Focus the Chi in the morning
Monks with worn bald patches on their heads from the heavy slabs of schist
Possibly my greatest aspiration when deciding to travel to China was to find an opportunity to learn martial arts in a traditional setting. When I heard about Wuwei Si, a buddhist monastary near Dali, where one can live and study Taichi and Kung-fu with monks, I had to check it out...
On the side of ... Mountain, hidden in forest, I found an old wooden compound, nicely restored in its traditional form with a courtyard and small fountain outside the main prayer chamber. Several novice monks, tending to plants and burning incense pointed me in the direction of the training area out the back. There I found some young monks dressed in yellow green and orange robes going through a series of movements with several foreign students. I was soon invited to join for lunch with the group and introduced...
I quickly settled into the daily routine:
7: am - run to river (about 1km), find a rock (bigger is better - some of the monks take things almost big enough to climb on), put it on your head and carry it back up the hill to the monastary where you balance the rock on your leg (for
Some movements are an intense workout
strength) until the bell is rung at 8am for breakfast...
9: am - First training session: stretching and basic kung-fu exercises/gymnastic type activity for about 1.5 hours, then individual learning of martial arts with a monk as teacher, until...
12 noon - Lunch and then afternoon rest period which is spent reading, playing Xiangqi (chess) and teaching english to the monks. Just an hour up the hill is an area of waterfalls and small ruined villages with stunning views over the lake and a tapestry of fields below.
4: pm - Second training session: shortened version as above, until...
6: pm - Dinner
After dinner, relax and listen to the monks chanting and prayer. After prayer, the monks will stand in mabu (squat position with legs at 90 degrees) with arms in front for an hour (if you feel up to it you can join in...). And bed by 9:30.
My body has been incredibly out of shape after doing bugger all while travelling, and it is being forced back to fitness here! I am particularly motivated about Taichi and the intense stretching we do everyday. Taichi is all about practising slowly to perfect the
movement and requires much control, balance, strength and coordination. Kungfu, by comparison, is a lot more high intensity, focussing more on power and speed; a real workout!
Set in a forest on the mountainside NW of Dali, Wuwei Si is a great escape from the noisy world below. Construction is mostly wood, with mud-brick exterior walls. There is no electricity, just candles to light the small wooden rooms at night. The Shifu (master) has a great sense of humour and commands respect from everyone. - The monks are amazing athletes, displaying agility, flexibility and co-ordination of top gymnasts, and when they can be bothered (sometimes you have to push them a bit), are good teachers.
Over time, as I got to know some of the monks, certain personalities develop and stand out. Xinding, one of the more senior monks is possibly the most endlessly happy person I have ever met, bordering on manically jovial! He presents himself in a way that one cannot help but love him. I can imagine that if he wasn't a monk he might be a heartbreaker and smooth businessman. He is the all-rounder, proficient in Kung-fu, Taichi and Chigong, a good english speaker,
Xinchang, the eldest monk and most impressive athlete at Wuwei Si
as well as the voice that everyone follows during the chanting. Xinchang is the eldest of the monks, a leader, and has a quiet demeaner. He lets kung-fu talk for him, with the biggest jump kicks, fastest flips, and moves that make him appear to levitate momentarily.
Let them not appear god-like; they live by buddhist principles, but they are young, and like young people everywhere, have their secrets and problems. The two cooks are in love with Xinchang and Xinding, but Xinchang has fallen for one of the foreign students... all of which is denied, "because we are monks", but in a moment alone, these things come out...
I, of course, developed a healthy rapport with the cooking girls. They have feisty attitudes, often seen wielding a cleaver in 'negotiations', but like any cook, have a soft spot for 'good eaters' (one discipline I will always excel at).
After chopsticks, my excellence was spread between the various martial arts on offer. I learned several Kung-fu katas (movements), a bunch of Taichi, one with sword, one with staff and a little Chigong. Chigong is about developing Chi (not intended for combat), with breathing and very slow movement being key
The main gate
Occasionally visitors would pass by, often workers on erands...
In many ways this period has been a time for cleansing and it's doing wonders for my health and well-being; fresh air, training, vegan food and healthy sleep patterns...
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