Willjan Hendrikx – A Kung Fu summer

WiljanBeep…Beep…Beep. It’s a quarter to six in the morning and my alarm shows no mercy. From a far and distant dreamland of sheer happiness I’m being dragged into harsh reality. Again, whereas this ritual repeats itself daily. With a sigh, I get myself up with a fluent movement. At least, that’s what I intent to do but a soar muscle prevents me from making the movement as smooth as I envisioned it. During a morning yawn, the realization kicks in: I’m not at home and I don’t have a day of PhD work ahead. Instead, I’m at a Kung Fu academy in rural China and another warm day of Kung Fu training awaits me. Now hurry for some relaxing early morning Tai Chi!

My name is Wiljan and I work as a PhD researcher and lecturer at a Dutch university. Last April, two friends and I decided to make the summer of 2015 epic. Instead of the usual summer holiday of relaxation and traveling, we choose for something completely different. We applied for a one month stay at Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, China. Each of us had his own specific motivations for doing so. Mine revolved around the fact that during the year practically all my activities are very cognitive in nature: reading, writing, gathering and analyzing data, teaching etc. Despite its many positive aspects, doing a PhD is not automatically good for your physical condition, to make a bold understatement. I enthusiastically accepted the physical – and mental – challenge of going to a Kung Fu academy in an effort to ‘be more active’. Nevertheless, the very fact that I went in slightly – ok fair enough, leave out the ‘slightly’ – untrained did worry me. Luckily, this worry turned out to be unnecessary. Yes, it was by far the toughest thing I have ever done, but yes, it was awesome!

Looking back on the entire experience, there are at least two things that stand out to me and that I am particularly grateful for. First, enduring – and most of all enjoying – the physical trial gave me a huge kick. Being challenged to work hard and push myself to the limit was not only a fantastic experience in itself, it was also very encouraging to find out this ‘limit’ moves up gradually, showing significant improvement of strength and fitness. To me even more important, the constant focus on control of movement, stability, and power in the different elements included in the Kung Fu training made me experience a more positive balance between body and mind. It made me stop thinking and start doing. A truly relaxing experience. Second, as a PhD researcher my work revolves around the professional identity of teachers and doctors. To keep it short: professionalism in broad sense fascinates me. Being a student at the Kung Fu academy offered me the valuable experience of a completely different perspective on learning and mastering ‘professionality’. In contrast to Western academia, where you learn to manage your own education, the process of learning at a Kung Fu academy is one of letting go of control. In a way you have to transfer the responsibility of your development to the Kung Fu master while working hard with discipline and commitment. In turn, the master is devoted to the training of his students, feeling responsible for – and taking pride in – their progress. There is no standardized trajectory; no ‘teaching to the test’. In a way this kind of learning seems to come close to the kind that took place in traditional gilds where students were working towards mastering crafts.

I would love to thank Master Du, Master Bao, Mona & Lisa – I could have put the last two names the other way around, but I prefer this order for obvious reasons – and all the other students for making this an unforgettable and truly inspiring experience. The future will tell whether it will be a ‘once in a lifetime’ thing for me, but I think I will definitely be back at the academy one day. For now, I even found myself doing Tai Chi at 6am in the park the other day before starting my PhD work!

Wiljan Hendrikx

Advertisements

We are not in Kansas anymore

China is not like home, if it was, what would be the point of going here? China, the academy and the lifestyle here is so tremendously different from back home, it’s not worse or better, its different and different sometimes takes some getting used to.

Morning-training-kungfu-china-run

Life is simple here in a way that is not possible at home, it gives you the opportunity to enjoy the little things in life. Like looking at the scenery and enjoying the weather when you are on your 15-20 minutes’ walk to the bus. The fields here are a lot nicer than the concrete buildings in my block.

The internet is not very good, there is only one hot shower, the food is monotonous, the washing machine is only with cold water and sometimes the power goes out for hours or even a day. You do not consider coming here for the luxurious accommodation, then you are better suited for just staying home or go on yet another all-inclusive beach holiday for an entire different price as well. What you are most likely to want from this stay is an experience of Chinese culture, an adventure for life and lots of kung fu training and that is exactly what you will get and it is amazing.

2015-09-09 06.11.49People are here for very different reasons and there is room for everybody. There is an age span of 25 years and still people get along across almost generations because of the common interest for kung fu. Some are here just because it sounded fun to do for a short period of time, some are here for a very long time in order to be so good that they can open a kung fu school back home or use it for other educational matters, some just for personal interest in martial arts, some because they needed a break from home and some because they are searching for both a question and an answer. The school itself does not have any answers, they just provide the settings, the atmosphere and the opportunity to sit down and ponder and come up with the answers on your own.

2015-08-28-20.010There are good days and bad days down here or sometimes you can have a perfect culture shock switch from hating everything to realize that it is not all that bad at all within a single day. I had one after a few weeks. “I feel miserable, my back hurts, I hate china and I am out of chocolate” that was the first part of the day. In the afternoon we went to Wongchon, ate dumplings, went shopping, I got compliments for my Chinese when I bought chicken (major win), went to the supermarket and then ate a pile of junk food. Then suddenly I didn’t feel so blue and went to bed happy about China and life again.

When I am at home I am one of those business people, always looking immaculate with the perfect clothes and makeup (that’s what I am aiming for at least), here I have been wearing makeup and regular clothes 4 times in 6 weeks and then still very relaxed. Even though I am not one of the worst persons (considering that I am a girl) it is still somehow liberating to just get up put a little water in your face, put on your slightly smelling, despite that they have been washed, training cloths and just go downstairs and start training. I never thought I would get used to that, but even the constant slight smell of sweat from myself or the others has become normal (even though that took a little longer to get used to).

On occasion the only thing you can hear is the wind and bugs summing, most of the time though there is cacophony of sounds from the life at the school. Someone playing music, a door smacking, the pet cat, Mimi, meowing like someone is torturing her (her way of saying “give me attention”), the dogs barking the ducks/chickens/geese quacking or the time confused rooster that often thinks 3 AM is sunrise. Those are the sounds from within the school. From the outside you can hear the farmers on their scooters on their way to their fields, the cows and more chickens. In my world, that beats the sound of constant car noises or construction work in my street at home. I would not mind the rooster moving away though, or just getting a sense of time.

2015-08-30-08.27When we are running you can be assured to get a smile, a wave or (I hope it is) an encouraging comment in Chinese on the way. When it was peanut harvest season they would not seldom offer you a handful of strings full of peanuts. This is the first time I have seen ( or even thought of) how peanuts are grown and harvested. They work kind of like potatoes, it’s a small bush like plant you dig up and then there are small strings with the peanuts attached. They are being pulled from the ground, then picked and laid to dry in the sun. The plants are also being dried in order to later be grinded up for feeding for the chickens in winter, no waste. Everything is done by hand and in a cozy no stress manner, they are just sitting in their fields and talking while they work. Fresh peanuts tastes so much better than the dried ones we get at home, they taste more fresh, juicier and crisp.

Behind the academy there is a small land area, it is the plan that in the future it should be turned into a small forest park for training but right now it is used for farming, all sorts of things but all something used in the food here at the school. When I came the watermelon season had just finished in the garden. They all got a dreaming look on their face when they explained how Mama Bao would come in during dinner/lunch with a bowl full of ice cold juicy cut watermelon on those extremely hot summer days.

When there is no training there are three things people are spending their time on (when they are not sleeping or eating).
1. Watching movies/series. Most students with respect for themselves have an external hard drive with enough hours to last the next three years.2015-09-27 14.19.45
2. Cross-stitching; never have I ever seen so many guys go crazy in a shop of cross-stitching embroidery, seriously, they can spend hours in there! Much worse than when I am looking at bags.
3. Pondering over the big things in life, but mostly about “how on earth did that giant bug come in to my room when the window is closed” or “how can we teach the cat to stop meowing constantly”.

When students talk together there is one subject we keep coming back to over and over again and that is food. It is the main reason for going anywhere, super market is the second reason (and that’s food too), and we can start discussing already Sunday/Monday what and where we are going to eat in the coming weekend. Another famous question around the same subject is “what is the first thing you are going to eat when you get home?” when I got that questions in my first days I was taken a bit back by it, I had just gotten here, I wanted Chinese food! It took my only a week until I started joining those conversations about steak, gravy, potatoes, ice cream, pancakes, nachos, waffles and what not.

2015-09-28 14.29.30The school has a bookshelf full of all sorts of books. They are brought here by the students and then left for future students to enjoy (and make space in their suitcases for souvenirs) there is a great mix of both languages and subjects, enough for many hours of fun when you get tired of cross-stitching (I still haven’t understood that, must be a guy thing).

Another “famous” thing are the bakeries, they are full of cake, cake is good.
2015-08-22 15.49.092015-08-22 15.49.03

There is no place like home, but china is pretty awesome too.

Week of goodbyes

We were 13 students for a very short time, then within 8 days 6 people left and one went on holiday for 2 weeks. Suddenly the school feels a little empty, even though we know more students are coming soon. It is always hard to say goodbye, you get to be quite close when you live and train together with people in the way it is done here.

20150820_122202One of the students leaving were a returning student, he had been there for one month last summer and had liked it so much that he came back this summer for another month. He has a very hectic job and as he said, this was the only place where he felt that he could let it go proper before going back. A few days before his departure he bought a gigantic cake, maybe inspired by some of the students (I am completely innocent) complaining that it had been a while since they had cake. It was a gorgeous cake, layers with jam and pieces of fruit and lots of cream on it. Master Du apparently has a thing for cake, he was the first on the spot and he got the biggest piece and looked very happy with it.
20150820_12242820150820_12240620150820_122125

20150819_191247One of the other students leaving was a one year student, and then something a little bigger is arranged. He invited all the students and masters out for dinner at a restaurant, we got the biggest table and the biggest menu plan they had for 1000 yuan. That was an experience; everybody had dressed up for the occasion. When you don’t get to go out much and are dressed in training cloths most of the time it is nice to have a reason to do it. 20150819_194701People look very different in “normal” clothes. The food was amazing, they just kept bringing in food and people were attacking it like they had been starving for days. It was traditional Chinese food, and lots of it, some were better than others and some were uneatable because they were too spicy. We were sitting there for a few hours just talking and having fun 20150819_202043before it was time to go home and sleep around 22. The day after he left, as is tradition, we were all there to say goodbye when the taxi came to pick him up and we waved him goodbye. As a proper goodbye there even were a few tears.

The last ones to leave were the Dutch guys I had arrived with. 3½ week had passed and they were on their way home to the daily hassle and I haven’t even adjusted to the life here yet. They were set to leave at 6 am on a Saturday morning, most said their goodbyes to them in the evening. Traditions are not adhered to when it is 6 in the morning on the day you can sleep in. 2015-08-25-12.30On the same day, just a few hours later the only other girl at the school left for a 2 week holiday and suddenly we were 6 people left. The good thing about it is that the rest of us has the master all to ourselves and we learn faster 😛

In a few days there is a new guy coming, a Dane even. You might not know it yet, but we will take over the world. There is no plan for when the next students after the Dane is coming but there are rumors that there are quite a few coming in a months’ time 😀

George Sklavounos

George-sklavounosWhen writing this post after finishing my two months at Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, I couldn’t really think of anything particularly amazing – mostly because everything I’d experienced had been amazing in one way or another. Having said that, there are a few choice moments that stand out: power stretching, power training, and stamina training. These three classes come but once a week, all on Thursday or Friday, and are all memorable experiences.

Power stretching is a form of medieval torture I’m assuming was reserved for only the most heinous offenders. It’s a series of stretches designed less to warm your body up and more to increase your flexibility, usually by having your body pushed as far as it can go and then holding that position for a count to 20. My first power stretching class wasn’t too rough; everyone’s always trying to prevent injuries and I was with the most senior student, so he knew what he was doing and took it easy on me. The next week, though, was significantly rougher. What made it even more interesting was the fact that at the end, the Headmaster told us all that we weren’t stretching far enough, and that students should be screaming in pain during power stretching class. We didn’t quite understand what he meant until the next week, when he personally took charge of power stretching some young Chinese boys who had come to learn at the school. Feeling your leg stretched almost to breaking point, then looking up and seeing a small boy crying and screaming in pain as a Shaolin master presses down on his back isn’t something I’ll soon forget. We were all kind of amused though, because we were all in the same boat as them, we just couldn’t bend as far.

china-kungfu-shaolin-wushu-malingPower training is the signpost used to mark the start of the weekend; it’s the last hurdle on a Thursday before training starts to wind down. It’s usually a series of exercises involving two bricks – things like holding sanda stance with two bricks until shifu says stop, flys with bricks while holding them up in between motions, side kicks with bricks, front kicks with bricks, and holding mabu (horse stance) with bricks. I’m not sure whether it’s because the school is running out of bricks or to give motivation for proper balance, but it’s common knowledge that dropping your brick will result in 30 pushups, and breaking your brick results in 100. Still not as bad as some sanda classes, where every punch your opponent connects with your face is 10 pushups for you.

Finally, stamina training, possibly my favourite class of them all. Stamina training is a 10 kilometre run through beautiful Chinese farmland, a small market nearby, then up a hill to a teahouse and back. It’s a fantastic way to finish off the week, running through trees and smiling and waving to the locals yelling ‘hello’ to you from their cars or from the street, then finally reaching the top of the hill and smelling fresh pine trees all around you – something I haven’t seen anywhere else in China.

Power stretching, power and stamina training make up the triumvirate of support classes that make you faster, stronger, more flexible, and able to practice longer. I could instantly tell the difference after my second week with how much easier it was to do my forms and basics, and how much stronger I felt. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mandarin classes; I’ve been studying Chinese for a year and a half and still didn’t really feel like I had a grip on the language, but being around so many Chinese people and having the school’s translator, Mona, happily answer my questions and explain the proper way to say things has made me a lot more confident in my Chinese abilities.

Stories from a weekend

20150814_190613My second weekend, Friday evening entertainment was poker night, Texas holdem. Some of the guys went out and bought some crates of beer, amazingly 2,5% but still. Normally the students don’t drink beer at the school but every now and then we get permission to drink one or two for an occasion like poker night. The buy-in was 10 yuan and the winner would get the trophy Totoro piggy bank (I love Totoro) with all the coins accumulated over an entire year from one of the students about to leave. My poker experience is a few games 10 years -ish ago so I didn’t have the highest expectations of myself. 20150814_194805Somehow though my pile of money grew bigger, despite me not being entirely sure why I won half the time…. We started 8 people, by the time we were down to 4 I had started getting the idea of the game, it took me 5 hours in total, but I won!!! 😀 😀 the only guy in the room who was actually good at poker told me it was a phenomenon called “beginners luck”, I choose to dismiss that. 20150815_000754I won the Totoro!
After a few days i counted all the money in the Totoro, (thats how much free time i have) and it contained 389 yuan. most of what will be given away, in a new jar, the same way when i leave. Poker.

On the Saturday I had been looking forward to sleeping in, especially since the poker match had lasted until 00.30. But no, 5.30 I woke up, the rooster outside my window didn’t really help either, pure determination to sleep-in resulted in that I fell asleep again all the way until 7.30 and then I gave up. Spend the morning reading and considering doing some of the stuff I was supposed to do but not actually doing any of it. Being a student for so many years has made a master of procrastination.20150815_141841 We went to the city, I got the adventure of a massage that turned out to be not really what I thought I paid for (see post about injury).20150815_141602 But on the good side I got the most amazing banana split. It actually tasted like ice-cream, and it had 3 different flavored toppings and we even got extra chocolate!! It was a little bit of heaven. While i was disappointed about my massage some of the guys had a different and more fun time playing pool around the corner with quite good quality tables, except the one i played a little at, that table must have been crooked.2015-08-22-15.23

In the supermarket I had some extra time, mostly because I didn’t have the insane list of things I needed like at my first trip. The bad thing about that is that I spend some extra time on the snacks/chocolate/drinks isles. I bought quite a deal, telling myself that then it should be able to last for an entire week, or two if I were a little strict on myself (don’t know who I was trying to fool with that).

I love Sundays!

The amount of things you don’t have to do is great. There are no other plans than the ones you make yourself. It is amazing to have an entire day to rest your body, mind and muscles. If I were at home I would also say something about catching up on sleep, but I still wake up latest at 7 and my back still haven’t gotten used to the bed so more than 8 hours is not really possible for me yet, I will keep practicing it though.

2015-08-29-14.48My biggest problem with Sundays is that I apparently have the backbone of an earthworm ( Christmas wish, again) and having an entire room full of snacks and candy is not helping.
The pile I had thought would last for a week or two didn’t even last to the afternoon. Among others (chips, wine-gums), I ate insane 460grams/1 pound of snickers. Small ones individually packed but somehow I applied that smoking thing of turning on a new cigarette with the last of the one you were smoking to snickers. I opened one, ate it, and before I finished chewing on the last bit I was opening the next one. And I don’t even like snickers that much!!! I am almost disappointed that I didn’t even get a bad stomach, I really would have deserved it. On the other hand I think I broke the record for how much weight you can gain in 2 days…. Good thing it is Monday and back to training tomorrow.

INJURY!!!!!!

I´m 30 years old (still working my mind around that I should be an adult (not going very well)) and my body is starting to act out. An old back injury came back and caused inscrutable pain for 2 days. It might have something to do with me getting hit by a car, doing nothing for 2 weeks and then going to China and train 4-6 hours a day, stupid body can’t even handle that…. It happened on a Thursday and the only thing that kept me afloat was painkillers and the thought of the massage I was getting on the Saturday.

massage-pain-china-mandarin-kungfu-relief-shaolinSadly my idea of a massage mixed with my really bad Chinese resulted in a package that I thought would include a 90 minute full body massage and hopefully instant pain relief. Instead it turned out to be a 10 minute face massage, 2 minute shoulder rub, 3 minutes trying to talk Chinese/understand that the massage guy wanted to know if the water my feet was in was the right temperature. This was followed by a 45 minute foot wash/pedicure/massage, very nice, but also slightly awkward since I don’t really like people touching my feet…. 15 minutes where spend on massaging my arms and legs including 2 minutes where he tried to stretch my leg upwards and started ramping in Chinese on something I can only assume was about my flexibility (it was actually good) and me in broken Chinese explain its because I do Kungfu at the Maling shaolin kungfu academy.massage-china-pain-kungfu-shaolin-training The last 15 minutes where finally spend on massaging my back, or at least 13 minutes of them, 2 of them where used on, at least I think, talking to the other masseuse saying that my shoulders where hard as concrete since he even had her reach over from the other bed to touch them…
But at least the beds were soft, i also think i would have enjoyed it at least a bit more if i hadn’t expected something completely different (something nerdy about Monthy Python and the Spanish inquisition)

I took a picture of the “menu card” at the reception of the place, pretty determent to have Mona, the Chinese translator at the school tell me what I actually ordered and which one I should point at next time. I really should get better at Chinese…

Sunday my back was still hurting, but at least I was off the pain meds, my new hope is that hard training will ease the pain, or at least move it to other parts of the body.
Hard training did NOT help…. Back on the pain meds…. Talked with the shifu about what to do, he gave me some stretching exercises and even offered to give me a little massage. That helped so I could then at least breathe without pain. Some of the other students mentioned a guy doing acupuncture in a nearby town that was cheap and good. Despite my distrust in alternative treatments I said yes, almost before they finished their suggestion for me to try it, anything to get the pain away and to be able to train again.

tucktuck-china-kungfu-training-shaolin-painA tuck-tuck was called after lunch and it turned out two other students wanted to join me and the translator as well. From the outside it doesn’t really look like much, and the inside (and the damp smell) didn’t change that perception either. The one thing that was positive though was the “doctor”, he listened very carefully when the translator told him about my problems and seemed genuinely interested in helping me.Chinese-medicine-acupuncture-pain-shaolin-kungfu-wushu He pushed around on my back in order to find the spots that were hurting before putting a ton of needles in me and even setting one of them on electrical impulses before letting me lie completely still for 30 minutes while feeling the electric beat in my muscles(interesting/awkward feeling). Then I got a massage followed by no less than 9 cups on my lower back, they are set on fire and then creates low pressure, forcing the blood to the area, the exact medical purpose is still eluding me though.needles-acupuncture-china-shaolin-kungfu-wushu-pain Something about that if the area is dark then I have bad Qi in the area. My Qi is apparently quite bad. The price for 1 hour treatment was the insane price of 25 Yuan (4$/3,5€) and that is the price no matter if you get 1 needle or 20, that is definitely not how it works in Denmark.needles-china-acupuncture-kungfu-shaolin-wushu-pain

The day after my back was surprisingly a lot better, despite the purple circles. The pain was still bad, but at least I didn’t have to do painkillers. I went back to the acupuncture place in the afternoon, this time alone, but with a written note about how I was feeling. Rather nerve breaking to go to a place where they are going to put needles in you and you have no way of saying anything they can understand and this time I also got needles in my shoulders and neck.China-acupuncture-cupping-pain-kungfu-shaolin-training-wushu In total I got 15 needles and 20 cups on my back (felt a little like a hedgehog). It went okay, even though I was a little uncomfortable with the situation, the doctor even called the school after to explain what should be done next, incredibly good service. On the third Day I could participate a little in the training (finally) even though my back was still sore, but now it was more because of the treatments than the pain. China-acupuncture-pain-cupping-shaolin-kungfu-wushuI even got a bruise on my lower back from the massage. I went back to the place again for the last time in this round. The doctor told me that my back needed a little rest and I should be careful of not getting draught/cold air on it. My back was still hurting but it was tremendously better.

cupping-china-medicine-pain-purple-kungfu-wushu-shaolinThrough the rest of my stay I had to go back to the acupuncture place for one more round after a few weeks. I will have to get it looked at proper when I get back home (for a slightly different price) since I still have a little pain, but I can participate in all training’s, except for jump and rolls/acrobatics (maybe not the biggest loss for me).

While I have been at the school some of the other students have had smaller or bigger injuries as well. The school has been so good to consider this in the training’s and to help the students get to the doctors or the hospital so they could get optimal care. If you stay here for a longer period of time with so many hours of training every day most people will experience some kind of injury at some point. It might just be a sprained joint but no matter what it is I feel really confident that the school will be able to help with it.

If it is something bigger or really bad (I have not heard about that here) make sure you have an insurance that will cover medical bills and home transport. If you have that covered I am pretty sure that nothing can go completely wrong (Murphy´s law does not apply because I say so)

I got the menu card for the massage place translated, and an explanation for what the place was actually for. Its more of a wellness place than actual massage. Girls wearing miniskirts didnt really give me a professional feeling either. When i asked if other things went on there i was told “probably not”, the guys don’t seem to mind the attire though.
The most peculiar thing you can get on the menu card, is an ovary massage, (translating that was not an easy task) after a rather long explanation i think i got it. It has something to do with women having given birth and the ovaries need to relax and let the body go back to normal (really not sure if i got it correctly). Anyhow, it will not be something i will be needing any time soon. But it makes sense than when the guys asked for it, not knowing what it was, they said “dont have” which then makes perfect sense.
Memo to self: find a proper massage place

The next 3 days

Monday:
I slept surprisingly well (for the first time) and woke up tired (contradiction I know) I hope it means my jetlag is gone when I am tired at 6 in the morning….

The weather was cloudy, dark and stormy A-MA-ZING! The humidity is still high and its 27 degrees but it is an incredible feeling not to sweat when you blink your eyes. Tai chi was a very pleasant experience because of this, me and the other new ones even got the first movements to the first form, that I can’t remember now in the evening even if my life depended on it, that’s how much other stuff we went through in the classes today.

In 8.30 class we started with running again, again, I need to work on this. Stretching and then we had our first basics class. Me and the 3 other new guys were pulled aside and got a few of the basics we could train on while the other went through them all. I think it is something like 20 different techniques/moves. We got 4 or so and that was more than enough for me, even though I have been doing martial arts before I think some of my coordination disappeared with my desk job. Hopefully it’s going to come back again, fast, I am not the most patient person in the world. After the break we had our first form class, I had been looking really forward to that, learning a new form. I got disappointed, me and the other new ones got a few more basics instead of learning a form, again something about learning to walk before you can run, very annoying when I feel like Usain bolt ( maybe running is a really bad metaphor for me to use). It makes sense though; guess I just have to work hard on my basics so I can learn some other stuff. At least we have moved on from the regular basics to the animal basics, no matter what it is more fun to practice Tiger and Dragon basics 😛 The clever person behind the screen would start quoting Bruce Lee “I fear not the man who has practiced a 1000 kicks but the man who has practiced one kick a 1000 times” . I am working on that, I just want to learn everything at once, especially when all the other students are practicing such amazing stuff around me. One is learning a double broad sword, one is learning Leopard form, one is learning staff and a fourth one is learning drunken style. The longer you stay the more exciting stuff you get to learn.

In the afternoon class we had Sanda, Chinese boxing. I used to do kickboxing for some time, long ago. Damn it is nice to be punching and kicking stuff again. We were practicing basics punches and kicks on the bag and pads. Simple, but yet amazing, I got a small victory the first time I hit the bag with a kick and it gave a lot higher smash than I thought and a few of the guys turned their head at the sound, a little restoration of ego for my lousy running.

We were supposed to have wing tsun today, but master Du that is teaching the class had another appointment, it is an optional class and I would have loved to have it, but let’s just say that I am not particularly sad that it got cancelled today, I am dead tired. I even missed mandarin, guess I have to wait until Wednesday; I really want to improve on my non-existent Chinese.

Tuesday:

I don’t like Tuesday, its injury day and consists of all the classes that I am amazingly bad at…

Tai Chi in the morning is still great though. The 8.30 class is my dread, jump and rolls/acrobatics. I am very little acrobatic and can barely do a kindergarten roll and I prefer having both feet on the ground, which kind of makes jumping hard. My fear might also have something to do with an injury I got when I was 13 ( go ahead with Freud). But I am trying, it is dead scary but I am trying. It is not pretty. I am rousing myself with that I am still slightly better than the guy who has never done sports before in his life (thumbs up for him coming to a place like this). This is the class where most people get injured (Sanda is the second) it is hard and it is really important to respect the limits your body sets, especially if you are not used to it. Last time I was in China I spent the 3 months learning how to do a cartwheel and go to a bridge. That’s some years a go….. my cartwheel is not really round or straight anymore and my bridge is lacking a meter or two. I am defending myself with that with my 184 cm the ground is so much further down for me than for some of the others (don’t question my logic). Hopefully it will be better by the end of my stay, but even if it don’t, I have done some self-realization (must be the age thing) and accepted that I will probably never do a monkey form and that it is okay.

Second morning class is applications; it is taking a simple technique and learning how to defend from it. The start of the class is reaction exercises, two and two you tried to hit each other (not hard) and then you have to block it. The same really goes for the defending technique afterwards, but it is great to stand in front of a person and train instead of just myself.
In the afternoon training it is takedowns, I am not good at take downs, I am very grateful for the mats. This is going to hurt tomorrow.

Wednesday:
I am getting used to this, and I love Wednesdays… all the classes that I like, funny enough also the ones I am somewhat good at. My body is hurting from the unaccustomed training yesterday but not more than I can handle. I started doing basics with the experienced group of students and I could follow them for almost half of them. I also started to learn the first basics forms, 5-step form – a lot of coordination but so nice to get things moving. Both morning training’s went by almost too fast. In the afternoon it was Sanda, punches and kicks on pads and bag, some of them a bit more complicated this time.

This is the end of my very first week, and what a week…. I have been here only one week, but it feels a lot longer. Time is flowing so differently here somehow it both races faster than should be allowed but at the same time it seems to not be moving at all. A 20 minute walk to a bus is normal and you have the time for it, there is nothing else you have to do. Back home I would have been annoyed over 20 minutes I could have spent on something else. Here, I just enjoy the walk. I can watch an episode (or 5 ) of a serie without feeling guilty over that I am not doing something else. As a student that might be the most amazing feeling, 4 years in university = 4 years of constant bad conscience. But not here ( I will deal with me semester when I get home). 8 weeks to go, and I am looking forward to them.

My first weekend

Saturday:
indexStill had issues sleeping, even though the room was almost bearable temperature wise. But I got more sleep than yesterday, so that’s something. Also slept in, didn’t get up until 7.30, pure luxury…

Bus-kungfu-china-trip-malingAt 10.30 we got ready to head into town, still trying to get used to that the bus stop is a 20 minute walk away, back home the bus stop is 30 seconds away, I would normally bike anywhere (Danish culture playing in again) and I would have 6 different supermarket within a radius of 400m. Here a trip to the city is a full day project. After the 20 minute walk you wait for the bus 10-20 minutes and then the bus takes between 40-60 minutes to reach the city. Just in time for lunch 😛 The tradition seems to be going to a place called big pizza just a few minutes from the bus stop. DSC_0430As the name indicates they serve pizza, luckily for me they also serve other stuff, since I have a mild intolerance for all food containing grains it also means that pizza is off limits and that kind of takes the joy out of going to a pizza place, at least for me. You pay 55 yuan (8,6$/7,75€) at the entrance and then there is an all you can eat and drink (including 2,5% beer) buffet, it is actually quite nice, and especially the long term students starting to long for western food loves it. Besides the pizza it also has nuggets French fries, spaghetti bolognaise and some more Chinese inspired dishes. On the more questionable site it also has some dishes that seems to be a mixture of the two food cultures.  Even though it is nice I have only been in China for a few days, I haven’t started to miss “real” food just yet and I still remember how things are supposed to taste and the tricky part here is that even though it looks like food from home the taste is always slightly off. It taste somewhat like pizza, it taste almost like nuggets and so on. But no matter that the taste is slightly off; it is still nice to get something that is not “rice with stuff” and the company is amazing.
bigpizza-trip-china-kungfubigpizza-food-china-kungfu-malingpizza-sandwich-disgusting-kungfu-china-malingchina-buffet-trip-food-kungfu-maling

I like supermarkets (I know I am weird) and I like having time to explore them, especially in a new country. What is normal, what is the setup, what cant I get and so on. I also had a very significant shopping list that would require slightly more time than the 15-20 minutes the old students normally use in there. Some of the things on my shopping list that I think might be relevant for other new students are: hangers, washing powder, toilet paper, bowl, cup, spoon, knife, water bottle, snacks, jam/Nutella/honey (for the breakfast), and fruit.
Stuff that might not be relevant for others but was on my shipping list: scale, more t-shirts, towel, shampoo/conditioner, mirror, milk, and tea.
DSC_0400Its an amazing supermarket. I bought some new t-shirts and they are completely random, that I had to buy a male XL in order to fit them is a minor detail. I am also completely in love with my new my little pony bowl and minions cup. The scale must be broken though, the numbers it shows are way too high….
china-shopping-suermarket-kungfu-malingI love milk, and I brought some protein powder with me from home, and I prefer that with milk, and I also need it for my breakfast, cold porridge made from chia seeds. Sometimes I use regular milk (doesn’t really taste like regular milk) or walnut/almond milk, both things that taste surprisingly better than you should think. And since the “regular” milk doesn’t really taste like milk I might as well try something new. Some of the others also buys yogurt and eat that together with their breakfast.
In total, lets just say I bought half the supermarket, I filled up my huge backpack and had several bags as well and I might have spent slightly more than the average student does first time in the supermarket, but I was happy and I got everything I wanted.

tshirt-shopping china-kungfu-maling
A sad super pug….

shopping-china-supermarket-kungfu-maling

taxi-shopping-china-kungfu-malingFor going home I split a taxi with 4 others, it was rather cramped in there since it was a regular car and only built for 5 people, not 6. But the trip home costs 50 yuan (8$/7€) so you don’t want to pay that alone. Somehow the day had disappeared and it was 5 when we came home and because of big pizza I wasn’t really hungry at dinner.
We had yet another movie night where I was completely outnumbered in the movie selection and we ended up watching predator 3, as the first two weren’t bad enough…. This one completely lacked story, but I guess the story isn’t why you are watching any predator movie, considering that the opening scene in the first movie is a 30 second long zooming in on Arnold Schwarzenegger´s biceps flexing…..

Sunday:
Sleeping in long again. I had planned to do nothing but trying to survive the humidity and heat by lying completely still all day but somehow some of the Dutch guys convinced me to go on a 2½ hour walk to the temple nearby, so there went my plan. Then I had planned to do some washing but because of the intense rain yesterday the power is gone on the ground floor, where the washing machine is…. So back to plan 1, do nothing .

temple-shaolin-kungfu-monks-china-malingEven though I had been reluctant to go t the temple I was happy I did. It was really beautiful and there was an old monk that was very fascinated by the fact that I was so tall (184) he was around 160. I had no clue what else he was talking about (mental note on trying to learn more Chinese). But he did write me a note, apparently he thought that I could read Chinese even though I could not speak it, not sure of how he came to that conclusion though…. I later got the note translated, and it was something as simple as “where are you from?” rather disappointed, I had half expected some clever/deep Buddhism quote.
temple-lion-china-shopping-maling-kungfuIt is not allowed to take pictures inside the temple, but it is very pretty on the inside as well, with lots of strong colors and many statues of different monks/Buddha’s in gold. We put in a few yuan in the box in front of the alter, bowed 3 times and got a blessing from the monk, or at least that’s what I think he did. Then we walked the 40 minutes back again, went into a shop on the way where I got a horrible ice cream.

After the trip to the temple it was relaxing time. Sundays are going to be my favorite day, nothing scheduled and nothing to do but relax and enjoy the silence (except from the screaming crickets, how long is that mating season??). At home I never have (or take) the time to just do nothing an entire day, it really is nice and something I very quickly could get accustomed to do.

I got a VPN from one of the others and I could finally do a google search and go on Facebook. The internet is strictly censored by the Chinese government so many pages from the western world simply won’t work here, the solution to that is a VPN, basically it is a program that tells your computer that it is another place than it really is and then you can suddenly access everything you want. There are free versions but you will get the best long term results if you get a paid version, they are not that expensive and 100% worth the frustration of not being able to use social media and anything connected to google. The best will be to purchase one before you come to China, most of the pages where you have to download them are also blocked and that kinda makes it hard to get one. The internet is not fast down here, but you can check you mail and Facebook and occasionally see a YouTube video. The academy is working on a better connection, but the infrastructure in China is in general not very stable and especially not in the countryside where the kungfu academy is located.

Day 2 – Friday

Sleeping in starfish position on top of my blanket in an attempt to not sweat was not a success, more like a total disaster, I got only a few hours of sleep and I was covered in sweat most of the time, it was almost bliss when the alarm went off at 5.50. (Never thought I would say that)
My body is surprisingly not hurting as much as I had feared (major win) I could still put on socks and comb my hair without too much pain, maybe some of the training preparation actually worked.
We are starting to learn the basic movements of taichi, I like the calmness and silence during the early morning training (f you don’t count in the screaming crickets) but I am really really bad at Tai chi, I simply don’t have that zen thing needed. Hopefully that will come at some point.
The breakfast is still the same, eggs and bread, good thing its Saturday and shopping day tomorrow. I am happy it at least has eggs so you can get some protein, and there is bread too, even though there are no condiments included. At the old school I was at,power-stretching-pain-scream-kungfu-flexibility-maling the breakfast was thin rice soup and fried cabbage…. Not really delicious at 7 in the morning (or at any other time for that matter) so the breakfast here is actually quite good compared to that.

The next morning class at 8.30 is power stretching. Some of the other students say it is very painful. I am actually looking forward to it, maybe because being flexible is one of the few things within martial arts that I am somewhat good at. We are starting with a run and some light stretching on the bars again. Then we go inside to take the mats outside, it’s a lot nicer to at least have a soft foundation when you are in pain. We are in groups of 3 and there are a set of stretches that everybody has to do and then there are some optional ones you can do if you have the time or take the break to do. The basics in it is very simple, take a pose, e.g. a split, go out as far as you can and then the job of the two others are to just pull your limps further away from each other while you try not to scream out in pain.power-stretching-kungfu-training-china-maling-pain
One of my goals is to be able to do both side and front split by the time I go home, at the moment I am missing some 20 cm in the front split and about 30 in the side split. It should be possible if I train hard on it.
The second morning training is forms. Since I am new and there are 3 new Dutch guys as well we are being taken aside by the shifu and he shows us some basic moves that we need to practice on. There is no purpose in teaching us forms until we know some basics. Very annoying when I want to be a kung fu master now; but sadly I have to agree that it makes sense to learn basics first. Maybe I will even improve my patience while I am here, is that also needed to be more Zen? I might also have to work just a little bit on that arm/hand/leg/foot/balance coordination thing.

I was very determined not to take a nap in the lunch break so I could hopefully sleep in the night, that determination lasted until I sat down. After a 1½ hour nap, still jetlagged and with sore muscles I was far from ready for a 10 km run. Every Friday afternoon, as the last training before the weekend there is a 10km run. It is running to the little village and then a bit further, up a hill, touch the gate at a teahouse and then run back again. As mentioned earlier I am not the fastest runner in the world, even though I really like running, and with the before mentioned issues and 30 degrees I made it a staggering 2.5-3km before I had to start walking and turned back. The shifu was a bit worried for us new students so he had taken the scooter and driven along the route, he sent back one of the older slightly injured students to walk me home so I would not get lost on the way. To my defense, the other new students didn’t make the entire run either, they just got a bit further than me. But okay, one of my goals for being here is to get in better shape, being incredible bad from the beginning just means that I can improve so much more

in the evening we relaxed and watched yet another movie, in two days I have watched more movies than I have in the past three months. It is already feeling incredibly nice that I have the time for that, at home and right up until my departure to china my life was insanely busy. Here, life seems relaxed, calm and easy, a welcome change for me.

Day 1 – Thursday

kungfu-training-morning-china-tired
so ready for my first day of training…..

I had been dreaming about sleep for 2 days and when I finally get to it, it didnt work!

I slept something like 3 hours, the heat and humidity was too much for my cold Danish body and combined with jet-lag it was mission impossible.

At 5.30 I gave up sleeping and started unpacking my suitcase, no longer able to ignore it I started the long and cumbersome process of getting all the chia seeds out of my clothes.
Training started at 6.20 with Tai Chi, it would take me two days before I realized that the Tai Chi is optional, but it has grown on me and I think I will continue to do it, it is a really nice way to wake up in the morning.Kungfu-taicgi-china-training-morning

at 7.10 ish the training is over and breakfast is served. breakfast-china-kungfu-morningHaving arrived on a Continue reading “Day 1 – Thursday”