Day 7 Shaolin Temple

Norman and I woke up at 5am and I began stretching and warming up.  At 5:30am the loudspeakers blared out the wake up call and all of the other students got up.  You could hear them scrambling in commotion and getting in to formations and begin chanting as they prepared for their morning run.

We met downstairs at 6am and it was still fairly dark outside and quite cool.  We met our our coaches (jiào liàn 教練) and then walked in two lines to the front gate.  Outside the gate of Tagou Academy they lined us up in two columns and we began to run.  The street was paved with bricks and is wide and lined on both sides with many trees.  It has been landscaped very well for the tourists.  We ran past thousands of children in formations running and chanting, “yÄ«, yÄ«, yÄ« èr yÄ«,” (one, one, one two one).  They walked, jogged, and sprinted in perfect military-like precision in their formations.  It was an impressive sight seeing so many of them running in the same uniform.  We ran past several large dirt fields where the children would practice and learn after they had done their warm up exercises.  We continued running and walking in alternating patterns.  The pace was not too bad for me and so far I felt pretty good while running.  The air was cool and brisk which was refreshing after we started to warm up.  After a little over a mile we came to the Shaolin Temple.  It was amazing and I think all of us stopped for just a second.  We all knew we were running somewhere but I don’t think any of us realized until that moment that we would run up to the main gate of the Shaolin Temple.  The main courtyard and front get, made famous in countless movies and photographs, was empty in the early morning before the tourists began to arrive.  It was awe inspiring!  We went to the far wall and then began to do warm up exercises.

George and I headed one column each for the run and we stood in the same formation a distance away from the wall at the Shaolin Temple.  We ran to the wall and touched it and ran back to the back of the line.  Though not specifically told to do so we each made it like a race, though friendly we used it instinctively as a method of pushing each other to try and be faster, do better.  When we got to the front of the line again we had to sprint to the wall as fast as we could and sprint back.  As I approached the wall I decided touching it and turning was too slow so I jumped and kicked off of the wall instead using that to turn which did give me a pretty decent lead on the way back.  Next we did an exercise to loosen up the waist and hips.  We faced sideways to the wall and stepped quickly right foot in front of the left, step out with the left, step behind the left with the right and repeat.  This is great for increasing the speed of your footwork as well.  Doing it quickly, you look like you are trying to dance.  On the way back you stay facing the same direction but switch the lead foot from the right foot to the left.  After we went to the wall and put our legs up on it and stretched.  The wall was sloping so we all found an area that suited our height and kicked our legs up stretching straight forward trying to put our faces onto our knees. Next we did some straight legged kicking drills.  Unlike the drills of my system, you pull your toes in tight and standing very erect attempt to kick straight up while pointing the toes at your forehead.  This is an excellent stretch for the hamstring.  Alternating legs we did a lap of these.  Then we did one lap each of Inside Crescent Kicks and Outside Crescent Kicks.  After these were complete we did all three sets of kicks again but this time we held our arms straight out to our sides withe the palms facing out and the fingers pointing straight up.  This aids in keeping your body erect while kicking as well as helps warm up the shoulders from holding them in this posture.  Next we did some low Snap Kicks.  Standing in a flat footed perch, we snap the leg out and retract it hard and fast at the height of the upraised knee.  Then we step forward and repeat on the opposite side.  After we did another lap where we punched while doing this drill punching with the opposite hand from the leg that is executing the kick.  I was surprised at the lack of stance work up to this point and I was not disappointed as the coach finally placed us in Horse Stance (mÇŽ bù 馬步).  He looked over and corrected our stances, then we reviewed the Bow and Arrow Stance (gōng bù 弓步) as well.  Then we did a punching sequence where we would start in a Horse Stance with one arm extended out to the side.  Then we would push towards the side with the extended arm into a Bow and Arrow Stance.  As we shifted into the Bow and Arrow Stance, we would punch with the opposite fist while retracting the other.  We practiced the transition slowly to ensure proper form and then repeated the exercise with very quick rapid strikes switching between the two positions.  When we finished one side we repeated everything on the opposite side.  Then we sat in a horse stance for several minutes.

I pushed myself fairly hard for the warm up this morning.  I wanted to make a good impression on my coaches as well as represent my school well while here training.  I decided to push through any complications with my back since we would only be training here a couple of days and I thought I could handle two days at least.  So far so good and I definitely felt very warmed up by the time we finished our exercises.  Then we started to run back a little after 7am for breakfast.  Most of us ended up walking back.

After breakfast we went upstairs to the second floor to the training hall we would be working in.  While all of the other students train outside the foreigners work in a large room that has mats in the center and covered plush mats surrounding it.  I started by running around the room before classes started to get the circulation going again.  Then I did more straight leg stretches against the wall.  When class started we spent the first hour doing more warm up exercises.  Many of them were the same as this morning but we also did some jumping exercises.  We jumped up as high as we could straight up, then in the next lap we jumped straight up and then picked out knees up.  We made on more lap but jumped up picking our legs up behind us and reaching back over our head with our arms.  In the warm ups we were joined by many other foreigners who had not come to run with us.  Many of them were from parts around London and Bristol, as well as from Korea.  After the warm ups we all split up to work with our various coaches.  We worked with two coaches and started by making three lines and then helping each other stretch.  The stretches were good but painful.  You lie on the ground one partner holds one leg flat against the ground while the other pushes the opposite leg up towards your head.  It feels very painful as they bounce your leg forward and back a few times and then holds it in close to your head.  Each time the push it farther and farther and then switch legs.  After that we did some other stretches like a Horse Stance bouncing stretch, an Outside Cat Stance bouncing stretch keeping the heels of both feet on the ground.  Then we worked on a drill for loosening up the shoulders by rotating the arms.

Once we were warmed up we began to learn a form called Continuous Boxing (Lián Huán Quán 連環拳).  I asked to learn traditional forms while I was there since I was not really interested in learning any sport Wu Shu while I was there.  This form is simple and has existed a long time.  It was one of the introductory forms taught at the temple long ago.  Mostly focused on flowing unceasing techniques.  It moves an easily recognizable Shaolin  manner.  There are many variations of this form.  We began working on the movements slowly and methodically.  We repeated everything and broke techniques down.  Our coach for this form was Hu Ji Cong and he made sure to explain and show the techniques associated with the form.  Sometimes after I had learned and gotten the techniques down sufficiently, the coach asked me to help one or two students work on the techniques and correct mistakes.

A little after 11am we stopped for lunch.  After lunch we had some free time and could then start practice again or do some sight seeing around 2pm.  Many of us decided to make the trek up to Da Mo’s Cave.  Though I wanted as much time to train as possible, I wasn’t sure if I will get the opportunity to go back again so I want to see the cave and the Shaolin Temple.  After lunch we went to some of the tourist shops that are near by for those visiting the Shaolin Temple.  Many looked around for weapons, shirts, beads and other trinkets.  I found a Buddhist monk’s robe in gray that I really liked and bought it for a reasonable price.  I also looked at the weapons but was not overly impressed.  The most common weapons available were the broadswords (dāo 刀) and straight swords(jiàn 劍).  The quality was only slightly better than average and most were not weighted properly.  Many of them were display pieces over functional pieces which is what I want in a weapon.  I bought some Buddhist prayer beads as gifts for friends and not much else.  Then we headed back and met the manager of Tagou Academy who lead us on a tour to Da Mo’s Cave.

Bhodidharma Cave

Outside the GrottoBhodidharma (Pútídámó 菩提達摩), often called Da Mo, is credited with bringing Zen (Chán 禪) Buddhism to China.  He eventually visited the Shaolin Temple where he was disgusted by the weakness in their body that kept them from proper meditation, a core tenant of Zen Buddhism.  He then left the temple and meditated for 9 years facing the wall of a cave.  Many legends surround his time in the cave and how his disciple HuìkÄ› (慧可) came to learn from Da Mo.  The pilgrimage to his cave in the mountains behind and above the Shaolin Temple is an experience for even those who are not practitioners of Buddhism.

Entrance to ShrineWe walked from Tagou Academy to the Temple and then around behind it.  We made a short stop at a small shrine we encountered that was tended to by nuns.  It was off the path and out of the way and so it would not be encountered by most tourists unless they were on their way to visit Da Mo’s Cave.  It was quite and peaceful there but I was ready to move on.  I had a pressing need to get to the cave though I wasn’t sure why.  I felt everyone else was moving too slow.  The way was difficult and had many stairs and so they took frequent breaks to rest on the ascent to the cave.  My muscles were sore also from the morning training but I really wanted to get to the cave.  The stairs are very uneven and non uniform.  Some parts are so steep that hand rails have been installed which I gladly used.  I just kept staring at the stairs and kept on going.  I left the others behind and began working my way farther up, my only thought to put one foot in front of the other to get up the stairs.  On the way up I was passed by a monk running up the stairs.  He was the only real martial monk I saw while around the Shaolin Temple.  He still bore the markings of a Buddhist monk burned into his forehead which had been outlawed by the Chinese government.  He ran up the stairs and made it look very easy, never touching a hand rail, and later passed me on his run back down.  I greeted him with the Buddhist greeting “ā mí tuó fó,” which he returned as he stared straight ahead breathing heavy with exertion.  I continued up to the mountain and eventually made it to the top.  It was an amazing moment.  I arrived at the ledge and shallow grotto that leads to the cave.  As I approached the cave a nun stepped forward.  I greeted her with the Buddhist greeting and we began speaking in Chinese to each other.  She invited me in to the shrine that was in the cave.  I knelt and lit the three sticks of incense and bowed before the shrine.  Then I kowtowed three times in Buddhist fashion.  The nun prayed with me.  I was filled with a sense of peace by the whole place and I came out of the cave.  I sat on the ground in front of the cave and began to meditate for a time.  It was nice being there with no one else except the nun who was also there to pay her respects to Da Mo.  Eventually the others caught up to us.  The nun offered us water to wash the dirt from our travel off our hands and face and placed various blankets and mats on the ground for those who wanted to meditate.  I discovered a large praying mantis, a sign of good fortune, that fell into the small fire pit that was back in the face of the grotto outside the cave.  I pointed it out to the nun in Chinese and she picked it up carefully and set it out of harms way.  The nun shared some of her stories of her growing up and how she decided to dedicate her life to the Buddha. The whole experience was very surreal.  I felt like some character in a movie, climbing up the mountain and finding a sage at the top and sharing a mystic experience up there all on my own.  It is something I will never forget.

Most of the others climbed up to a large statue and lookout at the very top of the mountain, but I decided to stay behind at the cave.  I spoke with our guide Karen who stayed behind as well and with the nun and another nun who joined us.  Eventually it was time to return to Tagou Academy.  From the top of the mountain I had heard the dinner call over the loudspeaker from Tagou and knew that we would be late for dinner.  We took our time anyway and walked back to the school.

After dinner the coaches had agreed to meet with us for another training session.  I wanted to take the opportunity to learn as much as I could so after dinner I went up to the second floor training room and began stretching.  My body was so sore and stiff from the training and all of the stairs to Da Mo’s Cave that I was not sure if I wanted to train but I decided to push through it all.  Not many participated in the after dinner training session.  The training earlier in the day and the climb to the cave had taken its toll.  Some where too sore and stiff and not used to it, some where injured, and some were just too tired.  We started the warm up exercises and I was not sure I would survive them but I managed too and by the time the warm up was finished I felt fine.  I was no longer sore or stiff.  Then we worked some more on the Continuous Boxing form we had been working on.  I think the coach wanted to try and finish up the rest of the form with us, but many were having trouble picking up the form at such a hurried pace, and we were all fairly tired.  We learned more of the form and when we were done the coach showed us how to partner up and massage each other to help relieve the tension and fatigue in the muscles to help us in preparation for tomorrows training.

When we were finished I was exhausted and headed back to my room.  I took an almost warm shower before bed.  The tub was rather frightening.  It was not flush with the wall and not sealed so water covered the entire bathroom floor by the time I was done.  Also you had to stand with your feet near the sides of the tub because when you stepped in the middle the tub bowed heavily and I was afraid would break.  Once I was done I dried off as best as I could with the almost transparently thin towel they provided for us.  Then I went to bed and promptly fell asleep.


Comments  1 Comment »

  1. jay cutler - April 30, 2013 4:48 am

    Nice article.
    I appreciate to your work.
    Thanks for the sharing.

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