland; personal fireworks were forbidden, and only prescribed to one government display from barges out in the Fragrant Harbour), and stressful travel with millions of travelers filling train and bus stations finally comes to a close.

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Fifteen days after the Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival brings the tumult of the preceding weeks of hectic celebration with a sedate wrap-up of surprising beauty, grace and neighborly interaction.  Families stroll through the streets carrying candle-lit, birdcage sized lanterns held aloft, greeting one another as the processions wind their way toward a neighborhood park, in my case toward Snake Hill where we met in early mornings in the tiered wushu training areas, to hang the lanterns upon tree branches festooning the paths and sinuous ridge of Sheshan 蛇山, in a gentle glow of swaying colored lights.  A quite magical and breath-taking ritual.

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Lantern Festival 8

Martial Art SASHES:  Sashes in Black Bamboo Pavilion Taijiquan School (Part 2)

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In Part 1 on Martial Art Sashes (found by clicking here) I talked about where my knowledge of and ideas concerning the wearing of sashes originated from. To reiterate, it came from the Martial Art Folk School of "Grandfather" Ding Honkui on Snake Hill, Wuchang, Hubei, China.  Of course, my understanding is restricted to that Folk School, and others associated with it.  The primary reason for the adornment of sashes first and foremost is the honor, respect and deference paid to the long history and lineage of the place Martial Art holds in the fabric of the tapestry know as the Nation of Zhongguo (Middle Kingdom or China)!

To me the nature of the sash, it's color, material, size, and meaning is secondary to the time honored respect wearing it pays to the Art the wearer practices and tradition he or she trains under.  Wrapping the sash also represents a symbolic "binding" of the dantian and power of Qi!

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Additional to this over-arching purpose, in Hei Zhou Tingzi Taijiquan Jia (Black Bamboo Pavilion Taijiquan School) there is a special significance to the colors represented; Green, Red, Brown (for a more detailed explanation of where these colors originated, and a thoroughgoing review of a Sash System go to www.magictortoise.com and click on "Advancement Program" link).  As outlined in Part 1, the original idea of students choosing their own sash was exchanged for a more systematic system: Green indicating a commitment to study, train, practice and complete the Taijiquan Form of Wudangshan Yibailingba Taijiquan, Red representing the completion of the basic level of posture sequence linkage.  

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In order to achieve Red Sash standing, Form construction has to be there and its demonstration "recognizable."  In other words, a student must be able to perform the form solo, from beginning to end without break and with each posture being recognizable.  The perseverance to reach this point takes a commitment of several years, and it is a very big and important milestone in anyone's training.  But, it is just the beginning of a lifetime of practice! This is the time the all important practice to lock in the floor plan of the Memory Palace and the focus of adding to FORM the equally supportive components of FUNDAMENTALS and FUNCTION ... begins!

The beginning student purchases the green sash to show his/her commitment and is later presented the red sash to show our respect and deep appreciation for their success.

When a student can perform the whole Form without conscious effort to remember sequence, sections, etc., and can focus on the Fundamental principles as well as continuing to progress with martial applications and Function (not to mention answering any question thrown out at class by The Ma), then they can choose whatever color sash, belt, cumberbund or other dantian binding apparatus that suits their fancy!  It will still represent honor, respect, and deference to the Martial Art...  (Violet won't be testing for that belt anytime soon - scary!  ;-) 幽  默 (humor)

Boogie Woogie Birthday Boy!

LaoMa had a great birthday bash this month.  We all clamored around tooting the horn about how great he is and ate cake!  Selden performed her annual birthday song.  Sadly, we only got a small clip of it but we are able to provide you with the finale.  You'll see Desiree's son, Steele, accompanying Selden with is dance moves! 

For those of you who missed it, the birthday song is posted in it's entirety below.  You can also see pictures of the celebration in the photo album here or in the carousel below as well.

We wish you many many more birthdays LaoMa (mostly because we enjoy Selden's songs so much!).

Boogie Woogie Birthday Boy of Seventy-Five
(Sung to the Andrews Sisters' 1941 hit: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. with apologies!)

 

BOOGIE WOOGIE BIRTHDAY BOY OF 75

 

Born in Keene New Hampshire on a sunny morn
Now he's here in Bynum where it’s due to storm
He was a jarhead in Japan
And then his dream came true and he was off to Wuhan
He's been around the world
And yet he still survives
He's the Boogie Woogie birthday boy of seventy-five

Five below and eight above well golly gee
Everything seems simple when you know Taiji
Although the counts change all the time
He may be slowing down some but he can spin on a dime
And the man can talk,
Ask Gary, Dorothy, Vi
He's our Boogie Woogie birthday boy now seventy-five
 

(Trumpet Break)


And the students say
When he begins to jive,
That’s our Boogie Woogie Birthday Boy he’s seventy-five!

Ding Hongkui at 91

Yeye and LaoMa

Yeye and LaoMa

Ding Hongkui, 91 years old at this picture and reaching the end of a 60 year career of teaching at this same Snake Hill Pavilion. The foremost authority in China on Tang Pai, an almost 1400 year old Martial Art System. He never allowed himself to be called anything but Ding YeYe... Grandfather Ding... Fortune surely smiled on me to be able to study under this great man, and be called both his first Foreign Student and Closing Student. (Snake Hill Pavilion was--it is now a mah jong parlour--at the very place on Snake Hill where the 1911 Republican Revolution of Sun Yet- Sen began the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty!)