Shéshān to Guăigùn: 76 year old Lao Zhang and his “guăigùn form”

DREAM COME TRUE: Shéshān to Guăigùn Almanzo “Lao Ma” Lamoureux

PART II: 76 YEAR OLD LAO ZHANG and his “GUĂIGÙN FORM”

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Lao Zhang was a long-time student of YéYe and beloved by everyone in this mountain martial arts community, 30 years my senior and a deaf mute. It was the only time in my life I ever studied -- anything! -- from a disabled teacher. Because my spoken and listening skills of the Chinese language were rudimentary at best my classmates referred to us as two “no speak men!” But he did not consider himself disabled. When confronted with questions he would grab a rock outside the pavilion and scratch out Chinese characters on the cement floor to answer questions. The students actually understood his grunts and other-worldly sounds as well, to my utter amazement! When he would write a clarification down for me personally he would get up, nod satisfactory, point to the inscription on the floor, then look at me with an astounded expression and proclaim to everyone else, “You laugh at me, pointing to himself then pointing at me shouting, HE can’t talk, understand, READ or WRITE!!” He was hard for me to understand, but I was treated more like a talking monkey and object of comic relief, so I simply sat back and enjoyed his teaching and his humor. He was such a lot of fun too in addition to everything else he was! It was the most wonderful, gratifying and humbling experience of a 3 year magical mystery tour that will stay with me until the day I die; the studying of Guăigùn, in Wŭchāng, on Shéshān from Lao Zhang in the summer of 1986!

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The Weapon Form called Guăigùn, composed of two characters, guăi (枴) meaning walking cane with hook (implied), and gùn (棍) referring to stick or cudgel, is a unique weapon. There are other Chinese names for Cane Forms, gùn zi (棍 子), guăi zhang (枴 杖), and, of course, guăi gùn, to name three. The first refers to Stick Forms, the second to knob or decorative handles, the last to a Hooked Walking Stick, which is the one I know as a weapon and a Form.

Walking Cane 1986-87-2.jpg

Guăigùn can be carried anywhere at any time, without causing alarm from the public or authorities, as formidable a weapon as it really is, even onto an airplane, at the height of 9/11 hysteria! Or into a courthouse or police station. You can carry it about, and it has a myriad of practical uses. For sure you cannot carry a sword, Jiàn (劍), neither straight or curved broadsword, Dāo (刀), in such manner, and practical uses of sharp metal instruments are limited. But not a walking cane. And the Form itself was unusual, like Drunken Forms or Monkey Forms, there is an element of theatre inserted into the Form at its beginning and ending.

Guăigùn has all the techniques of metal-edged sharpened weapons: chop straight down, at angles, thrust, poke, throw, punch with hilt, etc. What it has that makes it unique and effective is the hook. The hook is primarily used to capture, hold and manipulate extremities at the wrist and elbow joints, and apply Qínná (擒 拿) or grappling joint-locking submission holds. With a larger hook, neck, upper arms, fore arms and legs can be locked, held and manipulated as well.

Walking Cane 1986-87-3.jpg

I learned a stick form from the school of Master T.T. Liang, through his disciple Paul Gallagher, many years before the Guăigùn and Lao Zhang. He called it Cane Form, meaning I believe a knob-headed stick, or the rattan weapon favored by Indian police with the 4 ft short staff, and with officers the hooked walking cane. Both are rattan. I do know that Mr Liang’s particular weapon Form originated as a Praying Mantis broadsword and he transformed into a stick Form. But it is not a hooked walking stick. It always amuses me to see his Form or similar ones demonstrated using a hooked cane (the internet is crammed with them!) and there is absolutely no manipulation of the hook and its end of the weapon...otherwise the Cane Form learned from Lao Zhang is just full of martial art weapon styles, and techniques learned prior to Guăigùn study can be modified and brought to use with hooked cane training, or if not known before another style, Qínná for instance, can be pursued separately and then brought back to enhance Guăigùn Form understanding and depth of use.

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At any rate this is a beautiful, satisfying Weapon Form, that like all weapons projects your intent, qì (氣), what have you, away some 3 ft. from your body into an opponent or partner in two-person interactive work! And, you never know, the Cane Form might come in handy someday. I have deterred people approaching me in parking lots with little more than loud shouts and pointing the cane at them in a strong gōngbù (弓 步) stance. It was all I needed to turn them around to flee in the opposite direction, whatever their purpose of advancing on me in a threatening way was in the first place. Also, recently I went to a movie with brother Dr Jay Dunbar, also a recipient of Lao Zhang’s Guăigùn through my tutelage. Being a good student he had his cane, I had one of mine and we immediately began a correction session right there in the lobby between movies. Having a great time and oblivious to all, we seemed not to bother other cinema patrons or cause any concern — of course Southern Village is a high-end, laid back planned creation, but we would have caused more confusion and alarm, I’m sure, if we were packing hand guns, open and carry!

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Lastly, as alluded to above, there is a fun aspect and theatre associated with Guăigùn. Chinese Stage Opera, an art form in itself, employs Chinese Martial Art techniques and Forms as strong, integral components of the stage production. Many bits of humorous theatre are associated with various Hand and Weapon Forms, much like the humor of the old swashbuckling sword play in mid-nineteenth century Errol Flynn movies. Unfortunately for many Western adoptees of Asian Arts, this component gets lost and the more serious attitudes dominate Form demonstrations. As mentioned, these occur with Drunken Forms, Monkey Styles, Rope Dart, and large Máobĭ (毛 筆) (writing brush) Forms, to name but a few. In China, we began training Guăigùn by miming old people, bent over, struggling with shopping bags and a hooked walking stick, let’s say walking thru a park. The seemingly vulnerable, venerable ones detect a threatening presence, a youth gang perhaps, they slow down even more, cautiously look around, set down their shopping bags...and then!! BOOM! The Form begins! The bent over old ones, like human transformers slowly straighten up, morph into super action heroes, go into the Form postures at a bit more vigorous pace than the shuffling grandfolks coming home with mesh bags full of eggs and bok choy! They proceed to lay low the hoodlums one by one. At the Form’s conclusion they smile, look around very pleased and contented, slap the dust off their hands and pick up their bags, with maybe a wack or two at a couple of prostrate thugs, and shuffle off home! This part of the Form always draws an enthusiastic reception from Chinese audiences in China and even in tournaments here in Jīnshān (金 山), Gold Mountain. In fact, it could be the main reason I placed 1st in my second outdoor Regional Tournament in Wŭchāng District (the first tournament I participated in was an indoor Provincial-wide event) performing Guăigùn to an energized audience! Actually, I believe it was more attributed to the fact that I trained to the tournament rules and time limits, the runner-up 2nd Place with 9-linked belt, a teacher of Wŭshù in Wuhan Opera, and of much higher skill and rank than I, came in way under time and was placed second (both of our trophies were an orange/white, rectangular pillow towel with Shanghai written in English cursive script, a highly sought after acquisition circa 1987!)

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For the theatre aspect, Lao Zhang taught us to adopt various walking gaits in the Form’s beginning and ending sequences. Men had one of two walks; “Old Man” bent over, with a slow, staggering, lurching gait. The other a “Scholar’s Amble” which recreates a slow, straight-back, measured, dignified amble with frequent pauses where the scholar applies a couple measured strokes to his long white beard as he gazes around. The women assumed the mincing walk of an old matron in bound feet by walking on their heels in short, sharp steps. A truly impressive weapon Form that was super enjoyable to learn with the added theatrical humor thrown in, remains the same in each and every reenactment, and has long been, since my return from my “Dream Come True” China sojourn, my signature Martial Art Form!

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If you are planning on training with Guăigùn please enjoy your immersion. Work hard, do good, and carry your Guăigùn/Hooked Walking Cane out on a stroll, “to Terror of the Public,” without anyone knowing you are fully armed...and dangerous!

GLOSSARY OF Chinese Characters Used in the Text

Tàijíquán (太 極 拳). Great Ultimate Extremes Fist. Refers to Internal Martial Art

Tàijí (太 極). Great Ultimate Extremes. Refers to many endeavors other than Martial Art

Wŭshù (武 術). Chinese Martial Art (In Taiwan, the term used is Kuoshù)

Grandfather Dīng,” (丁 爺 爺)

Táng Pài (唐 派). Táng System of Martial Art, developed by the first Táng Emperor’s third son, Tangbi

Guăigùn (枴 棍). Hooked Walking Cane

Shéshān (蛇 山). Snake Mountain. Shān can refer to different sized mountains. We might not call the one in Wŭchāng a mountain but a hill, but in China they are all “shān”

Guăi (枴). Walking cane with hook

Gùn (棍). Stick or cudgel

Gùn zi (棍 子). Rod or stick

Guăi zhang (枴 杖). Walking stick

Jiàn (劍). Sword

Dāo (刀). Broadsword

Qínná (擒 拿). A twisting, grappling form of defense involving the capture and manipulation of the joints

Qì (氣). Vital energy, breath energy

Gōngbù (弓 步). Bow stance, the #1 stance of Tàijíquán

Máobĭ (毛 筆). Writing brush

Jīnshān (金 山). Gold Mountain (America). Mĕi Guó is the official name for America (“Beautiful Country”). Jīnshān is what many Chinese people call the U.S., perhaps traced to the California Gold Rush and/or building the Trans Continental Rail Road through the Rockies from the West Coast. Both events drew Chinese workers in large numbers to the U.S.

blackbamboopavilion@gmail.com

http://www.blackbamboopavilion.com/

Shéshān to Guăigùn: 91 year old Grandfather Dīng, "Dīng Yéye” and Snake Mountain Pavilion

PART I: 91 YEAR OLD GRANDFATHER DĪNG, “DĪNG YÉYE” and SNAKE MOUNTAIN PAVILION

First glimpse of Dīng Yéye - before LaoMa had met him.

First glimpse of Dīng Yéye - before LaoMa had met him.

Since entering the world of Chinese Martial Art in 1964 I had a strong, constantly reoccurring dream of studying with a venerable, long white bearded Chinese Master of the martial arts, on a mountain, in a Temple somewhere in China. That dream came true in 1985, came true as real as I’m sitting here fingers pounding a tablet keyboard. Came true so close to the dream of it that though unable to believe in miracles, I definitely am convinced that you can have influence on your dreams actually making it through the mental realm into the material world of us mortal beings. This journey actually began a decade earlier.

Three years after President Nixon’s 1972 “opening” to the West of Mao Tse-Tung’s Mainland China’s isolation post-independence, I was invited with 21 other minority Americans to visit China. We were guests of the Cultural Revolutionary Regime and were to visit Chinese Minorities Peoples (54 separate peoples at that time, compared to our 3 major minority groups) across this ancient land. This bookmark in my life was of huge importance to me as I was able for the first time to visit and tour the newly awakened Sleeping Dragon. So, and more important to me, only five years after I began active training in Tàijíquán (太 極 拳) in America I was traveling all over China and able to join ordinary people every morning in public parks, village squares, and larger open spaces, in their daily early morning, communal Martial Art exercises, especially group Tàijí (太 極), a collective ritual we had been viewing on TV since, and long after, Nixon’s visit.

1975 at Mao’s Birthplace

1975 at Mao’s Birthplace

After the impact of these unbelievable experiences, sponsored and made possible by Rick and Betsy Clemmons, my bosses in the Federal Drug Rehabilitation Program, Rubicon Door, where I worked, another quest was born: the dream to return to China, not to tour the country, but to live and work in one place, become part of a community, and train in the Wŭshù (武 術) of Tàijíquán. I could not conceive of how I would get back there, or what I would do for work if I could. But then...

A decade later in a serendipitous conversation with the brother of a Chinese friend I was given information and a referral to reach friends of his in Wŭhān, China , who would be able to help me realize my dream. And that’s how I was able to reach that quest and my “Dream Come True;” the real life altering experience that changed the course of the next 40 years of my life’s sojourn, and one small mosaic in that dream, the one leading directly to Lao Zhang and the Hooked Walking Stick Form.

Practice in front of Snake Mountain Pavilion

Practice in front of Snake Mountain Pavilion

Unbelievably to me, 3 days after arriving in Wŭchāng, one of three cities making up the mega-city of Wŭhān which straddles the Yangtse River, a chance meeting in the street with a young music student, Chen Danbu, I was brought to the martial art playground on Snake Mountain (Shéshān, 蛇 山) and accepted into the school of 91 year old Dīng Hóng Kuaí, Dīng YéYe, “Grandfather Dīng,” (丁 爺 爺) the lineage holder of Táng Pài (唐 派), and a “National Treasure” of the Peoples’ Republic of China, an important fact of his life I was completely unaware of until years later when a student of mine found this important information on him in perusing the internet! He taught in the Snake Mountain Pavilion for 60 years, through war and social upheaval. The Pavilion is part of a memorial, along with a 25-30 ft. obelisk commemorating the 1911 Republican Revolution overthrowing the Qīng Dynasty, a rebellion started nearby in an Imperial Army barracks. Although the large rectangular Snake Mt. Pavilion was the only roofed structure, it was surrounded by scores of cleared areas claimed by different teachers and was a veritable Wŭshù Playground. The most beautiful site to train in martial arts imaginable.

Snake Mountain Pavilion

Snake Mountain Pavilion

Along with the established teachers in these Folk Schools (Peoples’ Schools, not of the more visible Government “Wŭshù” Schools, though all are accountable to the government’s Physical Culture Institute), itinerant teachers would periodically sweep through the folk schools and teach Forms for a period of time before moving on to other playgrounds throughout the tri-cities of Wŭhān. One such teacher who appeared one day was 76 year old Lao Zhang who began teaching this exotic weapon: Guăigùn (枴 棍), the Hooked Walking Stick Form!

GLOSSARY OF Chinese Characters Used in the Text

Tàijíquán (太 極 拳). Great Ultimate Extremes Fist. Refers to Internal Martial Art

Tàijí (太 極). Great Ultimate Extremes. Refers to many endeavors other than Martial Art

Wŭshù (武 術). Chinese Martial Art (In Taiwan, the term used is Kuoshù)

Grandfather Dīng,” (丁 爺 爺)

Táng Pài (唐 派). Táng System of Martial Art, developed by the first Táng Emperor’s third son, Tangbi

Guăigùn (枴 棍). Hooked Walking Cane

Shéshān (蛇 山). Snake Mountain. Shān can refer to different sized mountains. We might not call the one in Wŭchāng a mountain but a hill, but in China they are all “shān”

Guăi (枴). Walking cane with hook

Gùn (棍). Stick or cudgel

Gùn zi (棍 子). Rod or stick

Guăi zhang (枴 杖). Walking stick

Jiàn (劍). Sword

Dāo (刀). Broadsword

Qínná (擒 拿). A twisting, grappling form of defense involving the capture and manipulation of the joints

Qì (氣). Vital energy, breath energy

Gōngbù (弓 步). Bow stance, the #1 stance of Tàijíquán

Máobĭ (毛 筆). Writing brush

Jīnshān (金 山). Gold Mountain (America). Mĕi Guó is the official name for America (“Beautiful Country”). Jīnshān is what many Chinese people call the U.S., perhaps traced to the California Gold Rush and/or building the Trans Continental Rail Road through the Rockies from the West Coast. Both events drew Chinese workers in large numbers to the U.S.

blackbamboopavilion@gmail.com

http://www.blackbamboopavilion.com/

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:

Lantern Festival 7
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.

Lantern Festival 6

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.

Lantern Festival 2
Lantern Festival 8

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

tai-chi-sashes

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!

taiji-green-sash-durham

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.  

Taiji-red-sash-pittsboro

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!)