Yet again, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. This time it has partly been due to the turmoil of moving, this time from the Shaolin Temple back to Kunyu Shan, but that was a while ago now so I can’t really blame that too much. Anyway at least I’m getting a post out now.
Anyway, the last few weeks of training at the temple were a little strange. We knew that somewhere near the end of the month we would be heading back to Kunyu shan but we didn’t have an actual date. We would ask every now and then, so we could try and get train tickets early, but Sifu was not sure exactly when he would be leaving either. It also transpired that, because we had been somewhat vocal with our dislike of Kunyu shan, Sifu had organised for us to stay longer at the temple, but that he would be leaving us a little earlier. Training still continued though, although a little intensified as we hurried to finish our forms before we lost him. I was very pleased to finish my Tiger form and even rush through an absolutely awesome moon blade form, videos of them may follow when I get back to the UK. After a few good weeks of training though we discovered, after repeated probing, that Sifu would be leaving us at the end of the week and a new Sifu would fill in for one more week before the school at the temple would close. And so we entered the last week of our time with Sifu. A strange feeling after so many months and a time of decisions for many at the school. A number of people were considering leaving to try other schools in the area although thankfully they all later decided to come back to Kunyu. There were numerous chats with Sifu, to organise exactly who would would continue to train with and what we were hoping to achieve. And then, a day earlier than we had thought, Sifu told us he would be leaving that evening, immediately after our last class. So, Sifu with bags in hard, we went down to the training field and performed our forms, all of them, for Sifu and the rest of the class. A very tiring task for some, especially when you see the five forms that I learnt with him. At first the atmosphere was similar to one at a grading, serious and a little fearful of making mistakes but quickly we realised that wasn’t the aim of the session. As we performed, instead of glaring at as with his sternest, most critical expression, Sifu simply beamed his giant friendly grin, so warming and, I would hope, even a little proud. It was strangely validating but also there was a definite feeling that this was the end of something. After we had all finished our performances (all recorded by the way) we took some photos with Sifu before heading back to the road. There, we said brief goodbyes and Sifu, not being a man for speeches, said a few words before heading off to meet up with his family in Zhengzhou. I’m still not sure if this is typical of China and the Chinese or just something about Sifu but there rarely seems to be any sense of sentimentality here. This situation was no different and as he walked away, seemingly unaffected by the moment, I doubt I was only one among us to be holding back a tear and working hard not to choke on my words. After all, for the last 10 months I had spent nearly every day working harder than ever before to get his approval. The only people I’ve ever worked so hard for the approval of are my parents, and even then I don’t think it’s even been this constant or demanding, nor maybe will it ever be.
Sifus departure, to me, meant the end of my time at the Shaolin temple and the next day I was packing and preparing to leave. About half the group, coincidentally, needed to go back to Kunyu shan that weekend for Visas so I choose to go with them. A couple of days later, after some hurried goodbyes to the friendly shop keepers and locals that had come to recognise my face (even the lovely dog and cats at the local store), I was on a bus back to Yantai. Usually this journey would be by train but to get sleeper tickets on trains you often need to book a fair bit in advance and sadly this time we did not have the chance. The bus actually turned out to be almost more comfortable than a sleeper ticket on the train, quicker than the train, and only slightly more expensive. Instead of having seats the bus was actually just filled with bunk beds, which were actually quite comfy, the only problem was that for some reason they seemed determined to wake you up every couple of hours. Usually by stopping, turning on the lights, then forcing you to get out of bed and get off the bus for 10 minutes or so. Very annoying. Anyway, other than that the only think that made this journey uncomfortable was the absolutely ridiculous amounts of luggage that we all had. Between the 6 of us we had so much baggage we could not move it all in one trip. We had to set up checkpoints and move blocks of bags in repeated trips back and forwards. It was so awkward that we completely gave up on taking any other busses and simply hired overpriced taxi vans to take us from and to the schools ether end of the main coach journey. Somehow we managed it all though, feeling like it was actually quite an achievement, and we arrived at the school on the Monday morning, just in time for the 8:30 lineup.
Even though past experiences at Kunyu shan had not always been the best, there was a definite feel of excitement at returning this time. As we ran in and joined lineup, seeing many familiar faces their, it was like a fresh start. A change in the routine. As as they say, a change is as good as a rest. Of course my body would disagree slightly but my mind was happy to accept that. One of the other nice things about returning after the summer at the temple was that all the translators and some of the masters recognise me from before and greeted me with warm smiles or hugs. Especially my new Sifu who quickly approached to pat me on the back, shake my hand and ask how I was, before returning to serious Sifu mode before the rest of the class. Also, somehow word quickly spread that we were the Shaolin temple group, returning for the winter, which somehow generates it’s own respect. Combine that with meeting up again with people you already know at the school, either from Visa trips or simply from last winter and you have a very warm welcome back to the school.
The rest of that day was then spent unpacking, catching up with a few people, doing a basic shopping trip, then resting. Next morning though, I awoke fresh and excited to get started on Wing Chung and Baji. Two areas of martial arts I’d been really looking forward to learning. Since then, it’s been three weeks and I’m really pleased with my choice to switch, at least for a bit. The training is quite different and really focuses on different areas than Shaolin so I feel like I’m still being worked. That is except for the forms classes, which actually take up a large proportion of the weekly schedule. We always used to tease the wing chung guys about how they just stand around in a silly stance waving their arms around a bit but it’s true (well, to a degree). While in shaolin my forms involved leaping around, screaming, low painful stances and explosive displays of power, wing chung feels like a walk in the park. The motions are much smaller and more practial and very energy efficient. Baji looks to be a little more energetic but not as far as I’ve got to in the form. I’m definitely picking it up a little quicker than most too, as I learnt the basic steps and stances form in about 3 days, where some have taken 3 weeks. I think I have the advantage over many people though that I’ve already been here almost 10 months and even though it was a different style I worked on it really does all get easier once you’ve been through this sort of routine.
Now, just because I’ve said the forms are easier doesn’t mean that I’m getting a nice relaxing run up to Christmas. On the contrary, I was surprised to find many things that the wing chung group do are actually quite a bit harder than the shaolin groups. For example, as part of the warm ups we now have to add in knuckle and finger tip push-ups and trying to do the splits, that’s twice a day. Then once a week we have stance training, which is pretty much just holding low stances for some number of minutes, depending on how difficult the stance is. That one hurts quite a bit at the beginning but tends to get easier as the session goes on, strangely. Also, power training and power stretching are combined in this group, which makes them each a bit shorter, which was at first a relief, but they’re followed by a long session of other exercises. These are easily the most painful part of the week. They usually start with planking on your knuckles on the concrete for 7 minutes, then tiger claw press ups. Those are a little hard to explain but trust me it’s excruciating, imagine instead of using you finger tips, you use the first knuckle on each finger. I can barely support my weight in that position at the moment. There are then many other crazy exercises, like one handed press ups, leg raises for 5 minutes, dragon walking, bridges, etc, etc, before the class finally ends. All in all it’s a painful afternoon. Good though, if you consider that each week I’m getting better at it, and my fingers, arms, abs, etc are going to be like rock after a few months. Anyway, that’s then followed by circuit training the next morning but it’s actually not as bad as I thought it was going to be, although the wall punching parts are bruising up my knuckles even more.
So that’s pretty much it up to now. I had planned to also write a little more detail on my plans for when I get back to the UK in December but this post has been in my drafts for about two weeks now so I really need to post it and start a new one. Also I definitely need to tell you all about last weeks torture session under the guise of a massage, in which I probably suffered more almost unbearable amounts of pain, that I have in all the rest of my training. Anyway, I’ll leave all that for the next post and say goodnight for now.