Friday 22 February 2008

Today was the first day since the long holiday and therefore the first day of the new school term so our class was moved from the morning to the afternoon.

I woke up feeling pretty battered but full of that feeling that if I was ever going to crack this thing called Dog Style then I would have to survive today.

We had the special luxury of a 15-minute lie-in before meeting up to go to the park again for Da Mo meditation exercises followed by our taichi form.

As usual the park was full of people doing their early morning exercises…backward walking, hand clapping, fan patterns, Taichi swords…. including one woman doing twin Taichi swords.

The park smelt of marigolds this morning as we made our way to what seemed like our spot by the lake.

The Da Mo was accomplished with that same sense of shared energy that we had experienced before. Looking out over the lake we cold see fish jumping and swallows skimming the water for insects.

Our Taichi fitted into the ambiance perfectly…that cockerel that had accompanied our move called The Golden Cockerel Stands on One Leg, came in on cue again and when we got to The Lion Opens Its Mouth, a lion from the zoo across the water, started to roar. You couldn’t invent things like this.

When we got to the school for our second to last class with Master Lin, the building was transformed from an empty space into the lively, mildly chaotic world of school time…. with sounds that are the same in every country of the world. Kids really will be kids.

We caused that look that we had seen before when passing children in Fuzhou…. open mouthed amazement with a totally unembarrassed stare.

The class took place in a different room…. this time on a stage in what looked like an assembly hall…. thankfully this meant exchanging the hard floor of our usual venue for a stage with a threadbare but very welcome carpet.

Then followed one of the most challenging three hours of my life. With the pattern as far as we had got repeated together and separately several times complete with all its rolls and tumbles.

My struggle was helped somehow by the canned upbeat military music that was broadcast throughout the school between lessons. Meant to motivate the children, it certainly kept me going…funny thing music.

When Master Lin was satisfied with us, we moved on to the final section…. and we actually learnt its basic shape really quickly.

I could now drop into a gentle coma, I thought and pick up the finer points of the pattern back in England.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Once we had sorted these movements we returned to the dreaded middle section that is full of all the movements that God decided I was not meant to do. Sadly, Master Lin disagreed.

We kept repeating a short section that began and ended with a roll and which was mostly spent spinning legs backwards and forwards with arched back on the ground.

I had taken the sensible precaution of wearing three pairs of boxer shorts on top of my comfortable but thin Sloggi briefs to protect my injured hip but it was so hot in the room that one pair had to be jettisoned to cool the mini sauna in my pants.

Anyway it made my bum look big.

So we soldiered on…. when we had done this section ten times at least, we moved on to spend some time learning ground fighting movements which, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, began and ended with those dreaded rolls.

So my leg went numb and the rolls kept on coming…. they got wilder and wilder as I got more and more exhausted.

Master Lin, his son and the Shaolin Monk student, were unendingly enthusiastic and encouraging. Clapping every success and then showing me what I was doing wrong…leading to the inevitable repetition of the movements all over again.

With only an hour and a half left to go, we broke off to learn some Dog Style grappling techniques that were all, mercifully done from a standing position. I think I surprised Master Lin by finding my feet in these movements that, in reality are quite similar to stuff that we already do in our normal classes.

Just when it all seemed to be calming down, we moved on to, yup, more ground work exercises which began with a forward roll and ended with a backwards one. I cannot remember how many I did but I was beginning to wander if I would survive the afternoon.

Somehow I did. With a half hour to go, we started going through the whole pattern again. In pairs and then individually…when I did my final demonstration of it, I slowed down the tempo and, with a few wild moments, actually got through the whole thing with only a few blips. The three teachers applauded and gave me the thumbs up. I felt really good.

Then in the last twenty minutes all we had to do was repeat, several times, those ground exercises. I think by this stage we were all just throwing ourselves onto the floor in a battle against tiredness.

The amazing thing is that it was all really exhilarating. I may not have been very elegant, I may have incurred a whole lot of new bruises but I had learnt that pattern and done stuff that I had never thought I would do in my life.

At the end of the session, I felt sore but energised…. Master Lin gave me some of his magic bruise cure that has to be rubbed on after a shower. Then you have to wash your hands so that you don’t poison yourself. If you get it in your mouth, apparently, you can lose your voice – Master Lin’s version of kill or cure.

The moral of the day was that the better you mastered the techniques the less you hurt yourself. When, if, I get better at it, I should be able to do it on any surface without injury. At the moment I am one of the walking/limping wounded.

The annoying thing was that our instructor, you’d hate him if he weren’t also a good laugh, waltzed through the whole thing making it look like a walk in the park. Master Lin, rubbed it in, by saying that it was an honour to meet him and that “luck has brought us together.”

I suppose that is true all round.

All that was left to do was to go off to a Chinese tea ceremony followed by an oily massage from the best masseuse in our favourite establishment. I changed into a rather fetching pair of silk boxers…pants seem to have been the theme of the day…and then got rubbed all over in the most delightful way…even receiving enthusiastic complements and a thumbs up for my abdominal muscles. She certainly knows how to say what a man wants to hear after a rough day on the floor.

Dinner (beef and peppers, sweet and sour pork, egg rice, steamed green vegetables and very recently deceased fish and a fried doughy thing with red things in the middle), was followed by a speedy taxi ride home to the faithful lap top and in a few moments, bed.

Tomorrow will be our last Kungfu class…. I can’t believe it has all gone so quickly. Let’s hope that the old body survives.

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