Energy in Full Flow - Yongquan Martial Demonstration, June 29th 2003
Yongquan – ‘bubbling spring’ is the name of the acupoint at the hollow behind the ball of the foot. It marks the conduit from which energy from the ground is conveyed upwards through the body. Today we learn it is also the name of the Yongquan Tai Chi Chuan Association, a school of Taijiquan and Chinese martial arts who are putting on a demonstration at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, north London. This is the school founded by Sifu Raymond Rand, an old student of Master Lam Kam Chuen. Master Lam is known for his popular Chi Kung books and TV mini-series provocatively entitled ‘Stand Still, Be Fit’ in which he shows the health benefits of standing meditation through correct posture and breathing.
As we take the last remaining free seats, and the demonstration begins, punctual to the second, we get a sense of the dedicated enthusiasm for the art pervading the darkness of the packed auditorium. At once the sound system conveys a rapid tattoo in high-pitched cascades of Chinese drumming. The exhibition opens, with immobile zhàn zhuang ‘standing post’ posture, followed by fast ‘hard-style’ forms of Shàolín lineage. Each event is introduced by a narrator’s focussed explanation. On the principle, generally followed in China, that external arts are better suited to the young, with their greater store of speed and stamina, Yongquan Tai Chi Chuan Association’s curriculum incorporates the powerful kung fu styles of Choi Li Fut. To this one might be tempted to counter that Taijiquan, properly interpreted, can suit all ages.
First on is Tina Anderson with a sharply executed fist and foot form, followed by Graham Barlow with flowing and accurate southern ‘willow-leaf’ broadsword. In order to show function, Daniele Buccheri and Matthew Calvert then performed a vigorous two-man Shàolín fighting set. This may be compared at wider range and extension with the closer-quarters Yang-style Taiji double sànshôu set. The straight-thrusting sword of the scholar-officer class was elegantly interpreted by Tina, who also put up an impressive display of female self-defence against a gang of muggers who had somehow relapsed into the way of violence but fortunately lived to regret it. This was followed by Matthew’s Sai, the sneaky Chinese pocket trident, made famous by Okinawan karate.
Graham again took the floor in a convincing display of Chin Na grappling, locks, throws and pressure points with Steve Alston and Adam Hughes. Then to calm everyone down again before the interval, we were treated to group Yongquan Taiji solo forms at slow speed. The first is the Yongquan form developed by Sifu Donald Kerr (displayed for the first time here) and following was the Lam Short form as developed by Master Lam Kam Chuen. Push hands is demonstrated by a group in pairs, with throws and strikes, to embody the five key words of listen, yield, stick, neutralise and attack. Naturally these two-person displays, like those commonly practised in aikido, depend on the cooperation of participants. While it is commendable to see these specific techniques so cleanly demonstrated, it should be noted that the functions of sticking and control also require the elements of unexpected attack and resistance, in a more fluid competitive environment, to develop into full fighting skills.
After a suitable rest break, the real breaking begins. Now we encounter the Internal power of Chi, cultivated over many years by the standing meditation exercise. Sifu Douglas Robertson demonstrates Fa Jing (explosive force) on a line of perhaps not totally unsuspecting members of the audience. The man on the end gets it first, but manages to retreat mostly intact. Less mercy is shown to roofing tiles which crack in mid-air by Graham and Daniele. Iron arm Kung is demonstrated by Sifu Donald Kerr as he has three bricks placed upon his arm and smashed off with a sledge hammer. To show the effects of shock energy, ‘a percussive use of force’, Robert Gillen and Nial Sawa break the bottom out of ordinary beer bottles, two thirds full, by hitting the tops, the beer having been replaced by water for reasons of safety. By this time it has become clear that flesh and bone are really up against it. Sifu Kerr and Sifu Robertson then demonstrate iron shirt kung by having three paving stones placed on Sifu Robertson, Sifu Kerr then lay on top of them had three placed on him too and broken off by a sledgehammer. Matthew then shows he is also a dab hand at snapping concrete edging stones at finger-tip distance. Next Sifu Kerr demonstrates amazing iron palm skill by slicing in half a granite pebble with a single well aimed blow. The demonstrations are truly impressive but in the crowning performance, no pun intended, Sifu Douglas shows terrifying Iron Head Kung, with a concrete kerb stone placed on his head and smashed off with a sledge hammer. It may be helpful in clearing the mind, but doctors’ reports are awaited. Don’t try this at home – yet!
In conclusion, I have been authorised by Sifu Kerr who organised the demonstration to announce: “Should anyone want a souvenir, or if anyone is doing some crazy paving, we have some lovely pieces of concrete available.” Indeed an organizational triumph and an inspiration to us practitioners all.