July 7: Thursday brought the end of ton lon chuan training; we had finished the praying mantis form. I guess it helped that I had learned some of it last year. Deqing had started me on the road to ton lon chuan last year, but couldn't finish it because he had some other important business to take care of. So, last year, the completion of the first half of ton lon chuan was left to his best student. Hell, I didn't care, he performed it very well, far better than I could ever. Problem was, he performed it wrong. The week was spent correcting what I was doing wrong, and fine tuning what I was doing right. Also, I got the second half of the form. And, as is not customary in the usual wushu schools out here (at least until the fourth year of training, and then, not always) Deqing taught me the actual applications to the form. That is, how to use it to fight. It's sometimes very difficult to see how these forms are actually used, especially when you start getting into the animal forms. Things like lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!) are pretty easy to figure out, but when you start getting into animal forms like dogs, frogs, eagles, and praying mantis, it's not easy to see how these things are actually used. It is not common to learn these "secrets", as they are usually reserved for the monks. Becoming a disciple two years ago helps.
The workouts all this week so far have just been incredibly painful. And not just physically. Mentally, they have been anywhere from a complete frustration to a total embarrassment. Having forgotten things that I should have remembered, being unable to do things that should be natural by now, and above all, not being able to hit DeQing, hard, and where it hurts. Just like he wants me to. Gong fu requires precision, balance, speed, focus and power. I have the power, to the point where most of these guys are afraid of being in the direction of where my fist is heading to. I don't have the balance, precision, or focus. But the real problem is, I think they're more afraid not of how hard it's going to hit them, they're more afraid of where.
You see, I have poor proprioception in my right arm. Another consequence of that head injury. If I don't see my right hand, I don't "know" where it is until I see it, or it runs into something, like, a full glass of Coca Cola on a busy dinner table. Usually, I just view the whole thing as a comical event. Well, after a while, DeQing figured it out, and decided that he was going to view the whole thing as a comical event too.
So, while performing some basic gong fu moves and strikes, such as xie bu chong quan (where you twist on your feet, ending up with crossed and lowered knees, striking with one arm to the opposite side), DeQing would stop running from one side to the next, as I struck him hard with my left fist, accurately and powerfully, and completely missed him with my right. You just don't see your fist until it's in front of you, about to hit it's target, and DeQing noticed that fast. He also noticed that my poor balance (another consequence) made me kind of wobbly as I twisted around to strike. As I could almost always hit him and hit him hard with my left, and almost always completely missed him, any part of him, with my right, he decided to continually stay on my left side. If I were to say that he is a damn good teacher (and he is), I would say that he did that to train my bad right side. If I were to say that he just doesn't like to be hit, I would be wrong.
From the look on his face, I just think he thought the whole thing was funny. So he stayed on my left side, and watched me continuously miss him. Such a comedian.... It actually got funnier when I did xiezi bai wei. That's where you twist around 360 degrees, prepare to strike with not one, but both arms, and keep one leg held up high off the ground. Even the guy from Argentina stayed around to watch that.
I guess I didn't get into the guy from Argentina. Kind of reminds me of William from two years ago, the ex con who was hiding out in Shaolin village from the US authorities. He had the attitude of a New Yorker and a mouth that went along with being in the slammer for ten years. We had bonded immediately. F--- this and F--- that, I had just gotten a complete kick out of it (F----, wo yo yi f----- wan mei f----- fan; translated, I want a New York bowl of rice). He spent his time teaching basic English to some Chinese school children in the village ("See John run. See John F------ run"). Wish I had had a teacher like him. Anyway, this guy from Argentina supposedly is a sixth degree black belt in some sort of Okinawan karate system way down in the Patagonia region. That's way down there. Like, on the bottom of the world. I asked him what he was doing way up here. Like, as William would put it, "in the middle of F------ nowhere". In his very poor English (and his completely non-existent Chinese; (he can't even say that he wants a bowl of rice or bottle of water), he explained to me that he needed to get away from his children and his ex-wife for a year or two. I guess he had had a nasty divorce down there (I also guessed that some American attorney's had moved down to Argentina. Poor country. Now it's in trouble). He had been in Laos for a month, living at a monastery, just meditating. I understood that. I know that there's not much to do in a Laotian temple other than meditating. Especially if you don't know Laotian, Vietnamese, or French. (He doesn't). And then, he saw DeQing's picture in a magazine down there, so he decided that he would travel to Shaolin to do some more meditating and gong fu. He showed up at DeQing's school with the idea of staying two weeks; to learn some gong fu, and practice some tai chi. He also showed up with one hundred Yuan (about twelve dollars). That was about two months ago. He's still there. Still waiting for his school to send him money. Still eating and sleeping at DeQing's school. Still hasn't practiced gong fu (a back injury has kept him from practicing for the "past few years"). Still hasn't learned how to say "wo yo yi wan mei fan". I wished that William was here. He'd teach him how to say it.
I told Yong, who bunks right next to this Argentine in one of the small rooms of DeQing's school, that he was probably a mass murderer from Argentina, hiding out from the authorities. That he probably had disemboweled and eaten the remains of many a poor old lady in the Patagonia region. I told Yong, that being a doctor from New York, that I was experienced in such things, and that I could just "see it" in this guy's eyes. No doubt, within a week, the Chinese jibbered and jabbered throughout the small school with that rumor. God help this guy now.
Oh, I've completely lost track. Back to the training stories.
The kids next door took great glee in the fact that my master was punching me. My attempts at using various praying mantis forms to block his punches and kicks and to strike back (usually unsuccessfully) caused cheers to rise up from the dirt bleachers they had built. I'm glad they were entertained. I was black and blue, and they were having a great time.
The afternoon was spent visiting two of the Shaolin Temple's great masters; Shi Su Xi, and Shi De Yang. Visiting the great masters is not something that everybody gets to do; they are not exactly on the tourist circuit. And, significantly, Shi Su Xi, who is 76 and is deteriorating from Parkinson's disease, rarely takes visitors. But Deqing, knowing that I had met him last year, arranged my second meeting with him, in order that we could talk about his life. Shi De Yang, who is 32, is the disciple of Shi Su Xi, and is one of the greatest wushu monk masters of the Temple (Deqing being another one). I met both of these masters in their living quarters; what I found out of their lives I'll put in another section of this web.
So much for entertaining the troops next door. I'm sure they missed me.
990709: Friday morning it all started to come together. Deqing and Yong were supposed to show up at the hotel to train with me in the morning, prior to our going to Zengzhou to see Deqing off to Hungary. Yong and I were going to take this opportunity to stay in Zengzhou overnight, he to purchase a laptop computer, me, to stay at the Holiday Inn and eat cake. I had looked forward to sleeping in a real bed all week. But they never came. I had started early in the morning, going through all of my forms, and the new praying mantis boxing, by myself, doing each one ten times. That, along with the basic gong fu maneuvers, the kicks, the stretching, and the other gong fu movements, took me around two and a half hours. But, what I was starting to feel yesterday was getting stronger today, much stronger. I was starting to move with more grace and speed, more power and flexibility, though my balance still leaved a little to be desired. The strikes were more powerful, the stances lower, the praying mantis looking more like a praying mantis than a pregnant elephant. It was all starting to flow into something that is was supposed to look like. It just felt right.
The kids next door just stood and watched. They didn't say a word.
Deqing showed up at 1100, about two hours early. "Let's go, we leave", in his actually improving and impressive English. Yea, like I was ready to go. That's something that I have learned about him. Never on time, or far too early, or, kind of late. Never a plan that follows through. No timetable, no schedule. He just takes every hour as it comes. Just whatever happens, happens. A little different from the usually regimented behavior of, well, Chinese waitresses. The Chinese table is set in a distinctive way, and god forbid you change it, by, well, like putting a laptop on it and rearranging all the plates, chopsticks, and other paraphernalia that you find here. I would show up to a dinner table, lay out the laptop in a convenient position after rearranging the entire table, and from out of nowhere, would come a Chinese waitress, always smiling, to rearrange the table the way it should be. I would just smile, let her do her thing, and after she left, put everything back the way I had it. No problem, until she noticed it. She would hurry right over, smile (which meant, "Leave my table alone you American pig!"), and put it back together the way she had it. It was the same with all waitresses everywhere I went. At least, in the "upscale" restaurants, those being the ones with real floors. And none of them understood the fact that I don't drink tea. It would be 95 F------- degrees outside, as William would say, and they want to give you hot water to drink. (Also, don't ever order rice when you have already ordered noodles; for some reason, they don't understand the fact that one could possibly eat both in one meal. That brought me some real funny looks. It also caused them to stop pouring me tea. I guess I wasn't worthy anymore). Highly regimented and unyielding, were these waitresses. And the girls that "clean" the "room" where I stayed, they were just as regimented and conditioned. But that's another story. After a while, I actually started to take great pleasure in rearranging the table just to see how fast they would notice the changes, and if they would remember all the changes to the table that I had made. Needless to say, I made many friends in these restaurants.
Deqing and our little entourage left Shaolin for a wonderful feast at his school. He went out of his way to impress me, having his cooks make some incredible dishes, more food than he would usually have made for his instructors all week. But I was a foreigner, and one thing I've noticed about these people, is that they go out of their way to impress foreigners. Warm and friendly, they have really taken a liking to me. But their attitude towards America is one of disdain. They like American people, but they hate the American government. And the one person that they really hate is Clinton. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia has really set them off.
The day ended with a goodbye dinner at a nice restaurant in Zengzhou. Deqing was to leave on the train for Beijing along with Shi De Yang, on their way to Hungary for a month. Transportation usually occurs at night here, that is, for passengers. During the day, the roads are full of coal trucks and the like, and travel is tedious (and dangerous) at best. The distances are great; it takes a bus, and a train, about eight hours to go from Zengzhou to Beijing. Deqing likes the bus as the night buses here have about twenty four individual sleeping compartments in them, all with tiny televisions placed right above your head. You can lay down in these buses and watch TV (on the "ceiling") all night. Deqing definitely likes to watch TV. Shi De Yang for some reason likes the train. As there is no TV on the trains, Deqing kind of hates them. But as De Yang is senior, Deqing didn't get his television tonight. After a warm and friendly dinner with Deqing and his friends (there's nothing like roast pigeon, deep fried chicken feet, and god knows what else), Deqing left for Hungary. I'm sure going to miss him. He's one hell of a martial artist, and a great guy on top of it. I'm not going to miss that roast pigeon though. The pigeon breast isn't all that bad; the head is just a bit too crunchy for my taste.
A favorite dish now here in Henan, hong shar ke lin ton (Roast Clinton), from what I'm told is some sort of cooked fruit that looks like sheep testicles. Then again, the "beef" I had last week turned out to be donkey, and the "pork strips" turned out to be cow stomach. They like to watch foreigners eat all the shit that they think we would never eat if we knew what it was. I still think hong shar ke lin ton is sheep testicles. Clinton would be proud. They actually didn't taste too badly.
Me (all 233 pounds of me) and DeQing's closest friends. To my left is Ahsia,(or something like that, DeQing's gong fu sister), behind her, DeQing, behind me, DeQing's gong fu brother Bruce Lee (OK, I haven't the slightest idea what his name is, but he looks like Bruce Lee, so that's what I called him. He liked it), and to my right, some girl. Yong is the dedicated photographer here.
Oh, and I learned something very important today about China. Don't ever go into a Chinese toilet without a newspaper....