Today is Kungfu Monday. As this section was mainly inspired and supported by my better half, I thought it was appropriate by introducing you the man behind the curtains, my muse, my husband.
He is known to many of my friends and his students as Jinlong Shifu (a while ago even as Sanda Shifu). What most of you don’t know is how he came to train Kungfu.
He rarely tells that story, because he thinks it shows weakness. But, personally, I think it shows growth and the strength to achieve what you have set out to do.
The wrong family name or the wrong place?
Everything started with a name he was born into. In China the son will get the father’s last name. In my husband’s case this was Zhan. Normally, everyone is proud of the family name, and it is important to pass it on to the next generation. However, in very rural villages family names show where you belong to.
Before he was born, his parents decided to move to another village. They thought it will better their standard of living, which in fact it did. What they didn’t realize was the hate they will encounter because of their family name.
Of course, nowadays things have changed, and even in the village people don’t always hate you for your family name, but there is still some belonging or exclusion because of it. The village my husband’s parents moved to was mainly occupied by families with the last name Feng. And if you didn’t have that last name you were considered an intruder, someone from outside. People would always be suspicious of you and your actions. Even today the older generation would comment on someone who is not a Feng, being untrustworthy. It is a very old and, in my eyes, weird, tradition to connect someone’s trustworthiness to their last name.
But it was as it was. Little Zhan was not a Feng, and when he started attending the local Kindergarten the kids soon made him an outsider. From an early age on the neighbour kids bullied him. He never admits it, but this experience shaped his character and the whole life that followed.
Flying like the Kungfu movie stars
Being bullied by a bunch of neighbour kids can be tough on everyone growing up. Many turn to comforting hobbies. My husband’s favourite leisure activity was watching Kungfu movies and then trying to imitate the movements in their home yard.
His mother told me that with only four he started jumping around like a frog, climbing on trees, kicking and punching the air. He had so much energy, but only dared to practice his passion in the privacy of their home. None of the neighbour kids knew that he had turned in to a little Jackie Chan at home.
When it was time to choose a primary school, it was him asking his parents if he could go to a kungfu school. He is one of the rare Chinese children who went to those Kungfu school out of free will. And his will was strong. I believe in his heart he wanted to teach the neighbour kids a lesson, but he would never admit that (And in fact he never did. All those kids who bullied him are now his friends and have grown up to be mature husbands and fathers. Times have changed for the new generations.)
The hardships of China’s kungfu “factories”
Like every little boy who gets separated from his parents at such an early age, he had difficulties to come to terms with the new life. It was different from what he had seen in the movies, where people seemed to be able to magically fly through the air and throw punches and kicks without effort.
Reality was much different.
Like all his classmates, no matter age or gender, training started at 5 a.m. in the morning and ended at 9 p.m. in the evening. I remember him telling me all kinds of stories about the hardships, but also the joy he experienced there.
The special Taichi lesson
One story he likes to tell me every time it starts to snow, happened during winter when he was 12 years old.
That day his whole class had Taichi lessons on the morning plan. However, their teacher seemed to be in a particularly bad mood that day. Maybe it was the minus five degree. Or maybe it was the snow nonstop falling from the sky. Sometimes the teacher just got fed up with his students and so it happened that day. In his anger he told the whole class to take off their school uniforms and winter jackets. Standing there with only trousers on, their task was to train the movements until they start to sweat. Only then they were allowed to leave class and go for breakfast.
Obviously, no one started sweating.
Only after the bell for lunch break had rang, gave the teacher in and let the class go. My husband tells me that since then he is not afraid of the cold. And it’s true, he does were particular little clothes during winter… When I am wrapped in five layers of clothe like a polar bear, he will wear a sweater, a little jacket and no scarf or gloves (or winter hat, because that would only ruin his hairstyle!).
Those mass punishments were very common. If one student didn’t train well, the whole class would get punished. No matter if boy or girl. And punishments could vary from standing in a corner or running a few rounds around the school, or worse up to five sticks – meaning the teacher gets five wooden sticks and beats the student as long as it takes for the sticks to break… so, if you get punished with five sticks, you won’t be able to sit for a month. The slap on the butt gets to a totally new dimension in those kungfu schools. (Edit: Things have changed, and beating in Chinese Kungfu schools is generally forbidden now, but still happens occasionally.)
Of course, after years of training the rewards outweighed the hardships. I know Kungfu is my husband’s life and will always be a part, for both of us.
He enjoys teaching every single minute. Showing eager students the essence of Kungfu, not only the cool movements you see on TV, but also the hardship and the perseverance you need in order to achieve something. And as I have said in my post about my own experiences, Kungfu is more than just a sport.
My husband still teaches the summer camps every year. But now he has widened what he has learned and started practicing Chinese Tuina massage and acupuncture. Combined with the Chinese form of Martial Arts, it makes for a very healthy and happy life.
PS: Below is a video I made for him – the only existing video, because he is just too modest to be filmed. It takes all my convincing to get him in front of a camera. I will try again!
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