The Chinese martial arts, to be exact Shaolin Kung Fu, have been a part of my life as long as I can think back. Keeping this part out of a blog about my daily life and struggles seems wrong. This is why I am including one more section: The Kung Fu Monday.
To start off this day, I decided it would be most fitting to share my little story with you. It does not happen every day that a girl travels all the way to China on her own, without Chinese language knowledge to train Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu at a real martial arts school in the middle of nowhere of China.
The unexpected Tai Chi Retreat and a two weeks power course in Shaolin Kung Fu
Actually, my journey to Shaolin Kung Fu started out with a Tai Chi weekend. This might sound weird to people who know me well, and not special at all to people who don’t know me. I am a very active person, and slow movements make me drousy. I never understood the charm of Tai Chi. I still don’t do. I think it will take a few more years for me to grasp the inner strength of Tai Chi movements.
So, when I went to a Tai Chi weekend at our local Martial Arts School in Germany over ten years ago, I had no idea what to except. I was training Taekwon Do and Capoeira for a few years. I got bored of the stiff Taekwon Do movements, and I didn’t like the singing and dancing of Capoeira. I wanted to try something new. Tai Chi turned out to be the exact opposite of what I wanted to learn, but the same school offered Shaolin Kung Fu courses and they convinced me to give it a try.
I was hooked. Without thinking I signed up for a two weeks intense Shaolin Kung Fu course at their school. We slept there, ate there, and trained from 5am in the morning until 9pm in the evening. You could say it was a life changing experience for me.
My first trip to China to train Shaolin Kung Fu
After that life changing experience I was addicted. I am saying addicted because if wasn’t at school, I would be at their place training Kung Fu. They offered courses throughout the day, seven days a week, and for students like me they had special offers which made it possible for me to train every day.
After a year one of my Chinese trainers decided to take a group of about ten students to China for some special instructions by “real” Shaolin monks (most of them are not real, but really good at what they do). Of course I went. Even against every ones else’s concern of being too young.
It was a July and like usual the weather in China was hot and humid. We spent three amazing weeks training with experts in the field of Shaolin Kung Fu. We visited the Shaolin Temple and a few more Chinese tourist attractions. I was mesmerized by everything. I knew I wanted more. Three weeks weren’t enough. Not at all.
A Year training in one of China’s biggest Kung Fu schools.
I kept on training daily. As soon as I graduated from high school I packed my stuff and went back to China. This time though, I went straight for one of China’s biggest Kung Fu schools: Shi Xiao Long Martial Arts School
It covers 150 hectares with a total construction area of more than 60,000 square, and has over ten thousand students. Over the years it has grown and last time I went there (in 2011) it has grown to the double size from when I want there in 2006. I spent a year training there and I loved every minute!
The training was tough. Winters were extremely cold. No heating or hot water. I was one out of three girls training there. Most of the international students were guys. We were training separately from the Chinese students, but our training was no different from that of the Chinese students.
We had power training, stretching lessons, weapon and forms training. Once a week (usually on Thursday) we would even be running up a mountain! I hated that part. I remember once it was snowing so heavily that we could go up the mountain but instead our trainer decided to simply run through the city. Everyone always runs faster than me. They called my running style Tai Chi Running for a reason. It didn’t take long and I got behind, and not longer until I couldn’t see the others in front of me anymore. I didn’t know the way. It was snowing and dark. I was lost in the middle of the city. It took me about two hours to find my way back to the school. Lucky for me I was wearing the schools uniform, and even though I couldn’t speak a word Chinese, people must have noticed how lost I looked and kept pointing me in the right direction.
My trainer was furious. I was punished by more running in the afternoon. That’s how training was. Very tough, but it brought out qualities in you, and strengths you didn’t know were there.
Keeping on training or not: that was the question
After that year full of challenges and rewards training Shaolin Kung Fu, it was time for me to go back to real life. Starting university changed everything. I tried really hard to keep on training, but the academic life doesn’t really allow time for free time, especially if you are looking to earn a scholarship to go back to China.
I temporary gave up on my martial arts dream and focused my attention on solely learning Chinese and getting the higher grades possible. I succeeded. After a year studying in German I got a scholarship for Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University and continued my studies there.
Back in China I wasn’t able to get back to training full time either. But luckily the summer and winter breaks at University allowed for longer trips back to see my old Kung Fu teachers and freshen up on my martial arts skills.
On one of those trips I met my husband, but that is another story. I never went back to full time training. University, and graduating from university, everything pushed me into a “normal” life, where people want you to contribute to society by working a 9-5 job and paying your taxes, and not jumping around throwing punches into thin air in a Kung Fu school.
I semi-retired from Chinese Kung Fu
Since graduating from university, I trained whenever the time allowed it. From 2011 to 2013 I was staying at a Kung Fu school with my husband. While he was teaching eager foreigners to learn Xiao Hong Fist, I helped out with management and the daily needs of first time China travelers. It was a fun and relaxing time, but badly paid, so we had to leave. Since then I have finished a master degree from London university and my husband has started learning acupuncture and Chinese tuina massage.
Since we live back in Bozhou, in my husband’s home city, we both have semi-retired from the Martial arts scene. With all the daily responsibilities of working and studying, we just don’t find the time to train anymore. Plus, there is no place for us to go and train. Adding to this dilemma that I cannot be taught by my husband, simply because he is my husband and not my teacher, and I always start laughing at him when he tries to force to do a hundred push-ups. It’s the same way around when I try to teach him English.
We both miss the time as full-time martial arts practitioners. It’s a longing which cannot be fulfilled any time soon. Sometimes we dream about opening a small Kung Fu school here in Bozhou. My husband really loves to teach small children and he dreams of spreading Kung Fu around the world. But there are always financial restraints… No one wants to pay anymore to send their children to a Kung Fu school, especially with China’s one-child-policy; parents are overprotective of their children, totally missing the point of a good Kung Fu education. Yes training is hard, you will be tired, and you will be in pain, but the rewards are so much greater!
I have become so much more confident since I started training martial arts. It is not just a sport to keep you fit, but it helps to train your mind and spirit. The way we try to overcome the pain or the tiredness during the training, helps us to overcome other difficulties in daily life.
I don’t think I would be who I am today, if I wouldn’t have trained Chinese Kung Fu.
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