After DeQing left, the training slowed down in some ways, and speeded up in others. Yong was training with me (Yong is a disciple of DeQing, his monk name is Shi Yong Qiang, which means 33rd generation Shaolin monk; Qiang meaning "strong". My monk name is Shi Xing Heng, which means 32nd generation, heng meaning "eternal", "powerful", "constant". Kind of like the odor from my underarms at this point).
We were left to our own devices. Since DeQing's school was in Deng Feng, a twenty death defying minute bus ride from the Shaolin village, Yong just moved in with me. He brought his gong fu sneakers, which kind of look like a piss poor imitation of Keds, and a tee shirt. I wished I could travel that lightly. It was good to have a companion who spoke good English in a land where English is a rarity. We trained together and rapidly became good friends.
As he had been training at DeQing's school for a few years, he was pretty experienced in the gong fu and the forms that I had wanted to learn. So, as opposed to the first week where DeQing had trained both of us in Tang Lang Chuan (praying mantis boxing), the next three weeks were going to put Yong in not only a co training position, but a teaching position. DeQing had arranged also to have some of his senior instructors travel to Shaolin to teach me. From time to time, we learned stuff together. And from time to time, we did absolutely nothing.
One of the interesting things in Shaolin village, is that rain, of any type, completely shuts down gong fu training. It could be terribly cold, or terribly hot, humid or dry, sunny or dark, and we, along with everybody else in the village, would be outside training. But a little rain, and it's all over. The sneakers that everyone wears have terrible traction, basically, because they're smooth soled. My more expensive karate sneakers are no exception. Trying to do this twisting and turning and jumping and crouching gong fu on dry land is an experience that is incomparable. Trying to do it in mud is comical.
But instead of going up to the mountain to train, we had decided to just use the concrete patio outside the wushu quan "hotel". It was easier, and besides, it was closer to my source of ping bing quan chuan schwei. Cold water. Bottled water. "Safe" water. As long as they didn't buy it from the kid who takes these bottles and fills them up in the river. In the heat of central China, working out for about four hours at a time causes you to lose lots of water. My heavy karate pants would routinely get completely soaked. It had gotten to the point that wearing a shirt was nonproductive. It was just better to bring one and hang it up somewhere, to use as a towel to wipe the sweat off of your face. Sweat pours off your face and gets into your eyes, a precursor to eye infection to those who wear contacts. (Which is exactly what happened). Water was a precious commodity here. And at three Yuan a bottle, a bottle being 600 milliliters, drinking about four to five liters of water each workout period when it was hot started to get "expensive". Three dollars in water a work out period. Three dollars actually goes a long way here in Shaolin. Three dollars can feed two people many dishes of unidentifiable food. But it was necessary. It is very easy to get dehydrated with all sorts of electrolyte imbalances here. So water, and Gatorade, are a necessity. Which brings me to a key survival rule here. Bring Gatorade. I had learned that one years ago.
You see, years ago, when I first came here with a group of fifteen, I discovered that by the third day, we were all sick. We were all terribly over fatigued, mentally slow (well, some of us came here that way...), with overall muscle weakness and cramps. The attendance the first two days of training with DeCheng had been high, with an incredible amount of anticipation and eagerness, and a little anxiety. But by the third day, we had been decimated. Those were back in the days when it took me less than a week to figure out simple problems. And our joint problem had been, we had all suffered from electrolyte imbalance. We were all drinking this bottled water, but we weren't getting any sodium or potassium in our drinks or our food. But there had been a dilemma. One guy had brought powdered Gatorade. And he wasn't about to give up his precious few packets to take care of the rest of us.
So I had asked Matt, our group leader and guide, to ask the Chinese cooks at the wushu quan restaurant, to start adding lots of salt to our food. Since they couldn't understand that, I asked that we have peanuts at every meal. The cooks always added salt to those, but only when they were fried. (Have you ever had boiled peanuts? It kind of tastes like little hong shar ke lin ton....) And I had the cooks add bananas to our daily diet. Within a day, we had been better, and the training had continued.
Watermelon. A damn good summer food for maintaining proper hydration and fiber.
But back to this trip. Where was I. Oh, the weather. Yes, the first two weeks had brought horribly overcast skies. Add that to the usual humidity, pollution, and god knows what else is up there, and we essentially had great work out weather. It was "dark" enough for me to be able to work out without my sunglasses. And during those rare moments that the sun came out, there had been enough humidity or fog in the atmosphere to make the sun relatively opaque. Great for the eyes, especially considering how photosensitive I am. It was also great for the body, as the temperature hovered in the high seventies to mid eighties. Still required water, but the typical workout during this period required only about two to three liters. It was great to work out, but only when the old head allowed me to. You see, the weather, though completely overcast, changed on a constant basis. From relatively ok, to bad, to absolutely horrible. And back again. All without a hint of what was going to happen.
Rain here is interesting. It either comes down as a drizzle, or it absolutely pours like all hell has broken lose. And the even more interesting thing about it is, you don't have much warning as to what it's going to do. With the constantly dull skies, you could be working out one morning, and a half hour later, it's coming down in buckets. That made hiking the every other day climb to Damo's cave interesting. You start out in relatively "sunny" skies (sunny skies means that you can approximate the relative position of the sun in the sky), and you end up huddled in Damo's cave, hiding from a severe thunderstorm, much to the dismay of the monk stationed there. It led to an early discontinuation of the every other day hike to Damo's cave, and it also led to a complete change in our daily work out schedule. It was no more 8 or 9 to 11 or 12, and 2 or 3 to 5 or 6. For the first two to three weeks, it was "the concrete is dry, let's go".
Which leads me to another rule. Work out on dry concrete, or ground. Period. Unless you want to experience splits that you had never thought possible. It's kind of hard to leap up into the air, twist 360 degrees, kick, and land with "precision", ie, not breaking any bones, when you start on slippery ground. And the concrete here is slippery.
The far end of this patio was one of the places we worked out. The pine trees offered much needed shade during the "sunny" periods. Practicing gong fu forms amidst hanging and fluttering sheets and brassieres made for quite the experience.
Just about all of the concrete here, whether it be for roads, patios, foundations, or buildings, is mixed by hand. Dump the mixing ingredients on the ground, add water from a bucket, and stir with a shovel. Then dump it where you want it. And smooth it out. It has to be as smooth as possible. If it isn't smooth, it doesn't look good. There's none of this throwing salt on the top of it, so you get pitting of the surface. Salt is for food. Concrete is for walking. So, you have this smooth concrete, everywhere. And when it gets wet.... Well, you get the picture. Let's just say that they haven't experienced personal injury attorneys here yet.
It's ok to work out in the rain, as long as the concrete or ground isn't too wet. When it gets wet, it's over. The kids in the village always looked forward to rain, because they knew that they would get a day of rest. Problem was, they had no idea when it was going to rain.
But I did. Yes, it was great to have this overcast cloudy miserable weather, as it made for cooler darker days. But the constantly changing barometric pressure wreaked havoc with my migraine condition, and my constantly changing migraine condition wreaked havoc with my work out schedule. If the head was bad, I tried to ignore it. Remember, the big rule: there is suffering in China, but there is no pain. "Losing face" is very important to the Chinese. You can't just stop and say that you don't feel good. Pride and honor are way up there on their list. I guess when you don't have much of anything else material wise, pride and honor get pushed up there. If you hurt, you keep going. And you don't show it. This Chinese stoicism was easily noticed by me two years ago, when I made some "house" calls as a physician. Or should I call them "hut" calls? But it had greatly helped me with my attitude towards chronic pain. If I was having a bad head day, I continued. As best I could. If I was having a worse head day, I meditated, and tried to continue. Or, I slowed down. But one day, I was having, as William would put it, one bad f------- head day. I woke up with it. I tried to work out, but my right leg was weak, my balance was terribly off, and I couldn't remember a damn thing about what I was doing. The fatigue was overwhelming despite my medications. Yong kept asking me what was wrong; I told him nothing. I just kept trying. And failing. And falling. And trying.
And after an hour of this nonsense, all I told Yong was, "It's gonna rain. And rain bad". Yong had looked up at the clearing but still slightly overcast skies and laughed. He said that this was the best looking day we had had for a week and a half. I just went upstairs and went to bed. As William would say, f----- this pride shit. I gave up. I retreated to my room and just tried to sleep it off.
Four hours later the skies absolutely opened up into one of the worst thunderstorms we had ever seen. And it poured so thickly, that you couldn't see past fifty feet. The water blew out of the drain pipes that came down from the flat roof. It rained like that for about five hours. "I told you" was all I said to Yong, with an air of experience. Yong wasn't just amazed. He was completely flabbergasted. All he could mutter was "weather master".
But over the weeks, we muddled through it all. Whether we worked out at night when it was cooler, or during the mid-afternoon in the sweltering heat, we got through four new advanced gong fu forms. Some work outs were an hour long, some were over four. It all depended upon the weather, the condition of the concrete or ground, and my head. It also depended upon how late Yong stayed up at night playing computer games.
After we had seen DeQing and Shi De Yang off to Hungary, I took Yong to the computer "store". He was searching for a laptop, and not really knowing anything about them, wanted me along for my experience. I guess he figured if I was that good with the weather, I would be really superb when it came to computers. So, off we went. It was quite the experience.