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Daniel's China Adventure

Passing kung fu school

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hello again from the town where everybody's chi flows like a river throughout their soul (Shaolin). Today was another rise and shine morning. We woke up at five but not for the same reason. We unfortunately did not get to pray with the monks again but we did practice kung fu. We met a warrior monk of Shaolin and we practiced his version of kung fu. This was actually a lot different than the martial arts at little dragon down the road. As I explained in earlier blogs, the two different schools believe in different vaqlues. The monks at Shaolin have a whole spiritual outlook on life that is absent in the dragon kung fu. They learn about their religion and combine the two forces of physical and mental together. The little dragon school is solely physical martial arts and ignores the concept of purity and religion. I respect the monks of Shaolin much more because without the spiritual side of martial arts, there is no point. It loses morals and ethics. The monks live a whole different life style. Although I respect the monks more, I still like the little dragon school. I praise them for their hard work every dayof the week. I also understand why some people would rather not be monks. It is a lot to dedicate yourself and I completely understand the two different views. Its just that the warrior monks are respected more in society.

Anyways, back to the kung fu lesson. We got there in our uniforms and we started off with some chi exercises. He made motions with his hands like he was pushing air from the top of his body to the bottom. I must say, this was my favorite part of the lesson. The warrior monk explained that there is an energy or chi that runs through everyone. If one practices the motion of controlling it every day, he or she will become much stronger. I felt really empowered after this chi movement. I want to continue doing this when I get home. Only if I could rememberthe moves! As the lesson went on, we did various kicks and positions. We did a particular stance that required a lot of leg strength. It was called a horse stance. We all stood with our legs shoulder width apart and bent down with a straight back. We had to stand in this position for two minutes. I have to say that it was a real work out on the legs. This explains why all the monks have beastly, ferocious legs.

When the kung fu was over, we walked throught the pagoda forest of Shaolin temple. This forest was beautiful and right in the heart of nature. This is because the pagoda forest is where the monks are buried when they pass on. They want to be submerssed in the natural beauty of the world and reach that harmony. The pagodas were very interesting. They came in different sizes based on the rank of the monk. The highest rank being seven and the lowest being one. The more respected the monk was, the higher the pagoda would stand. It only came in odd numbers. One, three, five and seven. The reason being that monks live single lives without wives. They must remain alone their whole life. I respect the monks immensely for this incredible task but I don't think I could ever do this. Life is meant to share what you have with someone else. I just don't think I could handle it. Being an only child is lonely enought but to add the lonesome for the rest of your life? I don't think so, at least not for me. This doesn't mean I don't respect and praise them for what they are doing. I just couldn't handle it. Once the pagoda lesson was over, we went back to the hotel for some "breakfurst". It was again really great. We had eggs, bacon, ham, sausage and cheerios! First cereal in two weeks! Since today was full of activities, we had more rest time than usual. After a quick break we went to lunch at the hotel.

Following the grub, it was our time to show that we could do kung fu. We walked back to Shaolin temple and were greeted by two master student warrior monks. We all lined up in pairs and did our routine for them. They would either pass us or fail us (it was apparent that we would all succeed when we saw the premade certificates). We all indeed show our stuff and got the certificates signed by the head monk of Shaolin temple. It said that we graduated from the school in kung fu practice. It was actually really cool and I'm going to frame it for my room.

Another set of down time was set aside for us after our little graduation ceremony. I took a shower and read an article from a magazine that I am actually going to talk about. It was the national geographic magazine issue dedicated to China. I took it on the trip last minute when my mom found it laying around the house (this is a great magazine for people who want to learn more about China. Strongly suggest buying if my blogs are appealing). The article was about a man that was in the peace corps and was sent to China to teach english. The year was 1996 when he first went and he really enjoyed teaching there. It explains how he got the student's perspective of their government in the past. For example, when he asked the students to write about the word hate, he got very many distinct responses. Some explkained how the students hated anyone who tried to bring down what they and their parents have been fighting for. "I hate all the countries in the world that abstruct our country developing" (43). I found this very interesting from the teachers point of view. He also got perspecctives of hate through the history of Chinas past. Although this sounds a bit harsh, the next paragraph was quite startling. It explained how it was common for the students to ask questions about the outsideworld like America. They asked about customs, laws, products, economy and culture. Then the author talked about his present day students that grew up. It explained how "nowadays our students have their own viewpoints and ideas, and they speak about democracy and freedom, independence and rights. I think we fear them more than they fear us." (47). It seems like as the generation from old to new comes forth, new modern ideas are being brainstormed. Who knows, maybe China will model an American based democracy one day. Anyways, it was just interesting to get a viewpoint on the stance of government and how its evolvong in China over the years.

At six sharp, we left the hotel for dinner. This dinner was one of the most memorable dinners of my life. The warrior monks that taught us earlier in the day joined us as well as the kung fu school martial arts masters. I sat next to a monk named Andy as his American name. I have to say, he was one of the nicest guys I have met. He was much friendlier than the teachers at the little dragon school. We talked the whole dinner. I asked how he got into buddhism and why he wanted to go to Shaolin temple. He told me he wanted to be a kung fu master when he was little and joined at age fourteen. He also said that he wanted to be in movies as a kung fu master. I told him he could come stay with me in LA. I asked him a lot of questions about his perspective on the whole monk idea. He said he loves being a monk but he is getting tired of being lonely. Ten years in the temple is a very long time and it seemed like he wanted to graduate pretty soon. He wanted to get on with his life and do something new. He was tired of the same things for so long. He told me about his travels, performances, vacations and much more. I really enjoyed my experience with Andy and the best part was, HE HAD A FACEBOOK! I am now friends with a Shaolin monk on the world wide web of connections-facebook. I couldn't believe it. It was kind of ironic but pleasing at the same time. Kind of like the monk on the motorcycle. I am going to keep in touch with Andy and see what he's up to in a couple of years.

After our last dinner in Shaolin, we went back to the temple and got to participate in one of the greatest shows I have ever seen. Students from both Shaolin temple and the little dragon school all came into one room to put together the show of a lifetime. It was also very nice to see the warrior monks together with the little dragon kung fu students. It was like we were all together in harmony regardless of what our beliefs were. It started off kind of like a talent show with kids singing different songs. We got up there and we sang our shaolin song. Riley went up and sang a song from our group as well. I got up on stage and did a backflip and then left. They seemed to like every performance that we gave them. As the show continued, the warrior monks showed off their years of practice. Everything from swords to sticks, backflips to frontflips. The moves were amazing. Then there was one group of monks that imitated animals of the Chinese zodiac signs. It was like an animal style of kung fu. Although some animals were left out, it was really easy to distinguish the different animals. One of the rules of monks is that they can't kill any animals. They respect nature as it is and let them be. The acrobatics were absolutely baffling. One monk did some back handsprings into a backflip 360. It was the craziest flip I have seen. They would also jump really high and flip andf just land straight on their back. I don't know how they did it. The show was a great finale to the wonderful stay at Shaolin temple. I learned so much about the culture and now I can really appreciate hearing things about monks. A whole new window of the world has been opened with this opportunity. That is the great thing about traveling. Its like getting a new pair of eyes that are a totally different color. You see shades that you thought never existed. This will stay in my head for the rest of my life. I really dread leaving this awesome trip. Tomorrow is another travel day as we depart to Beijing. Looking forward to the duck dinner.

Goodbye from the last time in the magical Shaolin temple.

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Changing Connections said...

You are a runner inside the soul of a writer. Combining mental and physical makes so much sense, but I suspect China's security throughout the ages came from the dragon kung fu movement. Everywhere in China you see a sense of duality coexistent. You were the only one to explain the odd numeration in the pagoda forest; now it makes sense. Interesting you are an only child; you do not write like one--very nice. Your comment about loneliness for a lifetime is poignant and understandable.

I read the article in NatGeo you reference, and your observations, coupled with your insights from experience really add a dimension that the article lacked. I have learned so much from your blogs (are you on Facebook? would like to follow you post-China--friend me?).

"That is the great thing about traveling. Its like getting a new pair of eyes that are a totally different color. You see shades that you thought never existed." Have a career, but become the writer you are. It has been a pleasure reading you.

RJ Stangherlin
PA DEN LC Blog Coordinator

Karen Wells said...

Your comments about chi were of interest to me. Do you think chi is the same thing as having an inner core/inner strength. I know during difficult times when I feel completely stressed out, I can stablize my inner core and literally feel my body pulling itself back into one piece. I have even taught this technique to some of my students. Now all I have to do when I see them getting stressed out is one simple hand motion where I close my fist and move it from my chest down to my stomach. They begin to settle down immediately. I know it may not be easy to understand what I am talking about, but it works. A calmness comes over me when I perform this simple concentration exercise.

Would you characterize China as a land of irony? It seems as if this may be the case.

I read with interest in today's newspaper about U.S. trade with China and a problem with a tour bus running over some locals. I probably would have passed over those articles in the past, but have you and the others to thank for a growing interest in China.

As much as you want to know what happens to Andy in a few years, I want to know what happens to you. There is such a strong group of leaders on DSA China. With leaders such as yourself, I feel very confident about our future as a country.

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Essential Programs Details

Duration 15 days
When August 4th - 18th, 2009
Focus History/Culture
Martial Arts
Modern/Ancient Architecture