Kevin Berry looks into the Chinese arts and Weihai Lishi Quanfa
I saw a Wu Shu class in a gym at Leeds University and immediately wanted to join in. There were 40 ordinary-looking people of all ages moving with absolute grace and impressive power. I was reminded of the Shaolin Kung Fu monks and the more artistic Chinese martial arts films. I wanted to move like that and, despite the fact that I was 55, feeble and stricken with asthma, they said I could. That was five years ago. I went to classes and I began to move in that fashion, and I haven’t had an asthma attack since I have strength and vigour and am improving daily.
Wu Shu is a generic
term for Chinese exercise. The ordinary people I had seen were students of Weihai Lishi Quanfa, a system which is based on whole body breathing techniques and the use
of Qi energy, which comes from deep within the body, at its very centre. Qi is channelled through the body and
students learn how to summon and use it.
The essentials of Weihai Lishi Quanfa are over 2,000 years old, and it is first and foremost an art form the system is often referred to as the Chinese arts. Some elements might look like martial arts, but there is no violence and nobody gets hurt. In class, the experienced students will willingly pair up with a newcomer, as indeed working with newcomers is part of the system’s philosophy.
The Weihai Lishi Quanfa system is taught by The College of Chinese Physical Culture, which is based in Leeds. The college is the educational arm of the International Daoist Society. Teachers from the college take classes throughout the UK and across Europe and America, as well as weekend courses in major cities and Easter and summer courses in Leeds.
Alex Boyd is the college’s deputy principal. “Our system is recognised as a form of movement and dance by the Central Council for Physical Recreation. It involves set dance forms as well as a high degree of improvised dance. We do have a dance sequence called The Dance. Its traditional name is the Flying Hand and it has 180 set movements.
“When two people are dancing together on something we call ‘roll aways’ (a sequence involving subtlety and balance), one person sends movement towards the other with hands and feet and the other person has a whole repertoire of choice when they respond. Movement patterns and rhythms flow to and fro you don’t know what’s coming next.”
When we spoke, Alex and Desmond Murray the college’s principal and guiding light were arranging to fly out to UC Davies University, in California, to work with dancers and actors. Last Spring they were in the US working with Kim Epifano, the contact improvisation dancer.
“One thing we do very well is warming up the body and preparing it for exercise”, says Alex. “Athletes and professional dancers can benefit from that.
“When I was younger, I had an audition at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. I didn’t take up the place because I couldn’t get a grant. But when I was there I noticed that the final year students were very, very stressed. They were smoking and their lifestyle and diet wasn’t very good. Professional dancers need support. They need to be able to warm up properly and relax.”
Roy Stockburn has used Weihai Lishi Quanfa in dance choreography and to warm up his dancers. His company teaches break dancing and other street styles in schools and community centres.
Roy says he was never good at sports during his schooldays, until he tried and enjoyed karate. His teacher, a world renowned Japanese instructor, suggested some T’ai Chi because the system had improved his own karate.
“He was in his fifties and he didn’t look more than 35”, Roy recalls. “His speed and movement were incredible. So I thought there must be something in this”.
Roy saw an advertisement for evening classes in Weihi Lishi Quanfa. He went along and was astonished. It was not simply T’ai Chi there was so much more. He wanted to learn about the philosophy and knowledge behind the system.
“The Chinese arts unlocked a potential in me” he says. “Understanding the principles of relaxed movement, the flow and the footwork, enabled me to learn other movements. Without it, breakdancing would have been too difficult for me.”
Roy revealed another interesting connection when he explained that back in the 1970s the pioneers of break dancing were watching kung fu films when they evolved the style, so many kung fu movements were incorporated.
“When we started the company I devised teaching methods based on the way I had been taught the Chinese arts”, he adds. “They are the basis of everything we do”.
Students with mobility problems have benefited from the Weihai Lishi Quanfa system. There are many instances of people who came to classes with walking sticks and after a few weeks the sticks were left at home. My own teacher, Therese Maini, was severely injured in a car crash.
“I had no strength, no balance and my right side was very stiff. I had no memory and my self esteem was very low”, she says. “There was a course in Lyon, where I lived, and I went along. It was interesting, and so I came to England for an Easter course and met LaoBa [Desmond Murray’s Chinese name] and I really loved his teaching. At the same time, I started to study Chinese medicine.
“I came to Leeds for the courses during every holiday. My sister was here in Leeds working as a French assistant so I decided to live here, and I am now back to good health. I’m also a qualified acupuncturist and I teach the Chinese arts!”.
So, it seems that in every case: once you’ve tried Wu Shu, you won’t look back. I can vouch for that.
The IDS is the governing body of Weihai Lishi Quanfa. Telephone 0113 2930 630,
visit www.lishiarts.org or email
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.