I’ve been in two minds about writing up this year’s Paris seminar with Luo Dexiu. I’ll explain why later. Clearly I’ve decided to go for it.
More by luck than design I picked a series of topics that complemented each other extremely well. Or perhaps it is Luo’s teaching skill that allow him to show the links between different elements in martial arts. Luo has a genius for showing the trunk when all you see are branches.
If there was a theme that recurred throughout the weekend it was hardness and softness and how the two are connected by body method which can be found in and developed through Qigong.
Friday evening was Chen Panling Taiji. Chen Panling researched and developed a Taiji form towards the end end of the Republican era in mainland China. The form follows the typical order of Chen and Yang styles and shares characteristics of both. But this is not an advert for a particular style, but rather an explanation of the similarities between styles.
Luo taught the first section of the form fairly swiftly then as he usually does explained a process to make sense of it. Briefly the steps are to learn the movements, find the circles in the movements – usually by isolating each one. Then combine the movements with the breath in a way which allows the mind to become still and sensitive. During this time he showed how the body method training is integrated in to the form postures, which allows different parts of the body to contribute to global force generation.
We also covered the martial use of the movements, the strategy behind their use (in contrast to Xingyiquan and Baguazhang) and ways to train these.
In the morning we covered Wuqinxi or Five animal play, the oldest of the three well known Qigong sets, the other two being Baduanjin and Yjinjing. These days there are a great many styles of Qigong but many of these are derived from the earlier sets, and Luo’s broad knowledge and historical research allows him to show the links between them. What was equally interesting was to see how the health forms influence the martial forms: the common goal being to build a strong body through nutrition, breath use, movement and mental focus.
Luo showed how the breathing works with the body method and the shapes with common martial arts postures that develop/express force.
In the afternoon we worked on push hands, using a pattern that is rarely seen as a way to find the timing and angle to apply force. This connected the body method with the martial use. Luo has a different approach to pushing hands to most teachers that I have met, and what makes the difference useful is how he situates the practice in a broader martial context. It’s also a lot of fun, and allows the expression of power with little risk of injury.
The Sunday morning with Xingyiquan Bazigong, or eight character work. These are eight short forms each with a single Chinese character for a name. They tail the Xingyiquan system that Luo teaches. The five elements come first to show and develop the basic power. The twelve animal forms follow and are about how the power can be used differently according to a person’s body type and character. The eight characters come at the end as a further reminder of how to to develop and express the basic forces.
It is worth mentioning that the value of these forms is as themes to explore. The forms are pretty enough, and physically enjoyable to work on. However it is in breaking them into pieces and applying the force those pieces express with a partner that students can learn. Which is basically what we did. As usual even though each form is comprised of just two or three steps, eight was a little too much for a morning, and we managed to begin exploring the first four before time ran out.
The final part of the day was sanshou/roushou sticking, soft or scattering hands depending on your translation and background. Again Luo explains this differently to most people I have seen, and places the practice in a clearly martial context. The sanshou complements the tuishou in that one is about finding ways to express power, while the other is more about how to avoid power. When he plays sanshou Luo is looks as more dancey than fighty – except that each moment you are probably being led into a trap.
While Luo is extremely clear and smart how he teaches this, and fun as it is it’s not all that useful martially without solid basic fighting skill.
So we had Taijiquan, Qigong, expressing power, avoiding power, Xingyiquan. We also had plenty of laughter.
There you go.
Why in two minds about the review. Luo is exceptional, open, honest, hands on. He’s in his sixties and when he raises his hands it’s scary – hard to avoid and potentially horrible to receive. He typically uses a fraction of his force when teaching and takes care to apply it angles that do not injure. He has a wealth of knowledge, historical, martial, meditative and biological. The seminars are expensive compared to boxing and wrestling, but amazing value compared to ‘movement culture’ which is full of people who salivate when a man bunner* goes to China for a bit and repackages this stuff for movementistas**
However there seems to be a lack of interest from this group in Luo himself. still many of them will read this and possibly reference the terminology. You’ve read my reviews, you know I’ve seen who’s out there. My message to you, next time you get the chance, go to the the source, support the authentic.
Thanks to everyone who did come, good to see you all. Especially appreciation to those of you who crossed skies and oceans to get here.
“Possessor of a man bun, also known as a man bunny
(it’s ok, some of my best friends have man buns)