Martial Arts Training in China
Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
257Trip End Jan 31, 2012
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Caught an early morning train from Beijing to Siping. Since I could not get a seat ended up having to get a standing ticket. Was lucky though in that the train carriage had a large space in the front of the compartment where I could put my bag on the floor and sit on it. As a result not as painful a 5.5 hr trip as it could have been.
At the train station someone met me with a sign and drove me out to the academy. Found that this was over 30km out of town and located way out in the country side. Passed a whole bunch ot small villages along the way. Appears the academy is not in a temple (as suggested on their web page) but rather a school located next to a local castle that seems to get lots of chinese tourists.
Place seems Ok and at the moment pretty cold since the lake is still frozen when I arrived
Found that during my stay at the academy my typical Week Day ended up being spent in the following way with a few exceptions along the way due to injury:
6:00 - 6:30 Chikung
8:00 - 10:00 Train - Shaolin
10:30 - 11:30 Train - Baji
14:00 - 16:00 Train - Shaolin
18:30 - 19:30 Train - Shaolin, Revise
20:30 - 22:00 Go to sleep
All in all a typical week day consisted of about 6.5 hrs of training
As a general overview the academy is a boarding school for chinese kids. They seem to have school classes during the morning training period and only come out for the afternoon and evening classed.
Not many foriegners at the school or older kids for that matter. Had three other people doing some of the classes with me. Alex who started the same day as me as well as Kendra and Scott as well as a couple of kids from malaysia who seemed to be there more to muck around than train. On top of that there were a couple of other students doing Baji and a couple who had been training last year but were no longer training.
The school also had a number of interpreters, Isabella & Bull, for some of the classes which was useful. though I must say sometimes they just repeated what you said back and while they spoke english it was sometimes hard to get your meaning across to them in order to get them to ask your question.
Also found that not as many sifu as stated on web page. Seems some political bullshit happened a couple of months before I arrived resulting in a couple of the older more experienced sifus leaving
Food during the first week wasnt two bad with a fair bit of variety over the first week. Unfortunately that variety got a bit repetitive by the fourth week. Breakfast was normally boiled eggs, rice porridge (more water than rice) and some chinese buns. I also bought myself some coffee and oatmeal. Lunch and dinner tended to be rice, with some chinese veggies and some chinese meat dishes. french fries also seemed to be very common as well as minced chicken on a stick. For desert it was either apples or sliced pairs. For drink it was basically lots and lots of black tea.
While rooms may be shared with up to two people I had one to myself since there werent enough students to fill the place up. Foreigner rooms were on the third floor, school kids on the second and school classrooms, kitchen and showers on the first floor. Note that the showers were communal (like a school locker room) and only had hot water 6 days a week from 7:30pm to 8:30pm.
When not training I had had plenty of time to do my blog but with only limited internet access (with very slow connection) and just plain lazinous I wasnt in the mood to think about it and write them
Originally had planned to do a month take a weeks break and come back for another month. In the end though decided a month was enough though I had been considering heading to another place in the south that was recommended by some of the students. Only have so much money and time though and at the moment think I would prefer to visit Mongolia (just a short train trip) and Vietnam before I head home some time around September.
Probably worth noting here that by now (2 months later) I have forgotten the forms I learnt. Was smart enough to tape myself and Lee Sifu doing the them though so hopefully I'll be able to do them when I get home. Hoping my body is smarter (has a better memory) than my brain and when I see the video and go through the general motions it will all come back. Unfortunately 1 month isnt a lot of time to build up muscle memory.
During my time there I also drove through some of the small local villages on the way to Siping as well as saw people in the fields on my runs
First morning started out by mopping the floor. Had originally planned to do chiKung or tia chi in the morning but the Chi Kung sifu wasnt there on Monday morning so I joined the Shoalin class and ended up doing this for the rest of the week.
Typical session started with either a 3-4km run down the hill to the road and back, some runing up and down the hill near the main gate, running round the training hall or yard out front or a walk to the lake or around the castle. In the end lots and lots of running.
After running some time was spent stretching. This involved mostly lifting the leg onto a bar and stretching. this was then followed by some routine of exercises which might involve arobatics/gymnastics, stretching (torture training), stairs, some standard shalin exercises or forms.
Standard exercises including doing various kicks with the legs such as lift the leg straight up. rotating clockwise/anticlockwise, kicking forward, jump up and riggling like a fish or lifting the knees to name a few. On occasion it also included doing one stance then punching followed by another. Other exercises that also tended to be standard were situps, V ups, back raises and push ups.
In terms of stairs traing the grounds had a stack of about 20 steps where we were sprinting up and down them, jumping up them, hopping up them or bear crawling down them (on hands and feet head first)
Also had a couple of acrobatic like classes. Tried doing a flip from a lying position but cant see myself moving all my bady weight from a lying to standing position anytime soon. One problem I have is I need to do a lot more situps. Another is that due to my knees and bad ankle (and just cause its me) I have problems kneeling and lying down with my back on the ground. Watching some of the kids do it I find other that they do what I would call cheating that is they get their feet on the mat and then pulled their bodies up through their feet rather than flip straight up.
Other exercises that fell under acrobatics was handstands, back bends, walking on hands, forward/backward rolls, cart wheels, back rolls into handstands, flips from lying to standing and a number of other things.
Some other exercises that were done on occasion involved doing squats with someone on your shoulders (I had 75kg on mine), carrying some around in your arms or on your back and walking on your hands while someone held your feet.
Finally we also had a few sessions that involved stretching. In the extreme case of this it involved trying to pull someones leg to their head or the splits to the side and front. Found that in all the stretching one person was pushing and the sifu aimed to get you into the pain zone. Not sure about younger bodies but my muscles arent still growing and while Im flexible they still have a limit where they dont want to strech no more and are more likely to clam up under force than relax. Certainly glad I have more flexibility to start with than the average person.
Found that in most stretches it wasnt to bad since I could get down far enough into the stretch that I could put my hands on the ground and hold myself up and resist the person pushing
During the day found that I was the only one training from 10:30-11:30am. Seems that everyone else had opted for chinese or found a way of getting out of class. During this time found myself doing some stretching, running, handstands, sit ups and back raises.
Also during the week went through a fist form step by step with a little bit extra each time. Personally would have preferred to have done the thing end to end and reviewed it each time at the start of class. Also found that the sifu tended to only show the next bit a few times and then got you to practise it yourself. Again, personally prefer to have someone do it with me so I can look at what they are doing and correct myself as I go along. Definately found the amount of correction and instruction given less than desirable.
All in all my knees and ankles were a bit sore, but no real pain, by the end of the week which is a good thing
On the Saturday decided to visit Siping and got a ride into town with some people from the academy. Spent the morning with David who showed me the massage place ($4 / hr) as well as a really nice buffe lunch for $5. Lots of nice food and a good variety after a week of eating at the academy.
After lunch he headed to the bathhouse and I decided to wander around the town a bit. Found the main drag which was a shopping mall with lots of designer clothes outlets on it and large speakers blaring out music or advertisments. Found that the street also had lots of vendors on it selling food, DVDs and all sorts of other goods.
While walking around was suprised by the number of female taxi drivers. In most countries dont see very many if any. Here though a lot of teh drivers seem to be female. Given they're more likely to be crime victims I guess it must be relatively safe on the streets.
Wandered back to the main shopping emporium and supermarket where I bought some fruit, pastries and junk food for the coming week along with a towel
All in all not to bad a first week.
This week decided to add some variety to my day by doing the Chi Kung class in the morning and an hour of Baji when everyone else was off doing chinese or something other than training. Besides the variety it also got me out of doing so much running which I dont particularly like.
Chikung basically involved just a few exercises that were repeated over and over. Thought about my breathing though no real instructions were given. Definately a better way of spending the morning than doing another run with the kids.
By Monday found I had a sore back. Note sure whether its because I had the massage or just that doing so many back raises the week before had strained my back but found that whenever I landed after I jumped I had a pain in my back
This week did a few more balance exercises where we were standing on one leg and had the other raised. Also spent a bit more time sitting in and holding various stances. Given most of these have me very low and supporting all my weight just above the ground the knees and ankles really dont like it.
By now had finished the fist form and had started to do the preying mantis. Found that this was a good choice since it didnt really have any acrobatics in it which for me was a bonus. Unfortunately it does have one very low stance where you drop down to you knee and my sore knee definately didnt like this to much. Guess it would take a few weeks to a couple of months for me to get down properly into the stance and Im sure that along the way I would need to give my knee at least a few days of recovery time.
Once again had Shou sifu show the form a few times before having to practice it ourselves
In the end spent a lot of my free training and form training time trying to go down and hold some of these stances in order to strengthen and stretch the appropriate muscles.
On Wednesday morning found my body turn to shit. While I had strapped up the ankle with the old injury and my knee, I hadnt strapped up my other ankle. In the morning session we started out by jogging to a nearby village on the other side of the lake. Someone said it was 10kms but given I made it in just under 1hr Im guessing it was more likely like 6-8km.
In the end I ran all the way there and most of the way back. A number of people turned back early but I decided I wanted to go there and back. In the end probably a bad idea. By the time I was running back I started to feel a strain in the side of my normal, unstrapped ankle which progressively got worse. Probably should have walked all the way back but did half jog, half walk.
That afternoon the foot was definately feeling worse but trained as normal. should probably have rested it since that would have been the smarter move but didnt want to stop training. The following day also trained but found that by the end of the day I was no longer able to train properly without limping and jumping was definately a bad thing.
Since I had been considering taking a day off for my back anyway, told the Sifus I was taking Friday off so I could get 3 recovery days
This week started Baji with Lee Sifu who always seems to be practising his forms. In the end took me about 4 days (1 hr per day) to get the first form. This basically involved him showing me the next part of the form and us doing it together a few times then doing the form together from the start up to the point we had gotten to.
Found that except for a few tricky bits that took a couple of goes or days to get properly (dont really have the basics I need to do this quickly) I was pretty much able to follow along when I did it with hime without getting lost to often. Unfortunately my memories not so great and it just seems that my mind went blank way to many times when I tried to string a sequence together by myself. Given the length of the form though I guess 4 hours isnt to bad.
After the first form was finished we started on the second and by the end of the week I was pretty much able to get trough the first form by myself with only a few prompts along the way.
Once again decided to visit Siping at the end of the week but this time only headed to the supermarket to buy supplies
This time caught the taxi back with scott but before doing so he went looking for candied Hawthorns. tried one as well and found that I quite liked them. Basically these are round red marble sized fruits that tasted a bit like apple and cranberry. All wrapped in toffee was quite nice.
Unfortunately found that 3 recovery days were not enough and the foot was still sore on Monday so also decided to take one more day off. Had Sidu Lee visit me so told him about my foot and that I would be at training the following day.
By Tuesday foot still not better but decided to train since Im guessing the worst of the injury is over and it just a matter of time waiting for it to heal. While Im sure it would heal faster if I rested it, it will heal even if I dont and given Ive only got 4 weeks I cant really afford to take the week off.
Found that the Baji training wasnt to bad for the foot though the stomping did hurt a bit
Made sure to tape myself doing whatever I could remember of the sequences straight after lunch since if I left it much longer I would inevitabley get to a spot where I would forget the next move (especially tricky one) and then wouldnt be able to practise the rest of the section.
Once again found that if I was doing the sequence with the sifu I managed to remember what to do and follow along but as soon as he asked me to try by myself I might have been lucky to get one or two moves in before having a mental blank and needing a prompt. Seems my brains smart enough to see something and for the most part get my body to do something similar without getting to confused but not to remember whats going on while Im doing it. Need to force myself to try and remember the next step by myself in the hope that I'll eventually remember the sequence. Unfortunatley this takes quite a bit of time in my case.
This week in Baji also did a bit of partner work in one of the forms. Seems that with some modification one person can be doing the form in response to another persons attacks and counters. Only did the start of the form but found this to be interesting even if some of the modifications to the techniques made it a bit confusing.
As for the shaolin training this week I found that after a couple of days I stopped the running and doing the stairs and instead did stretching
Find that the foot doesnt feel to bad as long as I stand on tippi toes. While I can run with one foot on tippi toes, its not the best thing to do. Also find that trying to do the jumping is a real killer since the most pain comes from the jolt of the foot hitting the ground.
As for the kids in the class, I found that given the small number of foreign students having the kids in some of the classes wasnt a bad thing. If nothing else it meant you had a bit more of a rest before the next sprint, set of jumps up the steps or exercise.
Something of note about the kids. For the most part they can do things pretty well if they try but are extremely lazy. Given that corpreal punishment is Ok in China a large number of kids had to go into a push up position and got a stick across the butt. Found that the size of this stick changed from day ato day as well as the force of the wack. While in some cases this seemed justifiable in other cases it just seemed the teachers at the kids misbehaviour was being taken on the kids
Took Thursday morning off this week since I still needed to pay the rest of my fees and needed to go to the bank to cash some travellers cheques. As a result didnt head into Siping this week since the car wasnt heading into town. Am guessingthat since it went in thursday and the guy did what he had to do he had no reason to head in on the weekend.
Training this week pretty much the same as the previous weeks though the training in the first week seems to me to have been a lot more intense than it was in the following weeks. Maybe it sbecause of my injury or maybe the first week was just designed to wear us out quickly.
This week finished the Preying mantis form and while Alex started the drunken fist I got to do another shaolin fist form. Not to fussed since I dont have that much time left.
By Wednesday the foot was starting to feel better but Im still fighting off this cold and worst of all I seem to have eaten or drank something I shouldnt
Can tell when I have a bad stomach bug since I cant hold it in and more importantly my stomach growls a lot as gas moves around in it. Even more telling was the fact that when I burped I could tast CO2 even though I hadnt had a fizzy. Had been avoiding taking norfloxin since it was my last one but guess this definately constitutes a case where its warrented. Ended up taking the morning session off to take the pill and found that I was better that afternoon.
This week it seemed the academy was also putting on a kung fu show. Was asked if I wanted to perform and while Alex did I chose not to. Seems that May is the start of the tourist session and a number of officials and invited guests were out to see the kids to animal and weapons forms.
After this performance found the restuarant near the castle was open and a couple of small stalls selling drink and food appeared near the castle entrance.
Once again visited Siping to go to the supermarket on Saturday. This time though I also had to go to the train station to get my ticket to Beijing. Here I had everything i needed to say on a piece of paper and thankfully got the ticket without to much hassle.
Upon heading to the taxi stand found that there was a great big pile of buses nearby and not so many taxis. Guess there must be something going on in town.
Wasnt really until Monday that the foot was feeling better and so decided to go back to running during the start of classes. While finding a little bit of discomfort in the foot the pain is definately gone.
This week finished the shaolin second fist form which to me doesnt really flow like the first one I did. Seems a bit to disjoint to me to be a decent form but at least it gave me something to do. Didnt really have time to learn another animal form or the drunken fist form alex was starting. Besides, as Ive said it would take more than a few weeks for me to even try doing some of teh acrobats
In one exercise we had one person bending over and another jumping and rolling over while the person underneath pushed them up. In most of the cases I did it it felt like the person under me was going to buckle. Not the best way to practise.
This week pretty much training as normal from Monday to Wednesday for both Shaloin and Baji. Even managed to finish all of the eight short Baji sequences.
Not much else to say about training except that we had another run. This time I strapped up both knees and both ankles and managed ot get by without straining anything. Should be noted though that it was probably a good thing I didnt train the rest of the week since
Guess I probably should so a bit a running when I get back but personally I think I would prefer doing it on a squash court rather than a running track
All in all enjoyed my time training and probbaly would have benefited from another month but given the situation with the number of Sifus, my bodies aches and pains and my desire to travel some more probably a good thing I didnt. If I really want can always head to the other school some students talked about after heading out to Mongolia. If nothing else my body will be rested.
Found the Baji here was mostly forms with only a few exercises. While I didnt mind this given the short time I was there, a few basic exercises to teach some basic principles would have been nice. As for shoalin training, this tended to be a lot of physical exercises to toughen the body up. Found the forms to be extremely acrobatic and I guess they teach you something about movement but in a real fight you would have to be damn good at being able to use those forms in order to do anything with them thats better than just your standard punch and kick. Guess I can see why its good to start young. Also found the lack of partner exercises to be a bit disappointing.
Some Tai Chi would have especially been nice to do first thing in the morning. So also a bit disappointed since it would have been nice to have done a bit less shoalin training and done some tai Chi, wing chuan or sandan training if the sifus for that had been available.