Today was an awesome day! I was up about 5:30 a.m. and we started a little before sunrise with Chi Kung and Sam Chien, crescent moon shining with mist hanging off the jungle. We trained with the group this morning from 6-9 am and in the afternoon session from 3:30 until a little after 6 p.m. I did 2 hours of solo instruction focussing on Chi Kung and Sum Chien. Sum Chien is a series of moves that forms a basis for the Southern Shaolin Tigre-Crane form we are learning. I also got to begin weapons training with staff and starting on Chinese Sabre using a stick. I thought staff would come more easily to me than sword but I probably did better with the sword technique. I worked on weapons with the head student who is also an instructor. The hardest part is probably the footwork. All in all I would say we spent about 2.5 hours today in stretching and conditioning, lots of stretching.
In the evening we focused on special breathing techniques that apply to Chi Kung and Sum Chien, which Sifu said were actually quite advanced. I did well with my prior yoga and Chi Kung training. Then we worked on punching drills into heavy cloth sacks filled with sand hung from the rafters. It makes your knuckles pretty red but is very instructive on technique and really fun!! The idea is not to swing the sack but to be able to dent it by sending your chi into the target. One of my favourite times of day is the break in training when Sifu call us up to the veranda where we sit on teak stools and he pours special tea in all our cups on a table shaped like a dragon. He then delivers teachings about technique principles, tells stories and dispenses wisdom. Like I said, you can tell a lot about Sifu by how his chief students treat him: with utmost respect and admiration, hanging off every word with the rest of us. Sifu spoke about Kung Fu as a way of life; the martial aspect is part of a bigger picture and no one part is more or less than the other. Kung Fu prepares us for meditation and the pathway to enlightenment.
At afternoon tea Sifu spoke about the tendons. I had mentioned that I felt where an injury in my shoulder was really being stretched when being corrected in some technique for practicing one of the slow punch forms early in the morning. At first it hurt but I stayed with it and then it started to open. Sifu said that such body awareness is the first step to Kung Fu. He said one’s tendons have a grain like wood. When you get injured it forms a pattern in the tendon, like a knot. As you develop your awareness you can use the Kung Fu forms to go into the tendon and open it up taking out some of the scar tissue and re-patterning the tendon. He said something else that was very profound which reminded me of Sequoyah. Speaking about training and repetition, for example of a simple movement like a step or the most basic punch over and over again, Sifu said that you could never get board of anything that is done with deep intention and full awareness.
Life here has a rather monastic feeling. We train before sunrise and retire a little after sunset. Two meals a day are wholesome yet simple, rice with vegetables and a clear, tangy vegetable soup, prepared by our cook who is mostly blind and comes from one the tribes originally on the Burmese side. Accommodations are comfortable yet spartan, the bed being a heavy, handcut bamboo cot. It is surprisingly quite chilly in the morning and I really missed my fleece pants for the first couple hours but had to put on a good showing as a Canadian while everyone else was quite bundled up.
There are several people training, all male from young to old: two other Canadians, a Dutch fellow, a Belgian and a Brit. The Belgian and Brit are senior students. One is already a teacher and the other well on his way, very dedicated, lovely young men. Tomorrow we have a rest day and are going to see some remote hill tribes with whom Sifu is connected. I’m pretty sore in many places with a nice, large bruise on my arm from yesterday’s push-hands activity, and very happy.
Love and Blessings
David Lertzman Ph.D. is the Assistant Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development PI: Energy Indigenous Environment Interface Research Program, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.
This blog entry is part of a series of blogs David Lertzman wrote for StudyMartialArts.Org detailing his experiences training at Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat. If you’re interested in visiting this school book your place here and get an exclusive discount Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat.