Thursday comes and i'm back for more. Camille and Felix stare at me in wonder:
“you are so courageous Dominique...Honestly Felix and I zink you are soo strong...”
"mmm Or stupid" I say.
The day begins like every other at 5.30 am with a morning circuit of punching and kicking big bags followed by star jumps, mountain climbs, half jacks and press ups. Then we have to do chin ups on a big metal bar. Neither myself or Camille can do this so Felix her brother takes turns in holding us up on his shoulders in a piggy back until we can cling onto the bar whilst supporting some of our body weight.
At 6am to 6.30am the Shaolin class stand in the basket ball court and meditate by doing Qi Jong. Then we run to the bridge and back twice. So now I have run 1.6k.
We spend the rest of the morning before break learning Kung Fu forms.
Shaolin is very performance based - which you can tell in the dance like forms we learn.
“You go Xian Qiao.” Wong says
“He wants us to run to Xin Qiao (the nearest village) and back,” explains Ferdinand adding
“Just don't walk...”
I gulp and set off, as I am heading into the village – every step under boiling sun – I try and enjoy the scenery, beautiful lime green graded paddy fields, farmers in their straw pointy hats working away at the land...it doesn't help. The boys have all reached the town and are on their way back...
“Keep going Dominique!” smiles Felix. They are (bless them, without exception) incredibly supportive.
At lunch it is time for me to hear about horror story number 2 – The Taining Run...
"OOOh hahahha you have joined in time for The Taining Run!" Says Ferdinand.
“We run 23k from the school into Taining town centre...”
“What?! Er I've never run before – when we ran to the bridge and back on tuesday that was the furthest i've ever run – I couldn't even do 2k!!!”
“well you ran to Xin Qiao today “ he says “that's already 4k”
Wow – is it? – who knew? I would never have thought it possible. Suddenly i'm thinking – well I might at least be able to do half of it??? If i could do 4k without knowing could i manage 10k maybe??? "
"Well four days in - it could be worse" Ferdinand says – in an attempt to console me.
" I had to do mine on my second day! Listen – the whole thing takes 5 hours to walk so even if you just run some of it you will do quicker than that."
Optimistic I think - you haven't seen my pootling amble of a walk...
In the afternoon we do more kicks and forms and then we have to improve our strength by carrying our own body weight. Camille and I take turns in picking each other up and carrying each other across the room.
Then we have to do squats whilst carrying someone on our shoulders. I have Felix sit on my back (he weighs the same as me) -he takes a little bit of his body weight by holding on the wall then I have to do 2 sets of 20 squats whilst carrying him on my shoulders...
I wonder at the strange and surreal path my life seems to have taken!!! How on earth did i end up in China doing squats in 40 degree heat whilst carrying a 21 year old french boy on my shoulders ???
The afternoon session ends with everyone having to do a handstand against the wall and holding it for a 100 seconds. Again – one of those things you did as a little girl and didn't think anything of...
Two of the guys help me. I'm daunted at doing a handstand and jumping my head against the brick.
“Just look behind you and say – oooh that's a nice brickwall - then turn around and do it” suggests James.
I do as he suggests mimicking his strong Mancunian accent and somehow get my legs up which are then grabbed by James and Ferdinand and they hold me in place.
The blood rushes to my head and I feel my body weight descend into my spindly arms and even skinnier wrists.
“I can't!” I gasp again - “Yes - keep go!” shouts Wong who unfortunatley has decidded to watch.
I finally manage to do 60 seconds before they let me go.
“Good" says Wong approvingly.
Secretly i'm thrilled. I never thought for a second i'd be able to do this – but I have surprised myself. Not for the last time at this place. Maybe I'll stick at it after all.
At dinner – of beef stew and rice – i'm asked by the students if I will do “The Taining Run”
"Oh well I'll give it a go!" I say – I don't expect to make a good time but what harm can trying do.
"Are you still going to stick at Shaolin then?" They say.
"Yes! they haven't broken me yet!" I declare.
Today is the day of the Taining run 23k (or half a marathon run) to the nearest town. I've had about four hours sleep and my stomach still isn't very well so haven't digested anything solid for three days. Perfect.
The morning looms and somehow the weather gods have taken pity on me. Instead of the usual scorching sun and cloudless blue sky of the past few days the mountains are heavy with rain and strewn with hanging clouds.
As half the school will be doing the 23k run (You have to give it to me i'm definitely a woman of extremes – i've gone from never running before in my life to attempting to complete a Half Marathon in the space of a week.) They have decided to do a more gentle morning circuit at 5.30am. We just hold various plank positions for half an hour. Lovely.
For our morning session we do a another form of Qi Gong which involves moving in and out of various poses which are supposed to help the Qi flow freely around the body and are good for overall health. I really enjoy this and it helps calm me and focus the mind.
After breakfast I gather my thoughts then come downstairs for just before 9. Only the Shaolin class have to do the run but Camille and a couple of the other Tai Chi students have decided to do the run as well – Camille is shaking with nerves.
And so it is that I set off – a light drizzly rain helping me on my way. I have my new bright red running shoes on (purchased the day before to confounded looks by the other students - you came here without running shoes...???) Black Eyed Peas is on my i - Pod. I set off at a VERY slow pace and slowly I realise that I can do this. I high five myself after every landmark I see – the second bridge (5k) the little village (7k) and finally after what seems like a lifetime I see this huge wrought iron bridge arching over the landscape. Its the 10k mark. I give myself a huge high five and a FUCK YOU ARSENAL just for good measure.
I am ecstatic. I never thought I would be capable of it. It starts to go up hill shortly afterwards and i'm exhausted. I get to the little shop which signals the half way mark – (13k) and buy a cookie and some more water and then proceed to power walk the rest. I finish after about 3hours 30 minutes. Unfortunatley because i'm me and I have no sense of direction - I take the route (which turns out to be correct) come across a construction site blocking the path and then somehow manage to add on another hour and half to my time getting lost trying to find the meeting point! Ah well no matter.
OK its a very long time i'm not about to get into the Guinness book of records anytime soon and i think Usain Bolt can probaly still sleep easy at night. But considering i've never run before in my life - Its an amazing feeling – pushing yourself to achieve something you never thought you'd be capable of. I'm so proud and elated I can't believe it – and its the weekend! No more classes until monday.
I go to bed and sleep til 12 the next day.
"Are you going to stick at Shaoli??" They ask me again.
" Yeah why not – how hard can it be ..." I laugh. So there we go - as well as Patrice there is ...
Sergei – 6ft 4, blonde, 19 year old Russian but living in UK, long term student. Abs of steel.
James – 6 ft 3 ish,18 years old , Mancunian just about to study at University.
Felix – 5ft 8, 21 years old french boy with 7 years of previous Kung Fu training, abs of steel.
Don – 6 ft 2 ish, 21 years old Australian construction manager wanting to get into the army. Abs of steel.
Ferdinand - 6 ft. 18 year old German redhead, 90 kilos with a year of a martial arts that the Israeli army train in under his belt- nickname "The Juggernaut. "
Oh and me:
Dominique – 5 ft 7 – 37 years old. South East London. No martial arts experience and whose most recent work out over a year ago was a weekly Zumba class.
Bring it on...