Kevin's Story: Shaolin 2001, Summer
This time to China started from LAX (Los Angeles Airport). I left LA to Vancouver, then off to Beijing. While I was in Beijing I was supposed to meet up with a guy named Jeff. I looked all around, but I didn’t see him anywhere. From Beijing I had a flight scheduled for Zheng Zhou. I went to the ticket counter, but the person there said that I wasn’t scheduled in the computer. What a way to go to China. I told her that I needed to get to Zheng Zhou, because that was where my party was supposed to meet me. Through some hassle I got into the computer, and was scheduled for Zheng Zhou. When I arrived there I met a driver that I recognized. He recognized me too, so that was no problem. The problem was that I didn’t see Jeff in Beijing, and he wasn’t on that flight either. So we had to wait for the next flight from Beijing. That was only a 5-hour wait. I had very little sleep during that trek.
We finally made it to the Feng Yuan hotel in Deng Feng around 1:30 in the morning. I got a room, and got maybe 4 hours of sleep that night. I was pretty excited about being there again, so I woke up around 6 or so. I went over to Jeff’s room, and woke him up, and went to get a bite to eat. We each had the same thing: eggs, and watermelon. We also had the strawberry nectar drink, and water. Shortly after we ordered, Lou Yong showed up, and told us that Rich had gone for a walk. About half way through breakfast Rich shows up. He looks at me, and says “Hey Kevin, ready to go up the mountain and work out for a while?” What was I supposed to say? Jeff wound up going to Shi De Chengs school, and Rich and I went up the mountain to a level spot, and we proceeded to work out for about 4-hours. It’s a good thing that we brought some water. We went through all the basics, and got into Sha Hong Chuen. We did that form about 20 times. After 4-hours, Lou Yong came up with Jeff, to see what we where doing. We were ready to go back to the hotel, change, and get something to eat. Jeff was saying that he was tired, and Rich told him that he should take it easy for a few days. I looked at him and thought “Take it easy? What the hell did we just do?” But at that time I just kept my mouth shut.
We went and had some food to eat, and at that time I got to Meet Mark. Mark is about 24, and is a student at some college in Colorado. He is studying Buddhism. Jeff is a Kung Fu instructor from New York. So at that time it was just the 5 of us: Rich, Yong, Mark, Jeff, and myself. After lunch Jeff was talking to Mark about the flight, and how tired he was. Rich told him again to take it easy for a few days. Then I said “What about me? Do you call what we did taking it easy?” Then Rich told me that I don’t count. Then I thought this is going to be one hell of a trip. We walked around Deng Feng for a while, and relaxed for a few hours, then had dinner, and turned in for the night. The next morning Rich called my room, and asked me if I’d like to go for a walk. I said “sure”. We wound up going about 6.5 miles on this fast paced walk. Then he said that we are going back up the mountain to work out again. I thought that this was great. We then walked up the mountain, and worked out for about 2-hours. We then went to have lunch, took a break for a few hours, then back up the mountain for an other 2 hour work out, then for an other 6.5 mile walk. The days went like this for 3 or 4 more days, except when we took our break after lunch.
One day maybe the second day we found out that Jeff had gotten very sick. He had some how gotten dysentery, or Giardia. Something that you don't want to get. So he was out of commission for a few days. He wound up pushing it, and it just got worse. If you ever go to China, don’t drink out of the glasses on the tables. I guess that’s how he got sick. Any way, another day we went to the Shaolin Temple. That was great for me ‘cause I wanted to go to Tamos cave. Jeff and Mark wanted to too. Rich had to meet with some people, and give them a tour of the temple, so he told me to be back in an hour. Warning, you’re not going to do that hike in an hour, unless you run it. Don’t try that either, it’s straight up a mountain. I told the guys that we where on a schedule, so we had to pick up the pace. We wound up doing the hike in an hour and a half. Jeff didn’t make it all the way to the top, but he did make it to the cave. That was pretty good for a guy in his condition. The monks do this hike every day in the morning quite a bit faster than we did it. We got down ok, the next thing I know was that we where going to the Dragon Pools, another hike up the other side of Shaolin. That was something beautiful. There are waterfalls, and pools at the bottom of each of them, about 4 pools. The scenery is incredible. We walked back into Shaolin. Mark and I both bought some T-shirts so we had something dry to wear back in the cab to Deng Feng. We got back, did a work out, walked 6.5 miles, and then had dinner. That was one of the harder days of the trip. It was also one of the most fun though.
After being there for a few days, Shi De Cheng got back from France. Rich and I went over to meet him. It was at that time that we worked out a schedule for Mark and Jeff. They would go work out with Shi De Cheng in the morning from 9 to 11. That was cool for them. Shi De Cheng is one of the best in Shaolin at his Gong Fu. He is definitely a master at what he does. In the mean time Rich and I got a chance to work out with Shi Xing Wei, a master under Shi De Cheng. I had met Shi Xing Wei last year when there was a show at the MGM. He recognized me right away. All these masters I met, was because of the relationship that Rich had made with Shi De Cheng years ago. That is a story in itself. The reason I wanted to work with Shi Xing Wei was because I wanted to see how he taught. No problem, I think that he will do great wherever he goes. In China, the monks teach Gong Fu by beating it into the students. That wouldn’t go over well in the US. I told Shi Xing Wei that Americans like to be told that they are doing well even if they aren’t. He caught on to this faster than I thought. Right away, he would do the stance wrong, and say “good”, and then he would do it right and say “Very good”. We all got a laugh out of that, but that’s just how it needs to be done in America. Rich kept saying that he needs to develop a personality like Shi De Cheng. After we got to know him better, that part of his personality came out more and more. Which is why I say “No problem”, he’ll do well anywhere.
Rich and I worked with Shi Xing Wei from 9:30 to 11:30 every day. And worked with Shi De Cheng from 3:30 to 5:30 every day. It was amazing what I got out of it. I relearned the basics. That was the best part. I also learned some awesome forms. I learned what it really means to become a disciple of the Shaolin temple. I’m not one of them yet. The basics consist of 18 or so different exercises. They are listed on Rich's web sight russbo.com. I went through them every day twice for an hour each time. They are through out the forms. The basics will make anyone stronger if they would practice them on a regular basis. I’ve studied the martial arts for 30 years, and I haven’t seen them in any style that I’ve studied in the US. Maybe the martial arts that I studied kept them from me ‘cause they may have thought that I wasn’t good enough. Or their masters weren’t good enough. I don’t know. If anyone really wants to learn them, I think that they should learn them from the Monks themselves. The forms are very long. I was taught Shaolin Chan Tongbei Chuan, Shaolin Chan Xiao Lohan Chuan, and brushed up on Shaolin Chan Xiao Hong Chuan. I also learned Nan Chuan, which is a southern form, and Lohan Drangoon, which is a Qi Gong form. All in all the forms are fascinating. There is still so much for me to learn.
Becoming a Disciple, what is that? I had a long discussion with Shi De Cheng about that. He explained it to me like this. It is a decision between two people first off. Like developing a relationship with someone. You meet a few times, then decide whether you want to continue or not. If you want to continue, then more trust is developed. With that comes respect, and a mutual feeling for each other. You don’t just go to Shaolin, and ask one of the Monks if you could be one of their disciples, get a piece of paper (which in most cases is worth nothing), and walk out of Shaolin saying that you are a disciple, and an ambassador to the Shaolin temple. That doesn’t go over well there. To give an example, Shi De Cheng has over 2000 students throughout Europe, and only 20 of them are his disciples. Sometimes it takes as long as 10 years for him to make a decision. There is a lot of thinking that goes into it. Secondly you will become a Buddhist if you aren’t already, and all the rules that go with that. Thirdly you will be devoted to each other for life, and you will pass down the traditions of Shaolin Gong Fu. If someone is interested in becoming a disciple, I think that they should consider becoming a good student first.
After that discussion, it was back to training. It is incredible how much better one can get by training for 4 hours a day. It is also incredible how much pain one can feel from training for 4 hours a day. The pain goes away after a while, or was it that I just got used to it. I don’t know, maybe it is different for each individual. I think that the 6.5-mile walks helped out a lot. Each time Rich and I went for our walk, I noticed a park or something across the street. There where some stairs or a trail of some sort over there. Rich said that one of these days we were going to have to check it out. I thought that that would be cool, one of these days. We had three days left in Deng Feng to train, and we were at the turnaround point of the walk, and I said, “let’s check it out”. So we started up this trail. In China, the trails are very well made. This one was made of carved stone. It was just beautiful, and that was just the trail. As we started to go up this trail, I noticed that the grade wasn’t that steep, but it was going in an upward direction. There was a level part for about 25 yards, then about 3 stairs. As the trail got more into the mountain, there were more stairs, so it was gradually getting steeper. I would look up, and noticed that there were houses, or what looked like houses from where we were. I started to become more aware of the time. We had a class with Shi Xing Wei at 9:30 that day, and it was getting about time to turn back to make it to the class. However, I noticed that Rich wasn’t slowing down. So I just kept on going. If we were a little late, he would understand. 15 more minutes up the trail I thought that it was now or never, as far as turning around. I looked at Rich, and he looked up the mountain. I knew what that meant. This was going to be our Gong Fu class for the morning session. We were both thinking, "where does this go”? It was getting steeper, and there where less flat spots, and more stairs. The next thing, there was a place where you could buy some souvenirs, and drinks. So we got some water for each of us, and kept on going up. We went up, and up, and up. We then found ourselves at what looked like some sort of Buddhist monastery. There were people there, like a family or something. I thought that this was cool. This is their house, or where they live. The view was spectacular. You could look down the mountain into Deng Feng, and look up the mountain to a view that was unbelievable. We walked around, and noticed that there were more stairs that went up. We both looked at each other, and we didn’t even have to say anything. We started up the stairs again. About a half-hour later, we found ourselves at an other monastery. This one was a little different, but it was also a Buddhist temple. It wasn’t as big as the other one, but it was beautiful in it’s own way. This wasn’t the top though. So we kept on going. An other half-hour up we found ourselves at the bottom of a cliff. From the bottom, this would look like the top, or where the trail would stop, but not here. We looked up to the right, and saw that the stairs went up the side of this cliff. The thing that kept us going was that we didn’t know where the trail went, and we wanted to know. About another hour up those stairs, we were still 1 kilometer from the top, and the reason that we knew that was that there was a sign that said so. I noticed that we were hiking for about 4-hours by now, and I was hungry. So Rich said let’s eat. I thought eat what, but there was a little place where you could go off the side of the trail, there was a little couple probably in their 70s, that had some food that we could buy. So we ate what I would consider Chinese Roman noodles, and this fake meat kind of stuff. Rich said that it was the best meal that he had on the whole trip. The scenery was unbelievable. We weren’t at the top yet though. There were trails that led to all kinds of different temples, and it looked like there was a little community up there, way up on top of the mountain. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. We spent about an hour up on the top, then started back. It only took us an hour to get to the bottom of the trail (we were almost running).
By the time we got back to the hotel, it had been 6 ½ hours. Everyone was worried about us including Shi De Cheng. Lou Yong said “We looked everywhere for you guys, and you weren’t anywhere we looked”. They were getting ready to call the police. Well it was a spur of the moment kind of thing, maybe next time we would let everyone know where we are going. As a matter of fact we should take them with us next time. We found out that we had climbed Song Shan Mountain. So for anyone that reads this, and is going to China with us next year, you’ll know what’s up. I’m sure that we are going to do that again.
The dinners where very interesting. Every night was the time that we could all get together. During the day, we were all doing different things. Evening dinner was the time we all had together, and I think that we all looked forward to it. First off we could get the nourishment that our bodies needed, and it was a time to talk. It was during this time that I could get to know the people that came to China. Another thing that I learned was that the people in China eat very different than people in America. I tried some odd dishes this time in China. I found out that chicken was good, but the chicken feet were a delicacy in China. There is not a lot of meat on the feet, but they taste good. I guess that’s why they like them. Duck tongue is good, cow’s blood tastes like to fu, and scorpion is better than Viagra, at least that’s what they say. I tried all those things, and am still ok. Scorpion was the hardest to eat, but once I tried it, it was ok. They didn’t have cheeseburgers or french-fries to offer, but I did notice that there weren’t any over weight people over there either. Maybe there is a connection. I think that lifestyle has a lot to do with it too. Chinese people are very social, and are always out walking around. Where as in America, we get off work, go home, and watch TV for the rest of the day. There were no forks knives or spoons to eat with either, they have chopsticks. With chopsticks, someone can’t shovel food into their mouth; they can only pick up pieces of food one at a time. It’s probably better for the digestive system too.
This time in China, I got a tour of the Shaolin Temple by non other than Shi De Cheng. It was fascinating. He told us about all the pictures, and the stories that go along with them. I also watched Rich renew his disciple vows with Shi De Cheng, in the Thousand Buddha hall, where he first took his disciple vows years ago. It is very special when someone like Shi De Cheng gives people a tour of the temple. I’m sure that Rich could have done as well, but it wouldn’t be the same. I also got a chance to see the Dragon Pools. They are beautiful. It is where there are streams of water, and it builds up in little pools. The kids go there and play in them. The hike isn’t bad, but you’ll have to be careful going down the steps. If you buy one of the books that have the pictures of the monks, you’ll probably see the Dragon Pools.
This time when I went, I was more ready for the workouts. However, I did improve a lot. Shi De Cheng is one of the best masters that I’ve ever gotten a chance to meet. When we left Shaolin this time there were tears, and Rich said that this has never happened to him. It wasn't easy this time. We did have to leave though. I now know that there will be many more trips to Shaolin for me.
We left Deng Feng, and got on a plane for Beijing. When we arrived in Beijing, we where picked up by someone that knows Rich. I guess that he has connections all around the world. This made the trip just that much more enjoyable for me. I wound up going to the Great Wall again, but this time I went to Badajing. There where so many people there that I couldn’t see where I was going. I don’t recommend that part of the wall to go to. I also got to see the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was great this time because we got a paddleboat, and went all around the lake in front of the Palace.
I got a chance to meet the guy that Rich calls Uncle. He is a very successful businessman in China. He makes these fancy doors, and sells them to businesses. What a great guy. He took us to one of the best duck restaurants in Beijing. That was something else. I also got a chance to meet Lou Yong's parents; they are very nice, and they took us to a nice restaurant too. Dominic is one of the contributors for the web sight russbo.com. He just happened to be in Beijing when we got there, and we went to a nice Tai restaurant. With all this good eating, I thought that all the working out was wasted. I couldn’t believe how smart Dominic was. I just wish that I could have been as smart when I was his age, and gotten to go all the places he has been. I think that this time I got to know Lou Yong better, that is good, ‘cause he is going to come to America, I hope. Rich wants to open up a Shaolin school here in Las Vegas, and Lou Yong is a big part of the school. More on that later.
As I was riding in the cab to the airport, I was thinking about Beijing, and it looks so much better this time. They have cleaned up a lot. I was also thinking about the decisions that I have made in my life to get me here again. Where ever you are in life, and what ever you are doing, it is up to you, and only you. You are your own limitations, and you are the key to your freedom. What a concept. I also thought that I will be back again. The flight back was long, but it is a long way. I have pictures, memories, and have created relationships on these ventures. These things are now priceless to me. In life there will only be more. Watch what you wish for, you just might get it.
- Written by: Kevin McAllister