At the moment I am enjoying some time in Kota Kinabalu on Borneo Island, a place I've visited many times over the years. Nestling in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, South-East Asia's highest mountain, it is a fascinating place referred to locally as the "land beneath the wind". When I was a kid the word Borneo conjured up Tarzan-like images of explorers hacking their way through impenetrable jungles full of man-eating plants, wild animals and roaming tribes of headhunters. Last week a group of students from our school returned to the UK after a couple of weeks training and experiencing this "dark heart of Asia".
|Taijiquan by the South-China Sea|
Chinese make up the largest ethnic group of Sabah, followed by the 30 or so indigenous native tribes. It's not possible to really understand Taijiquan without first understanding Chinese culture. Taijiquan was not created in a vacuum, but drew on many aspects of traditional Chinese culture: martial arts, the ancient health giving methods or daoyin tu-na, yin-yang philosophy from the Yijing and jingluo theory from Chinese medicine. The names of many movements within the forms are drawn from Daoist and Buddhist roots, whilst the "Chen Family Rules" are a typically Confucian call to correct and upright behaviour.
Taijiquan enthusiasts wishing to understand the cultural ideas that lie beneath the art shouldn't underestimate
the devastating effects of communism and the cultural revolution on these ideas in mainland China. Many of the Chinese diaspora spread around the world are in fact far more representative of these ideas than China itself. One afternoon our group visited a local Chinese temple - the Tian Wang Miao or Heavenly King Temple. It is a working temple - there are no entrance fees, souvenir shops etc. Several members of our party commented on the difference in behaviour of visitors to the temple - quietly reflecting and praying rather than having a day out at a theme park - to the temples they had visited in China.
|Kota Kinabalu's Heavenly King Temple|
|Training on the "lansaran"|
|CTGB on tour in Borneo - with the Murut natives of Sabah|
Kung Fu Restaurant
|"meat bone tea" at the Kung Fu restaurant|
Training in Bukit Padang
After seeing the group off at the airport I moved to KK's Luyang district to stay with my in-laws Mike and Alice. Every time I come to KK I take the chance to train in the nearby Tun Fuad Stephens Park, or Bukit Padang as it is known locally. Bukit (meaning hill) Padang is a popular exercise site where from as early as 4am locals come to jog, practise Taijiquan and Qigong or simply to take the air and meet up with friends. A steep trail leads to the top of the hill made up of a gruelling set of 300 or so steps leading to a small clearing and then another couple of hundred steps leading to a flat summit with various stretching and exercise apparatus. Many KK locals use this hill to train for the gruelling climb up the overlooking Mt Kinabalu, especially the elite athletes who take part in the annual Kinabalu Climbathon billed as the "world's toughest mountain race". Each morning we begin doing reps up and down these steps while it is still cool and dark, finally coming out onto the summit clearing to do some Taijiquan and stretching.
|Beginning of the steps...|
|"Stretch the tendons by one inch, add ten years to your life"|
|Dr Yek in action|
The waiting room is different than those of most Western doctors. There are no marketing leaflets...no men in white coats. In one corner of the room a battered punch bag, a set of dumbbells and a barbell are strewn around the room and also a play station sitting on a table!
Dr Yek is a Chinese physician specialising in bone and tissue injuries. As well as the more widely known
methods like acupuncture, tuina, moxibustion etc, he is carrying on a traditional treatment method which involves striking the patient's body to clear blockages of energy. Yek learned from his father from an early age who in turn learnt from his father... This form of healing has a close association with Chinese Martial Arts and Yek's father is well known in these parts as an accomplished traditional healer who also happened to be a disciple of the famous Taijiquan and White Crane master Huang Xingxian. His uncle teaches martial arts in New Zealand. According to Dr Yek, this form of treatment is rare even in China. Where there are many universities and hospitals teaching acupuncture and massage the system of hitting the body to promote healing is only passed down from master to student.
|Some interesting shades after a few treatments!|
After a short examination he began the treatment. Dr Yek strikes with the back of his hand and fingers in a fluid, elastic and surprising strong motion. This treatment is not for the faint-hearted and after a few visits my upper body was black and blue and a number of other interesting shades. He explained that to hit correctly one must "fang song", have a strong root and be able to bring strength up from the feet. Sounds familiar doesn't it?