shaolin kung fu

The Week from Hell - Kung Fu Fighting - Part Six

I am just beginning to think I can survive the school – even feeling a little wistful that I can't extend my little sojourn here to two months when Wong decides to end the week with the regime from hell. 

It all begins on Thursday afternoon session. Most of the boys have gone into town with Wong for lunch . Somehow for the three remaining (including me) we get to go for a run even though the others come back late. We all run to the bridge and back – as I pass Felix – he gestures 3 to me. I assume he means do the bridge three times so diligently do it wondering where he and Sergei have got to only to get back ad realise he meant the class won't start till 3pm. Oh well I think – no matter - i've just run 2.5k its goo to push myself. Just when I think the afternoon session is about to end – Wong decides to spring the dreaded Stairs on us. We have to bear crawl down the stairs and then do a punching circuit with a parter holding pads then run up the stairs and do it all again three times. By the third time I still don't have the techinque right – i've completley given up on tryig to do a press up and am just trying to haul my body down without scraping all the skin off my legs. 

"Put your bum in the air – like downward dog in yoga” says Eleanor – which actually really helps. I do it and it pushes my weight onto my hands – the feeling of lurching forward face first towards descending concrete is terrifying but easier than doing it in press up position. It's the first time i've done them since ruining my legs – after my initiation – and I think maybe now I have some of the technique the fear has subsided a little. We all think that is it for the day...but no... 

Wong has decided that we need a further legs circuit and so we then have to sprint up and down the legnth of a basketball court, do frog leaps and bunny hops(just try it I dare you) it feels like your quads and calves have been injected with molten lead and when that hell finishes and we think surely the class is over now -Wong makes us race to the bridge - 800m in under 4 minutes. I am absolutely shattered and can hardly move my leg muscles – however at dinner I discover that the 5.30am morning circuit is likely to be...that's right ...legs again. It is the very worst morning circuit I do there. 

We have to do laps of the school and let me remind you the school is set on a hill with 120 high flights of stone staircases around it. SO we start by sprinting the length of the basket ball court running up three flights of stairs along the top through the tai chi area and then down another flight of stairs. We have to do this ten times, the next tme instead of sprinting we have to do bunny hops along the court, then frog leaps, duck walks, milk shakes, side jumps, hops etc. After lap 1 Audrey and Alice – who have made a token appearance for their last morning session – somehow disappear with a gallic shrug. 

"Oh I can't do this"...says Alice – 

Well I can't either but i'm givin it a go . After lap 5 I notice Jasmin has disappeared as well so i'm the only girl to complete it entirely! Its horrendous. 

However if my poor legs thought that was it they were wrong – because straight after breakfast Wong has decied we can all do a nice 10k run up a mountain and then over to a local reservoir. 

I haven't even done “the mountain run” a 45 minute run up a steep hill well mountain - let alone think its possible for me to just tag on another 6 – 7k through and out the other side of Xin Qiao the nearest village and then past the temple and up another mountain. 

I get directions from different people – because I don't want to get lost ( a speciality of mine) and I know I won't be keeping up with them. 

Its already about 30 degrees outside. My aim is just not to stop and start walking. I manage the mountain run – which is across the bridge and up the mountain. My first experienceof running up hill – horrible!!! Wong passes me on his motorbike and offers to carry my water for me. Great -a lift would have more appreciated thanks! 

I know its just going to be mental effort that gets me through, I cheer myself after reaching the entrance to the village – then run past the villages and out the other side of town. The locals have been going through a bamboo phase – they have made little wicker drying racks out of twigs and have stripped and steamed various sections of bamboo that they are drying and smoking in great fires. They sit by the roadside amongst the sweet smoky scent of the drying bamboo and have a good old laugh at the us as we go running past – all red, hot and sweaty. I wonder what they think of us. the Chinese don't seem to be big on exercise. Little children run out of shop doorways to shout – HELLO aggressively at me – at which I muster a wheezy hello back. 

The village goes uphill towards the end - I note with displeasure but I manage it and keep going past the Buddhist temple which is another landark Wong likes to get us to run to. Then I keep going until the path starts going up hill again up another mountain. Oh goody. About halfway up and there is a little smoking factory which seems to be drying and burning some kind of fuel. Its possibly the worst thing you could ask for – having run almost 8k up two mountains in 30 degree heat – and now for some smoke to asphxiate you when you have no air in your lungs left already. Well – no excuses but as an asthmatic as well it does for me and shortly after my legs refuse to do any more running up hill and I have to walk the remainer of the way up the mountain. I'm disappointed because I think running is really pshychological and I think if I knew the route and how much farther I had to go I might have made myself push on but just not knowing made it more difficult somehow. I get to what I think is the reservoir – there is a dog barking outside (which James has told me about) and a big wrought iron gate that you need to climb through. I do this and am faced with an enormous gorgeous lake surrounded by trees and a stone damn with steps down it. I look down and think there is aboslutely no way i'm going all the way down there if they are not down there so I just stand around at the top for about 10 mins to take in the view until Alison passes me on her way out. 

"Hey – they are all down there- if you want a swim" 

"Er yes I really do I say!" 

"Sure i don't blame you" she says and then adds quietly

"Good job" 

She is an enigma. I was aboslutely terrified of her at first – i'd already been told about the men she'd slept with then the first thing she said to me directly when i'd complain I couldn't straighten my leg out in an exercise because of pulling my hamstring was: 

"If it aint broken you can use it..." 

Splendid. But she's very different – mildly unassuming and bookish and very gently supportive and caring. 

"Did you get lost??" asks Sergei

"Well yes kind of and obviously I was also just SLOW!" 

Sergei is 19 and about 6 ft 4" and built like a daddy long legs – he often starts running well after me and then I get to watch him bound past like Tigger. 

I keep my shorts on and strip off to my sports bra and go for a swim. Its gorgeous. 

"Where are the others?" I enquire innocently. 

"Oh they have swam to the other side."

Final Day at Rising Dragon School


When i get back from Xiamen Jasmine fills me in on the gossip that i've missed and the best news of all - Chef has finally walked out! Yes! 

He has been replaced bya grim faced Chinese woman who stands and stares with her mouth in a line – then starts shouting at me incomprehensively. There is nothing as scary or indeed as loud as the sound of a Chinese woman shouting at you. Old timers know the drill already – they are seated before the gong has gone to get their share of rice and meat/veg that is put on sharing platters in the middle of the table. By the time I get there there is nothing left. Alison gives me some of her rice and I find some meat and veg eventually but nothing lasts very long around 30 or so hungry teenage boys. 

And in other news the local villagers have moved from drying bamboo to drying toadstools and mushrooms on their wicker racks. 

As much as i've loved (in a really perverse way) Shaolin – I know that i'm not going to get miraculously better and be able to do the acrobatics or the sparring this week and its not enough time to learn any more of the beautiful dance like forms that i've been taught as well. That being the case I think it would it be a cop out to do Tai Chi for my final three days. I chat to Nico about it and he says “I think you've already demonstrated quite a lot of discipline with what you've one so far at the school -and when are you going to get the chance to learn Tai Chi from a Chinese Master in China again any time soon...?" He's got a point so for my final few days Tai Chi it is. 

Emily, Luke and Dana a jovial Native American with a soft accent and larger than life body and personality all do Tai Chi. 

Tai Chi lessons are completley different. The teacher is a 4 fit nothing 60 something tanned little warrior with blackened teeth called Mao. - pronounced Miaow. 

"He's like a cat as well" says Emily. 

"Sometimes he just stares out the window and then suddenly gets up and starts tapping the dead leaves off the tree with his stick the way a cat might be staring into space then suddenly turn around and paw at an invisible insect." 

A van arrives with vegetables for lunch. We look out the doorway and sure enough inquisitve little Miaow has gone to inspect it. He is standing in front of the van with both his arms on the bonnet interrogating them. We laugh and watch him for a while – his inspections satisfactorily complete he takes a huge gob and spits at the side of the road. 

"The moment's gone” says Emily. 

He only has four fingers on one hand – apparently he lost one in a factory accident which is a rather mundane truth as he is a Master in so many different martial arts skills I imagined it was some lethal butterfly knife fight – but no. 

Mao does't speak any English but he shows well enough what do in his voice – which also sounds a bit like a siamese cat growling. 

Once i've learnt 24 form which is incredibly gentle and relaxing – and the complete opposite to Shaolin -he starts growling at me. 

“He wants you to relax more...sometimes he makes you smoke a cigaretteto relax if he thinks you are too tense” Emily informs me...

Ha i'd like to see him try. After the tobacco, carbs and booze binge fest of B.A I have not had a cigarette and am not about to start now. 

We end every session with doing the 24 form to Chinese music. If I get any more relaxed I may fall asleep. Its absolutely beautiful. Because I feel so lazy I make myself run to the bridge and back twice and on wednesday I make myself do the mountain run... 

My final two morning circuits. I'm so exhausted. Jasmine is in the habit of setting her alarm for 4.15am which wakes me up but not her – and then she doesn't get up until 5. But I make myself get out of bed and do the circuits telling myself that after this thursday it will be the last time I have to get up at 5am to do some rigorous exercise for a long time. Wednesday's circuit is holding plank positions, then press ups, hindus ( a kind of wiggly press up) , wheel barrows, handstand commandoes (basically you go into a handstand and a partner holdsyour legs up then you have to do a press up downwards – bending your arms – evil in other words.) Then handstands against the wall – if we can't hold it for 30 seconds we have to do bunny hops across the basket ball court if we can't hold it for a minute we have to do a lap of the school. Quite a few of us do the lap around the school but everyone including me manages to hold it for 30 seconds! 

My final circuit on Thursday morning – and what a treat it is! We run up the mountain and then do bunny hops, frog leaps and duck crawls down it interspersed with sprinting. It's agonising – even Big Steve who runs the circuit -says “why did I say duck crawls back!” But as it's my last one I make myself do every last second of it. Feel the burn – yeah! 

On Friday we all get a bus to Xiamen. I am flying out to Yunnan province the next day – i've decided the best way to make the most of my time in China is to just see one province well and Yunnan in the South West looks absolutely stunning. I'm acompanied by a group of the students who are joining Scott for a full moon beach party on the saturday in Xiamen. I think about going and then flying – but to be honest i'd rather just say my goodbyes and make the most of the time I have left with my onward journey. 

We get a sleeper bus – which is a little strange as its the middle of the day. There is no toilet on board so we all dehydrate ourselves not drinking any water. It has a little booth you slot yourself into complete with pillow and duvet which makes me feel very snug – but I have some sympathy for all the 6ft plus boys trying to shoe horn themselves into position. 

When we arrive I get ready to say my goodbyes and make my way to the hostel I stayed at before – but because i'm with YOUNG people who haven't booked accommodation they all just tag along with me. When we arrive I go into reception and say: 

"H i'm back and oh I brought a few friends." 

The girl looks through the door at the 10 people i have with me and whispers - “oh my god.” 

We go for dinner at pizza hut and never in the history of man have I ever seen so many hungry and grateful 18 year olds – you'd think they'd died and gone to heaven. Afterwards we become the horrible annoying people at the hostel who keep everyone else awake with drinking games. YAt some point they all start taking off their clothes...then they do kung fu...then I start taking photos and Jasmine moons for the camera...Young People...having fun. The next morning after a few hours sleep they are all awake and bright eyed and bushy tailed. I remember that I never used to get hangovers until I turned 30. Damn them. I say my goodbyes hugging them each in turn as they head off to prepare for their beach party and get ready for my flight. Next stop Kunming – the capital of Yunnan province.

Kung Fu Fighting Part 5


Monday comes bright and early and Chef's porridge is beginning to seem a bit like part of a Chinese torture endurance test. It's complemented by the fact I am finally reading 1984 for the first time. Somehow the prison - esque food, the boot camp regime, the hierarchy of the school along with the sheer fear and dread I greet each day with have all run into one and the book seeps into my daily concsiousness for life at the school. 

Feix and Camille have rejected the porridge since day 2 and come to breakfast with apples and chocolate bars: 

"Vive la resistance!" grins Felix. 

They have the right idea. This week Scott is taking the morning circuits (out of everyone he is the very worst.) This is because he is so super fit he has to make them challenging for himself. Great. 

It starts with 35 press ups on the gravel of the basket ballcourt. Followed by star jumps, spotted dogs, then laps of the school culminating in bear crawling down four flights of stone steps. Great. I manage three but my lungs are heaving in my chest and my arms are shaking. Scott says I don't have to do the fourt set. It seems being a woman, old and ony here for a month they can go a bit easy on you.


Lunch is truly grotesque out of all Chef's obnoxious concotions – this – jacket potato and coleslaw made with chopped lettuce, onion and salad cream is the very worst. It actually makes me feel physically sick. I just think – I am ill and still hungry when I finish this – and I'm a 37 year old woman – what about the 19 year old boys who are stuyding here for a year?

I 'm quite angry on their behalf. Its not often I feel maternal but they are still growing – I think the school (particularly a fitness school) has a moral duty ad responsibility to make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need from their meals, particularly when students have to exercise for 6 hours a day. 

Wong has got us to do the mountain run (3k - half of it up hill) three times in two days. My lower half of my body is beginning to rebel. But I cannot face another school dinner so I walk into town instead with Jasmine. 

I realise in order to talk to her I need to constantly have my head turned in her direction at 90 degrees so she can lip read. Its funny the things you take for granted. The Chinese are very heavy handed on the old horn. All vehicles love hooting a hundred times just to let you know they are there but sometimes she can't feel the vibration in the road of something coming so you have to pull her to one side. As twilight falls the fields on either side are wet and full with the sounds of frogs croaking. We sit down outside a shop and the owner comes out with some dinner she's about to eat with her husband. She offers it to me and after the potato debacle I take it gratefully – its sticky rice and chicken with peanutes wrapped in pandan leaves. Its perfect street food and its free! 

I then stock up on my alternative diet to chef's abominations – tropicana fruit drink, milk tea - a cold creamy honey flavoured drink – and some very insubstantial dry walnut biscuits. It's ridiculous but because we aren't getting any diary or any fruit served at the school – my evnening diet has become filled with sugary soft drinks, chocolate and ice cream. 

In the little square in town they've erected a big screen which shows Chinese women doing some kind of dance routine. The local ladies and children in the square follow the routine. Lots of the students - drunk or just happy on their way back to the school like to take part. 

As we walk back the sky darkens and it begins to thunder. When the lightning flashes in the sky Jasmine lets out a little scream – there is no rain and because she hasn't heard the thunder the lightning has scared her. Its dark and the sky is heavy with rain. She can't see my lips so I couldn't tell her a storm is coming.