Xi’An was a blast. I didn’t get to train (other than following [the naked warrior] and tossing in some pull-ups), but I had some nice insights into the chinese martial arts. After my experiences in Beijing regarding the price of martial arts lessons, I decided against going to [Zhao Changjun’s Kung Fu Institute]. We’re just in the middle of our second week and budget’s pretty tight, so I guess I can’t go everywhere I planned. After doing all the major sights (without the Terracotta Army, that is – we’re pretty satiated after that week in Beijing when it comes to hardcore sightseeing…), we had some spare time in the evening, so we just went to a nearby park.
Now it looks like I’ve been looking in the wrong places so far – in the park, they did everything: Taiji, Gongfu (I recognized [Xingji] and [Sanda], I’m sure they did more styles – ironically, that group apparently was a summer class offered by Zhao’s school), western boxing, even dance and something that looked a bit like a seniors fitness class.
I had some nice long talks, first with Alex (who I’ll introduce a bit later), an accountant who did Sanda during his studies, later with a Xingji practictioner from Zhao’s class and finally with Sandy, a nurse who’s done quite a lot of travelling in her life. We talked about the different chinese martial arts, the importance of cultivating one’s Chi, the application of soft/internal martial arts and quite a lot of other things which I – sadly – don’t clearly remember. During that conversation, I believe I made a mistake when I tried to explain that we don’t have [taolu], which I thought to be just the chinese term for [patterns]. Turns out the chinese see taolu as a synonym for „system“, so they got the impression we had no system whatsoever and came to China to spy on theirs. Well, I guess they weren’t super-serious after all, but then this again shows how misunderstandings come about.
Remember when I said there was something of a „senior’s fitness“ class going on? Well, chances are, you’re getting the wrong picture… you see, on our way through the park, even before we saw all those classes, we came past something that can best be described as a fitness playground. All kinds of (simple) strength machines were there, from a leg press over pullup bars to something that reminded me of a smith machine. Now in Austria, I guess noone would use all that stuff. On the contrary, in our society of anti-movement experts, everyone would be pointing out how dangerous this or that exercise is and have a perfect excuse for not practicing. Also, since this is open to the public – including children – everything would have to be made super safe. Obviously, this makes things more expensive. Going that extra mile and thinking about the positive implications such an investment could yield for public health isn’t something I’d expect from our politicians… in any case, in contrast to what I’d expect from Austria, this stuff is actually working out quite well in China! The playground was filled with exercising people of every age. Goes without saying many of them used the machines so wrong that, as a professional instructor, I got severe headache from just watching. But then again, noone did something really stupid or dangerous. On the contrary – most of the times, the exercise was made easier by doing something that could be called „cheating“ in a gym environment. Now the point in all of this is – people move. They actually go out and get moving, even if it’s not 100% perfect.
In Austria, that’s the thing with running – most people don’t benefit from running as much as they would from another from of movement, i.e. strength training, but at least, they go out and move. Obviously, for certain populations, such as obese people, old people or people with knee issues, running won’t cut it. This fitness playground offered something for everyone – all for free, of course. Maybe someone should petition our politicians to introduce something similar… But I digress, as usually. I mentioned the senior fitness classes. Well. Let’s get to the exciting stuff, then. Around one of the pull-up bars, there was a group of older men standing around. With gestures, they invited me to go up to the bar and show them what I can do. Of course, being a guest in their country, I kindly took the offer and knocked off 15 strict pull-ups, believing that would suffice for a positive impression. Far from it. I got some applause, but I guess that was just meant as a polite gesture. One of the old men gesticulated and showed me to go up again and do a spin around the bar. Now I can’t do that, so I jokingly told him to go up there and do it first… which he did. Perfectly, with grace.
We were joined by a young chinese guy, Alex (if I got that name correctly), who spoke pretty good English. He acted as a translator between the old man and me. At some point, I was asked how I stayed in form. Truthfully, I answered that I’m a martial artists. Upon hearing that, the old man raised his fists and started stepping like a fighter. Since I wasn’t exactly sure about wheter this was meant as a joke or not, I just followed his example and got ready to rumble… which we didn’t. Apparently, I’m quite a fun sight in my ready stance, as everyone was breaking into laughter when I started stepping. I don’t believe they were making fun of me, just the whole situation was rather funny… can’t be sure, though. Anyhow, Aley later told me that the old man was 72 years old and something of a local legend around the park. I can just wish I’ll be half as fit once I hit that age.
On a sidenote, I was contemplating the meaning of [culture shock]. It doesn’t make sense to me. You see, culturally, China is about as far from Austria as it gets. People have completely different standards when it comes to cleanliness, hygiene, manners, etc. They grunt, fart, belch and spit if they feel like it. Children just shit in the streets – literally. All of that is unthinkable in Austria. But then again, we’re not in Austria, so this is absolutely OK. I see no point whatsoever in being „culture shocked“. You go somewhere, you do a bit of research first to see if you can cope with things. If you feel you can’t, stay at home. Once you go, get over it – don’t try to measure everything and everyone to your known standards. There’s a lot of different standards in different countries. On our first day in Beijing, someone (In case you’re reading this: duibuqi, sorry, I can’t remember your name. Send me an email and I’ll remember….) told me that basically, you could draw a map of the world and just place and arbitrary country in the middle. That’s true – for big journeys, you first have to accept that your country isn’t the end-all-be-all center of the universe.
Again, I’ve added some non martial arts related pictures. Our next stop is Luoyang, where we’ll probably see the Longmen caves. Then, it’s over to Dengfeng for the Saholin Temple… Of course, there’ll be plenty of pictures then.