Kung Fu in the park

My Kung Fu instructor, Neil, is back from that trip to Fuzhou in Southern China and he came round this morning for our regular weekly two-man teach yourself Mandarin Chinese session.

Since my brain damage, I have fallen behind and, of course, couldn’t go to China with the others this year. Not only did I have to fore-go the Kung Fu but I was also really disappointed to miss out on over two weeks when I could have practised the language in a city where practically nobody speaks English.

It was so liberating last year being able, even in a simple way, to communicate with the Chinese in their own language.

Well, after hearing all about the trip, we got down to devising a new stratagem for our Chinese lessons which, we both hope, my brain willing, we can get going next week. Using our books, cds and on-line learning pods.

We are both determined to get there one day in this ferociously difficult language where there seem to be no shared linguistic principles in either the spoken word or, more obviously, the calligraphy.

I took this photograph of Neil and the dog style Kung Fu master, Mr Lin on my trip to Fuzhou last year. Master Lin, it has to be said, was sixty six at the time and if ever there was an example of how flexible and fit we can all be into old age, you only have to observe, in this demonstration,how after he has slid onto the floor, turned Neil’s standing position into a fall, he then quite literally tied him into knots. It was great to be reminded of a fantastic time but also frustrating that I had to miss out on the return visit.

I plan to be back next year – just try to stop me.

Actually, I am feeling so much better from the neck down – I have even noticed the difference in the last few days.

My fractured spine is well on its way to recovery, or so it seems, and most of those torn muscles have stopped hurting so, four months since my brain haemorrhage, I am feeling more and more like getting back into training.

My brain, of course doesn’t agree so there is no question of me doing any of the rolls or falls that I would so love to be doing again and I am still told to avoid any impact, giving or receiving.

Luckily for me, Neil is not only one of the best Kung Fu practitioners in the country but he is very knowledgeable about the body and he has become like one of the medical team planning my recovery from this frustrating and debilitating condition.

He is also remarkably patient and has kept me going when it would have been so easy to have given up.

The sun was shining and because I am still not well enough to attend the evening Kung Fu classes, he said he would give me some lessons in the park until I can return to the club.

Until my injury, I used to walk to this park every lunchtime to practise my patterns, including my seven and a half foot staff which I carry in its cover my shoulder. Some people thought I was going to play snooker, others thought it was a fishing rod until it got round that I did Kung Fu and people had seen me going through the motions of my staff pattern out there in the park.

In the end, every time I walked passed the pub, I was greeted with a call of “Hi there Bruce!” – an improbable comparison with that Elvis Presley of martial arts, Bruce Lee.

I have long since stopped being self-conscious about practising in public.

So I was back there today, for the first time in four months and it felt just great.

We started with Suang-Yang, our style’s 66 move Tai Chi form which I usually do better away from Neil’s precise, critical and, or so it seems to me, evil eye. A few wobbles and some annoying mistakes later I felt like I was almost back to normal.

I was then ready, well if I am ever ready, to show him how I was coping with my ten main Kung Fu patterns, including, for the first time since my illness, that seven and a half foot staff pattern.

Of course, there were loads of mistakes, lapses of memory and many repetitions of tings that I have always got wrong, but I was back doing Kung Fu out in the fresh air and, if I had ever forgotten how exhilarating this can be, I was certainly reminded today.

I felt freer in my movements knowing that Neil was there, continually warning me about increasing the blood flow to the head, reminding me to stop before I significantly raised my heart rate and telling me never to let my head drop down.

It is a big responsibility taking someone out like this when they are recovering from a major brain injury so all respect to him for giving me the freedom to stop being an invalid and to feel like myself again.

Having done this once, I now feel ready to practise all my patterns every day, to fill my lungs with fresh air again, and to feel my body move again in that uniquely exhilarating way that Kung Fu gives anyone who perseveres with its many difficulties.

I can just tell that doing this is so much better than any form of physiotherapy. Feeling my bony shoulders which used to be covered in muscle, I realize how far I have to go to get back to full fitness but today marked a starting point and a moment of hope that I really will get back to Fuzhou in February 2010.

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