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Walking Like a Chicken – My First Encounter with Xinyi Liuhe Quan

Shanghai has three styles of kung fu which are popular, Xingyi Quan, Xinyi Liuhe Quan and Wu style Taiji Quan. After reading up and watching some clips I began to feel like Xinyi Liuhe Quan is quite similar to Taiji Mantis, so I decided to check it out. I made a new friend, a guy from Iran I met on Rum Soaked Fist called Reza, who had been learning the style for several years here alongside Chinese medicine, and he agreed to take me to visit his teacher.

chicken stepHis teachers name was Xue Hong En, and he is a Hui, a Chinese Muslim. Being born into a traditional martial arts family from central China, he began learning martial arts from a very young age. He studied Jiao Men Quan (教门拳), which means the styles of the faith, referring to Islam. There are three styles included under this term, which are Cha Quan, which is a kind of long fist developed in the Ming Dynasty by a famous Muslim general and is often taught to kids in local Mosques, Qi Shi Quan, which means seven postures fist and is considered very secret and apparently not taught to non-Muslims, and Xinyi Liuhe Quan, which is a very powerful and aggressive internal system which is Master Xue’s main style.

Xinyi Liuhe Quan is often known as “the Henan Xingyi branch” or “the Muslim Xingyi” branch, as it stems from the same root as Xingyi Quan, although has some major differences. Xinyi is based on 10 animals, and does not use the San Ti Shi posture or Five Element Fists found in other Xingyi branches. Instead it begins training with Ji Bu, or Chicken Step, a very odd looking posture which is incredibly demanding on the legs and develops huge internal power. Ji Bu is practiced both standing and walking, and looks very simple, however it is the core from which the whole system is built on.

Master Xue was a very friendly and nice man. He was teaching a class of students both old and young in a parking lot, to shelter from the typhoon. He invited me to join in and taught me the famous Chicken Step mentioned above. He showed me a few applications to the movement, for example although it just looks like a step, it is hiding both a knee and a shin kick. This shin kick is called Gua Di Feng, and is a trademark movement of the style. Xinyi Liuhe people are famous for the power of this kick, which they practice by kicking trees daily! He then showed me a groin strike, with a gentle slap to my thigh, which seriously stung and left a bruise! He also showed an elbow, luckily not one me, and lastly a shoulder strike, which I didn’t expect and he knocked me flying back! I also had chance to watch him perform some techniques, and well as some of the other students, and was really impressed by their Shen Fa and power generation.

Anyway, back to the Chicken Step. It is fairly similar to Taiji Mantis‘ small mountain climbing stance, with the knees very close to each other for groin protection, and the body held in a straight line totally side on to be more powerful in a forward direction. The major difference was the the chest is hollowed the back rounded, which Mantis doesn’t emphasize, and the XYLH posture has the arms in a much more relaxed state, whereas Mantis does stance training with the fists squeezed tightly to tense up the forearms. However from the little I saw the end result seems to be similar, as I didn’t see any major differences when they did their forms, however I will need more time to really get a good picture.

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Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Huang Shan aka Yellow Mountain

The China of your imagination; ancient villages of whitewashed walls and ornate carved-wooden doors, pine covered mountains that come straight out of a painting, and deep green bamboo forests, welcome to Huang Shan aka Yellow Mountain in central Anhui province. I visited in winter, when it was particularly scenic, and there were few tourists.

The bamboo forests which surround the lower parts of Huang Shan were featured in the scenes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

A couple of hours away from Huang Shan are the nearby towns of Hongcun and Xidi, where rich merchants lived during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, were also used in the film, and wondering around the small streets, you can’t help feeling you have stepped back in time.

    

 

 

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A “Mantis” Chinese New Year

I’ve celebrated Chinese New Year more than a few times in Asia, whether it was with the remote Dong people in the mountains of Guizhou, venerating the Jade Emperor with ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, or watching a rock band in Singapore. However there’s one particular New Year I remember well. My teacher, Master Zhou, invited me to spend it with his family, and took me to visit his kung fu elders. For the Chinese, New Year is somewhat akin to Christmas, and apart from getting loads of presents from Santa, the atmosphere was very similar.

For New Year’s eve we made dumplings, which is a New Year’s tradition. First we made a small batch of vegetarian ones, which were to be offered to Buddha later, then we made the meat ones for ourselves. As the night drew in, the sound of fireworks filled the air outside, every few seconds you could hear great big bangs and the spitting sound of crackers. Master Zhou and his wife offered the vegetable dumplings to the Buddhist shrine in their living room, then lit incense.

Master Zhou took me outside to set off fireworks, which is something Chinese people love. No matter how small a celebration, they will set off fireworks, whatever time of day! The fact that the Chinese invented gunpowder to celebrate, but the Europeans turned it into a weapon, is something not lost on the Chinese. Something I had always wondered about in China was why people always light little fires on crossroads at night. Master Zhou explained is to burn offerings to your ancestors as he took a wad of “death notes” from his pocket; which are large pretend notes of money. He drew a circle in the snow on the street and made a little fire with paper, which did little to relieve my chapped hands. This way his ancestors would have money to spend in the afterlife and wouldn’t cause trouble to the living. Then we went back inside, lit incense to offer to his late master and his parents, followed by a huge dinner of traditional Shandong food and some weird Chinese “medicinal” liquor.

I was woken up at about 5.30am by the sound of firecrackers ouside my window! The sound continued every few seconds for the rest of the day. I arrived back at master Zhous apartment and there was plates of nuts and nibbles on the table, with a few disciples sat arond smoking. All through the day, family members and students would stop by to wish happy new year to Master Zhou, including a star from a local TV station. Once the coming and going settled down, we went to visit some kung fu elders and give them some small gifts.

The first stop was Master Zhou’s late master’s wife. She is 103 and lives with her son, who is also a well known master. She was partially blind and deaf and laying in bed. She just looked so old, and just grumbled. It was amazing to think she was born in the Qing dynasty, when there was still an emperor on the throne! The things she must have seen as China changed, but as age had caught up to her, I was unable to ask her anything. Next stop was to visit an early disciple of Cui Shou Shan. He is one of the last few people alive who trained directly with the great master, and lived in a very basic, old house. When we left, he looked Master Zhou in the eyes and, clasping his hand with both of his, said “You must do your best to pass on Taiji mantis to more people, you have learnt the system more thoroughly than any of us, don’t let it be forgotten.” That was moving for me, to see that old man say it in such a heartfelt way, it confirmed that I am training under a great master.

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A Trip to Henan Province

central plains

Recently an old friend of my wife invited us to her home in Henan province. I came here on my first trip to China in 2007, visiting Shaolin Temple and the city of Luoyang to see the Longmen Buddhist Grottoes. I was particularly excited to be coming back here after almost 10 years, as now I have a much better understanding of Chinese culture and history, there would be a lot to learn from visiting. The plan was to base ourselves in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, and either have our friend take us in her car, or take a short train ride to some surrounding sites of historical interest.

Zhengzhou: Capital of Henan Province

Zhengzhou was really an unattractive city in every sense of the word. The density of high rises, combined with the overcrowding of people and terrible traffic gave the entire city a claustrophobic feel, the dry and dusty air seemed to make the pollution feel all that much worse, to the point that by the end of the day my nose and throat were sore. Zhengzhou comes in at number 10 on the list of most polluted cities in China. Going back to our friends home, the traffic was absolutely gridlocked, scooters and motorbikes whizzed in all directions, and people just walked through the traffic freely. Dinner consisted of the local speciality of pulled noodles in soup, which would be basically all we could find to eat sans Mcdonald’s for the next few days. We turned in early, and got ready for our first trip which would start early in the morning, Kaifeng, a city which boasts a reptutation as capital of seven dynasties, and is supposedly very well preserved.

Kaifeng: Ancient Capital

Kaifeng was the capital of China for seven dynasties and was provincial capital of Henan until Mao moved it to Zhengzhou due to the frequent flooding, and was high on my list of places to visit in China. Our friend drove us an hour or so out of Zhengzhou, into Kaifeng on a hazy, smoggy morning. Pulling into Kaifeng, it was not quite what I expected, it looked run down; sure there were few high rises compared to other cities, but it was grotty and old, old as in it looked like the 1980s, not like the 1880s. However, my spirits lifted as we crossed a moat and then saw the old city walls ahead, entering through a large gate and driving through a street of traditional Chinese houses. I wasn’t quite sure what we were going to see or do, I was just been driven here and taken around. It turned out our friend had planned to take us to a Song Dynasty theme park, called Qing Ming Shang He Yuan, which was built in a replica of the city during the Song Dynasty, and had staff in period costume and little performances in squares around the town. The thing that did impress me here was the reenactment, on horseback, of general Yue Fei defeating the King of Liang, which had soldiers in period costume doing a martial arts performance alongside acrobatics on horseback.

After a lunch of, yes you guessed it, more noodles (this time with donkey meat), we went to the shrine of Lord Bao, a local governor of the Song Dynasty renowned for his sense of justice and the tough legal system he implemented. There were two huge stele in the courtyard, I’m not sure if they were very old or not, but they were totally covered in graffitti, to the point that the original writing was illegible. In the nearby Kaifeng Palace, a sort of mini-Forbidden City, there was a mock up prison where you could see explanations of some of the cruel punishments given out to criminals such as being boiled alive, pulled in half by horses or having ink poured into your nose until you drowned.

Sights all seen, what I really wanted to do was to explore the old streets, not the tourist traps. Although many of the main streets were jazzed up for tourists, the back alleys going off the sides were old, gritty and real. Tiny iron doors which had mostly rusted away had Chinese character couplets over the doors blessing the houses, and old people sat around chatting and playing Mahjong. Passing through a huge gate with Arabic writing on, we entered a large food square, apparently renowned in Henan, Kaifeng street food is a must eat. However it was so dirty, even by my standards, we requested to just go back to Zhengzhou and have a McDonald’s.

Kaifeng I feel on the whole was a bit of a disappointment. I know a lot of people who love the city, perhaps you need to spend much more time to scratch underneath the surface. All I saw was grime and dirt plus some modernly renovated tourist sites, apparently it is a real Mecca for old Chinese culture, but I guess you need contacts to take you to see the right people in the right places.

Yinxu: Birthplace of China

This was the big part of the trip for me. Having mentioned to my professor that I’m going to Henan, and will visit Yinxu, the Shang Dynasty tombs, he suggested for our Chinese characters class I take the opportunity to research Oracle Bone Script, the first ever Chinese characters, which were found inside these very tombs. I took his suggestion, and made this the focus of my trip to Henan.

Arriving in Anyang train station I was immediately taken by the clean, fresh air, especially after the hell-hole of Zhengzhou. The train station, as quite a few are in Henan, was a huge concrete building, menacingly designed to look like a Ding, a huge bronze urn used in temples for offerings, and the station name was written in Oracle Bone Script too. We took a taxi through town, which was suprisingly modern and clean. A typical newly built Chinese town, it had huge multi-laned roads set out in a perfect grid pattern, with high rises either side of the road, and imposing local government offices in neo-Soviet style. We then passed through an old town, of authentic, grubby looking traditional style houses around a small lake, and a couple of temples, before crossing a bridge with huge Shang Dynasty style towers either side.

The Shang Dynasty ruled the area around the Yellow River in modern Henan province from around 1600-1000BC, and is the first dynasty in China to actually have a recorded history, anything before is just myth. However, much of the history of the Shang is attributed to the Han Dynasty scholar Sima Qian, and is also full of mythology. What is certain is that they had their capital was named Yin, hence the name Yinxu (the ruin of Yin), and several tombs and ruins have remained. In modern Chinese, the word for business man is shang-ren, literally meaning “person of the Shang”, which has its origin from this time.

We decided to hire a tour guide to show us around the tombs, which was definitely worth it, although I wasn’t going to pay the extra 100 for an English language guide, as I have little faith in their language level! The guide first took us into the museum and began introducing various bronze ware and other treasures found inside the tombs. A point of interest was the elephant skeletons; supposedly 3000 years ago, central China had elephants, and a little known fact is that the Chinese abbreviation for Henan province, Yu 豫, actually represents a person 予 leading an elephant 象. There were many human remains too; it was common for the Shang kings to make human sacrifices as life held little value with ten slaves being worth only one horse.

Then came the Oracle Bones, my real purpose for visiting. So Oracle Bone Script is the oldest known Chinese writing, and it consists of heiroglyphs etched onto bones or turtle shells. The purpose of these was a form of divination, the bones or shells would then be heated over fire and the cracks which appeared would be interpreted as a sign from Heaven as to whether an activity was to be favourable or not. Much of the questions relate to asking for weather forecasts, or whether certain festivals and rituals should be held or not. There are 4000 Oracle Bone characters, of which scholars can read less than half. Some are obvious rudimentary versions of modern characters, whereas some are totally unrelated.

Luoyang: Another Ancient Capital

I came to Luoyang nine years ago, as part of a trip to Shaolin Temple, so I was keen to return and see the city again with more experienced eyes. Getting of the train on a dull, slightly rainy day, we took a taxi to the Longmen Grottoes, the largest collection of Buddhas carved into rock in the world. The Buddhas are carved into the cliff faces on both sides of the river, and there are literally thousands of them, dating from the Northern Wei, Sui, Tang and Song Dynastys.

Got off to a bad start, as at the ticket office they refused my student card for a discounted ticket, claiming “foreigners are not elligable for discounts”, which is bullshit, as I’ve never been refused before. Getting my full priced, and not cheap, ticket, we headed for the golf-carts which whizz you to the actual grotto several hundred metres away. In the queue was a rowdy tour group of men in their 30s, with their hair dyed in ridiculous colours like pink and green, and equally ridiculously coloured clothes, being led to chant some weird song by a tour guide waving a flag. It felt more like I was waiting for a football match than a holy Buddhist site.

Of course, this being China, there isn’t anything holy about the site any more, its mass tourism in and out. This doesn’t detract from the sheer amazingness of the site though, the largest Buddha having ears which are over a metre long. Unfortunately many of the small Buddhas have been defaced, missing heads and hands, partly due to war and politics, partly due to ending up in various museums or private collections. Luckily most of the Buddhas now are protected from graffitti, although you can see some where people have got past barriers.

On my first trip to Luoyang, I didn’t actually see the city at all, only the Grottoes, so this time we decided to head to the preserved old town, which was much less touristy than I expected. There was a huge reconstructed Sui Dynasty gate, which was really impressive, and inside hosted many shops and restaurants, and once you enter you come to the original old city centre. Some of the building have become tourist souvenir shops, but a lot of them are in fact still inhabited by locals and you can see many old people going about their daily life. Wondering down some small back alleys you feel like time has been forgotten here. This small area can give you a feeling what the city would have been like before all the high rises and concrete blocks took over. In my opinion I feel like Luoyang is a much nicer place than Kaifeng, and there is still so much more to see, and so is definitely deserving of a return visit.

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Liebster Award

I’m very excited to announce that I have been nominated for the Liebster award! The Liebster award is an award for bloggers, nominated by other bloggers. I’d like to give a big thanks to Brian at Hawaiian Brian (http://www.hawaiianbrian.com) who runs an excellent blog full of travel tips and resources.

The Liebster Award Rules

Liebster Award

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their site.
  2. Display an image of the award and write a post about your nomination on your blog.
  3. Answer the 10 questions your nominee has asked in their blog post.
  4. Nominate 5-10 other deserving new bloggers for the award and ask them 10 questions of your choice.
  5. List the rules of the award in your blog post.

10 Questions From Hawaiian Brian

1.Tell Us About Yourself

As of now, I’ve been living in China for ten years (well, one in South Korea too), training martial arts and traveling. I’m a student of Zhou Zhen Dong, one of the top masters of Praying Mantis Kung Fu, however I have also been lucky to train with other great masters of styles such as Xinyi Liuhe Quan, Korean Taekkyon, as well as some Wing Chun, Taiji Quan and Bagua Zhang.

2.How Did You Get Started Traveling? What Inspired Your Wanderlust?

I first came to Asia at 18, for a six month trip backpacking through China, Hong Kong, Tibet, Nepal and India. I always had a fascination for the Far East, mostly due to my martial arts training. This first trip fueled my passion, and exposed me to so much new stuff it just blew my mind. When the trip was over, I returned to my old life a changed person, and new I just had to go back.

3.How Many Countries Have you Been To? How Many Continents?

I have currently been to China (the mainland, plus Hong Kong and Tibet), South Korea, Nepal, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, The Phillipines and Dubai & Abu Dhabi: that covers Asia so far. Then I went to the USA as a kid, Australia fairly recently, and for Europe I’ve been to: The UK (my own country), France, Monaco, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Greece. I also went to Kenya when I was very young.

4.What Is Your Favourite Travel Experience?

There’s been so many its hard to choose. The first part of my first ever trip was some volunteer work in Xi’an, China. While the volunteer work itself was kind of disappointing (I’ll eventually write an article about that), this was my first time in China, and on top of that it was the ancient capital! It was just so different to anything I’d experienced before, and I spent almost all my free time just exploring the city soaking up the culture. Towards the end of that same trip, I trekked in the Himalayas in India, and learnt meditation at a retreat there. It wasn’t one of those intense places where you can’t eat or talk etc, it was more just rest and recover from the hard trekking for a few days, and we did meditation early in the morning.

5. Where Is Your Favourite Travel Destination and Why?

I would probably have to say Malaysia. The tropical weather, amazing food, diverse culture and incredibly friendly people made it as a great experience. As a multicultural country, you have Muslim Malay people, native Orang Asli in the jungle as well as large Chinese and Tamil Indian communities in the cities. Penang was an amazing city, something like an Asian Cuba: all the old faded colonial buildings. The most special event though was when I proposed to my now-wife on the beach in Langkawi on our last night!

6.When Did You Start Writing About Your Travels?

In 2007 when I made that first big trip, I set up a very amateur blog at usefulnessisinemptiness.blogspot.com/, and after a few years I started focusing on learning how to really run a website when I created monkeystealspeach.co.uk which I ran for several years, and now I’ve finally moved to my current site.

7.What Is Your Favourite Post You Have Written?

Maybe my interview with Seven Star Mantis teacher, Brendan Tunks, or world champion boxer Michele Aboro.

8. What Are Your Upcoming Plans For Your Blog?

I think I answered this in a recent interview on Superstarblogging.

9. Where Are You Traveling To Next?

A trip around Italy, France and Switzerland with my wife and her parents. It will be their first time in Europe, so should be an interesting experience.

10. What Is The Best Place You Have Ever Eaten?

There has been so many. Although I live in China, I’m not the biggest fan of Chinese food, probably been over-saturated by it. I prefer Mediterranean, Japanese and South-East Asian. Shanghai has an excellent dining scene if you are willing to spend money. For cheap food, I’d say Malaysia, as the street food is top quality, and you can enjoy Malay, Indian and Chinese all at the same time!

I Nominate The Following Bloggers For the Liebster Award:

A Couple For The Road http://www.acouplefortheroad.com/

Maggie and Tsvetin at https://magickervan.com/

Sivan at http://www.backpackingpanda.com/

David Kelly at http://www.studymartialarts.org

Eemma at http://www.alwaysagringa.com/

My Questions For The Nominees Are:

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself
  2. What was your first trip and how did it change you
  3. What’s the biggest thing you’ve gained from travel
  4. What kind of a traveler are you (backpacker/luxury/solo/group etc)
  5. What’s your favourite destination so far
  6. What’s your most memorable experience
  7. What’s your worst/most disappointing experience
  8. Where do you plan to go next
  9. How did you get into blogging
  10. What are your plans for your blog this year