China roundup: The bare truth

After two months, our training at the Wu Dang Xuanwu Gongfu School has come to an end. Time to draw the conclusion. This is the fourth and final post about our China trip. If you missed the last one, click here to read it.

First and foremost: Some time has passed since we left China at the end of May. We planned to publish this post before our departure. There are reasons why it didn’t happen.

Sometimes, writing comes easy and the words just seem to flow out of my fingers. At other times it seems infinitely hard to even keep the mental focus on the task. The words don’t flow and the whole process feels like wading through a chin-deep viscous fluid: the more force you use, the slower you seem to get ahead.

The path is obvious. But is is the right one?

Maybe professional writers have their mental tools – ways to find out of the lassitude and back to the free flow of words. Well, I don’t have those tools and I didn’t find my way back to the flow, until a few days ago. Then, an inspiration revealed to me the reason for my blockage.

It wasn’t only an insight about this very blog entry. It was a general epiphany about me as a writer and a person: I have a compulsion to be positive. Doesn’t that sound weird? Isn’t it desirable to always be positive? If positivism goes so far that it becomes impossible to articulate criticism, it fatally restrains self-expression and the ability to convey the truth.

Unlike any other blog post in the past, the writing of this one took me on a rocky journey which ultimately taught me how to formulate criticism in a way that allows everyone to keep face. My former weakness has turned into an asset. I hope you’ll enjoy the reading!

Sometimes there is pure focus and flow

Our time at the Gong Fu school has been enormously educational – martial arts wise and otherwise. The previous China blog entries speak for themselves. But: Wu Dang Xuanwu Gongfu School does have its indisputable shortcomings and addressing those is crucial for this blog to be balanced, informative and helpful to our readers.

Our training was divided into three parts: The expression of softness Rou Fa (柔法), the expression of force Jin Fa (劲法) and the expression of the body Shen Fa (身法). You could also call these three aspects energetic, physical and expressive.

Tai Chi: the expression of softness

The energetic part is the healing aspect of Chinese martial arts and goes under the name Yang Tsen (养身). It consisted of Tai Chi and it’s auxiliary exercises. This is what the international guests usually do as their standard training.

The two of us, we also trained Wu Shu, the spectacular, fast, show-oriented part of Chinese martial arts. Supporting of the Wu Shu came stretching and conditioning. This gave us the physical aspect.

Wu Shu: the expression of force

The third and – for us – most exciting part of our training was the expressive component where we learned to use the Chinese sword. The style we trained in is called Ba Gua Jian Fa (八卦 剑 法) which translates to “eight trigrams sword form”. Ba Gua Jian Fa is the sword carrying sister of the eight trigrams palm, commonly known as  Ba Gua Zhang.

Ba Gua Jian Fa: the expression of the body

This three-fold training gave us a huge share of what martial arts training can deliver: Health, strength and coordination. Master Ming Yue compiled this “menu” specifically for the two of us when he realised our eagerness to train hard and absorb as much of the art as possible. In this respect, we are very grateful for his dedication.

In view of the greatness we were blessed to receive, I’m having a hard time to shine my light on the less pretty aspects of the school. But you, our readers, deserve to receive the full picture.

The head, Master Ming Yue is excellent in all aspects which we as as students could wish for: knowledge, skill, pedagogy, charisma, integrity, discipline. Maybe one day he will manage to implement this high standard throughout the whole of the school and his subsidiary teachers.

Some of the young Chinese permanent students

We were impressed by the discipline of the students: Every other day in the evening from 7pm to 8pm, there is a calligraphy class; everyone spends the hour quietly in the classroom, doing calligraphy. The teachers did such a great job in the past that they didn’t even need to check after the students anymore. Now, they have time for their own leisure activities. The kids knew some basics in calligraphy which was great so they could teach us guests too.

We made friends and gave them sandwich hugs

The way the school is run offers some unique opportunities for the students to encounter exciting challenges. A friend of ours spent several weeks learning a new sword form. Towards the end of her stay, she was assigned another teacher who overthrew a lot of what she learned beforehand. She now has many options to express her sword play.

We had a great time…

So much for the criticism. Back to the happy stuff!

During our stay, we met and befriended a bunch of interesting people. We made friends with travellers from different parts of China, France, Hong Kong and the U.S. With time, we also got closer to Master Ming Yue. It was heartwarming for us to experience him, his wife, their little daughter and all the teachers and young Chinese students becoming family to us.

The kids made the place alive, always happy to be playing and joking around. Yee Han taught them daily English classes making them have conversations with Ingo in English. A big challenge, not only for the kids. Lots of laughter was always guaranteed.

…learned a lot…

Our stay provided some valuable cultural teachings as well. One day for example we visited a construction site for new buildings of the school. There were more policemen and policewomen observing it than there were workers. If that’s the case, you know you’re in a communist country. Some of the countless state employees were so bored that they even started to assist the construction crew!

…and left with a smile!

So, what is the conclusion, do we recommend this school or not? Despite some shortcomings, Wu Dang Xuanwu Gongfu School is a great place to learn internal and external Chinese martial arts. If you’re interested in joining it, we strongly suggest you to precisely state your learning objectives as well as who’s going to teach you and at what times. If you proactively negotiate the terms of your stay and – most importantly – show your dedication to train hard, you will have a great time and learn a lot.