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Kung Fu Pizza

January 10, 2012

Things have gone a bit quiet here in China the past few weeks, not much has changed or happened to write about or speak of.  It can feel quite pressured sometimes to expect amazing, life changing things to happen every single day, which of course is impossible.  At least it means I’ve had plenty of time to get to the Tai Chi class in the mornings outside the apartment, although a finger of doubt has begun to creep up on me even here, as the novelty has begun to wear off and life begins to get more and more, well, normal.

It can be a bit tricky sometimes, standing in a cold car park at 8am each morning, next to a few dozen pensioners in woolly hats and gloves, to convince myself that what I’m learning here is any kind of a martial art.  I’m fairly sure that if you asked anyone else there save for me and Mr Yue the teacher, they would tell you it’s their morning exercises and balk at the idea of it being any kind of practical fighting system.  Mostly, what we do is exactly that – gentle exercise, going through movements and forms in rows, and little else.  I’m only reminded of the heritage of what is being done when we move on to Tai Chi Chien (sword forms) and Tai Chi Chen (a very old martial form of Tai Chi which includes fast, snapping punches and kicks as well as slow, graceful evasion).

I’m really beginning to miss people trying (and, more often than not, managing) to punch me in the face.  Controlled physical violence was the predominant aspect of training in England and, as unique as this experience is, it is so far a soloist pursuit.  All the Qi Gong and Tai Chi I’ve seen has been practiced in isolation; I have a sneaky feeling that Mr Yue has more to teach than I currently know but, what with the small detail of being completely unable to comprehend each other apart from grins and grunts, this deeper wisdom has so far eluded me.  The novelty of having an oversized foreigner turn up every week seems to have work off and he now barely casts me a glance, nodding sheepishly when he does as if to say ‘are you still here?’ as if he’s not sure what to do with me.

That’s the wonderful thing about this country; nothing is ever quite what you expect it to be.  From the cakes that appear to have a delicious chocolate filling which instead turns out to be bean curd, to the Buddhist Monks that brush past you in to black BMW’s and Audi’s, mobile phones pressed to their ears.  Or the bizarre overpricing of technology (more expensive than England, even though it’s all made in a factory down the road), the fake Apple shops that dot every corner of the city, the men in parks taking their birds for a walk (whilst still in their cages), hanging them in the trees as they sit down to drink tea and play mah-jong; or indeed the green walking man at a traffic crossing that, contrary to popular opinion, seems to mean ‘accelerate toward pedestrians’ to passing busses and taxis.

Bizarrely, the sight of a westerner who stands a clear foot above the old ladies around him trying to do Tai Chi in a car park every morning, getting lost and stumbling behind everybody else (seriously, there are so many forms that are slightly similar is ridiculous.  I think I’ve got it, I know what’s coming next, and then I walk straight in to the guy behind me as the rest of the class zooms off in another direction), doing little half-steps as my gate is twice the length of everyone else, is pretty much the only time in China when I draw no attention whatsoever.  No stares, no pointing, no inexplicable laughing at us, no ‘sneaky’ photos on peoples phones; hiding in plane view, I guess.

I am not deterred by this.  Training is everything, and it is everywhere.  I may be having a year off from the to and fro of real, physical martial arts, the messy kind that work, but I am gaining a window in to a collection of genuinely beautiful movements, genuine grace, that will improve my form, breathing, strength, flexibility and power more than any amount of roughhousing.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Besides, I still have four months of training left when I get back from my travels in February (we just landed in Hong Kong three hours ago, and I am writing this from a room smaller than my bathroom in England  – space is a premium here), and I fully intend to pester Mr Yue until he shows me some pushing hands sparring.  I’ll be off to the Wu Dang Temple in May for a week of training monk-style, which will be something else entirely.  And I’m coming back to Hong Kong in a few weeks, when I plan to spend a few days at a good Wing Chun class; this is, after all, the city where Bruce Lee cut his teeth testing his art on rooftops, and where his instructor’s son and the grandmaster of Wing Chun still teaches.  Very much a kung fu tourist then, but at least I’m getting a lot of toppings on my Kung Fu pizza before my time is up!

Expect radio silence for a few weeks as I spend a fortnight in the Philippines practicing my Tai Chi and Qi Gong on a white-sanded beach under a palm tree at sunrise (who am I kidding, I’ll still be snoring but it’s nice to have the image, and pretend I’m that motivated) and then off to Borneo for some jungle trekking.  So let’s catch up again soon in a few weeks, okay?  You stay safe now my blogging buddies; I’ll try and be a bit more profound, or at least more interesting, when we speak again.

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