Readers of this blog may remember that I had previously visited the Song family home in December 2009. At that time I was still practicing taijiquan and had not even come into contact with xingyiquan. This trip was very different, as I now had a year and a half of Song style xingyiquan under my belt and M Song Guanghua was now officially my grandteacher. And so it was that with trepidation I picked up the phone and asked M Song’s son, Song Baogui shibo (kungfu uncle) if it would be OK to come train in Taigu over the Chinese Mayday holiday. Shibo kindly agreed and so it was that I found myself back in Taigu 5 years later. Although the town itself has changed quite a lot (shiny new buildings and new roads), I was relieved to find that shiye’s house has not changed at all – a typical walled Chinese courtyard house of the sort commonly found all over north China, with one entire wing devoted to the history of Song style and photos of prominent masters.
Because of the Chinese Mayday holidays, it was full house, with several members of the extended Song family (including various grandchildren) staying in the wings, so the students had to find digs in town. As the Song family house is essentially an unregistered wuguan, the rhythm of days there is essentially as follows:
9am – noon Morning practice
Noon – 3pm Lunch + siesta (still very common in Chinese small towns and countryside)
3pm – 6/7pm Afternoon practice
There were 4 other students training there at the same time as me: 2 were, like me, Song xingyi enthusiasts from other parts of China who had taken advantage of holidays to get in some concentrated training; and 2 young guys who were effectively studying Song style full-time and planned on staying in Taigu for several months to a year. Training at the Song family house is fairly ad hoc, with the students generally getting on with training by themselves with M Song Baogui or shiye coming out at regular intervals to offer corrections and instruction. General training (morning or afternoon) consisted of stretches, warm-ups (kicks), zhan zhuang (lots and lots of Santi!!), stationary fajin practice, 5 elements, spear shaking and occasional two man drills (ai shen pao, san hua pao).
As one of the other full-time students had previously studied at Shaolin temple for 3 years and had quite a bit of Sanda experience, he definitely gave me some food for thought as to the kind of techniques that actually work against people with that kind of training.
An added highlight is that various kungfu uncles/brothers would often stop by and offer tips and corrections, and lunch and dinner would be had with the family, really adding to the family atmosphere.
Shiye and Song Baogui shibo offered many valuable corrections, probably the most important of which was also the most basic: they emphasised many times that in Song style (and probably other styles of xingyi too), the striking power does not come from the arm, it comes from dantian and rotation of the kua around the central axis. In fact it is only by relaxing the striking arm that one can start to produce the dou jue jin (‘shaking power’) that Song style is famous for. I was also amazed by the energy and nimbleness of shiye given that he is 83 years old this year!
It was a great (but tiring) training trip and I would encourage anyone who is interested in Song style or even xingyiquan in general to make the trip to study at the source.