再会 Shaolin.. (Goodbye!)

So my time in Qufu Shaolin school has come to an end. Our final day was spent with blue sky (no pollution!) and very hot again. I worked really hard in the forms class this morning, repeating over and over until my knees asked me not too! Fortunately during Sanda this afternoon our master decided to get people to wrestle! I say fortunately because he didn’t pick the girls to fight. I’m not a floor fighter! Part of Sanda is take downs you see. Although today was a bit of a “fight and see what happens”

I have loved the detachment to my daily life and focusing just on training. Whilst I have not learnt anything practical in Kung Fu, it has further strengthened my discipline of mind and challenging some fears. This will only benefit me further in my ECKA training. In fact, I believe coming here with a martial arts background serves you well, not because you will be able to easily do the moves but because your mind has discipline which you can apply here (and in all walks of life!).

Dedicating a month to any martial arts will not give you any skills, but just a glimpse into Shaolin training. I won’t be bringing anything in particular home with me, which I know may come as a surprise, but really the dominant training here is forms.

My only negative and due to my Karate background, is the lack of application or explanation, of what and why we are doing moves. The language barrier will be one reason for this, also perhaps because I did not fully appreciate that Shaolin kung fu is all forms, many for show and the Sanda is how they fight.

I have been asked would I return? …..No. I have no need to. My heart and passion is with karate and ECKA, this was just an experience. I am in complete awe of Shaolin Warrior Monks and their breathtaking skill, ability to appear to defy gravity, strength and dedication. Their life from childhood has been only this one focus, which is hard to imagine, their life would have been so different to most of ours. We are all capable of greatness though, just a matter of finding your greatness. I wish I could sit down and talk with my master as the conversation would probably never end with all the questions I have but alas that isn’t possible.

There are so many brilliant martial arts. There can also be snobbery in martial arts, where one style claims to be better than another. I’ve never subscribed to this attitude and welcome all experiences and viewpoints. For me, it is what lights a fire inside of you, not which would win in a fight. Its so much more than fighting. So try everything if you wish. That’s what life’s about.

I’ve absolutely loved this experience and will treasure the memories made. I’ve met some varied and colourful personalities, been challenged, faced fears, been in pain and trained under a 34th Shaolin Warrior Monk! I now look forward to returning to my beloved karate!

Life is an adventure, so plan yours!

Looking forward to being back in the ECKA dojo with you all!

OSS

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Forget punches to stomach, let’s break wood

Decided to go against the grain this morning and start the day with some yoga, instead of the run and tai chi. Which resulted in me feeling more limber the I do after the run and tai chi. It is strange how energy levels can go up and down quite significantly some days.

We finished working on the continuous form. Although I don’t know the application of it, which is a little frustration here. It seems easy to make look good until you try it. Somehow I don’t have the masters poise and grace:-). The grading takes place at the end of each month so I will miss this unfortunately, I found out today that what I thought had been a warm up was actually something we are graded on! Every morning after the run and stretch, we always work a series of kicks up and down the room, but it wasn’t clear if this was just a warm up..seems not! I haven’t mastered the majority of them to be honest. Holding out the front kicks ( for want of a useful description) is really quit difficult for us kick boxers with shortened hip flexors but I have seen a improvement since my first day for sure.

I decided to work on my tai chi form this afternoon. I’m not 100% sure of if I should be breathing a certain way but I’m still mastering the moves. Again the are some moves in this gentle form which you would not think would be difficult but I’ve found two! 😉 again it involves holding out a kick. Tai chi can be practised into old age to keep limber, which many Chinese people practise. I fully intend to keep supple!

We worked through the wing chun form this afternoon, although again we haven’t been shown any application on this so unfortunately I’ve lost a little interest, even though I know it to be amazing.  We do a northern style Shaolin wing chun, which I’ve heard is different from the Ipman style.

(For those who are not aware, in Chinese Martial arts, instructors are called Sifu and Masters. Sensei is Japanese).

Our day finished with the master asking for a volunteer to break some wood on, which he did with humour, it wasn’t a threat but more a challenge, oneof the long termers jumped up and our Master, broke a large pole of wood across his abs! It was quite impressive of the students abs..Although he admitted after smiling that it was painful! I’m thinking let’s scrap the punches to our stomachs in class, let’s bring some wood!

Oss

PS as I’m in Confucius region thought this quote was very apt, it’s something I’ve had in my martial arts life, we all do or will!
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Return of the burpee and bruises!

Spent a little time at Confucius temple in town at the weekend, then on Sunday got a couple of other students together and did a pad training session, including my fav warm up of the four exercises 60/50//40 etc..seconds count down (my students will know this one!). In the heat this works even better (cover up for meant it felt harder!) Had a good couple of rounds on the pads, I have lost some explosive power, because we are not training anaerobically here, I’m sure this will return once home. Did my first set of burpees for a month!

One of the friends I’ve made here said after the warm up and pads that he had never done anything like it, and was exhausted…think he used the word “demon” indeed there is nothing as exhausting and reviving at the same time as pad training.

Went up the mountain again in the afternoon, against my better judgement decided to try the front crawl down the steps.,,unfortunately my technique was not great, to the amusement of my friends (and some locals who casually walked up past me!) meaning I took most of my weight in my arms. I’ve been left with literally a dot to dot of bruises from thighs to ankles and forearms. I’m in somewhat a little pain as a result. In fact, it’s officially the most amount of bruises I’ve ever sustained in one go! Note to self, concrete bruises easily. Thought id give the running up a rock face again too! That is fun! The picture here is the top of the mountain we run up.

So my last week here started again on the basics, we have finished the first fist form now. Today, perhaps because I know I’m coming home I felt fatigued and missing karate. My mind wasn’t focused today and has kept drifting back to home and karate. Our master asked us to show him the form and we forgot the last step, he said why had we forgotten only after the weekend and we should have practised in our free time, so this wasn’t a great thing to hear but with my mind frame today it wasn’t a surprise. He was right, we should have practised in our free time, but my body is aching a lot, but not from practising Kungfu! Well the kung fu hurts in the week but the stairs and kickboxing took up the weekend  (thought it best not to say that!).

Sanda again in the afternoon, we had to spar with leg kicks (no pads) which was not exactly what my bruised legs could do with today. Then tied some pads to trees and practised kicks onto that. I’ve never thought to tie pads to trees actually ( luckily I had my wraps with me as this was our only form of string!).

So a little weary and a whole heap bruised! Decided to end on a little yoga (definitely not power stretching!)

Karate is calling! 🙂

OSS

In your face fear..!

Another very hot day here in Qufu, it really saps your energy! My knee was throbbing last night so I thought I’d best miss this mornings 6am run as we had power training this afternoon and I know that involves…power!

So after tai chi, we went up to the hill for Qi Gong and meditation, actually was just what I needed to recharge! Worked on conditioning after, so hitting forearms together, punches to the arm and kicks to the outer and in inner thigh, and punches to the stomach, I still enjoy conditioning!

This afternoon power training was again up the mountain, thankfully there is shade so it is marginally cooler. It starts as before with a run up a gradual incline and lots and lots of steps. It really works your legs and heart, perhaps more so in the heat, I’d like to say I am able to run up them but really I cannot. There are a few students who can who have done it for a few months, the majority are like me and try and just power up them. You are very breathless at the top!

Then our master shouted “Ok, rock racing!” I turned to see a pretty steep rock face that it seems we had to race against someone up. Didn’t want to mention I hadn’t brought my rock climbing shoes or ropes! I did feel quite fearful, however, I couldn’t back out. Everyone else was doing it, good old peer pressure! So I had a go a couple of times in the end. I did slip on points, but once you are half way up have to keep going up. I didn’t beat my partner, but was thankful he looked as knackered as I did at the top! Our master decided to race past me I hacent to add whilst I was scrambling up hands and feet, he ran past screaming as he went!

Thinking we might have escaped the dreaded stair climb I thought OK I can do this rock racing. Then we moved to the said mentioned stairs from last week. Again we had to hop one legged, double jump two stairs and then my fear again,,,front crawl down. My heart started racing again, because I really find this terrifying. It isn’t the thought I’m not strong enough it is just plain old fear of falling.

I just couldn’t do it. However, I said last week I wouldn’t be beaten…I can accept being beaten by power, strength or a better opponent but not fear! So asked Sifu (our master) if I could remain behind to conquer it, he smiled and said in broken English ” be careful” (oh he came down in handstand again by the way).

So with my new friend from Kuwait, also kickboxers, I was determined to do it.

With their shouts of encouragement I lowered myself over the first step and went for it…towards the bottom of the stairs there was a bit of shouting at myself (let’s say for parental censorship they were just words of firm encouragement! ;-)) my shoulders were shaking cos it is quite hard on them, that plus being head first! But I did it! For me a big win – I have beaten the stairs!! After collapsing at the bottom temporarily I jumped around happily after! Think my shins might be a little cut and bruised as a result, but that’s my little badge of honour!

My motto, for not just here but for life, is to everyday have a small (or big) win, whatever form that takes. So if I’m having a bad day, find something that is good! The stairs are mine today!

OSS

I’ve seen real life Neo..

Last night I heard some Chinese music coming from the training hall, so I thought I’d check out who was still up…the Masters! They were doing their own training after we all were getting ready for bed….

I and another student crept in and watched, genuinely feeling like little kids at a toy shop. I’ve never been so amazed in all my life, at last I got to see my Master, a 34th generation Warrior Monk in action…I tell no exaggeration when I say he looked like he was animated, like something out of The Matrix. If you have seen the scene in the matrix where he dodges the bullets and fights Morpheus, it was exactly the same, no lie! He had lightening speed, the way he was able to fly through the air, land with no sound and ripple out power through every muscle was something that has to be seen to believed. This is Qi Ging chi in action.

So perhaps spurred on by this, I woke up this morning feeling like myself again! Full of energy, it helped that the humidity has dropped. Drilled the basics and continued on with our form, and worked with the other students drilling this together, like we do our ECKA classes, I always love this kind of work. My hips seem to be adjusting to the constant low stance. I realise why it asks a lot of the hips now, it is because the pivot is done in a horse stance (when I say horse stance, imagine you are riding a horse and you get the idea!) Keeping this low you pivot keeping the foot flat, so your full weight is on the hip as you turn, now it get why they are creaking.

This afternoon was another session of kickboxing, although we only work one arm and one leg which I find quite frustrating. But it was a good workout at least. At the end we have to get our partners to stretch out legs in as high a side kick as possible. I really am not a fan of any assisted stretching. Do not worry, we shall never be doing this in class!

I feel I’m getting stronger, my knees ache, as do everyone’s, but I feel my leg strength is improving. Flexibility still in question!

My reason for coming here was to have an experience of different martial arts, Chinese martial arts and Kung Fu are not similar at all to our Japanese karate style. My passion and heart will always remain firm with karate, in fact I feel very much that learning Kung Fu for a year or two here would result in magnificent forms but perhaps no real application. Which is why I love Karate and ECKA. Of course, the Shaolin’s have trained since they were children every day, so they indeed can apply this art form as attacking and defence, (watching my master last night was testament to this) but to everyone else from what I can see, it is more for show. All be it a magnificent show!

The big dream is to experience Karate in it’s home Japan…perhaps we can organise an ECKA LB trip!

Hope you are all training hard in class, remember you do not have to be in China or anywhere other than a simple empty space to broaden your martial arts learning. I’ve taken it everywhere I go…as I hope you do also.

OSS from Qufu, China

Oh, in case any parents wish to use the room inspection rules we have here. I’ve included a copy for you! Juniors, take note;-)

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Float like a dandelion?!

Today wasn’t my best day. Little sleep and the heat temperatures perhaps werewhy, I felt exhausted today. I had to skip the 6am run and went straight into Tai Chi.

The morning session I had to find the energy, as it was the fist forms I can always find it! Running though is always a challenge when I’m tired because mentally I find it boring! Forms of any kind I can energise through (this is why I’m a martial artist and not a marathon runner!). We added some Shaolin shouts to our form today, always makes it better!

The afternoon I really had nothing in the tank. But luckily we had wing chun, which for our level is done slowly. It starts with the challenge of holding a pretend beach ball in front of us and pigeon toed stance with slightly bent knees. (Not massively comfortable).

As I was tired I decided today’s small win would be in not dropping my arms, which I had not managed to do yet.

After about ten or more minutes, my arms and shoulders started to fatigue, so I was a little disheartened when I saw our Master ran back to the school..as I saw him getting smaller in the distance I knew i had to keep going. I saw some dandelion fluff blow past, so I imagined it’s weightlessness in my arms. Also when a butterfly flew past I did the same and imagine my arms were like wings..it was a useful exercise to transfer fatigue to weightlessness. I think anyone who trains hard in martial arts gets good at perfecting this. If you focus on the desire to stop you will stop. So focus elsewhere. I don’t think Muhammad Ali said ” float like a dandelion!” So I’ll claim that one! Anyway I didn’t drop them!

In total only about 20-25 minutes holding our arms out, doesn’t sound long but it’s a challenge. Juniors (and adults) get ready out one minute challenge is increasing! The Shaolins do this for hours..with rocks!

We then had to deflect punches from our partners and then try with our eyes shut..will keep working on that one!

Very tired. Happy to see the concrete bed tonight!

OSS

Mastered the room inspection at least!

Spent the weekend away from the school visiting a hot, hectic Beijing. Did a (small) 6k trek of the 6000k Great Wall, Which in places was so steep I had to climb using my hands, pretty amazing. Not sure id be able to run up them let alone go down in a front crawl like in power training! So felt pretty exhausted when my 530 alarm went off.

The day started well with my room getting top score during the room inspection. All the masters came into each room, along with someone with a clipboard. It is a little daunting. But it is all about discipline, including your room. Mess equals stress (apparently!). Martial arts is life outside the dojo after all.

Started learning a new fist form this morning. We trained outside, as it’s quite humid here now. It is unfortunately a little polluted too though, China is sadly. I can manage to hold my legs out longer now in the basics, only a small amount but definite improvement in strength which is always exciting. My hip and knees are a little unhappy though.

We only are taught a few moves and for the rest of the class we have to practise this over and over. This is of course the best way to learn martial arts. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The afternoon I was in my comfort zone as it was Sanda. I luckily worked with another lad who had done kickboxing so I got a great pad session. During the session I got asked, by one of the men in the other group who was watching, to a sparring session…not sure if that’s a compliment or not?! I do miss a bit of fighting though.

So ending the day feeling energised and strong. Potentially very stiff though! I am interested to know if when I return home my leg strength has improved, because we literally are in horse stance for the majority of the day. My quads are working very hard!

OSS from Kung Fu School

(We do not bow very much here, only once at beginning and end and never say OSS of course, that is Japanese. I am wearing my ECKA trousers with pride though

Punches in stomach, yes! Stairs head first..no!

So a relaxing morning of Qi Gong (after a couple of runs) followed by conditioning. This involves hitting each other’s forearms together, punching each others arms, kicking the inside of the thigh and outside, and punching the stomach. The aim is to hit as hard as you can take it, thus conditioning the body to get used to being hit. I find the pain and trying to withstand it quite satisfying. I managed to take 50 punches from my partner, Pablo from Argentina, I know somehow I can be punched pretty hard to my stomach, as he was trying quite hard, even though I don’t have a washboard stomach. He managed 20 of my punches! ;-). Quite pleased with that.

The acupuncture session we learnt about the Cupping Method of healing. The chinese believe if you have pain that you have cold air in that meridian lines (google meridian lines for further info) you need to get heat and blood to the area to it to cure it. Cupping traditionally is done by lighting paper and cupping glass over it to create an air suction to the skin. It sucks the skin quite high and if it turns purple that indicates the coldness leaving the joint. We saw it done on one student. This explains why they were so confused when I asked for my water to be frozen to help my ailments, this is completely unheard of.

This afternoon..power training. We got to go up the long awaited mountain! After a little climb up it began with a run up what felt like a never ending steps upwards, passing dragon and bird statues along the way to the top which took your mind off how many steps there might be. I started with a run, which decreased to a jog which ended with a walk. I don’t know how many stairs there were but I found it surprisingly tough, I couldn’t muster up a jog if I tried, I felt comforted by they fact the majority of others couldn’t either.  We then  to then run down again. I have realised today I have an annoying fear of going down stairs fast! So the descent was a bit pitiful and I felt it in my knees. We then went onto a very steep set of stairs…..first we had to sprint up – fine, next piggy back someone up! I carried another girl halfway up and I feel I could have got to the top but two people in front had collapsed pretty much so I had to stop or drop her as my legs standing still were buckling. I asked to carry her again and made it up halfway until my legs gave out, it’s terrifying that you might drop the person on your back down the sheer drop! I also was piggy backed..put it this way, I would rather be the one doing the carrying! Perhaps I don’t like heights?

Then we had to one leg hop up, which was SO hard! Then double stair jump up..then crawl down head first! I knew when the students, who had been here months, started swearing under their breath that this was going to be hard. I feel so disappointed I’m myself but I just couldn’t do it. I’m so frustrated that fear got the better of me..I don’t think I would have made it down fully because it was so tough doing a press up down such a steep set of stairs but just couldn’t get started. I have to do this before I come home, I can be beaten by many things that see harder than I can do but I cannot be beaten by fear. Very frustrated. Our Master came down in a handstand, just to show us how Shaolin do it – just amazing! These glimpses of skill leave us open mouthed.

Finished with sit ups which somehow were so hard, perhaps after all the stair climbing I don’t know..but whilst we had to hold our legs 10inches off the floor, to get through it I decided to sing to the person next to me who was grimacing, in the style of Dorothy from Oz,.” there’s no place like home Toto, there’s no place like home!” Perhaps the heat had got to me! 😉 it made me laugh, but it didn’t drop my legs at least.

So today has been that mental challenge I explained before, accepting that I couldn’t achieve something but not letting it impact negatively going forward. Today this is a very hard challenge..the stairs beat me!

Oss

 

the stairs….image

 

 

No face planting for over 25’s!

Well…something rather unexpected happened. After a sleep of a lot of discomfort and a dread at running again at 6, I was pleased to find I ran better than I had since getting here, in fact my hips..dare I say seems to hurt a lot less and I felt looser.

It now instead hurts if I breath deeply or terrifyingly sneeze! 😉 hip pain OK (or am I just used to it?) now replaced by pain in my shoulder blade. Why do you always need to sneeze when things hurt?

The morning was spent on the forms, I wish I could get gracefully down into the required poses but I still do it with do it with a grimace! I skipped the jumps and rolls class, it really is not for me, I was very pleased when the sifu said that over the age of 25 you really should be careful or not do this class! YES! I have an official excuse not to throw myself with terror into the air to land flat on my face, I did see one student face plant the mats, not gonna lie…it was funny, although in between laughs I offered my best sympathetic face. Someone else looked like they nearly broke their neck, no thanks!

This afternoon was up on the hill for wing chun, we start with having to the stance (knees bent inwards and toes pigeon toes and low) with our arms out in front like holding a ball). This is to strengthen the muscles in the legs and arms and clear the mind,,,although the mind does start to wonder to the strain in your arms after a while! We went onto deflecting wing chun punches which all come from the chest down the centre line..got pretty red arms by the ended I chose to work with a very tough lad who constantly practises this I wanted to learn.

As I was feeling good, I decided to continue after class practising my own ECKA free form. A Chinese man approached me after watching me, I was worried for a second that he may have minded me practising karate in a kung fu school but after a bit of language confusion it seems he wanted my photo! So somewhere out there is a Chinese man with me and him posing by the wing chun wooden dummy. Not sure what happened there but it was amusing!

Fingers crossed my body has accepted what’s going on and continues to strengthen!

Another epic day at Kung Fu School!

OSS

Where are my toes?!

So I naively thought the weekend rest will have restored my body. Although I did do a few hours practise of my ECKA form yesterday, then did some yoga to see if I could ease my very stiff body.

It has been quite an alarming deterioration of my flexibility this first week. I can not touch my toes anymore and my familiar kicks are nowhere near to how they were before I arrived. Apparently this is par for the course so the long termers tell me. It seems after the first month you get your flexibility back!

This morning was drilling the basics and forms, so lots and lots of repetition, our sifu (master) said he wanted to train a little so we were pushed to go faster, it is hard to describe just how quick and agile the Shaolins are. These drills involve lots of (for ease of reference but they are not how we do them) front kicks. Axe kicks inside and outside, jump spinning outside crescent kicks, jumps spinning back kicks side kicks, horse stance into low punches…

Something I have realised today is what everyone meant by saying id be in pain. Whilst my fitness has not been tested, we do not do anaerobic fitness here but it is a different test. It tests every muscle and joint. My hips and legs feel so stiff that the runs now are difficult like I’m running with legs made of concrete! From a distance the moves do not at first seem difficult, but they demand every muscle and joint to work so hard.

The forms demand you to go from high squats to low squats into kicks this is what is so challenging. The pivoting I’m still having to work very hard to undo over eleven years of pivoting how we do in ECKA. The pivot here still involves the hips but the back leg is kept straight and heel down..and low! Everything is low!

This afternoon was Sanda (kickboxing) so I’m very at home with this. The equipment is not good so you feel the kicks through the pads. Also we do not wear boxing gloves so it’s all bare knuckle on the pads.

We finished with having to hold a side kick position, knee to chest and then kicking, you’d think id find this easy. My body feels like someone else’s now. I’ll be honest, just before sifu said finished… I was done..I’d say broken..nearly! We always finish with 30 press ups and 30 squat jumps…somehow I always manage to find the energy to finish these first in my group, I suppose I need to find a small win ;-). It is about 32 degrees now too so the sessions are sweaty!

The mental challenge is different to what I anticipated, my challenge is to accept my limitations and my body and my age, but not be bound by them. What I can do in my mind of course does not always translate to my body. This is true for many us, but we must not let this impact negatively on our spirit. I am so grateful for having the body I have, although perhaps it is not quite feeling the love!

Still love kung fu school!

OSS

PS the girl who elbowed me in the face, who now calls me her big sister, is carrying bruises on both arms from my punches in conditioning last week. I always return the favour 😉