Today is Saturday. That means I survived the week. The week I had been dreading, since it was my first full week of training.
For your information we train 6 hours a day. We start at 6am with 1 hour (usually a little more) of Taiji.
You can find a video of me practicing Taiji on http://www.facebook.com/blondeclueless
Right after we have breakfast, this usually takes only 15 minutes and then everybody rushes to their rooms to get ready for the day. At 8.30 am there’s line up. We have to line up in our group and shout our number so the Shifu knows we’re all there. Then we start warm up. We run for 10-15 minutes around the court yard, then we gather to do warm up stretching. One student takes the lead and the rest follows. After that the training starts. Usually we form three lines and run back and forth doing power basics: punches, kicks, blocks, … This is a combination of cardio, technique and strength training. This takes approximately 1,5 hours. Then there’s a 30 minute break and then there’s another 1,5 hours of training.
At 12 we have lunch and then we have time to rest until 2.30 pm. Then we have to line up again, shout our number, go for a run in the street up to the big tree (this is a very tiring run) and then training starts. On Mondays we have Sanda (Chinese Kickboxing), on Tuesdays we have power training, on Wednesdays we have Sanda again, on Thursdays we have power stretch (this feels soooooooo good afterwards) and on Friday -as you know- we have the mountain run.
And of course every afternoon there is Qigong (I spelt it wrong the other time) which involves standing with your knees bent and toes pointed to the inside while keeping your elbows horizontal with the ground and slowly moving your fingers towards and away from each other for the total duration of 40 minutes. This goes on until 5.30 pm, then it’s dinner time. And at 6.30pm we have 45 minutes of Mandarin. But this is only from Monday to Wednesday and this is an optional class. You don’t have to go, you can also use that time to train your forms or just rest and unwind. It depends on what you want out of this academy but I make sure I go to Mandarin every time. The class isn’t always well structured but I bet some of the stuff we learn will stick to my memory and will be of use one day. It would feel as if I’m slacking off if I wouldn’t go, so I kind of force myself to go. By the time I leave the class room it’s about 7.30 pm, time to take a shower, make my nightly walk to the hot water tank to make sure I have cold drinking water in the morning, and go to bed.
Usually I go to bed between 8 and 9 pm to get up at 5.20am to make it in time for Taiji and then the day starts all over again.
So this is my routine for the following month. Well, three weeks actually, since there’s already one week past.
You: “So how did it go Evvy? Are you a Shaolin master yet?”
Me: “Err… no…
…that usually takes decades… (dumb ass…)”
But I did learn a lot this week! I already know 5 steps of Taiji. Only 19 more to go! I finished my 5 steps of Kung Fu which means I can go on to the next form. And I learned the cheer the students do at the end of each day in front of the head master. Basically we line up and scream something like Yi Ha-Ha HA-HA! I don’t think it really means something but it comes with a very energetic routine and it feels really good to do it. Like Maori… but in China…. If that makes sense….
So that’s the good part.
The week also had a couple of bad turns. On Monday everything went well. As far as I can remember… On Tuesday I had a first bad day. The day before we had been kicking punching bags during Sanda. You really have to kick hard with the upper part of your foot. I put in everything I had, but the next day that inner thigh muscle felt a little sore.
I thought a bit of stretching would help that problem right out of the way and continued training as usual. But training didn’t go well at all. We had to do a lot of high kicks while jumping in the air. Super hero kicks, we call them.
The muscle really hurt and by the second training of the morning, I was trying to make it go away by stretching it out again but I pulled the muscle even more and all of a sudden it was like somebody threw a glass of water in my eyes. My eyes started welling up. I bit my hoodie and I secretly started crying with my face half hidden in my sweater. All emotions came out: “Why the fuck did I come here? I should be making something out of my life instead of fiddling around. I should do a decent job, make money and start a family. I SHOULD PAY BILLS INSTEAD OF KILL BILLS!” I was really putting depressed thoughts in my head. One of the new students who had just arrived that day was standing beside me and noticed I was crying during stretching. I must have freaked her out on her first day already.
Soon another person noticed and before I knew it the translator rushed in to ask what was wrong, followed by… my Shifu Gao. Damn it, the master was so proud of me last week and now he sees me crying, I could have just sunk through the training hall floor of embarrassment. He gave me a disappointed look…
… and told me to keep the positive vibe in the group.
“It’s not because it hurts, you’re not getting stronger. Don’t give up”, the translator translated. Of course I wasn’t planning on giving up. I love these trainings. It’s just so annoying that my mind wants to do all these stuff and my body is restricting me. Shut up legs! Let me kick ass!
I sucked it up and after lunch I lied down on my bed with a hot water bottle wedged between my legs. I was told to keep the muscle warm. And to use tiger balm. For every injury a student encounters they advice to use tiger balm. Sprained an ankle? Use tiger balm. Pulled a neck muscle? Use tiger balm. Lost an arm? Use tiger balm.
That afternoon on my wooden bed I was feeling low. I had let myself down and I had let the Shifu down. I didn’t want to be that person with an injury. Cause it feels like your making up excuses not to train. And I really want to train! I’m only here for a month. I don’t want to slack off. My thoughts were so tiring they had put me to sleep.
After resting, I felt a little to a lot better. I even did the run to the big tree at a proper pace so I was very pleased with myself. The afternoon training went… okay. We had power training. It was quite confronting. Turns out I cannot do decent sit ups, I do crunches. And after doing at least 50 push ups that class I didn’t have any strength left and couldn’t even bend my arms anymore. While nobody else seemed to be struggling with it… I kind of felt like the weak link. I hated it.
But I remembered what Gao said: to keep the positive spirit. So I kept smiling and cheering other people on. And that actually made me feel good as well.
The next day I was bursting with energy. I had a great Taiji, an amazing oat meal breakfast (I provide it myself, I’m not really in the mood for rice with boiled eggs in the morning since we already have rice and eggs at lunch and rice and eggs for dinner) then we had acrobatics. I still need to work on some stuff though. I mean, how can I not be able to do a decent head roll?
It is all I ever did when I was in high school. I was really good at it. What happened??? And also my kick ups need to improve. The afternoon training was a lot of fun. We had a really intense Sanda practice. This time without too much kicks so I didn’t have to use my sore muscle that much. It was mostly punching. I really enjoyed that training and afterwards we did a full on sparring. I was sweating like crazy and felt really re-energized. Afterwards I had an amazing Qigong session and some good dinner. And after my shower I had some time to catch up with my friend Obim near the hot water tank and called it a night at 9pm.
The next day however…. luck turned on me again. Not only did I re-pull (if that’s even a thing) that sore muscle again, I also pulled the same muscle on the other side. We were doing kicks again and after a while I couldn’t lift my legs anymore. It was like the groin area had turned into stone and I couldn’t enable myself to do any more kicks. I tiptoed to the side of the training hall experiencing a lot of pain. I stayed there for the rest of the class, explaining myself (AGAIN) to the Shifu. After class we lined up and the Shifu reviewed the training. He congratulated the group on an excellent training. I felt bummed out. The group did so well and I wasn’t part of it. They did EXCELLENT while I had to stand on the side and watch while I so badly wanted to train. I didn’t feel part of the group at all. After class I hopped back to my room. I was only planning to rest there for 15 minutes, just in time for the next class. But when I took the first step to go up the third floor, I just realized I couldn’t. Every step I took the pain got worse and worse. One of the new students, who happened to be around, had to support me to get me up the stairs and all of a sudden I broke down in tears again. It’s really weird. I usually try not to cry in public but I just couldn’t hold it in. From the moment that pain shoots into your groin that glass of water gets thrown into your face again and your eyes automatically well up. I even made the ‘boe-hoe’ sound at one point.
My inner voice was really telling me to shut up and be strong but it took ages for me to get up those stairs. Soon another student ran in to support me on the other side and as soon as I arrived at my level there was somebody there to give me a pain killer. When I entered my room, my room mate Gloria fixed me up with a hot water bottle and before I knew it somebody had made me an appointment with the massage master, someone brought over more pain killers and hot patches and as soon as Adaline -the nicest and cutest girl from Sweden- heard what had happened she rushed in to ask me if I was okay and gave me an egg muffin.
I was really touched by so much kindheartedness from my team mates. There were already 3 people standing in my room but soon 3 more arrived asking how I was doing. Gloria’s son, who is staying here for two years, even went downstairs to get me lunch. I was thanking them for helping me so much.
“That’s what we do. We take care of each other. We are the only family we have here.”
Me worrying earlier I wasn’t part of the group was completely unnecessary. I am part of the group. And I looked forward to rejoining them and get back to training as soon as possible.
But first I had to face the massage master again.
The one that almost crippled me one week earlier during massage class when I volunteered to be the test dummy. He has more power in his index finger than I have in my entire body. When he touches you a little bit you already feel it a whooooole lot! I got one of the translators to explain to him what was wrong with me and the following hour I was pinching my eyes into little horizontal stripes, grinding my teeth, enduring the pain in his chamber of torture. He rubbed my groin area (this sounds awful) for a full hour. My Shifu -who had came to visit- even curled over me at one point asking me if I was in a lot of pain. No, I believe his exact words were:
Shifu: “Really pain, Evelien? Really pain?”
Me: “Yes Shifu. (horizontal striped eyes) Really pain.”
He looked so cute when he asked me. Like an actual 23 year old, not the tough master he can be during practice. And I was kind of flattered he knew my name.
After that I skipped afternoon training (I was allowed to), rubbed some tiger balm on my inner thighs (delicate area, watch out with that!) and typed a big chunk of this blog post.
Afterwards I went to Qigong, since it’s got healing powers (or so I hear) and it’s really good for the blood flow. You’re not supposed to be distracted by thoughts when you do Qigong. You’re supposed to be focussed only on your body. But my mind strays away constantly.
That session I thought about the week. How it didn’t really go how I planned it to be, but how I still managed to experience a lot of good things and make a lot of progress. I realized how quickly you can put negative thoughts in your head once you hit a low like that. How I -at one point- asked myself why I couldn’t just settle with a normal life instead. But, honestly, I would’t wanna miss this opportunity for the world. I really enjoy being here and challenging myself like this. I’m only 27, I still have enough time to take on a serious life, if I ever end up taking on a serious life. Maybe I will keep finding new ways to improve, challenge myself, while providing an income, taking care of myself and eventually maybe a family. I don’t need a 9-5 or a solid, routine lifestyle back home just to feel like I’m living a normal life. What’s a normal life anyway? Maybe everyone is leading an abnormal life but we just figure it’s normal since everybody else is doing it. If I decide to stay in this school for months, maybe years, I could have a normal life as well. I could get a job as an English teacher during the weekends, earn money, keep training and eventually maybe move indefinitely to China to continue my life here. There is no end to the possibilities of how you can live your life. As long as you do it with passion and not just follow others because of the sake of being a sheep.
That reminds me of our group motto the Shifu asked us to come up with:
Are we sheep??
Up to a pain free week!
Well a little can’t hurt… No pain, no gain!
Talking of pain: I just had a Chinese massage an hour ago in Mu Ping.
After almost breaking your back and neck they lit cups on fire and place them on your back. Now my backside looks like a pepperoni pizza. But -apparently- it’s good for your body and blood flow.
On the way to Mu Ping we couldn’t fit inside the little bus so some of us had to sit in the middle on little chairs (you can literally fit one butt cheek on there) and locals were taking pictures of us.