Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu — Part 6

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 6 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 5 here.

One Movement. Three Days.

You heard it, folks: one movement in three days of training. I haven’t gotten to tell you much about the actual training. It is very different than how we learn things in the west. We want to learn as much as possible — quantity over quality. We want to show everyone how many different things we know so we can be the best. Well, coming to practice for a month, I thought I would have a lot to bring back. I haven’t learned as much as I thought I would — at least movement wise — but I have learned one of the biggest lessons which will help me get through life more calmly.

Training at the school is just hard work, it can be joyful, peaceful, and fun but at the end of the day it is hard work. It never ends, especially for the kids who live here year round. They practice forms over and over and over and there is always improvement to be made. It is quite amazing being able to practice with these kids. They are the kids that you see on youtube videos that perform all the amazing Gung Fu feats. They do everything from acrobatics, pain tolerance training, and insane flexibility. During training, they are focused and intense but as soon as that whistle blows they are back to being kids. The training is really good for them it seems; they are mature, healthy, and happy. This is their family and it is a close connected family that really cares about each other. So I digress a little but these are the people that have made this experience feel like I am part of that family. It has allowed me to laugh through the tough times and be grateful at times that I am only here for a month.

I have been learning Bagua, which is a martial art that is based on circles and spirals. When done by a master, I think it is the most beautiful thing. It’s like a dance — a deadly one. The art is designed to be able to fight eight opponents at once. So the practitioner learns to dance around his opponents using bones breaks, throws, punches, kicks, and bumps in order to quickly dispatch his or her opponents. The very basic training is walking the circle and learning the eight different palms. This circle walking strengthens the practitioner’s footwork but also makes it agile. The eight palms and their changes look beautiful, but deadly, martial technique is hidden within each movement. After taking several weeks to learn that I am now learning the basics. Each movement is a combination of several martial techniques and I am not sure how many there are in total. I have learned one so far. It has taken some time. Every day we have about three hours of form practice. I have been practicing this one short and simple movement for three days. It is short and looks simple. The principles, which the movements of Bagua are based on, are the hardest to learn. You must move with power, yet be completely relaxed. You must move the body as one beginning with hips turning. You must move fluidly which means relaxed joints and muscles. To be relaxed you must find joy. Finally, you must move your gaze first then your body follows. It is a lot to keep track of. Especially, in the west we are not soft, we are hard, we walk like robots, sit down all day, we are happy because of results, not process, and our hips don’t move.

The first day I am excited about learning a new movement and enjoying the process. The second day I am frustrated with myself for not moving on to learn the next movement. I am doing everything I can to learn this damn movement. Attacking it from every angle. Trying to understand. I am getting frustrated. I am getting down on myself. Of course, I can’t do this. Then the ego floods in and starts its work: being completely self-deprecating. So I reach out to the people who I confide in and get some support because we can’t make this journey alone. The best piece of advice I got was: “Put down your mind.” Put down my mind. Let things be how they are and find joy in the calmness. I came to the third day with a smile and ready to learn something instead of trying to conquer something. I practiced the movement slowly simply and actually enjoyed my time. My coach Chong Qin kept coming over every 15 or 20 minutes to give me pointers. I had the principles, I was getting the movement, I was beginning to understand. The movement isn’t perfect and she moved me to the next movement but I learned a big lesson.

All things that are excellent take time in life. There is no failure; only quitting on your dreams is a failure. Every mistake and blunder is part of the process to fulfill a dream. The fulfillment of the dream isn’t the best part; it is in the working towards it. The more we can find joy in the process the more we can find joy in life. After all, life is the process of death. So the things that bother us do not matter as much as we think and the more we expect from ourselves the more we set ourselves up for frustration. Coming to life with newness with a childlike curiosity to learn is the path to joy. Putting down the mind when it gets out of control takes work but it is the key to the kingdom of peace. Things are how they are and acceptance is love.

Learning Gung Fu is a microcosm for life and contemplation can bring the greatest realizations. So I came to learn Gung Fu and I came to get more peace of mind. I am learning a little Gung Fu and getting a lot of peace of mind. I think about going home and I know I will just have to walk the circle. Walk the Bagua circle that represents life and use the palm changes at the completion of each circle as a way transforming. Every obstacle, palm change, walk, walk, walk, obstacle, palm change, transform, walk, walk, walk, obstacle, palm change, and transform.

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