I soon realise that the culture of the school –( with the majority of students being between 18 -23) is based around peer pressure and tall tales. There's a strong pack mentality here and a range of stories whispered over breakfast and retold in between class have begun to take on a kind of mythological and legendary status. Stories about the pain and terror of the Shaolin kung fu classes; the school's owner Scott; and about the infamous drinking sessions with Chinese locals – all designed to strike fear into the hearts of the “newbies.”
There are three tales of the Shaolin training that are spoken about by students in hushed tones of fear and dread:
and the Taining Run.
In encounter the first of these on my first full day of training. Never- I repeat NEVER will I look at an innocent stone staircase in the same way ever again
“We are getting a 10 minute break – that means Stairs...afterwards” whispers Ferdinand with a mixture of abject terror and a small amount of perverse glee in his voice.
Sixteen stairs. The drill is we must bunny hop up them and bear crawl down them. Boys have to do a press up on every step on the way down. Because I am a girl I am allowed to do a press up on every other stair on the way down. ...
I laugh and shrug to myself. I am so out of my depth in every single area it doesn't really matter what they come up with I just have to give it a go.
I manage the bunny hop up. I try to come down. I realise that I cannot support any of my body weight – I simply don't have the upper body strength. I start by doing a press up - I manage the first four steps. Then my legs fall into the concrete.
“stick your bum in the air” shouts one of them.
“no then she won't be able to do the press up” says another. They are optimistic – i'll give them that!
By the time I am halfway dwon all of the boys are grouped at the bottom cheering me on.
“Come on Dominique you can do it”
“i can't” I gasp - “i really can't” I am pulling myself down on my hands head first with my legs scraping the entire length of the lip of each stone staircase from thigh to ankle.
“we couldn't do it either when we started!” they shout.
“ Don't give up.”
James steps forward and puts his hands on the step infront of me
“COME ON DOMINIQUE - Put your hands where mine are – One"
I move my hand infront of his...
"TWO" I place my right hand in front of his.
Three and finally four i'm at the bottom. Bruised and scraped with grazes all up my legs.
“Well done Dominique” they say.
I hobble over to Wang - our Kung Fu instructor– I have hauled myself down three times (im supposed to do four)
“Too much practise” he says sadly - gently pointing at the various shades of rose and violet bumps my legs have become.
You can say that again mate.
He disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a little bottle of red oil. I think it has cardomom and cinnamon essence in it.
“You put on legs – it very hot.”
Oh good a different kind of pain to add to the dull aching throbbing kind. I can't wait.
I climb the 120 stairs to my room in a wobbly state. Patrice comes in for a coffee with Jasmin. All of the students have certain things – honey and bananas for breakfast, instant nescafe, Pot noodles, and a selection of tropicana fruit drinks. After a few days of Chef's cooking I can see why.
“no man don't give up” he says with a dimply grin. “I can see it in your eyes! You're thinking – no way...I was the same in my first few days – but it gets better honestly. The first two weeks are the worst – btut it gets easier... Look at me i've lost 20 kilos already – when I started I couldn't do the stairs – now I just did six sets."
I haul my bruised and aching body onto my bed. I don't I know I say – i'll see how it goes.
When i wake in the night its my body feels like a dead weight.. I'm exhuasted to the bone and every single muscle and tendon aches. When i try and roll over in the bed it feels like i'm lifting up lead. My poor body doesn't know whats happened to it...its about to get a rude awakening!