Sunday, 31 July 2016

On GB's Olympic boxers, Hemingway and a meeting with Wang Xian...

With Nicola Adams (World & Olympic gold medallist) and Joe Joyce one of the favourites to take gold at Rio 2016 
I'm sitting in the lounge of Madrid airport with an eight hour wait until my flight back to the UK, so I'm taking the chance to write this post.  Just over a week ago I was in Heathrow airport where I bumped into some excited members of Britain's Olympic Boxing team waiting for the flight that would take them to Brazil and the 2016 Rio games. The fighters included Nicola Adams, already a world and Olympic champion, looking to retain the title she captured during the London games four years ago; the immense Joe Joyce, one of the hot favourites to take gold in 
 
British Olympian boxers Lawrence Okolie, Frazer Clarke & Josh Buatsi
the super heavyweight category. Also Lawrence Okolie who began boxing six years ago as an obese and bullied teenager who is now GB's heavyweight representative, Frazier Clarke (super heavyweight) and Joshua Buatsi (light-heavyweight). It would be hard to find a friendlier group of guys and I have to admit that I felt like getting on the plane with them to see how their Olympic adventure plays out. After shaking hands and wishing them luck in Rio I carried on with my own journey.

 Wang Xian in Pamplona
We arrived in Pamplona in northern Spain, famous for its annual bull running festival, part of the week-long San Fermín festival immortalised by novelist Ernest Hemingway. We were in Spain to meet up again with GM Wang Xian taking part in his week long seminar and completing an interview we started several years ago on his take on Taijiquan - part of the on-going research for our next book project.
Pamplona, Spain: David Gaffney, Wang Xian & Davidine Sim

 
The seminar was billed as Laojia Yilu, but Wang Xian is a traditional style teacher who very much follows his own inclinations during the sessions. He would see something lacking and address it. For example, seeing that everybody's footwork was not as agile as he would like, he led the group up and down the sports hall in a variety of stepping drills. The need for flexible footwork was emphasised in training the form with changes of tempo and the development of the ability to steal space from an opponent.

Another time, he asked everyone to gather round, sat down and gave a detailed talk about the role of Qi in Taijiquan and the importance of trying to feel the movements and not merely copying them externally.  Wang Xian constantly stressed the need to finish every movement carefully and exactly. The end of each movement represents the start position for the next move. "Starting from the correct position ensures that the next movement can be done correctly".

Some of the advice Master Wang Xian gave during the seminar included:

"Practice slowly and self-correct all the time, especially during transitional movements. Because during transition movements you have to manage internal changes and manage postural deviations."


 "Many people become satisfied after achieving some small improvements and stop actively looking to continue to develop their Taijiquan. The 3 stages of learning are: train until you are completely familiar with the movements; understand the energy within each movement (dong jin); reach a stage where you have an instinctive intrinsic understanding (shen ming). This is a process that takes time".

 "You must be conscious that you're training a martial art (quan) when doing form or the form will be empty(kong). This can be in terms of understanding the potential functions of movements or in the development of martial qualities such as rootedness, footwork and awareness. For example, you must know your body's boundary - the position of maximum strength and not go beyond it. This can only be realised through slow practice".

 "People often neglect the importance of the eyes during training. The eyes should not be allowed to look down or to stare ahead in a blank unfocused way. Your peripheral vision should always be engaged and watching around you".

 "In terms of health do your best to maintain your capabilities. Your range of movement, for eg.the ability to pick your knees up high etc. can be reduced or lost over time. This is especially important as you get older".
 
Pushing in the down time with Paris based Chen Taijiquan teacher Rudolphe Pollet
I first became aware of and inspired by Wang Xian after watching a pirated vcd in China nearly 20 years ago. The disc had a picture of Chen Zhenglei on the cover and stated that it was his vcd. Inside, though, it showcased the skills of Wang Xian and his students. The disc finished with a scene of him performing a powerful Xinjia Yilu by the banks of the Yellow River, closing with the words "If you want to be better than everyone else, train more than anyone else".