Saturday 23 February 2008

The last day of Kungfu training in China…part of me feels really disappointed…another pleased to have got through so far and another one over the moon that I won’t have to keep rolling on my injured hip.

We went down to the school and got there ten minutes early. That was good because I could spend more time doing stretches and ironing out that hip problem as much as possible. It was really exciting reaching this final hurdle but I did wonder if I would actually get all the way through. I knew I would feel bad if I had to step out because of the injury.

We have learnt quite a few really excellent stretches over here and even though I have always done it, I have really seen the benefits of it since being in China. My hip actually calmed down and I felt relaxed and elated.

We got on with recapping the final moves of the pattern and then…with video camera there to add permanency to my humiliation, we ran through the whole thing for the final time.

The Wolf made it folks…probably the best I have done!

Well there were a few odd moments in those rolls but they happened and I stayed in synch with the others…. actually, since looking back at it, we looked pretty damn cool – all things considered!

We then went on to repeat the dog style grappling techniques that we had learnt yesterday…. and we were all pretty good at it because it is so similar to the stuff we do at home. It was great getting into the rhythm of it and, dare I say it, really pushing the Shaolin monk guy off his balance…he flexed every muscle in his body but conceded his ground. Where he is such a great person is that he laughed broadly and seemed really pleased.

We moved on…. more floor work. This time we were going to learn some ground grappling techniques.

Nice, I thought, having a little lie down perhaps.

No such luck, with no rolls left in my arsenal, I prayed that I could spare my hip but we were about to learn a truly cool manoeuvre where you slide to the floor and then take out your opponent with a variety of moves which included sliding along the floor on your hip.

It was difficult, fun, instructive and felt like having a filling at the dentist’s without an injection. Don’t you just love nerve pain! Well, my body told me to avoid the hip so I slid in on the other leg for the second attempt…that, of course, would not do so I earned myself some truly unwanted repetitions. Good to have learnt it though. Recovery can come later.

The three hours raced away ending with some speeches…. all about diligence and perseverance and that sort of thing and then we were all presented with a framed certificate commending, would you believe it, “excellent performance” in Shaolin Dog Boxing.

Pictures were taken and the Wolf was truly proud.

It has all been fantastic. I came here to China expecting a completely new experience but also knowing that I was going to be training in all the things that I find most difficult.

We spent the afternoon at Fuzhou’s main Buddhist temple which is a truly inspiring place with hundreds of worshipping Chinese somehow chanting in the main hall and others milling about smiling and welcoming us with a joyfulness of spirit which seems to have coloured this trip from the beginning.

It was a suitable way to snatch a few moments of contemplation before the beginning of the journey home.

I stood in the door of the temple watching the congregation bowing and rising to the chants in a kind of Mexican wave. A woman turned round and smiled…she signalled for me to come in and instantly I had joined that wave of fellowship.

Later, we went out for a farewell dinner with Master Lin and his family.

The dinner was posh and formal in one of those upper rooms but this time, the ice melted and we were all relaxed and humourous. We consumed loads of food and drink and many toasts, which is the custom here. We all proposed and experienced toasts…. heart warming stuff with more than a touch of the irony that we Brits think nobody else understands.

We then said our final goodbyes and ended up in the Last Drop Pub, which is down the road from our hotel and which, I had always assumed was a sad British look-alike establishment filled with a few solitaries taking shorts at the bar.

Actually it was heaving with Chinese twenty-some things who might have come here for the mock oak beams and English feel but probably saw it as dangerously Western in a subversive degenerate kind of way. Its charm was actually in its innocence. The resident band was a two-some performing Merseybeat covers and other stuff with an unembarrassed charm and musicianship that defied cynicism. Oddly, they also accompanied the karaoke performances of the customers…helping them out when ever they lost the melody line and encouraging them even after they had completely lost the plot.

The guest band was from The Philippines…two men – baggy tea shirts and goatee beards – and a woman – little black dress, boots, plunging neckline and come-on manner. They did pop classics and Spanish disco numbers in Spanish that plunged the whole scene into a bizarre pastiche of East meets West, past meets present.

Sixties classics would not have been performed so innocently or so passionately for forty years.

I hope that this new generation of Chinese maintain that innocence in the onslaught of Western “culture” and I hope that we can learn something from them: maybe to enjoy life a bit more and to learn to like other people more too.

We toasted the whole experience in a number of beverages and I found much relief for my battle-wounded hip by sitting on one buttock rather than two.
Luckily we escaped the advances of a very large and mature Thai prostitute whose pimp was a small grinning man who kept dancing in a bizarre fashion behind her. She offered us all loads of drinks…obviously some self-knowledge there…assuming that the only way she would get any custom was getting some gullible victim blindly drunk.
It was time for bed…alone…I thought.

This country is endlessly fascinating and I can’t wait to return. As far as the Kungfu is concerned, I may not have become the greatest martial artist in the world but I have certainly confronted many nightmares and I feel really pleased to have kept with it right to the end.

So thanks to everyone here….

…. the masters themselves who showed just how civilised, caring and impressive martial artists can be…

Chen, our interpreter and, I felt, friend, who has made so many things possible…

…. and also to my fellow travelling companions and co-students, Dave, Pete and Bryan. We are amazingly different to each other but we became a single unit and achieved much more than anyone, who wasn’t there, will ever really understand…. we’ve had a lot of fun together too.

Special thanks I guess must go to our instructor, Neil…. who sorted it, trained us up for it and talked me, in particular, through a lot of those nightmares.
Tomorrow we begin the long, twenty-seven hour, journey home – half a World away and a suitably epic ending to an unforgettable experience.

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