I was asked by my kung fu club to take some photographs yesterday morning. My old sparring partner Pete was doing his grading to become a kung fu instructor and I was going along to give him my support but also to record his baptism of fire.
Before my brain haemorrhage slowed me down a bit a year ago, I used to train pretty fiercely at my local kung fu club, White Crane Fighting Arts (www.whitecranefightingarts.com) here in my home town of Lewes. I used to go to two three hour classes a week but also go to the Friday full contact sparring class and, early each Monday morning, I was one of a small group who did that most uncompromising of training systems, Iron Shirt which conditioned and strengthened your body, especially your bones, to high impact. I was partnered with Pete for these sessions and it has been one of the sadnesses of this year of recuperation that I have had to give this up – well at least for the present.
Pete of course in this time has gone on from strength to strength and a small part of me has measured my decline with his rise but good luck to him.
To grade as an instructor is not a light-hearted affair. First he had to demonstrate all his kung fu patterns in front of a panel of stern faced instructors, without a break.
The sparring is what takes some unsuspecting observers by surprize because it is pretty uncompromising in its ferocity. The club is not called White Crane Fighting Arts for nothing and we are constantly reminded that martial arts are in the end all to do with fighting whether we like it or not. It is about a whole lot more too but it is good to keep that simple point in mind when it is often tempting to see it more as a spiritual journey into the mind sets of some impressive ancient Chinese monks.
As the ten opponents lined up, I did feel a moment’s regret that my brain injury will surely mean that I will never be allowed to do this form of sparring again. Maybe, for a moment, they might have envied me too as I was safely out of the firing line. Pete now had to prove his skill and his endurance in that most unforgiving public forum that is your friends and peers.
He survived to the end and by the look off him, he had given his all when he was finally allowed to go and die quietly in a corner. As for the others, well, there was some blood and a nasty leg injury but that is part of the reality of full contact sparring.
Returning home that day, a procession of war veterans and serving soldiers paraded past my front door in solemn marching step to the sound of a military band. Yesterday was Remembrance Sunday and the nation was remembering its dead with more focus than in many a year with fresh thoughts of the growing lists of fatalities in the conflict in Afghanistan.
On a dismal wet November afternoon, it was all to easy to side with the majority of people in this country who are apparently against the war and who want us to pull out of Afghanistan and bring our soldiers home to safety. I thought about the irony of this day when I had been absorbed in the art of fighting and now was watching this melancholy procession which was all about death through battle.
Too easy, I thought, to say let’s stop the fighting. British soldiers are being killed in a chaotic country where those convinced Al Qaeda terrorists planned to blow up normal, every day civilians at their desks by flying civilian aircraft into their office blocks. Now that the going has got tough, people here seem to be saying let’s stop now – enough is enough – but wars are not like that. We can’t hope that they will just go away, these people who have no hesitation in seizing any chance to blow us up on our buses, in underground stations or at our desks.
Fighting, I am afraid, is what has to happen when words fail. We all need to feel that if it comes down to it, bullies and murderers have to be stopped. The sparring that happened yesterday morning was part of a training system which is an art in itself but one that enables us to say No to anyone who wishes to use violence against us. In the end, there are times when you need to stand up to those who want to push you or those that you love out of the way. I hope I have still got some of that spirit from my kung fu training and I hope that Britain will also think like that before it does anything so foolish as to leave all the strength in the hands of the terrorists and their supporters.