On Saturday after some morning training, the students are free to explore nearby Dengfeng (or for the youngest ones, be picked up by their parents) for the weekend. For me, it meant a chance to stay at the Shaolin Traveller Hostel and indulge in some luxury. I’m told that foreigners from all the martial arts schools in the area use the hostel in the same way. Chance to relax, meet and train with other foreigners.
When I say indulge in some luxury, I mean a mattress to sleep on, private bathroom, western toilet, a washing machine, slouchable seats, wifi in your room and no early morning bell. As for the room itself, it opens into the top floor of the building, which has a mirrored room with lots of space.
This mirrored room is great for practice. A big part of the Wugulun Kung Fu training is making very slow transitions from one position to another, keeping the ultimate posture possible. Whilst it’s great that the teachers walk passed, inspect and correct your posture, they don’t catch everything. Half the time, they’re demonstrating facing away from you and they could be lenient on corrections. It’s good to learn what you think is wrong, then look inspect in the mirror and adjust to get the “feel” right. The room also has a handful of striking pads and gloves. No doubt the remains of past students working in the external forms of the art.
But the absolute winner of this place has got to be the ping pong table and it’s automatic ball launcher. It looks like the Johny Number 5 robot out of Short Circuit, with the ability to vary the top spin, bottom spin, power, frequency and landing position that it fires the balls at you – this game has never been so much fun. Max everything and set the position to random and you’ll be pummelled with shots like a war zone that even Forest Gump would struggle with. Set to one spot, one even pace, I must have got through about 100 balls but walked away perfecting my forehand smash.
They told me whilst travelling I’d learn new skills, but I would never have imagined ping pong on the listâ€¦.