Yesterday, Wednesday, was a rest day, as is Saturday. We bundled up in Sifu’s truck and drove north to Mae Hong Son close to Burma. We visited some hill tribe markets and two principal Temples, one in front of a small lake and another on a hill overlooking the town. The hill tribes women’s hand weaving is exceptional and they sell the most delicious wild honey by the side of road. One of the highlights of the day was when we picked up four Buddhist monks walking up the winding mountain road who piled in the truck with us. Not only is Sifu Iain extremely knowledgeable in Kung Fu and martial arts in general, he has also a deep knowledge and experience of the local area and its peoples. Thus, our journey was one through the historical, cultural and philosophical landscapes of the region. Being so close to Burma there is a very strong influence from the Shan people. Indeed, the whole area has been flooded with various ethnic groups, in particular hill tribes fleeing conflict in Burma. I finally had the current political situation in Thailand explained effectively over lunch by Sifu Iain and the day ended at the Temple on the Hill in Mae Hong Son, Wat Phra That Mae Yen. It is hard to describe how extraordinary are these temples. The view from the mountain top on which the temple sits was spectacular as the jungle stretched out below with its forested hills and mountains, limestone spires and the blazing sun setting behind.
Today we followed the same training schedule from 6 am to a little after 9 a.m., and 3:30 p.m. to about 6:15 p.m. Along with my extra 2 hours in the middle I also received a real Thai Massage. It was as much ordeal as it was massage but the lady hired for the massage was very good natured. She is a strong and gifted traditional massage therapist. She laughed at the noises I made with her elbows in my back and foot in my leg and told me to say, “Sooo, sooo!”. She tweaked my nose and invited me to the discotheque tonight in Pai but I told her I couldn’t go. I learned later from Sifu that men with big noses are considered extremely handsome in this part of Thailand; I’ve finally found somewhere that values my natural good looks and charm! We did a lot of Chi Kung, stretching and meditation today. We also continued with the Tigre-Crane Sum Chien and another sequence I have not yet described called Shuan Yang, which in English is called Sun Frost White Crane. Shuan Yang is a kind soft or gentle martial art that looks a lot like Tai Chi, but more martial. Indeed, some believe it to be the origins of Tai Chi. We did some great punching drills with the suspended sand filled cloth sacks and had a marvellously vigorous kicking session. Today on weapons I got to take up the actual bladed sabre, the Tan Dao or Chinese Broadsword. Wow, that was a gas training with sword in the open outdoor training ground my traditional black and gold Kung Fu pants billowing wet chest bared to northern Thailand’s blazing afternoon sun.
At tea Sifu spoke of the history of Nam Yang’s Tigre-Crane lineage. His Master’s Master, Master Ang, was the one I mentioned earlier who brought the art out of China and passed it eventually to Master Tan Soh Tin who then passed it to Iain Armstrong, the man I call Sifu. What an amazing history. Master Ang started Kung Fu as a boy and had three different masters. His first master was known as “the secretive old man” who introduced him to Tigre-Crane at 8 years old. His second master was an herbal medicine peddler who specialized in the Shaolin weapons system and Tiger form. The third was a Shaolin monk. I was amazed to learn that Master Ang eventually fought in Sun Yat-Sen’s army with the Koumintang, which was subsequently taken up by Chian Kai-Shek. As the Communists became victorious and began executing the Shaolin Kung Fu martial artists Master Ang emigrated to Singapore and later started Nam Yang in 1957. He ran the club until his death in the mid 1980s and the leadership passed to Master Tan who trained Sifu Iain. Iain now has schools here in Thailand, in the UK, in Russia and another about to open in Italy. It is very special to be a part of this lineage and I hope to bring home some foundational skills I can practice on my own. I’ve taken to playing flute under the stars while the others arrive to the outdoor training area for the morning session. Thus, I must sign off as 5 a.m. comes early!
by David Lertzman
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.