Wow, cannot believe it has been over a year since my last post. The long gap was due to a combination of work and also a feeling that I didn’t have any new insights to share from my practice – apologies to any fans of this blog!
Anyway, recently one of my shixiong announced that he was organizing a traditional CMA festival in a town called Nantong, a couple of hours outside Shanghai. As my shiye Song Guanghua was attending, my attendance was pretty much obligatory. As Song Guanghua is 86 this year, visits from him to the Shanghai area are pretty rare, so of course his grandstudents would be expected to turn out. I went along to the festival with a couple of my shidi who had never met shiye before, so it would definitely be a precious experience for them regardless of what happened at the actual tournament. I was actually supposed to perform a xingyi routine at the tournament but eventually didn’t get a chance to, for reasons I’ll get into later.
After a fairly comfortable coach ride to Nantong (am a big fan of the coach system in China, they are comfortable, cheap and frequent) we installed ourselves at the nearest hotel and got a good night’s sleep. Early the next morning, we arrived at Nantong Sports Stadium (where it was being held) to find dozens of people already there dressed in Chinese kungfu uniforms of all different types and colours. Especially eye-catching were a group of young guys (who I think were from Cangzhou) who were practicing exercises with stone locks (shi suo) right outside the sports stadium. The stone locks were slightly smaller than those used for shuai jiao training, but still very impressive to see them being handled and thrown in the air with such ease.
We were especially impressed by the number of different styles competing at the tournament: not only were there were representatives of the various styles of the three main internals (Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan) as well as other northern arts like Xinyi Liuhe (Lu Songgao branch) and Bajiquan. The Bajiquan team was from Shanghai, which I found very surprising as my impression was that Shanghai doesn’t have that much in the way of traditional northern styles like tongbei, pigua, baji, etc. I later found out that the Shanghai Baji association was transmitted to Shanghai by a student of the famous Wu Xiufeng. As someone who doesn’t practice Baji, I wasn’t in a position to judge, but was impressed by the Shanghai Baji team, their performances looked crisp and powerful.
Another unusual sight was the very large contingent of Hulei Jia (‘Thunder’ frame) taiji, which is a branch of Zhaobao taiji. This style, which is still in the early stages of being known outside China, is famous for it’s sudden fali throughout the form – to my journeyman eyes the general sequence and postures of the form look similar to the Zhaobao small frame practiced in Xi’an.
Unfortunately, there was no Leitai or sparring segment of the tournament. Whether this was because there was no demand or because of concerns about insurance etc, I’m not sure. We had to satisfy ourselves with watching the freestyle tuishou competition, which was held in another venue halfway across town. Typical Chinese tournament organization! After a madcap drive across town we managed to get to the freestyle tuishou competition. From what we saw it was a pretty scrappy affair, pretty similar to the tournaments I have seen from Chen village. Would have to say that I couldn’t see any particularly “taiji” skills on display, but still admire the competitors for getting out there and actually trying something on a resisting opponent.
The evening of the first day was followed by the usual banquet for the visiting masters held in a nearby restaurant – as I’m sure other Western students of traditional CMA in China can testify, these are practically mandatory and usually involve copious amounts of baijiu (50% alcohol!!) before everyone stumbles back to their hotel blind drunk. Thankfully, as Song Guanghua does not drink, it was a comparatively staid affair and the assembled teachers were merely slightly inebriated by the end of the proceedings.
The next day, if anything there were even more competitors queuing up outside the stadium. The morning passed in a blur of weapons performances (including several rare weapons such as the whip dart, or the Daoist duster (fu chen) form performed a lady from Wuxi dressed in a ‘Wudang’ outfit). And then suddenly at lunchtime, as suddenly as they arrived, having performed and received their various medals, 90% of the competitors left, leaving behind the organisers, the judging panel and a few stragglers such as ourselves. It was at this point that I managed to perform my xingyi Jintui Lianhuan routine for shiye Song Guanghua and get some corrections from him on the form. Even at 86, he is fast, relaxed and nimble, living proof of the health benefits of xingyiquan!
With the ‘health maintenance methods’ (yangsheng gongfa) discussion slated for the afternoon cancelled, our group had no choice but start on their trip back to Shanghai.
All in all, it was a learning experience just to see so many styles, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t more combative content such as a Lei Tai or Shuai Jiao competition, think this is something that traditional CMA in China would very much benefit from.