Meeting Antonio Graceffo in Kuala Lumpur


A few days after our demonstration in Kuala Lumpur and Vin, Lian and myself are now staying with Guru Azlan in his house. We train with him daily as he conducts his many classes around Kuala Lumpur. One lesson took place in a squash court in an airport. Guru Azlan told us to teach the class and even though all the students there had been practicing Seniman tua Silat for longer than us we still taught.

All this exposure to teaching has made me more confident in a classroom. I am not as nervous as when I first started teaching. Another class was held in Guru Azlan’s office/ Galanggang (training hall). Most of his dedicated students were there and we practiced for hours. Even though it was the evening it was still humid and hot. We went over locks and stick striking drills. We were introduced to some of the more advanced forms of Guru Azlan’s Silat and we practiced with the kris knife.

Guru Azlan told me to apply any lock to him and I put him in a decent head lock and he managed in quiet a relaxed manner to get free. I was impressed. I was not so impressed when he tried to show us how to make your arms longer. He pulled his shoulders back and lined his arms out in front so they were the same length. Then he moved one shoulder forward and so it looked like one of his arms was longer than the other.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4utnjmTY0b8&feature=player_embedded click on this link to see the video

The training was more intense to what we have been used to with Guru Azlan and after a few hours of training I was beyond parched. You must remember that Guru Azlan doesn’t allow drinking in his class. So after the class Vin and I frantically walked the streets of Kuala Lumpur looking for water. It was surprisingly hard to find. Most of the street vendors where selling food and only soft drink which would have done little to hydrate us. Thankfully we found a shop which sold big bottles of water. We got one each and I think we pretty much drained the 2 liters in one go.

The next day Guru Azlan took us to a huge mall where he said he was meeting a man called Antonio Graceffo who wanted to shoot a video of one of his classes. We met Antonion in a small restaurant beside one of the malls many supermarkets. We sat and chatted for a while. Antonio comes from America but has spent many years in Asian studying martial arts.

After a sit down Guru Azlan took us to the malls gym where the lesson would take place. Here is the video which Antonio Graceffo took of the lesson. Occasionally you can see Vin and myself in the back ground practicing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtKdqKAlkQk  Click on this link to see video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qRZwAnX7ZU&feature=relmfu click on this link to see the video

So after a few days of training with Guru Azlan and pushing the boundaries of dehydration Vin, Lian and myself took the overnight bus back to Penang island to continue our training at the Zhong Ding center.

Our Khatami grading is coming very soon. Next week we will start the 7 coffins training. Nigel Sutton has had a novel idea that instead of doing the 7 coffins over 7 days we will condense them in to 4 days. This will mean almost none stop training with only a few hours left for napping and eating.

Nigel has also told us that before the Khatami that Guru Zainal Abidin one of Nigel Suttons Silat teacher will be visiting the Zhong Ding training center with a large group of his students to fight us. Vin is also doing a grading for Krabi krabong so he will have to do sword fighting. I will have some Thai boxing fights and Silat fights as well. It’s all quiet vague now but on my next post I will be able to tell you more. Next week the 7 coffins begin.

Advertisements

PART12 My new love of weapons


 

Today we did some sparring and sword fighting. Putting on the fencing masks and using tonfa and bamboo swords to fight.

Tonfa, we use this as a forearm shield when we spar sometimes

the type of sword we use for sparring. made from segments of bamboo. Pictures from Wikapedia

 I fought Vin at first. Immediately he hit my finger, at the time it was not painful but even now a week later it bloody hurts. He basically beat me. He kept on coming in after I attacked and closed me down. He was very good. With lian it was a bit different. Because I am taller I had a better reach and I kept my distance and stayed out of his range and got him a fair amount with some good leg shoots and head shots. He didn’t move in much so it was easier than with Vin who would not play my game.

 Lian gave me a really good strike to the knee which left an impressive red and white mark. I find this sword fighting so fun. I want to do more of it and if and when I ever set up a club I hope to do a lot of it. Nigel says it’s not that important to do often but it’s fun and that’s enough for me.

One of Nigel Suttons teachers says that sparring altogether is a bad idea. That when you spar you are playing a game and that your not actualy trying to kill your opponent. So that if and when your life is really in danger you will not be able to react properly. This is said by a man who lives in a dangerous country where machete fights and murder are common. From what I understand this man has also been in many real fights himself. So maybe in that situation sparring isnt as important.

 On another note I am very pleased with my training at the moment. Before I came to Malaysia I wasn’t at all interested in weapons. My experience had been minimal and all I had learnt was Taiji sword and staff forms and also some nunchuck and sai forms from doing Okinawan Te. But I feel that the weapons training in Chen Taiji is incompleat compared with what I am doing now.

Now that Nigel Sutton has introduced me to a more compleat weapon arts like Krabi krabong, Eskrima and Silat I feel that a love for weapons has been awakened. I am very attached to my boken (wooden sword) and I try my best to carry it everywhere around the Zhong Ding training centre. As Nigel told us to.

Boken, hard wooden sword.

 

My waking dreams and sleep walking has now reached a most active point. Only last night I opened my eyes and knew there was an enemy behind the door trying to get in. I ducked under my mosquito net while wrapping my thin bed sheet around my left arm to make a shield, I then grabbed the machety which was propped up by my bed and stood in front of my door waiting for an attack to come. I kept waiting until the illusion faded and I realised it was only a waking dream. I was standing in the Krabi krabong stance with my left forearm in front to protect and my right hand holding the machete was above my head ready to generate a powerful strike.

 

Does anyone reading this sleep walk? I would be interested to hear some stories. Do you think sleep walking is a negative thing?

PART12. Do not hitch hike in Malaysia (part 1)


Thursday, July, 30th, 2009. We came back to Penang and settled back down to life at the Zhong Ding training center. Nigel Sutton had returned from his seminar trip to the UK. He looked pleased when we showed him our Tari we had learn while studying Silat lok 9 with Guru Azlan Ghanie. ‘’It looks like he gave you a touch of the Malaysian spirit’’ Nigel said.

 

I thought about it and I agree. Guru Azlan practices a distinctly Malay martial art and while being with him I feel I learnt not only another Silat style but I also learnt more about Malaysian culture.

 

But it was good to be back. Guru Azlan showed us the Malay way of staying up late drinking coffee and training and now it’s back to the Chinese way of getting up before the sun to practice chi gong. Vin is coming to the end of his 100 days iron shirt training and I can see that he is looking more solid and muscular than when I first met him. In the morning you can see him vigorously pounding a sock full of rocks into his stomach and sides.

 

I am also having hand shaking withdrawal symptoms and whenever I see Lian or Vin we will usually exchange heart-felt long handshakes which exasperate Nigel.

 

Our 7 coffins Khatami grading is looming near.Lian has now come to live at the school with us and trains regularly, he will also join us for the 7 coffins. We all keep going over the Lian padukan forms and have learnt the weapons forms which include a sai form and Nigel Sutton has incorporated a five ancestor’s straight sword form into the syllabus. We have learned the ritual form where you bless and energize your weapons. Your fists, knees, elbows feets. You speak a series of words which have energizing qualities but which Nigel Sutton doesn’t know what they mean.

a picture of Sai from Wikipedia

 

They are not Malay or Chinese and Nigel has researched to try to find their etymology but without success. You say each word at you slap your weapons, moving forward with one breath until you finish the energizing and let your last bit of breath out.

 

We have also been practicing sparring. Similar to Wing Chun sparring you start off with a brief preset of hand strikes before engaging. We practice set moves which are part of the Lian padukan syllabus and which are in fact quiet effective. They are practically applicable in the free style sparring which gives me a lot of confidence in this art.

 

Lian is a fast learner. I sometimes forget that he has only been doing Lian padukan for a few weeks. He has learnt the forms in half the time I did and keeps up with everything else as well.

 

With our grading coming up it reminds me of my old Karate grading’s. I now have a list of things I must practice and remember before our 7 coffins. It’s constantly on my mind.

 

 

 

On the weekend tried to go to a nearby village for internet. I waited for about an hour for the bus ‘’you learn to wait around to wait around’’ Nigel’s Voice echoed in my mind as I waited. Apparently waiting around is a large part of life in Malaysia.

I tried to visualize myself being picked up by a nice person and driven to the internet cafe. As I did this a crappy old black car flew past and the shifty man driving eye balled me. He then executed an impressive fast turn and came back to the bus stop and halted in front of me.

 

The driver and his equally shifty looking friend gave me a strange grin which showed off their brown cracked teeth.It was a couple of young Malay men. They looked at me for a while sniggering away. I didn’t really feel like saying hello so I just waited for the next thing to happen. The passenger said something which I didn’t understand so I gave him a quizzical look. He said a lot more which I also didn’t understand. “Balik pulau” I said. I assume they were asking me where I was going. “ah ok” they said and sniggered again.

 

 They gestured me to get in. I knew they looked unsavory but for some reason I didn’t get a bad gut reaction so I got in the car. They asked for 10 ringet so I made a very slow and obvious reach for my door to show them that I was not willing to pay that much “five ringet five ringet” one of them said and the price was settled. It was agreed and we sped off.

 

We stopped off on the way and picked up a scummy looking man who got in beside me and stared. He also started to talk to me in Malay. I nodded and said that I did not understand. “Ganga u like?” he said. He brought out of his pocket a big bag of marijuana and rolling papers. “ganga Bob Marley you like?”. I told him that I didn’t want to smoke in Malaysia because I didn’t want to be executed, I made a cutting gesture on my neck to make him understand. They all laughed.

The driver was going way too fast and only just missed a group of school kids as he hurtled around a corner and his friend passed him the spliff. I arrived at the internet cafe and shock all their hands and exchanged names which I forgot as soon as I heard them. Later on when I told Nigel about this he said that if we got caught by the police it would have been me the foreigner who would have been hung. This is what usually happens in Malaysia. I would not be getting in their car again that was for sure. It was a bit scary.

On the way back from the internet I got the last bus back along with the noisiest school kids in the world. I sat down and slowly brewed up a rage as they screamed and shouted at each other jumping all over the bus and saying in load voices ‘’AM MOR GAO!’’ Or however one spells it, basically it means red-headed monkey which is what Malaysians call white people. It’s racist. They also spoke in mandarin which I actually understood a bit and they were saying equally racist things.

I sat there and thought about how I would dispatch them. I imagined that the boy to my left who was saying the most would receive a sharp elbow to the face and then I would get up and start to lay into the rest of them quickly working my way down to the front of the bus, using the Lian padukan fast strikes I have learned recently.

 On a related note when people practice Lian padukan Silat they seem to get more aggressive, because it’s such an angry forward moving art that it affects your personality. Nigel was saying how he experienced it when he was doing it intensively. Imagining what he would do to the biggest person he could see and generally thinking about fighting people a lot. I was getting this as well. Or was it just a bad day I was having?

Another story was of a Lian padukan Master in Malaysia who was training so much that in the middle of the night he was sleep walking and kicked his wife in the guts.

So eventually we arrived at my stop, with all the kids alive but some of them did give me a wary glance as I must have been pulsing. As I stood up one of the kids said ‘’bye am mor gao’’ and the whole bus laughed. I replied ‘’ GOODBYE MONKEYS! ’And got off the bus. Nothing like a bit of public humiliation in a foreign country to really piss you off.
I feel a bit ashamed to have gotten so angry and for even responding to a child.

 

For anyone reading this blog have you ever been subject to racism in another country? I would be interested to hear what ticks you off and cannot get used to when living abroad. I find 95% of the time everything is fine but that 5% can get you down sometimes.

Shuai jiao school morning photos


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

The outdoor training area we run on every morning

   

 

 

Shuai Jiao photographs


Something I failed to mention is that in my first week of training the Xin Zhou news found me and took some photos of me and interviewed me. It wasnt much of an interview as I didn’t speak Mandarin, they didn’t speak English and they couldn’t think of any questions to ask me. A few days later a big poster was put up in the juniors gym with pictures of me wrestling. I had a mixture of embarrassment and also I was very touched.

Here are the photos of me training with one of the junior wrestlers, The young man is much lighter than me but when ever I would get a hold of his leg he would just jump in the air and balance on me. It was incredibly tiring and not as easy to counter as I would have thought.

I am the tall, sweaty red one just in case you didn’t know

Above is Coach Ma showing me a throw

PART4. Last days of training, next stop Malaysia


 

My last day of training. It was incredibly hot. In fact it was so hot that I felt quiet sick. After a few spirited wrestles I began to feel light headed and weak, I was drenched in sweat and eventually I had to run out of the gym to be sick.

 I remember this happened before on a couple of occasions when I was learning Tai chi in China. I had just finished a grueling push hands exercises were I had to push and pull someone up and down the training area, then at the end we did some standing meditation. This was when I started to get the jelly legs and blurred vision and thankfully under the watchful eye of my Taiji Master I was safely seated and given a glass of hot salty sugar water(yum!). This time it was not as bad at all but I did have to rest for a bit.

Anyway after a rest it was time to say good bye to everyone. Which is one thing I don’t think I will ever get used to. A lot of people in China just don’t say good bye!, they just walk off. The odd student came up and gave me a huge but the rest just went away without saying goodbye. It’s not that they are being rude or that they hate me (I hope they don’t hate me), it just a Chinese thing.

I remember when I was in China before when I went to my Master Fu’s home town and met his family and went to the grave cleaning ceremony, which involved a day hike were we went and watched the family clean the ancestors graves and offer them crispy duck, fruit and wine. Then we all ate crisps and cola and sweets and left all the wrappers on the mountain side, considering this was a family of about 25 people all eating snacks there was quite a mess, plus all the fireworks as well. Also being the prime idiot that I am when I was handed a supple skinned thin vine I of course ate it, it was bitter and disgusting and I hated it. It made my mouth all dry and weird. Later I saw that Master Fu’s family had tied the vines around their heads.

Ah well, you live, you eat vines, feel silly and then learn.

The main point for me talking about all this is that at the end when the army of brothers and sisters and children were leaving they just walked out the door without saying goodbye. This was the first time I had seen this and I was very shocked. The odd one gave a little grunt as they walked out the door but that was it, and it’s not like they were going to see each other very soon, Master Fu said they only meet up once or twice a year.

So I said goodbye to the wrestlers or rather I watched them leave without saying goodbye. Later that evening Chaiyi and I went to say goodbye to Coach Ma. He gave me a miniature wrestling waist coat and a pointy Mongolian hat which he got when he went to compete in a Mongolian Nadaam competition. I expressed my interest to go to Mongolia one day to try wrestling and Coach Ma warned me ‘’ you must be careful if you do they will break you’’. Coach Ma showed us pictures of the trip he made to France. There was a competition there many years ago and he went to compete. He told us a funny story; he went to a super market in France to buy some wine to take back to China. When he got back to China he took the bottle to a dinner party and they opened it and drank. They all found it very bitter and disgusting to drink. It wasn’t till they had drunk a fair amount of it that they finally realized it was in fact vinegar.

When Chaiyi and I left Coach Ma went a little red in the face and he began to cry ever so slightly. We walked away from his house and he waved us all the way down the street until we turned the corner.

The next day we said goodbye to Chaiyi’s parents. They watched us pack our bags, they insisted on riding in the taxi with us to the train station and they even bought tickets to be able to come onto the platform with us but when we were finally getting onto the train they just stood there and watched. I followed Chaiyi’s lead and got on the train and we sat next to the window and watched as they watched us. As the train geared up and pulled out of the station they had one last look at us a quick wave and then they turned and left.

We were on our way to Tai Yuan, the capital of Shanxi province. From there we will get a flight down to Guilin in Guangxi province in the south of China. When I was 20 years old my brother and I travelled to a small village in Guilin called Yang shuo. I stayed there for a year and a half practicing Chen Tai chi. it was a big changing point in my life and the place has a lot of significance for me. I met Chaiyi there; it was the first time I had lived away from my family and all that as well as living in a different country had a profound changing effect upon me. Now almost two year later we are going back again. I will practice Tai chi again in my old school for 3 weeks before we travel down to Malaysia to Penang Island where I plan to spend a year learning various martial arts like Silat, Krabi Krabong and Escrima.

PART 1 Meeting the parents and Starting Shuai Jiao


 

My Wife and I arrived in Beijing in April. We had spent the last year and a half living in England and now I was going to meet my Chaiyi’s parents for the first time and to practise Chinese wrestling in her home town for just over a month.  I didn’t really sleep on the flight from the UK. When we got out of the plane the first thing I noticed was the grey polluted sky. Chaiyi and I took a bus to the domestic airport and got on another flight to Shanxi province.

When we arrived in Tai Yuan capital city I was struck yet again by how grey the sky was and how dusty and dry everything was. Even the trees where dusty. Chaiyi’s father came and picked us up. I was getting ready to launch into a warm huge with the father in law, but he evaded my attempt and shepherded me along taking my luggage troll and saying in Mandarin “come”.

So introductions over his friend Sar drove us from the airport to Chaiyi’s home town Xin Zhuo.
It was a strange trip. Dark grey skies and large construction machinery all along the sides of the new motorway. Thick bare power cables jutting out of the street where lamps were or will be, and very worryingly a lack of man whole covers. Chaiyi told me many of her friends had fallen down these pot holes ‘’people steal them for the metal which supports the concrete cover’’ she explained.

 Big digger trucks going down the motorway with grizzly looking workers standing in the front digger scoop smoking foot long cigarettes rolled with thick paper. As we drove Sar told me a bit about Shanxi style wrestling or as it’s called here ‘’Shuai jiao’’.

 ‘’ Everyone learns Shuai jiao here; it’s like football in your country. Shanxi Shuai jiao is famous for its leg grabbing techniques, whereas the Mongolian wrestlers are very strong and use so much strength, you should be careful you can get hurt when you play Shuai jiao’’ Sar said.

I was worried; the only thing I had done which is close to shuai jiao is Tai chi push hands. I had spent almost a year and a half in Guangxi province learning Chen Tai chi. In push hands you are not allowed to grab the legs or the neck and you gain points if you push your opponent out of the arena or throw them on the ground. Although in theory you are meant to use as little physical strength as possible it usually turns into a forceful competition. The same as Judo, ‘’the gentle way’’ which if you have ever practised Judo you will know that unless you’re a master it’s anything but gentle.

 Before coming back to China this time I could not find any videos and very little information about Shanxi Shuai jiao. The main thing I had found out was that Shanxi style Shuai jiao focuses on leg techniques, but Sar had already told me that. Any videos I looked at on YouTube where either of judo or Olympic wrestling. I was still unsure about what Shanxi Shuai jiao actually involved.

We arrived in Xin Zhuo town, driving down the four lane road towards Chaiyi’s parents apartment block ‘’when I was a child this road and all around it was just forest and farm land, we used to play here when I was young’’ Chaiyi said.

 I greeted Sarah’s Mother and received very much the same response as her father gave me. I was determined to get a hug in but I met her as we were going up the stairs to their apartment and she swiftly snatched my bags and ushered me into the apartment hastily as if we were very late, the moment was lost.

 There were some family friends around and we all proceeded to get quickly and heavily drunk on very strong Chinese bie jue, a white grain spirit at 56%. Let me just say that I was very jet lagged and it was not the first thing that I wanted to do on my arrival but eating and drinking are a very big part of Chinese culture so I did my best and wobbled off to bed after I had been stuffed and pickled.

We spent the next 3 days or so getting over the jet lag. Getting up ridiculously early and getting very tired early on. Sarah’s parents treated me extremely well. Not letting me pay for anything. Buying me new cloths, mending my old ones, washing my shoes paying for taxis, cooking the most amazing food and generally making my stay a living heaven.

After a good rest we went to meet my new coach of Shuio Jiao. Sarah explained to me that her Father knew the principle of the sports university so we were going to take him out with his friends and the coach as well to talk about my training.

We went to eat at a large two story hot pot restaurant. Chaiyi and her Mother and Father stayed close to me as we entered the building. I wondered if they were worried that I might run off or hurt myself. Our guests where a group of 10 people. The principle of the sports university, several government officials, some wrestlers and my future Coach and I think a few of their friends who had come along for a free meal.

They were all conservatively dressed in Black, grey or dark purple trousers and jackets. I could tell the wrestlers from the rest. They were thick set and all had cauliflower ears.  I shook lots of hands did endless toasts of bie jiu and then ate a little bit of food and did some more toasts. When the time came came for me to toast my new coach I got up red faced and drunk and walked slowly and very carefully around to the other side of the table trying to remember what Chaiyi had told me to say in Mandarin and also trying not to look too drunk. I approached Coach Ma and brought my glass below his glass as a sign of respect and clinked them. As a sign of modesty he also tried to lower his glass but of course as a younger person and as a student to a teacher it was expected of me to lower mine even more. ‘’Ma Jiao lien, wo jing ni yi bei’’ I said in mandarin. It’s roughly translated as

 ‘’ Coach Ma I toast you’’

We drank the bie jiu and everyone murmured in agreement. We showed each other our empty glasses and I walked back to my seat. After that the drinking slowed down and they talked for a while and it was settled that Coach Ma would train me. As we left the restaurant Coach Ma and I held hands and I had a limited chat with him due to my poor mandarin skills. Coach Ma is a small man with slightly sloped shoulders, his hands are meaty and his fingers are curled up, his arms are slightly bent. It’s almost like he has wrestled for so long that his body naturally wants to hunch over and his hands want to latch onto something.
The next day I got up at 5 in the morning and I put on my sports cloths and shoes and Chaiyi’s Father walked me to the university. The streets where surprisingly busy for such an early hour, middle school students in their white and blue shell suit uniforms sleepily rode their bikes to school and on street corners or under trees elderly men and women practised Tai chi and group exercises. Many of them wearing the shapeless Mao suits and hats, in blue and green. Street cleaners with long straw brooms threw up clouds of dust by the road side as we passed. There where all wearing face masks and high visibility jackets and gloves.

I felt like a child on his first day at school with Chaiyi’s father taking me. ‘’you must call us Mum and Dad’’ they had said during our first meal together. I feel privileged to now I have another set of parents.

When we arrived at the sports university I was introduced to the class of stocky well-tanned wrestlers they gave me a warm clap and they chatted amongst themselves excitedly as they stared at me. We began our morning run around the dusty track next to the dormitories. There where so many students all studying different sports. Groups of sprinters and marathon runners easily over took us and we in our turn easily over took the heavy set weight lifters as they plodded round the tracks. The sun was rising and by the time we had finished a dozen laps of the track the sky was a pale blue, the sun a deep red on the horizon.

We all gathered on a large smooth area in the park paved with slabs, people playing badminton without nets, clapping their hands at different angles and performing slow martial arts forms all around us. There was no privacy and soon a large crowd of spectators had formed around our group of wrestlers and they watched with amusement as Coach Ma took me through a difficult set of basic movements. Many Chinese martial arts have a strong base of leg strengthening exercises, ranging from holding squats in the hoarse stance for extended periods of time to performing strikes in low stances. Shuai jiao it seems is no exception.

We spent 30 minutes going through a set of leg exercises. Squats, squats with various kicks in between, sweeping drills and some exercises which I am afraid my skills as a writer fail to describe. Some of them looked so abstract and I could not imagine what application they would have but Coach Ma would show me the application for each of the exercises and instantly they became understandable.

After only a few minutes of these exercises my legs became weak and began to shake, I watched as my fellow students effortlessly performed them again and again. The mind was willing but the body was not. At the end of the mornings training Coach Ma asked me to show them all some Tai chi. All the students plus the crowd that had stuck around all morning looked extra interested. It was too sudden for me to become nerves and I performed a section of the Chen style fast form. Everyone clapped politely and Coach Ma smiled widely showing gold and silver fillings and teeth.

Dad took me home after the training, now the streets where crowded and noisy, cars and bikes and busses beeping and honking, cutting dangerously in front of each other, breaks slammed on as people frequently walked out into the road.

I had a break until 2:30 in the afternoon and because I was such a big boy I walked to school all on my own, Almost everyone staring at me or shouting ‘’Helloo’’ as I walked. Packs of scruffy dogs snuffled and explored the mounds of rubbish on the pavement. Small shops selling noodles wafted delicious smells.

When I arrived at the university one of the Shuai jiao students was waiting for me outside the dormitory’s gates. As I approached he pointed towards a building opposite the rooms and I followed him there. We entered and I found myself in a large matted gym. A few ancient looking weights scattered around the edges and metal radiators with sharp edges made me wonder if anyone had ever gone crashing into them by mistake and hurt themselves.

I wiped my shoes on a damp grubby mob which I suspect only made my shoes dirtier and then I walked onto the mat. Everyone was looking at me, these muscle young men some sitting in groups others lightly wrestling but all staring at me. Thankfully the training session began and we ran around the matted area and began to perform dive rolls, break falls, bunny hops, cartwheels and a few things involving forward flips onto your head which I didn’t even try. I felt dizzy after each roll I did and staggered a little afterwards ‘’don’t worry it only takes a few months for you to get used to it’’ one of the students said to me in Mandarin.

After we warmed up I got my first taste of Shanxi Shuai jiao. I was much heavier than the man I was paired up against and much taller, I thought that my Tai chi push hands training would come in handy as from what I had seen tai chi push hands and Shuio Jiao wrestling where similar. BANG! I was on the mat; I didn’t really know what had happened so I got up. I rooted my front leg into the ground and relaxed my shoulders keeping my body upright. I noticed that my opponent was hunched over with his back bent and his arms out stretched and then I saw what he must have done before, he just reached down and grabbed my heal and lifted it up BANG! Again. Right! I am not going to let that happen again, of course it did happen again. He grabbed my feet my knees my neck, my fingers. Everything I was not taught to do in Tai chi push hands.

 It was very interesting, such a different game. Although my opponent was trying his level best to throw me on the ground and on a few occasions he sent me sailing over his hip and the fall made me see stars at no time did I feel any fear. All the other wrestlers had formed a circle around us and watched, laughing and clapping whenever someone was thrown (I was the only one thrown).

 I felt no malice or negative ego at all. I saw that because Shuai jiao involves so much time actually wrestling it’s very clear to everyone who is the best is and there isn’t much time to get coxy as you are constantly getting tested. It was clear that my opponent was way above my ability and because it was known there was a pressure relieved. Compared to some traditional martial arts which I have practised before where sparring is a rarity and tension builts up without any release, controlled exercises can serve to frustrate and can become petty competitions and some people have swollen heads even when they have not proven their worth.

It is not the same with Shuai jiao. There appears to be a simple purity to it. You can launch your entire strength at someone and throw them without hurting them. You know you have won because your opponent is on the floor, you know you have been beaten because you are picking yourself up and it doesn’t matter because you can always try again. Before I came to study Shuai jiao many people had told me that wrestlers are generally some of the nicest people in the martial arts world. From my brief experience so far I am inclined to agree.

After a couple more little wrestles I went home. I had bruises under my fingernails, behind my knees from them grabbing all the time and a swollen knee cap from a bad fall and scratches all over my arms and chest.

Over the next two weeks my fitness level rose quickly and I became proficient with a few of the leg grabbing techniques. This time was the hardest as I had to break my lazy body back into shape. My basic leg exercises are becoming easier and I can almost keep up with the rest of the students in the morning training. During wrestling practise in the afternoon I have begun to be able to throw some of the students and can defend myself much better. Shuai jiao is an intense martial art which requires dedication to get good at but at the same time it is incredibly natural. Wrestling is natural, that is why most of the oldest martial arts are wrestling forms. It is in our dna to wrestle, in the same way it is in cats or dogs to play fight.

Next week there is a Shuai jiao competition in Tai Yuan capital city. Wrestlers from Mongolia and other Northern provinces are attending. Coach Ma asked if I wanted to come. ‘’I would love to come but I don’t think I am ready to compete’’ I said jokingly. ‘’we will see’’ he said with a grin. I was slightly unnerved; I have never been able to understand Chinese humour and didn’t know if he was actually joking or if he was just smiling while he talked.