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!