Surrey and Hants Tai Chi and Qigong

Surrey and Hampshire's authentic Tai Chi and Health Qigong school

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Training in China Blog

Our instructor, Cherry Collins, has now travelled to China five times, including three periods of full time residential Taiji Shaolin Quan & Qigong training, in 2009, 2011 and 2012, totalling 12 months. Below is an account of Cherry's fourth trip to China in 2013 and below that an account of her second trip in 2011

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2013 Training Tour

Posted on September 11, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Hello from Beijing- July 2013


Just a quick update to let you know my training in Beijing is going well. I have my own (very small) room in a cheap hostel. I had to laugh when I saw my 'home' for the next month - Basically you open the door and clamber onto the bed and then shut the door!  

But it's not a problem, the room is adequate and clean and the graffitti is somewhat amusing. Every morning, I rise at about 5.30 and walk to a nearby park. I buy a tasty  eggy pancake (20p) from a street vendor to sustain me through morning training. Arriving shortly after 6am, I practice roughly an hour each of Qigong, Taiji & Shaolin Quan until 9am, then i'm off to Mandarin class for 3 hours, two subway stops away. I tried walking it once, but after nearly ending up as a red streak on the tarmac of the inner ring road i decided to opt for the subway.  

Back at the hostel, after an hour's siesta I do a little book study in my room and then go back to the park for about 3-4pm where I stay until about 8-9pm, including a workout in the outdoor gym and some time spent in meditation beside the lake. Occasionally I take a nap on a park bench, much to the amusement of the locals, but sometimes i'm so exhausted and the hostel seems a long way away, so if the mozzies will leave me alone long enough to snooze, that's what I do. 


Pic: Surrey & Hants Tai Chi Instructor Cherry Collins practices Chen Tai Chi in a Beijing park

I have met several local Tai Chi & Kung Fu practitioners who have warmly invited me to join in with their practice. A morning group are teaching me a Wudang Yang Shen Gong (Health Preservation) exercise set, which i'll teach to my Qigong students when I return. I've also been going through the Beijing 24 with them every morning (unsurprisingly considering where I am) and i've picked up a few revisions on that. When they ask who my teacher in UK is my answer is met by raised eyebrows and nods exclamations of approval. It seems everyone knows of Master Wang Hai Jun!

Pic: Cherry takes a break from Tai Chi and joins in with some local Beijingers' Kung Fu practice - Nine section whip. 

I've been 'adopted' by a Shaolin Kung Fu group who are making me mega-fit with their basic exercises and form work and some weapons training. I just stopped one day to watch, inevitably got chatting and next thing I knew I was handed a weapon. The rest is history, haha!

They are so enthusiastic and friendly and training with them is so much fun that it's really hard to say 'No'.  When they think this old 'Laowei' has worked hard enough (usually about the point where I stagger around like a new-born foal) my Martial Atrs family will insist I sit in the shade for a while and they find something in their bags for me to eat , encouraging  me with kind words of how well I did.  Aw, they are so lovely! One of the ladies made me a gorgeous wooden bead bracelet so I will remember them all when I leave Beijing. 

But of course, the Qigong and Shaolin training  is just for fun and only takes up a little of my training day . The main focus of my practice is the Chen Taiji forms which i'll be performing in under a month's time at the Jiaozuo International Taiji Competiton. As well as practicing forms I take a few movements each day and analyse Master Wangs DVD on my laptop, read through Chen Zhenglei's book on the corresponding forms and then practice them until they feel right. 

It's about 33-38 degrees here most days, and about 28 at night, so I'm getting through 4-5 litres of water a day in my training sessions. Actually, training starts on the way to the park when I buy the water and put it in my backpack, haha! Some evenings I finish training early and get a Tuina massage - afterwards I feel absolutely  great. 

Pic: Surrey & Hants Tai Chi instructor, Cherry Collins prepares for the 7th Jiaozuo Taiji Competition

August 14th: I haven't trained for a day and a half. I've got a head cold which is making me feel exhausted and dizzy.  I've decided to go to the massage place next to the hostel tomorrow for a Gua Sha treatment. I had Gua Sha once in 2009, which was given by the masters at a martial arts school I stayed at in Shandong and I remember it with aversion, but it killed the cold almost immediately.  I'm worried that the clock is ticking down on my training time before the competition and I can't afford to take time out of training. 

August 15th Well it wasn't pleasant, but was over in less than 10 minutes and only cost £2. Apparantly it's the oldest surviving treatment for a common cold known to man, so it must have some credence, right? As instructed I've eaten some ginger and drank some green tea, and had a bit of a snooze.

Pic: Gua Sha

LATER:  Whoohoo! 6pm and I feel great, apart from a sore back.... The sinuses have cleared and my energy has returned. I still feel a bit off-colour but I'm going down the park for a gentle training session. 

Jiaozuo Taiji Competition

Sorry for the gap in comms! I've been training as much as possible and I have just spent the last 5 days in Jiaozuo at the 7th International Taijiquan Competition.

I am now travelling with a group of 23 of Master Wang's students from around the world - China, N & S America and Europe. Eight of us were entered for the competition and we won 13 medals between us. One gold, 8 silver and 4 bronze. I am happy with my results - a silver medal for my sword form and a gold medal for my empty hand form.

Master Wang is a real celebrity here - every few metres people are pointing in his direction or stopping for a chat, an interview or a photo. Even the youngsters recognise him - kids who were probably in kindergarten when Master Wang left China to live in UK. But as three times China Overall Champion in 3 different disciplines, I guess it's not  surprising....

Pic: Cherry with Master Wang Hai Jun at Jiaozuo Competition

The best part of this week has been performing on stage in front of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, bright lights, TV cameras and a large crowd. Master Wang led our group in Laojia Yi Lu. The atmosphere was amazing and I didn't feel a hint of nerves.  I just keep reliving that moment over and over again - suberb!


Whilst staying in Jiaozuo, we paid a visit to Chen Village. It was touching to see where my teacher studied with his teacher, Chen Zhenglei and to hear about the hardships of life in the Village back then and how the tradition of Taijiquan was preserved for future generations by these diligent and incredibly self-disciplined masters. 

Pic: Master Wang Hai Jun adjusts Cherry's posture in Chen Village

Master Wang took some time off showing us around to practice some form with us in three different locations in Chen Village. We also looked around the new Chen Village Taiji Museum - a tribute to the forefathers of Taijiquan.

We visited the house and courtyard where Master Wang lived and trained with his teacher and met a couple of the neighbours, who remembered Master Wang. Master Wang spoke about training with his teacher and how, as a youngster of about 11 years of age, just arriving in the village he was unable to understand the villagers' local diallect for quite some time. 

Pic: Master Wang Hai Jun leads us in Laojia Yi Lu in Chen Village

Next, the absolute cream of my trip to China. Three more sites in Chen village which really touched me.

1. The home of Chen Zhenglei

Master Wang led us along a disused track and through an overgrown area to visit Chen Zhenglei's old house which is now in ruins - a house Master Chen built himself from free materials such as compacted earth mixed with straw, tree branches and thatch, because he couldn't afford building materials such as bricks and mortar.  Master Wang told us that despite working very long hours, enduring the poor living conditions and regular lack of food, Master Chen would never neglect his daily practice of Taiji.

Master Wang said that Grandmaster Chen lived according to the principle of Chi Ku - or 'eating bitter' which means to endure hardships without complaining, developing character traits such as patience, endurance, diligence and perseverence through hard times in order to master an art or reach a goal.  

Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei certainly has this quality and as such should stand as an example to all who train in Taijiquan.

About four years ago, I had read about this concept and it had stood out at that time as something I really wanted to achieve, to aspire to:  To be more disciplined and have a stronger determination when things were uncomfortable rather than take the easy route and just wimp out.  I had just started Taiji about a year before so I decided to get a small tattoo on my ankle with the characters Chi Ku.

But there, standing in what remained of Chen Zhenglei's old house with its mud walls and straw roof,  built by his bare hands and copious amount of sweat, and as I listened to Master Wangs weighty words, I really understood what Chi Ku meant.


2. Chen Zhaopei's grave

After visiting Chen Zhenglei's old home, we paid our respects at the grave of Chen Zhaopei, Chen Zhenglei's teacher who restored Chen Taiji to it's former glory after the ravages of war between the communists and nationalists had seen the practice of taijiquan decline in Chenjiagou. He threw open his doors and provided free training for anyone who wanted to learn. Additionally,  during the Cultural Revolution, Chen Zhaopei had been persecuted for practicing Taiji  to the point of throwing himself down a well to (unsuccessfully) commit suicide after repeated public struggle sessions.  Even so, in secret, at night, he would continue to train his students including Chen Zhenglei in the skills of Taijiquan, despite the great risk of harm to himself, should he be discovered.  Such was his passion for Taijiquan. 

This was such an emotional time for me. I stood in front of Chen Zhaopei's grave, it hit me not just in my head, but in my heart, just how much the previous generations of Chen Taiji Masters had to endure and yet still had the strength to practice faithfully through sorrow, loss,  pain, drought, flood, famine and war.

Pic: Chen Zhaopei's tomb

3. The Valley

The last stop on our tour of Chenjiagou was the valley where Master Wang  trained for thousands of hours both as a boy and a young man. At the entrance to the valley from the far end of the Village was a well which supplied Chenjiagou with it's magical water. Master Wang told us of a saying about the water:  "He he chen guo shui, dou hui qiao qiao tui". which loosely means if you drink  the water of Chenjiagou your feet will know how to kick, or you will get good Taiji skills. Needless to say I scooped up the cool refreshing spring water and gulped it down!

Master Wang showed us the footpath up a hill where he would run to training in the valley several times each day from Chen Zhenglei's house, just over the brow of the hill.

He told us that training in the valley in the dark was very special - it was often so dark you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, apart from when the moon was full. He spoke of a special air in the valley, and I could certainly feel what he meant, a heavy ,rich, pure cool  quality. 

It was such a special day.  Chen Village is hallowed ground and to be told it's rich history, personally , by my teacher Wang Hai Jun, as we visited the places of his youth, made it all come to life for me, as if i was living it too! 

Pic: Chenjiagou valley training ground 

Sadly we had to leave Chen Village behind but also on the itinerary before heading further south were Shaolin Temple and the grottoes at Longmen - both wonderful cultural sights steeped in history.

Next stop, Wudangshan.  I'm pretty excited about this. I was there in 2011 and I loved the remote temples and hidden footpaths so I can't wait to explore again. I also hope to find the Taoist teacher whom I stayed on the mountain with a couple of years ago. He's since moved, but  I hear he's still up on the mountain so I hope I can ask around and find him, with my limited Mandarin.

Pic: That's me Cherry Collins approaching the Golden Top of Wudangshan

September Update:

Well the time has gone quickly. We had a few days in Wudang - 2 days touring with the group looking at the famous sights and one day when I took some time away from my travelling companions and went up the mountain alone. I found my old Taoism teacher after some searching and we celebrated our friendship, peacefully and quietly with a cup of boiled water at a plain wooden table :) I love this about the Taoist way - no frills, no unnecessary nonsense or compulsory polite chit chat, just a genuine care for one another and just the bare necessities of life. 

After Wudang we headed further south to Zhangjiajie and visited the scenic Karst mountains and caves of the region. Again, fairy tale scenery - The inspiration for the movie Avatar came from here. Lots of steps to climb, lovely food, good company and Tai Chi. What a trip!

3.9.13  Now we are back in Beijing and will be visiting the Great Wall and Tian'anmen square plus Forbidden City. And more training, of course!

Pic: Cherry in Tian'anmen square

It has been a wonderful trip - a bit too hectic and fast at times for me but certainly exciting.

Or maybe i'm just getting too old for all this travelling!  

We'll have to see what next year brings......

2011 Training trip - the first two weeks

Posted on January 8, 2012 at 11:45 PM

Shanghai  April 2011

I flew into Shanghai on 15th April 2011 for my second training visit to China, the first trip was in 2009 when I trained full-time for six months.This time around, I stayed for 2 days in Shanghai to get by body clock on 'China time' and to see something of the city. I felt drawn to the quirky Hutongs: Centuries old ramshackle house, courtyards and narrow alleyways which bustle with activity and chatter. Life in the Hutongs is very basic, like stepping back in time to a long lost era. My budget hotel was situated on the edge of one such area and I spent a lot of time just walking around, taking in the sights sounds and smells of 'real' China.


I also visited some of the famous sights of Shanghai and had tea in a traditional tea house and took part in a blessing ceremony in a Buddhist temple. After spending a couple of days sightseeing I caught an internal flight to Yantai, Shandong Province, where I was met by staff from the martial arts school which will be home for the nex four months.

Seeing the mountains where the school is situated again was an emotional homecoming. So many life changing memories from my last stay in 2009 came flooding back - my first trip had really changed me. 

The timetable is pretty much the same as my last visit, getting up at 5.30 with 4 periods of training throughout the day, ending at 4.30pm. We are encouraged to do our own practice after this and then we have some free time before lights out at 9pm. Three of the 4 sessions are Chen Tai Chi and the fourth is Qigong - I am currently studying the Shaolin Temple style of Yi Jin Jing - i'll teach it to my class when I get back as it's amazingly strengthening and improves flexibility as well as being a lovely meditation set, when performed gently.   There is an optional Mandarin class each day as well.

A typical training session consists of:

15 minute run to warm up

10-15 minutes stretching

Basic kicks stances and arm techniques - these are practiced by repeating each one 15-20 times whilst moving up and down the training ground.

Review, correction & practice of recently learnt movements

Form practice and corrections and maybe a new movement

In the afternoon we replace form practice with applications which can be 2-person punching / kicking and blocking drills, locks (qinna) and throws / falls, or pad-work or sparring.

Friday afternoons are stamina class which varies in content but is always hard work. It might be a weights-based gym session or an hour and a half of squats, lunges, pressups and crunches, or simply holding stances for extended periods.

Tuition is given in Mandarin but as each action is demonstrated by the Masters this isn't a problem. The school has two translators, one for each master, and they translate everything the master says to the students and asks the master any questions the students may have.

 We train outside unless it's raining with a magnificent view of the hills surrounding the school, and the sounds of birds, frogs and insects.

The other students are very friendly and there's no politics. Everyone gets along fine - young & old male & female together. 

 1st May 2011

I've had a recurring leg injury and have decided i should rest it to give it a chance to heal.I'm sticking to the usual  training times, but watching DVD's on Tai Chi & Qigong instead of taking part, whilst my muscles heal.  I keep my mind busy by making notes and practicing seated Qigong or sit & read some of theTaiji  books i've brought with me. 

Students have the weekends off and we either take a half-hour bus ride (cost 30p) into town for a tuina massage (£5/hr)  and a browse around the market and some street food.  Or we sometimes go for a walk in the hills surrounding the school and a swim in the lake, Occasionally we go to the beach in Yantai, which is about a 90 minute bus ride away.   About half an hour away there is a Taoist temple and a national park, which is a lovely place to spend a relaxing day.


Yes, my uniform is PINK!!


There are currently 5 other students here, from UK, USA, Japan and Germany, but the small class sizes mean you get lots of attention from the Masters.  Soon there will only be two of us and i'll benefit from 1:1 tuition.

I have my own room which has a bed, desk, chair and a cupboard. Meals are provided 3 times a day. This normally consists of a bowl of rice topped with various vegetables and maybe a few shavings of meat a few times a week. Occasionally we get a fish.  I have eaten a few weird things since i got here - some sort of beetle type bugs (cooked but still runny inside with a very pungant flavour) plus chickens feet and chickens head!  


A stay on Mount Wudang (Wudangshan)

Posted on January 3, 2012 at 1:05 AM

July 2011

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, there has been a lengthy drought in Shandong province, where I am staying. The lake just up the road from the school which supplies the farmers and villagers with 100% of their water requirements completely dried up and the school spring also ran dry

The school's headmaster made several trips to town to buy barrels of drinking water, so training continued without interruption for a while. But with the lake and river drying up, personal hygiene became a real issue. I was unable to shower or wash my clothes for nearly two weeks and all the time still  training 4 sessions a day in stifling heat. And of course there was nothing to flush the WC with so,  well - you can imagine the rest!

As there were only two students, including myself, at the school at that time, and since we both wanted to do a bit of travelling, it was decided to close the school for two weeks, allowing the masters, translators and other staff to go back to their homes where water may be more plentiful. 


I took the opportunity to climb Hua Shan in Shaanxi province as I heard it is an awesome hike, and it didn't dissappoint. Then after spending a day in Xian, I took a 5 hour bus ride to Wudanshan.  On the mountain I lived and trained with a Taoism  teacher who is also the director of the Wudanshan Taoist Association. His rooftop training school an hour bus ride from the bottom of the mountain, 100 metres before the road ends at the South Cliff peak of Wudang Mountain.

My teacher and guide, Lao Gu,  is a wonderful human being!  He is incredibly insightful and wise and extremely kind. Before opening his own school he worked as a tour guide on the mountain. His experience, along with his Taoist beliefs means that he knows the history of just about every temple on the mountain and the 'secret' footpaths which link one to another, well away from the concrete tourist paths and ice cream sellers! 

Some of my best memories of my time with Lao Gu are trotting clumsily along behind him as he effortlessly sprinted up the steep rocky footpaths whilst sharing Taoist stories and philosophy with me. Upon reaching a deserted temple, after the last of the tourists had left for the day, we would practice Wudan Style Tai Chi Chuan together. On one occasion we visited Lao Tsu's Temple for a talk on Taoism and then practiced Tai Chi there. On another occasion we practiced at the Purple Cloud Palace. During one mountain walk, he told me of a cave where his own master spent several years in contemplative seclusion, in the famous hermit tradition of Wudangshan. Later, whilst hiking in my spare time and exploring the mountain, I came across his Masters cave, on the steep south cliff of Wudangshan. Amazing!  Lao Gu appeared in the 2010 remake of Karate Kid movie which starred Jackie Chan and he took me to several of the film locations and told me their history.


Training at the Taoist Wellness School consisted of 4 periods a day on the rooftop training terrace. This overlooks a deep tree covered valley and some craggy peaks - so very typically Wudang. Pre breakfast "Taoist health preserving Exercises" were especially mystical, as the night gave way to the sun rising above the swirling mists that clung to the mountains. I don't think i have ever experienced a more 'magical' place on Earth!

Chinese Martial Arts Competition

Posted on January 1, 2012 at 7:45 PM

8th August 2011

After returning from my Wudangshan trip I began training in earnest for the competition. I was being entered in two sections - Chen Taijiquan empty hand form section and the Chen weapons section (performing the Dao /Broadsword routine). Training was stepped up and some extra1:1 evening  training sessions were added.

The annual competiton, held in Yantai City - about 2 hours drive from the school, started at 8.30am and wrapped up around 4pm with participants coming form all over the Province, young and old. Some of the competitiors were phenominal martial artists with skills I imagine they have been honing from a very young age. The competition was held in a large sports centre and it was an experience to perform in front of a panel of about 20 judges and a crowd of about a thousand people who had come along to watch. All in all about 30 teams totalling about 300 people from around the Province had entered with ages ranging from about 7 to 70. In every spare corner there were marial artists stretching out, running through forms or getting a last minute lecture from their coach. 


My nerves kicked in a little as I walked out to the 'x' to start my form. An unexpected surprise was that my form had to be cut down to fit within the 3 minute time limit, something i found out about a minute before my turn. 

After our performances we had to wait several hours until the prize giving ceremony to discover our scores. For the Hand Form I scored 8.65 (from 10) and for the Dao form I did a little better, getting 8.85. Luckily, both scores were good enough to gain a gold medal.  




Back to the UK at last

Posted on January 1, 2012 at 12:50 PM

18th August 2011

Well the time has flown by and i'm now back in the UK teaching again. The last month at the school was enjoyable and I took some time off at weekends to swim in the lake which was  full again after the drought which caused the school well, lake and rivers to completely dry up. Some weekends i'd hike in the hills surrounding the school, which provided some exhillerating moments and a just a small amount of scarring...

But a challenge is what makes us come alive - pushing the boundaries just a little, trying something you haven't had the confidence to do before. Breaking with the 'conditioning' and expectations that we all grow up with and doing something positive for yourself for a change!

Maybe you've had it in your mind to embark on a life-changing journey but lack the confidence in yourself. Whatever you have in your heart to do, GO FOR IT!  I had no experience of travelling the world before, but I found that all I needed to do was take it one step at a time and keep looking at the positives rather than the possible problems I may come across.  

And if I can do it, so can YOU 

Why not come along to one of our classes for an hour and see what Taiji and Qigong have to offer? Perhaps, just like me, you might discover something so powerful that it will completely transform your life and take you to places you never imagined :)

Practising Wudang Tai Chi at the top of Wudang Mountain as the morning mists lift to reveal a stunning landscape. Some of the most magical and deeply grounding moments of my life!