Well if my last entry was about breakthrough, this was one would have to be about breakdown, but I’ll come to that later. Yesterday was Saturday, a rest day. I had Thai Massage in the morning, not excruciating for the most part this time, but she did discover an area in my shoulder which was pretty crazy to have worked on. I felt great afterwards and went down to the training area for some solo work, practiced staff form then sword, the Tan Dao, Chinese Sabre or Broadsword. After using the stick I got permission to practice with a real sword. I wound up selecting the real, real sword. Let me explain. They have practice swords which are real swords, but with a blunt steel blade and considerably lighter. The real, real sword has an edge which could cut: it isn’t particularly sharp not having been honed for a while but is a serviceable blade. The main thing is the weight; it’s much heavier than the practice sword I’d previously used. Using the real sword is almost as much difference from the practice sword as is the practice sword from the stick; using it very much ground-truthed the whole experience. This applies not just to the matter of strength conditioning but in being able to perform properly the form.
On our day-off we go into the town of Pai for supper (amazing Thai food!!) and eat ourselves silly. Before going down I had a chat with Eddie about teaching and learning dynamics. He shared that he gets concerned when a master doesn’t correct him. “A master won’t correct you for two reasons”, he commented. One is because he doesn’t think it’s worthwhile and the other is because you’ve got it so perfect you don’t need it, “and I know that’s not the case”. So when the Master corrects it’s because he cares, and even more importantly, he thinks you care. This means that you’ve taken the corrections and applied them, so it’s worth correcting again and again, going deeper into whatever you’re learning. There is also the matter of attitude. Some people don’t take well to corrections, or shall I say, the act of being corrected. The process of being corrected is something I’ve experienced many times with Native elders. When they are correcting you, they are doing it because they care and it is a sign that they see you as trainable. Another thing Eddie mentioned was quite interesting to me. He said that, from his perspective, when one comes to Nam Yang you don’t pay for the teaching and the training; you pay for the accommodations, the food and services. The training is always there, it’s part of a way life and it is up to the student to enter in and make the most of it for themselves. The the more you try and the harder you train the more will be given to you and the more you will gain. The onus is on you.
Today was a great day; it was the best day yet! In fact, things just keep getting better here every day. I’ve still got 8 days left and already I’m feeling somewhat apprehensive about leaving. We worked in the group and I worked alone on sword and staff adding to the sequence of moves in my forms. We worked some very cool activities for strengthening and technique development in partners I can’t wait to bring home for Julian and Sarah. We got into practicing the most intense combat moves yet, so much fun!! I love this stuff and always feel especially honoured when Master Iain picks me to demonstrate the move: block me, lock me, throw me to the floor. I was especially honoured today when he cracked me on the nose. It wasn’t really that hard but it was a good square shot which elicited an audible pop. He felt so badly about. We were demonstrating a move which required me to come in with a grapple; Sifu seemed to want me to come in with some energy so I did. Either I came in too hard or he misjudged the distance or perhaps a bit of both but I think he felt worse than I did. I told him it was easy to misjudge the distance of such a target given my nose is probably a little closer than most others, I mean hey, that’s what makes me handsome in Thailand! Sifu asked several times throughout the session if I was ok. I glowed a little like Rudolph for a while but it doesn’t hurt at all anymore. Whenever we sit down for mid-session tea, Sifu pours the tea and asks, “Now, are there any questions about Kung Fu”. It’s really a special time of day. Today our youngest in the group asked about Nam Yang’s code of conduct, or Ethos. It’s a fantastic document and communicates very effectively the principles of loyalty, respect, equality, responsibility, brother/sisterhood, family, diligence and selflessness which distinguish Nam Yang, its Masters and Instructors. Here’s an excerpt, “Joining Nam Yang Pugilistic Association means becoming part of an ancient tradition dating back to Tat Moh (Bodhidharma), the Shaolin Founder, about 1500 years ago.” This brings me to the breakdown I had mentioned at the outset.
I got up extra early this morning and went to meditate in the Buddha House. It was locked so I set up under the stars between the two Nagas (Dragons) out front (see picture attached). Afterwards I went down to where we begin our day’s activities in the open training area under the stars. We went through all the various Chi Kung exercises and moved into the stepping meditation. Afterwards we entered the Shuan Yang Sun Frost White Crane soft martial art form. I started sinking in to the movements, but of course was making mistakes, and Sifu came to correct me. Each move, of which I believe there are 66 though they all flow together, has a name. To help me understand the move he was correcting Sifu shared its name, “Goddess Pan Gu Opens Heaven: the Beginning of Heaven and Earth”. As I moved into the form it hit me how deep and vast is this tradition; there’s so much here and I’ll never even come close to learning it: 1,500 years of perfecting practice handed down from master to student, layer upon layer upon layer of art and science, technique and form. One must start young to really learn this and practice all your life; here I am almost 53 years old and just beginning with a two week intensive surrounded by these young fellows signed up for weeks and months at a time. What have I been doing with myself all these years? Goddess Pan Gu opened Heaven and I cracked open: I felt like I was falling, being swallowed into an abyss knowledge, wisdom, diligence and subtlety. Under northern Thailand’s pre-dawn light tears streaming down my face, pulling my elbows together, rolling back the shoulders, stretching out my hands until the wrists stabbed with pain, sinking down in the stance, rooting into the earth, drawing up Chi I cracked open, grieved for all the things I’d never know or learn, all the lost opportunity, and opened deeper to the form.
Time for sleep and I wish you all the best,
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.