After blogging about my frustrations and realisations last week, It appears in the week just gone, much has changed.

So what’s changed exactly?

  • I’ve religiously stuck to my own new mind/body/soul workout schedule
  • The day-to-day training from the school has become more physically demanding
  • I’ve made some progress in learning to meditate
  • I can be understood more with my mandarin
  • My outlook on the art here has widened

It feels like the end of a long week. I start writing this on Friday evening at about 19:00, but I’m shattered enough that I’ll just jot the main thoughts and complete it Saturday.

The New Schedule

During the kung fu training sessions when the students take a break, I’ve been taking the opportunity to work on my flexibility. I realised that flexibility is a big key to being able to progress to the next level here. How can you work on the power and stamina needed in a deep stance if you can’t actually get your body in the correct stances? If you want to kick high, then first you need your leg to be able to get that high, then you need to work on the strength to hold it there. Where was flexibility in the primary school curriculum in London?

Weight training with on my legs whilst the kids are doing their cleaning chores seems to be working nicely. It’s slow, because my legs are generally tired from the day-to-day kung fu training, but I’m working up the weight stack bit by bit.

Echkart Tolle’s statements in The Power Of Now are forcing me to ask myself some tough questions. It’s a little early to consider what it means to me. I can feel a sense of self-denial at the moment, but there’s plenty of time for the content to soak in. In fact, if you read the book, there’s a clear statement that “time” is somewhat of an illusion.

My morning Pushup Fu ritual is something I’m slowly getting used to. Right before I strap on the arm band that counts the reps, there’s a sense of feeling sick. But after finishing the reps, I realise that’s mind games, because I feel much better after completing them. I’m most of the way through Stage 5, for those familiar with the app.

As for the running, after the toughest prolonged period of training ache in my legs, I managed to pull out a 9km run, which I’m quite proud of. If I assume 2 running sessions per week, having 4 weeks left and needing to get to 21km, I’ll increase the distance by 1 or 2km (5-10 mins) each time. I think the stray mountain dogs are starting to recognise the new scent.

Day-to-day Training

The classes have moved on and become more physically demanding. Now that we should have mastered the principles of the stances, it appears it’s time to sink into, bounce, twist, jump and leap from stance to stance whilst trying to maintain perfect form (straight back, head held high). It seems like there’s a sweet spot among the students. At one end, there are the young and flexible ones who are happy to attempt anything with ultimate enthusiasm, but little form. At the other end, there are the older ones who have more muscular power and mastery of form, but will pull the slyest tricks to get out of trying to do the exercises.

After a week of doing these exercises daily for hours, my legs are D.E.S.T.R.O.Y.E.D. They feel more worn than doing the 3 Peaks, a half marathon and the hilly bit in Tough Guy one after the other. Early on in the week, I did question if my knees were past their sale by date and learned the hard way to warm them up gradually. Hours a day of moving from horse stance to horse stance as deeply as you can is both a mental as well as physical test. Now I realise these types of exercises are good for stretching the muscles and building power. Another factor that’s upped the training here is that Master Wu is dropping into more and more sessions. When he does, he has very high standards and the tone of the class becomes much more serious to cope. There always seems to be improvements to be made to the exercises done by the seniors, which you’d think had mastered them already.

Interleaved with the more physical exercises, I’ve been taught a form known as Pan Gen, which means Twisting Root. There’s a link to Master Wu demonstrating it here. The form is designed to teach you to maintain balance whilst moving from stance to stance. I’ve been quite impressed with myself being able to learn the form, but it only occurred to me at the end of the week why that was so. When the teacher demonstrates move A to B to C, when you’ve spent copious amounts of time perfecting stance A, B and C in isolation, it becomes more about slotting well-known pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. It’s a shallower learning curve, because you’ve put in the time mastering the all important basics. When you find yourself introducing the correct breathing too, which acts like your own pace maker. Being told through various hand waves and broken Mandarin that I’m learning quickly was like a gust of wind in the right direction for my kung fu boat.

Mr Miyagi was a wise man, who appears to have somehow rubbed off onto Master Wu.

Meditation

The task of settling my mind and body down seems to be getting easier. On Friday, when most of the students were off running some errands, there was just a few of us training amongst the trees for a change. I’m not sure why, but I had the opportunist urge to walk to the other side of the area, find myself a rock to sit on and meditated for a solid hour. It was the first time, I actually felt like it was something I intrinsically wanted to do. It was pretty refreshing to be honest.

Mandarin

Some of the students can understand what I’m trying to say. So either my charades skills are improving or my pronunciation of my Mandarin. The progress is largely one way, but a step in the right direction. I’ve been building up a translation list of useful kung fu related words. I’ll be posting up as a reference for others in the next couple of days once I fill in the last gaps. I’m starting to recognise some of the instructive words in class, like line up, move, take a break. The funny thing is, when writing this, I couldn’t tell you what they are but at the time, in context, I can.

Outlook On The Art

After I finished meditating on Friday and turned around, I saw the senior instructor showing three of the other students some simple fighting techniques. Something like “if someone were to punch you like this… I would do this” type scenarios. Now I’ve seen a fair few techniques like this, having trained in other forms of kung fu in the past. But I have to say, I was truly impressed with what I saw. The ease and fluidity this guy dealt with everything that came towards him and gracefully floored every one of them, taking their balance like sweets from a baby – it was something I’d not seen before. He didn’t have to hit any of them, although I’m sure the opportunity presented itself. I take back any thoughts that this form of kung fu neglected the point of the upper body. From what I saw, it demonstrated that if you have a strong stance and know your opponents balance and weak points, you can have their arms trapped and them falling over with ease. I hope I get a chance to absorb some of this myself during my time here.

What’s on the cards for next week?

I’m told there a new kung fu form to learn. It should be longer and more complicated than the one this week, so looking forward to that. We’re kept in the dark with the power training. Surely it can’t get any tougher?