Thursday 14 February 2008

It was our second day of training with Master Linn today and a lot of the formality wore off as we got to know each other better. As he does not speak English, our attempts at Chinese helped to warm up relations and, at times we were able to communicate without our interpreter, Chen.

Beginning with a series of stretches and stretching patterns, we felt much more relaxed than yesterday – the massage helped a lot and we decided we would have one every day on the trip – especially as one hour of really expert treatment costs only £3.

Master Linn taught us the next section of our pattern and demonstrated a lot more, showing his amazing technique- eye-watering low stance, unbelievable suppleness and flexibility and a devastatingly rapid ability to attack.

On one occasion he showed me what a Shaking Crane attack would feel like and sent me giddily off my balance with a series of rapid-fire moves. Showing his power by hitting the wall with the punch that would otherwise have been mine.

It was three hours of solid hard work but felt much less exhausting than yesterday.

We went to a Calling Crane Temple (Ming Her) in a small village in the afternoon. It was built in the 6th. Century in the countryside outside Fuzhou and even though few visitors go there it was actually the Temple from where Karate was born and practiced in Okinawa before being exported to Japan. Our White Crane Kungfu style has many similarities with aspects of karate but is far less hard so it was great to see one of martial arts’ special places.

It is wonderfully run down; looked after by an extremely old woman who keeps her card table, transistor radio and knitting in front of the Buddhist altar. It is none the less spiritual for this – if anything, it is more impressive than many a grander religious institution.

Local villagers come up here (it is up a really steep hill) to pray for dead ancestors and to collect water from the well that they still carry back with buckets on yokes on their shoulders.

This wonderful place is now also a building site with work starting on the new buildings for the temple, which will become a major Buddhist centre with much more focus on the promotion of Shaolin martial arts. I hope they will not loose its special character. Imagining those monks practising their martial arts in this idyllic but also strangely human setting really brought home the message that martial arts are more than just a way of beating people up. I lit some incense sticks kept by the ancient woman and placed them in bowls of sand in front of the many Buddha statues. It was with respect for all those wise and wonderful people about whom we know so little in the West.

To get there we hired a minibus plus driver who negotiated the perilously narrow and winding roads up to the Ming Her Temple. We travelled through an extraordinary landscape of newly built factories bordering on charming but obviously extremely poor villages where people were living close together in tiny houses populated by all generations of families. It was as different from English rural life as anywhere could possibly be.

One local shop was made of wood with a snooker table outside under an awning with two teenagers playing a game with no adults in sight. Inside the tiny colour television was showing what looked like a soap whilst all the provisions, racked around were left entirely unsupervised. One got the sense of a community that may be deprived in many ways but which seemed united in its own sense of community.

We got back to Fuzhou for some welcome muscle relief on the massage table. Today I tried an acupressure one which concentrated on the main pressure points on the body (as in acupuncture), which is anything but the luxurious pampering massage beloved in British Health Clubs. The young Chinese woman – why are they all so beautiful in this place? – belied her appearance and set to pummelling my pressure points and even clambering on top of me to get a better angle on her viciously accurate elbows. Whatever Chi is, if you believe in it or not, there is something about acupressure that releases some sort of energy whilst relaxing hard worked muscles. I left feeling genuinely spaced out.

Dinner in a local restaurant consisted of some delicious beef with hot chillies, some vegetable flavoured rice, succulent aubergines, a plate of peanuts, some cured duck (including what looked like its beak), and some chicken in a subtle sauce. Less subtle was one of the late animal’s feet and the creature’s head – including comb and beak. I am sorry to say I was selective of what I ate.

After a bit of wandering round downtown Fuzhou, we bought an array of Chinese medicines (mostly for Kungfu injuries naturally!) and then I got persuaded by my Kungfu instructor to play the piano in a well-stocked piano store. Not frightened of causing a scene I took up the challenge without realizing how loud these instruments were. A crowd of assistants gathered round and were all really kind about my playing. Feeling a bit of a fraud, we left them all beaming with pleasure. Maybe I missed my vocation as China’s answer to Liberace. More likely, this was another example of how charming Fuzhou people really are.

It was then back to the hotel for an hour’s Kungfu practice followed by some games of pool that I lost every time. For the record, Dave is maestro of the pool table.

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