Wednesday 20 February 2008

Back at the school for 8.00 this morning for the second day with Master Lin, the Chinese dog style Kungfu master.

The fact that he and his son and student were so friendly and enthusiastic yesterday made all the difference as I climbed those dreaded stairs, all twelve flights, to the hall at the top of the school building.

After some stretches – including some new ones to me demonstrated by Master Lin which really opened me up, we went straight to the business of the day – learning more moves from the San Zhan Dog style pattern.

The moves are all supposedly based on stylised versions of dog’s moves and by the end of yesterday we had done the first 24 that were all done from various standing positions. We didn’t exactly look like dogs but you could see, in a very Chinese way, how canine movements had been studied to the point of abstraction to produce some pretty impressive Kungfu.

I survived yesterday thanks to the fantastic one to one tuition from three top martial artists and, of course, our instructor from England who is obviously highly regarded by the Kungfu masters here.

Today things were due to heat up or, as Master Lin said ominously and succinctly: “In the next lessons things will become more difficult.”

We were due to learn the next 12 moves today that I was dreading as they involved a lot of left, right co-ordination. Something the Wolf is notoriously bad at getting without a lot of practise. At least we weren’t going to do the rolls today, I thought. That is what I am most worried about…and have been for nearly three months now.

Everyone has been very kind; not only about some pretty dodgy co-ordination problems but also that I have only really been doing Kungfu for three years – a drop in the ocean for these guys.

Well we surpassed ourselves…. not only did we learn all these moves in the first two hours and that’s a lot of lower horse stance not counting all the other positions. Master Lin was so pleased that he said we could move on. No! Not to those rolls…I had been hoping to practise them some more in my room tonight.

There was now no hope for me…Master Lin’s son demonstrated the next four moves and, yup, there they were! A jumping forward roll and then a backward roll. Just the sort of thing Wolves don’t want to do. Well if it is dog style then maybe the Wolf will just have to grit his teeth and go for it.

In the past, I used to just turn off my mind and jump into the dark whenever required to do something that I feared. Today I realized just how well prepared we have been for this trip.

OK I may not ever be the acrobatic type but, admittedly after some comical moments, I managed to do all the moves -just. What was amazing was the support from these men. Master Lin took a close personal interest in my every move and even, astoundingly, belied his 65 years, as he span through the movements with the athleticism and grace of a young man.

Having just bashed my hip, he came over and showed me how to do the move without need for pain. I had always assumed that these floor jumps and rolls would hurt and you would just have to get used to the pain and sublimate it. Nothing could be further from the truth. With the right movements, this pattern can be done on concrete just as easily and painlessly as on a carpet. Pity I didn’t realise this a moment or two earlier.

The other three students and our instructor picked it all up a lot quicker than me and did it better than me too. I would have been perfectly happy – well maybe not – to have got on quietly on my own at the back. This was never an option. They watched me and adjusted my every mistake and when, miraculously, I got something right, they all called out and clapped. I even had to take a bow.

I am now so pleased to have got over this hurdle. This has always been one of my main reasons for taking up martial arts. The challenge of coming out of the comfort zone that so many of us hide in for too long in our lives.

So when the class came to the end of its three hours, I had rolled, crouched, squatted and jumped practically every minute of the time…and felt great…well a bit sore actually.

With the hour we do every evening with our instructor, this means that we have been doing four hours of strenuous exercise every day since coming to China. I am amazed that I don’t feel more wrecked…I have to thank my club training for that. Someone just coming to this without grinding in the basics and building up their strength would not survive the first hour.

After some croissants and chilled cans of Mr. Brown’s Coffee, we strolled through the park watching thousands of people enjoying the Spring Festival holiday. Spring-like it was too with a mad mixture of flowers which bloom in England right through the year all flowering together…. marigolds, tulips, daffodils, rhododendrons, magnolias, chrysanthemums and poinsettias, their colours adding to the riotous reds of the lanterns hanging from practically every tree.

We walked for three hours round the park, people watching. Couples with their regulation one child, young couples, groups of teenagers, groups of old men sitting round playing cards and some of the most attractive women you would see anywhere in the world celebrating their newly found ability to wear the sexiest clothes they could decently squeeze in to.

One child parenthood is noticeable everywhere you go. Mothers and fathers obviously treasure their one chance at reproduction and look after their offspring with ostentatious affection. Often really poor looking people walk around with beautifully dressed kids and small, frail women carry their valued children wrapped up in huge bundles of blankets often after the child has grown well beyond its infancy. It is a heart-warming sight to see such love but it is also poignant to see their obvious disappointment of not being able to have any more.

I cannot judge though when looking at a country that is so full of people. Travelling around Fujian province gives you just a taste of the vastness not only of the land mass but of its population which spreads out in front of you round every corner.

After a hot bath, a snooze and an hour of training to drum in our two new patterns, I have limped to my room for, I hope an early night.

That awkward bit of hip bashing has left me sore but still mobile – just. I hope it won’t hinder me tomorrow.

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