Journey To Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 4

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 3 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 3 here.


Saturday morning, I woke up with an entire day of training until we headed off to Xi’an. Vincent, my traveling partner hailing from France, had come to the school for one month to learn Tai chi. He is on a four-month journey through East Asia.

The heat rose with the sun and we all poured sweat during training. The trip to Xi’an was the carrot to pull me through a hard day’s training. It got to 102 degrees and we didn’t even need training to sweat — just being alive was enough.

Eight hours and a cold shower later, we were off to get a bus to Wudang. When we arrived, we found a familiar hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The jovial owner greeted us. He was happy to see us again, I hoped. “Yi Ge Jiao Zi, Yi Ge Chow Mian, and uhhh, Yi Ge,” I said as I pointed at the pot of stewing chicken thighs. I had asked for dumplings, noodles, and one piece of chicken. We filled our bellies with noodles, dumplings, and chicken for our up coming journey. That night we would wait until 11 pm to catch a taxi to Shiyan and from there we would take a 7-hour train ride to Xi’an. Vincent and I headed down to the river and were surprised by a beautiful sun setting in the distance. Thank God that thing was finally going down.

The walkway and river, or what was left of it, was filled with people. Kids playing in the water, older folks had chairs set up chatting and laughing as they fanned themselves with real Chinese fans! Some farmers were still out trying to sell a few more watermelons before day’s end and some men sucked down cigarettes while playing a Chinese board game similar to chess. It was nice to see people out and about enjoying life. All coming together at the end of the day, it felt very homey. Community. The community was strong in Wudang and you could just feel it in the spirit of the people. I think it is something we miss in the west. We are so scared of each other, so much fear, and we are forced to be independent as a sign of strength. I think it leaves us with a lot of problems with depression and anxiety. But hey, I ain’t no psychologist!

Getting a taxi was always somewhat of a game and you had to bargain. The driver would always give us a really expensive price at first, but we were ferocious. We wanted the price they gave to Chinese people. So we approached the first taxi in a line of three and told him where we wanted to go. He put 235 on his phone calculator. We laughed and told him sixty. He scoffed and punched in 180 and at that point, we just walked to the next taxi. We told him the second driver where we wanted to go and he started with 160 on his phone calculator. Better but not good enough. We told him sixty and his eyes almost popped out of his head. He started saying something in Chinese and then the first taxi driver approached. They started talking amongst each other and Vincent and I started laughing. “Come on, come on!” We said. The two drivers started laughing at us. The second driver pointed to the moon and said something; I heard the word “wanshang” which means nighttime. Okay, so it was a higher price because it was nighttime. Understandable but we weren’t going to stop. The second driver punched in 140 on his phone calculator. We considered it and then put 80 in on his phone. He shook his head in defeat. Just then, a third driver walked up asking “Na Li Na Li?” (Where, where?) I told him Shiyan Train Station and said “Yi Bai.” (100). He said, “Okay, okay!” The second driver turned to us frustrated, as we were about to walk away, revealed his phone calculator to us in crumbling defeat: 80. We hopped in his cab and got our fair ride to Shiyan. I had spoken with Tang earlier that day and he said the price should be around 80-100. Bargaining can be tense but it is worth it.

We pushed through the masses of people at the old, poorly-lit train station in Shiyan and luckily found two seats. There we waited for about an hour for our train to begin boarding. At this point, I was completely exhausted and just wanted a bed to sleep in. But we would not get a bed. We had booked our train late so we did not have the luxury of even a hard sleeper, we were bound for hard seats. A seven-hour train ride in hard seats. The station stunk of cigarette smoke despite the numerous no smoking signs and loads of talking people. It was not a pleasant place to be and I am not a princess — well, not always. Our train eventually boarded and we were headed for Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors, the Muslim quarter, and the famous Xi’an City Wall.

After arriving in Xi’an we walked over to our hostel and passed out for several hours because we got virtually no sleep on the train. Vincent contacted two fellow students who happened to be in Xi’an that weekend, so it was a weekend with the French in China. The first adventure we enjoyed was the Xi’an City Wall. It was built by the first Emperor of China and remains completely intact today. It wraps around the core of the city and is surrounded by tall buildings on the outside. To walk the entire wall would take few hours as it is about 14 kilometers so we only walked one corner, which took about an hour. It was really a historical experience.

I could imagine soldiers patrolling the wall throughout the day and sentries looking out into the darkness at night. I imagined what it would be like to be a soldier in an advancing army and being a citizen protected by the behemoth. As we walked along, many bricks had Chinese characters etched into them. I wondered if it was century old soldiers carving the names of their lovers into the brick. After our epic walk through time on one of China’s great walls, we headed for the Muslim Quarter.


The city of Xi’an was the beginning of the Silk Road roughly 1,000 years ago. Many overseas merchants came, including people from Arabic countries — some settled in this area. It became known as the Muslim Quarter, now with tens of thousands of practicing Muslims and about 10 Mosques including the Great Mosque, which we were able to visit. The Great Mosque was the oldest and largest built in the area. It was a peaceful place with a large courtyard where you could hear prayers in the distant. Much of the stone architecture has not been restored which left it looking old and beautiful, but still intact.

The Muslim quarter was a great place to cruise through in the evening. I really felt like I was in China. The streets are filled with food vendors selling freshly baked bread, grilled kebabs, octopus legs on skewers, roasted nuts, small restaurants selling noodles, fruit stands packed with fresh fruits and the occasional convenience store. People swarmed through the streets as cars tried to push through the masses. I kept my eyes peeled over my shoulders to watch out for incoming motorbikes and scooters. But I didn’t worry; the incessant beeping always warned of their approach. We walked through the tightly packed streets trying to take it all in through our eyes and our cameras.
We came upon a covered area with winding alleyways that housed the curiosity shops and tourist gift shops! We bought several little bracelets, fans, silks (fake?), and coins to take home as souvenirs. We made out pretty well with our superior bargaining skills.

The last thing we saw before leaving Xi’an was the Terracotta Warriors. This site is actually the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. He had his entire army replicated out of stone to guard his burial mound. Each soldier’s face is carved differently and come complete with weapons, horses, and carriages. It was truly fantastic because of the amazing human ingenuity and insanity dedicated to something so massive. Warehouses have been built over the excavation sites themselves so people can view the sites while in air conditioning. You can’t get really close to them but they have a few soldiers in glass cases for closer inspection. This is a really touristy place to go to but it is the thing that drew us to Xi’an in the first place.
The trip to Xi’an was a wonderful getaway from our intense Gung Fu training. We got off the bus at our stop in Wudang and trudged up the hill back to school. As we entered the grounds we were met with a warm welcome of smiles and waves from the other students and coaches—we were home. Even though the next week of training would be just as hard as the previous, I was happy to be home at Wudang Dragongate Gung Fu School.


Look out for my next delicious post on some great local eats in Wudang. HI-YAH!!

Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 3

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 3 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 2 here.


Watermelon Day

Tang bought a watermelon today. Watermelon is special. Watermelon brings people together.

Today was a normal day at Wudang Dragon Gate Kung Fu School. I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to the most irritating whistle which indicated food. I stumbled out of bed and down to the cafeteria. Wudang special breakfast — rice. Rice everyday, rice three times a day, always rice. Rice, rice, rice. I went back and laid in bed after eating the delicious grain that would give me energy for my training soon to come. Within an hour, another whistle blew. Time to go train.

We trained for a few hours with a little break in between. Being early morning, it had not started to get hot. Our coach called us in. “Wow, off early today,” I thought. We lined up like little gung fu soldiers and our coach shouted a few things in Chinese, then pointed at the mountain behind him. He turned to point at me and a few other students. “Uh…oh…”

We followed our coach — having collected shovels and old rice bags — through the school, out the back, and up the mountain. Some of us were designated diggers and some were carriers. I was a carrier. As the bags were filled with the dark soil, the other carriers and I strained to put the bags on our shoulders. We walked up five flights of stairs to the rooftop to find a dozen long, deep planters. These wooden planters were huge and we had to fill them. One by one, rice bag by rice bag, we filled the planters with dirt. Each trip felt like it would be my last but I continued on, trying various different ways of holding the bags to use different muscle groups.

An hour later, Vincent, the student from France, said “Shooo Sheee… coach said it, I don’t know what it means?”

“Yes!” I cried out. “It means rest, man. It means rest.”

I returned to my room. Tang showered and then I showered. I got out of the shower and put shorts on my still wet body. Tang shouted from the bedroom, “Watermelon!” I came out of the bathroom to find Tang cutting through an enormous watermelon with a tiny knife. He turned and smiled, “We share, for us.” Tang had pretty decent English and my mandarin was pretty bad. We got along well, we always laughed as we would try to explain complex topics in each others language. Google translate was certainly helpful. He handed me half of the watermelon and a spoon. “I haven’t used a spoon in two weeks,” I thought. We sat there and devoured cold watermelon while the fan blew the hot summer air on us. We laughed as we munched away. We just laughed and ate.

We laughed because we had trained together. We were brothers, in a way. We trained, ate, and slept together. But it was the training that brought us close, all of the school, not just Tang and I. We were bound as brothers and sisters. We understood the tightness and stiffness we felt in our legs every morning and night. We understood the feeling of total exhaustion and not being able to move. We understood the joy of finally getting that movement right. We understood the peace that each other felt in certain moments while practicing. Gung fu is for family. That is why we laugh eating watermelon and that is why watermelon is special.

This reminds me of another day where watermelon came into play. We were all training hard at our different arts. Sweat pouring in hot 98 degree Wudang heat. A large farm truck pulled up through the stone gates. It was piled high with watermelons. A man got out of the truck and chatted with the woman that ran the kitchen, Master Wang’s sister. She shouted something in Chinese across the yard and Chong Qin repeated it in English for us: “Get watermelon if you want.” The western students and I ran over to the truck picking through the various watermelons. Tang picked out three and I picked out three as well. I paid for them all. Twenty yuan! Which is about three dollars American. Six massive watermelons for only three dollars! These would sustain us through the next week of practice in between sessions.


Keep your eyes and nose peeled for my next post about the delicious food found in Wudang town. Thanks for reading! HI-YAH!

Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 2

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 2 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 1 here.


Eat. Train. Sleep. Sweat.

So I am half asleep, in a daze, in the back of a taxi headed up the mountain to my final destination — Wudang Dragon Gate Kung Fu School. We are driving through rural China from Shiyan to Wudang Shan. The road is littered with strange looking buildings and half-finished sidewalks. It seemed to me to be a country in the midst of development.

We ascended up a hill and drove under a large stone gate. The car stopped and a guy waiting in front of the school hopped up and opened the taxi door. He was a very young and vibrant, and he would be one of my coaches at the school: Peng Tao. I grabbed my bags and he brought me up to my room. Another man who would be my roommate greeted me: Tang. He spoke a little English just like I spoke a little Chinese.

After brushing my teeth and showering Tang and I had a short conversation. Introducing each other and trying to speak each other’s language; we laughed and smiled before turning the lights off to go to sleep. The bed was a hard box spring with a thin but cushy mat, a pillow, and blanket. It was not something I would call comfortable but I already felt like at home. I was in a foreign country, with a foreign person, in a strange building and it was the safest I had felt since I left. I was excited for the next day waking up in the mountains of Wudang. I drifted off to sleep.

HUUUUU-PTUUH. Someone spit outside, then young children yelling in Chinese, the crow of a rooster, and no sun.

It was 5 a.m. “Holy crap I am in China!” I thought. I laid in bed tired, sore from the hard bed and smiling. “This is my life for the next month.” I smiled harder. I soon fell back asleep until I was woken by the sound of Tang preparing for training and the yellow sun pouring in through the barred window. After getting up I put my clothes in the large cabinet, brushed my teeth, ate a bun injected with some strange cream from last nights flight and a young woman burst through the door. “You come with me,” she said. This was Chong Qin who would be my main coach for learning Bagua. She brought me down to Master Wang’s office where we completed registration and received my uniform. Within the hour I was out in the yard waiting anxiously for my first training session. After lining up, different students were sent to the yard to practice their arts: tai chi, gung fu, sword, and staff.

 

I was left standing with Chong Qin. She asked, “What you want learn?”

“Bagua,” I replied. I began walking my first circle. Bagua-Zhang is one of the oldest martial arts form based on Daoist circle walking practices. I was officially learning martial arts in China!

A week passed quickly and being in China began to feel normal. Even the six hours of training a day were feeling regular. I was sore in places I didn’t even know existed and we kept training anyway. We train for about 6 hours each day in various segments.

Basic schedule looks like this:

6:00 a.m.: Breakfast
7:30 a.m.: Running, stretching, kicks, stance training
8:30 a.m.: Break
9:00 a.m.: Forms (I practice Bagua)
10:30 a.m.: Break
12:00 p.m.: Lunch
After lunch we all take a big sleep, it is very hot in July.
3:30 p.m.: Tendon/Ligament stretching followed by Tai Chi or Qi Gong
4:30 p.m.: Break
5:00 p.m.: Forms (I practice Bagua)
6:30 p.m.: Break
7:30 p.m.: Dinner

There are optional training periods that alternate each day 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. or 8 p.m to 9 p.m.

So how was all this training sustained? Food. Sleep. Food. Sleep. Laughter. Three times a day, we eat rice and some combination of different vegetables with tofu or, if we were lucky, bits of meat. For rice and vegetables the food was absolutely delicious and since training was so hard we ran when we heard that whistle. The whistle itself was a representation of yin and yang: two opposites. One whistle blow meant training where we would drain our bodies and two whistle blows meant food where we would recharge our bodies. After a big lunch, we all tromp back to our rooms and just lay there until we fall asleep. We have a long midday break because it is the hottest part of the day, upwards of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. We slept until that whistle blew again.


Keep your eyes peeled for my next post! A sore body and the rejuvenating power of Wudang watermelon. HI-YAH!

Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 1

Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 1 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone.


I got out of the cushy hotel bed filled with anxiety for my first international flight alone. China was my destination.

As we ate an overpriced breakfast buffet that my stomach struggled to digest, my mother reassured me the flight would be fine. She was reassuring herself as well. I knew everything would work out fine, but I was traveling into the unknown. It’s kind of like jumping off a cliff into water. You see everyone jump and emerge from the water safely but everything in your body tells you: “DON’T JUMP!” which is logical because you might die. You jump anyway and it is such a thrill.

So I jumped.

 

I was waving goodbye, getting on the shuttle to the airport wishing I had not thrown away my coffee. I had my two bags, a nervous stomach, an unsure mind, and a trusting heart — everything would be okay. But this was not the start of my journey to Wudang Mountain — the center of Taoist Kung Fu.

The journey all started when I was living in Sedona, Arizona in 2009. I met a Gung Fu instructor through a friend and agreed to take lessons. The training began where all things begin: in the earth. All of my training was done outside, on the ground, in the water, and in all weather conditions. I was taught to condition the body physically, I learned deep meditative Qi-Gong, and I learned deadly Gung Fu techniques. The training was serious. It expanded me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It gave me a new view on the world and I wanted to learn more. After leaving Sedona, I began researching different schools in China to study martial arts. Five years after navigating, dodging, and leaping over financial barriers, family barriers, and work barriers, I booked the trip. Sometimes things don’t come easy in life but if you keep your eye on the prize and keep attempting, you will get where you’re going.

Fast-forward several years.

I wish I could have fast-forwarded the flight! It wasn’t much to talk about. It took 14 hours to fly from Newark, New Jersey to Beijing. On most flights, I stare at the little airplane dotting across the screen making its way from origin to destination, but this time I could barely look at it. I mean, come on, I was flying over the North-Freaking-Pole! I watched several movies, made seventeen trips to the bathroom, and like I said, it was generally uneventful. I didn’t get to be on one of those wonderful United flights where they drag a passenger off the plane kicking and screaming. It was also quite amazing that I was traveling to China in 14 hours… on the other side of the planet! I think we take flying for granted.

After touching down safely in Beijing and exiting the aircraft, I chatted with two girls from the flight. They were around my age and traveling from Montreal on their way to Mongolia. It was a nice reassurance that I was surrounded by people — just people. Not dinosaurs, or aliens, or flying purple people eaters. Sure, they spoke a different language, ate strange foods, and looked completely different, but they were people. In my experience, people are generally good and I would be able to find my way and ask for help when needed… as long as I had Google Translate. Chatting with the girls also made me think: “People travel internationally every day, so I can do this.”

I made my way to the gate for my connecting flight to Wudang. It would be another 6 hours before that flight departed, so I had some time and I had some errands to run. (Yes, errands in an airport.) I had to find an ATM to take out money and then my big test: ordering food. I was in China and I had to use the little Chinese I knew to eat. Eating is important unless you are some hippie breatharian. (Well, then good for you.) I lugged my large backpacking backpack around the airport searching for an ATM. I think this took me about two hours to find the ATM. Including a break where I went into a panic and thought my entire trip was doomed because I couldn’t get Chinese Yuan (money).

Eventually, I found the ATM. It was like coming upon an oasis in the desert. I sipped the sweet cool waters as the machine spat out 1000 Yuan. My first time getting international money! I trekked back to the store I had spotted early that sold food — I passed by it. I was so nervous about going to ask for food, I just walked right by. I trudged around again and thought, “well maybe I will just find another place.” I walked around the airport for another hour in a silent, nervous panic. This was not the time for my social anxiety issues to come into play. I needed to eat. I thought about the impact that my social worries had on my everyday life. I was always scared to make a fool of myself or to make some type of mistake. I didn’t want people to think I was an idiot. I had to be perfect.

I came around the corner and walked into a café, which was some strange Chinese simulation of an American Café. This was it — I had to battle this head on. I could not be fearful of what other people thought. Ultimately, I knew people were going to have judgments and I knew they didn’t matter. I walked up to the counter and waited for the girl to come back. “Ni Hao!” I said awkwardly. She murmured something similar.

“Wo Yao… (I want…)” I said pointing to a sad looking chicken sandwich. She said “Okay” in English… She spoke English. Life happens like that sometimes just to mess with you. After eating the sad sandwich, I felt pretty happy.

My next flight landed in Shiyan at Wudangshan airport. After the long day, I was exhausted and I hoped the taxi arranged for me would be waiting. When I exited the airport, there was a woman holding a sign with my full name on it “DYLANMARTINSEN.” It was another oasis in the unknown; I felt relief. I followed her to the car and she spoke some words in Chinese. I kind of just laughed it off. I was in no mood to try to understand what she was saying or try to find the right words to spit out of the abyss that my mind had become. I was shot. I was tired.

And I still had an hour drive to get to Wu Dang Dragon Gate Kung Fu School.


Keep your eyes peeled for my arrival at the school and getting used to my new routine. Rice, three times a day and 6 hours of intense martial arts training. HI-YAH!

Read Part 2 here.