Monday, 13 April 2009

my journey so far

I was first introduced to martial arts when I was 6 years old. After watching power rangers I told my parents I wanted to learn Karate, which I did for 2 years, and then when I moved to York, I started Taekwondo, but I have forgotten most of both styles.

Then, when I was 14, I began learning Wing Chun after watching some Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films. I studied for 3 and a half years, going to class 3 times a week and doing a private lesson once a week. I got my black sash after just less than 3 years. At that point I began to seriously doubt what I had learnt, after training with people from other Wing Chun classes and the fact that our training lacked intensity. Most classes I attended I ended up teaching in and when I did the black grading, I was disappointed how easy it was, everyone thought I was really good, but I felt like I wasnt, just that they all rushed through easy to pass gradings the same as me. Plus the Sifu, was always saying his way was the only way to do martial arts and other ways were no use etc. Feeling like I would never improve if I stayed there, and that I still had so much to learn, I quit.

Then, a big milestone came. I met my second Sifu, who has been my most influencial. An old school friend was also learning Wing Chun and invited me along to his class. This Sifu taught Foshan Wing Chun and was really active and enthusiastic in class and we did a good mix of training, making me realise how much was missing before and how much I still have to learn. We always had an intense warm up with running, push ups, stretches etc for fitness, stamina, strength and flexibility. Sifu thought it was important to build up the body, not jut learn drilled techniques. He was open minded to all styles and ideas and his art was alive and dynamic and I really enjoyed it. Still now I regard him as my Sifu and as the biggest influence in my attitude to martial arts.

Then I took 5 months out to travel China (including Tibet), Nepal and India. The first 10 weeks I volunteered in Xi'an and I met a buddhist monk there who taught me the basic stances, kicks and punches of Shaolin. Then, I went to Hong Kong and spent a few days training with Master Kwok Wan Ping of Yuen Kay San Wing Chun, who was a true master, and confirmed what my second Sifu taught me was right. He was almost 70 and still covered in muscles and his arms were like steel. I knew he could still fight. I went back the following year to train another few days with him. On both occasions he was welcoming to me and his wife cooked me dinner several times and they treated me in a nice restaurant.

Then I had several personal spiritual experiences in Tibet, Nepal and India, stayed in some buddhist monasteries, stayed with a Tibetan nomad family and other amazing experiences. I returned back to the UK to work for a while, saved money, studied Wing Chun again and finally found a job teaching English in Qingdao, China.

The first Shifu I met there was an old man who taught in a park on the university campus every morning. He didnt charge and didnt teach any particular styles, just techniques he thought were effective and theories from different styles like Mantis, Shaolin and Mizongyi. Then, I met after a couple of brief encounters with some different styles, I met a teacher who taught me the basics of Shaolin and a basic form. He was very strict and not very friendly to me, which taught me perseverance and discipline, but then it appeared he wasnt interested in me real kung fu, he just wanted to teach me loads of forms.

The third big milestone came when I met my current Shifu, who is a Taiji master I was introduced to by the dad of a girl I was tutoring English. He doesnt teach forms, but focusses on Tui Shou (push hands), Qin Na, and Zhan Zhuang (standing meditation). I really enjoy learning from him and his skill is amazing, he is 70, but I cant move him or touch him.

Lao Zi said "a journey of a thousand miles is started by taking a single step." I feel like all I have learnt so far is the first step in a life long journey towards mastery of myself; mind,body and spirit. In the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West, a buddhist monk, Xuan Zang, journeys to the Western Heaven to get scriptures from the Buddha. He is accompanied by a monkey, a pig and 2 other students. The monkey, Sun Wukong, is mischievous and violent, but intelligent and the pig, Zhu Bajie, is greedy. These 2 characters can be seen as a metaphore for aspects of the monks mind. The monkey is always causing trouble and represents the intellect, and the pig is always eating and wanting sex, and represents desire. In martial arts we strive to discipline ourselves by training our body, calming our mind and honing our spirit. It is easy to talk about this, the hard part for me is actually doing it.

This September my real journey will begin. I am going to study at a Shaolin Academy in the mountains of Kunyu Shan, Yantai, in Eastern China. Studying martial arts full time has always been my dream and will take me to a high level that I could never achieve from doing it casually.

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