Day One in Jinan,
Excerpt from Butterfly Among the Broken
Glass: A Martial Travel Journal of China
flight into Jinan from Beijing passes without event. Like
so many flights, we wait at our assigned gate (which gets
changed as we wait) until boarding time. There is a plane
outside our gate but instead we get aboard a shuttle bus
which takes us to a plane parked outside a gate at the other
end of the airport. As we board our plane, I watch a shuttle
bus taking passengers from this gate to somewhere else.
Am I the only one who finds this amusing?
are met by our local guides, Aaron and his trainee Tommy.
These are of course only the names given to westerners to
keep us from struggling with Chinese pronunciation. Personally,
I like to use as much of my limited Chinese as possible.
Aaron was my local guide two years ago when I trained in
Jinan, but he doesn't seem to remember me. I drop a few
hints about the previous trip but he doesn't bite so I let
it go. As we drive toward Jinan city the road is rough in
places. We ride in an older minivan that Aaron is constantly
fixing by re-hanging the muffler pipe with coat hanger wire.
we have the largest steel works in China and there is the
largest cement company......"
voice strings out a series of industrial superlatives that
fail to inspire my historic interests. My thoughts turn
to the prospects of the afternoon practice. I planned to
come here to continue my training in Cha chuan with Shifu
Wang Bing Wen, whom I met two years ago. Wang ShihFu is
a 34 year old master in every sense of the work. His eyes
are filled with a joy for life that is evident in his Kung
fu forms. I have often watched him fly through a complicated
set with his eyes blazing and his smile flashing.To watch
him move, you can not help but smile yourself.
paint factory produces enough paint to fill the Yellow River......"
my disappointment, two weeks ago CTS (China Travel Service)
informed me that Wang Shifu could not be located so that
Nelson (my student traveling with me) and I were to train
with another local teacher. To travel in China, one must
be flexible as the whell of fate turns strangely at times.
Thus we agreed to the new teacher. Low and behold, this
morning CTS informed me that Shifu Wang has miraculously
been found (I wonder if he knew he was missing) and I smile
to myself at the thought of training with him again.
is the 3rd worst polluted city in world. We are lucky that
it is Sunday because this day the air is best. On Monday
all of the worker return to the factories and the air quality..."
Beijing was nice, relaxing and always fun. Time to work.
Nelson stares out the window at the countryside, so different
from the bustle and big city feel of Beijing. For me, I
am used to traveling in many areas of China. For Nelson,...
We're not in Kansas any more.
province is also famous for many things..." True Shandong
is famous but our guide does not speak of Tang Lang Chuan
(praying mantis style) or Hua Chuan or Cha Chuan. He does
not speak of the "Outlaws of the Marsh" or make any martial
arts references at all, despite knowing why we came. Instead
is famous for its sea cucumbers, some of the finest in the
this point my mind snaps out of its peaceful dreaming and
twists to attention. Sea cucumbers? Okay, now I'm intrigued.
What makes these sea cucumbers so special, I ask. "They
are good medicine for the health." But how are these different
than those from other regions along the Chinese coast, I
press. "These provide the best health of all." I know I
should just smile and nod but I can't resist one more try.
Okay, but if you go say five miles down the coast from the
edge of Shandong province, surely the sea cucumbers are
the same. After all, don't the migrate about somewhat? (Actually,
I have traveled enough in China to know better than to offer
him no room for retreat, but I had to call him on this one).
Without hesitation he replies "No, Shandong sea cucumbers
cure cancer." There you have it, he has pulled out the big
guns. On can not argue with a geolatitudinally specific
cure for cancer. I am left with but one response... I smile
change quickly in the hotel, shaking out stiff joints from
the plane ride and clearing our heads for practice. I have
warned Nelson that the learning pace is often quite fast
and one must be able to learn 4 to 5 moves in a sequence
from only one or two demonstrations. This pace is quite
different than the pace in Mei Guo (America). Wang Shifu
has a school on the fourth floor of a hot building in the
city. No fancy banners outside, no line of inane trophies,
only a small sign at the street. Inside, an office, a large
open room with the usual heavy workout carpet and a rack
of weapons. On the wall, a small banner in Chinese gives
his name. I have described this school to Nelson many times
and I anticipate the walk through the puddles in the street,
across the sidewalk and up the dusty dark concrete stairway
to the room where I last trained with Wang Shifu.
look out the window of the minibus. Do I recognize the street?
No, we are not there yet. Suddenly the bus pulls over and
stops at the entrance to a park at the foot of the Hill
of Heroes Monument (a series of statues and monuments honoring
WWII heroes). I look in all directions but nothing is familiar
here, except that smile... About 100 yards away I see Wang
shifu's smile and then his smooth bald head. He is of moderate
height by local standards and has a great presence. Up shoots
his hand and his smile widens. Ni renshi wo, ma? I ask.
Dui, Dui he nods. He remembers me. Turning his left arm
out he points to a green carpet rolled out on the concrete
park plaza. Nelson looks at the carpet and glances around
a little nervously. He looks at me, his eyes saying Here?
Out here? It is Sunday and the park is somewhat full of
people strolling and speding free time together. I spent
5 months training every morning in Shanghai outside a local
stadium. I am used to being trained while people gather
and look on, but this was new to Nelson. Perhaps no one
would notice us. After all, why would a 6ft 1inch, 45 year
old white man with a 5 inch fu Manchu moustache and his
5 ft 11 inch student from the Dominican Republic be noticeable
in Jinan city? Despite the odds, people begin to gather.
returns as our formal introductions are performed. Wang
Shifu taught me the 4th road of Cha Chuan two years ago,
which I subsequently taught to Nelson. I return for correction
and refinement of the form as well as further discussions
on the applications of the movements. Wang shifu's excellent
knowledge of the usage of Kung fu makes training with him
particularly useful. As a surprise, Wang Shifu has brought
with him Chen Da, a direct grandson in the Zhang style of
Cha chuan. We are to learn the 5th Road of the Zhang Cha
Chuan from him. There are 3 styles of Cha Chuan: Yang (practiced
by Wang Shifu), Zhang and Li. Chen Shifu is stocky with
a firm dark brow. Introductions, exchange of cards, bows
and the gesture toward the carpet. "Now?", Nelson says,
"like right now? "Your up dude" I respond.
out onto the carpet and show if you remember what you have
been shown. We begin. The day is hot and humid and before
long chi in not the only thing flowing freely. Change the
hand, straighten the palm, turn the foot, whoops add that
move. The time passes quickly. We have only scheduled 3
hours today. I stop to wipe my brow and notice we have drawn
a small crowd. At first Nelson was distracted by this but
soon he has let it go. In fact it can be quite fun as some
on-lookers will encourage your successes and laugh at your
struggles, others just stare. We came too far to worry about
it, smile and nod. Wang Shifu gives us the thumbs up and
a bottle of water. Our corrections and numerous repetitions
finished, we rest.
Shifu has sat with hands on his knees, waiting. Now he rises,
gesturing our return to the carpet. Although my exposure
to the Yang and Zhang variations of Cha Chuan is limited,
the Zhang style seemed to have more flourishes, but both
clearly shared the same mother. We are shown 4 to 5 moves
once or twice and then asked to repeat the sequence. In
this way the frame of the form is constructed. Detail is
left to the constant correction of repetition. The form
progresses with the usual building of skills and we reach
the 4 step lotus kick (jump spin outside crescent kick).
We have done lotus kicks many times before, but the heat,
the growing crowd and fatigue cause us to lose momentum
here. A nod, a wave of the hand and we are left to work
it out. Soon the crack of shoe against hand is alive and
well and the on-lookers give nods or comments of approval
(they are being polite. At 45, I no longer soar with the
eagles in my jump kicks). Chen Shifu and Wang Shifu both
flow into and out of this kick with an unbroken rhythm that
I must construct from more practice. The teaching continues
with movement, correction, application and more correction.
I notice as we work that on-lookers are not all that is
gathering. A large group of older gentlemen in Kung Fu style
pants has begun to gather, each leaning a weapon against
the statue near where we practice.
form is finished. As we rest, we are told that these men
are the local teachers representing the various styles in
the area. It is Sunday and each has come down to the park
to meet us. We are told that they are pleased that Americans
(we keep telling everyone that Nelson is an American because
nobody seems to know the Chinese for Dominican Republic)
are so interested in Kung Fu. They knew that one of us had
been here before and came back to learn more. We will practice
more (now going into the 4th hour) and then these teachers
will give a demonstration in our honor.
Stop the train... in our honor? I am no one. I run a small
(not for profit) Chang Chuan School in Michigan. I have
lived and trained in China several times but I do not even
approach mastery. I protest briefly that this honor is beyond
our worth but yield quickly. We are excited by the opportunity
to meet with and see these masters perform. We repeat our
form and refine our understanding. The word is out that
there is to be a public demonstration by these teachers.
Cell phones are out and soon the carpet is surrounded by
approximately 200 people. Our practice formally ends and
we are both thankful for another hit off the water bottles.
Hot, tired and riding the high that practicing in China
can give you, we are about to be treated to the demonstration.
The guide says that they have not done this before. Why
us? Why now? Why not 2 years ago when I came as part of
a delegation of martial artists? We are only two and there
are 16 teachers gathered here. Shut up and watch Steve.
are ushered to one side of the carpet. Nelson grabs his
video camera, my battery is dead from the guide taping our
training session. One by one each teacher approaches the
carpet, bows to us (what a trip!) and begins. The demonstration
included Xing Yi, Cha Chuan, Tang Lang, Monks spade, Spear,
Double broadsword, Single Dao, Horse cutter knife, Bull
whip, two man forms both open hand and weapon on weapon
and my favorite, the two handed long sword wielded by Wang
Shifu. Throughout the demonstration which lasted about 30
minutes, the crowd continued to grow reaching more than
250 by the end.
last demonstration was a classic spear vs broadsword set
with a weapon exchange and a classy butterfly kick by Chen
Shifu to evade a spear thrust. Everyone cheered and we are
clapping and bowing our thanks in all directions. Quietly,
Wang Shifu walks up behind me and in Chinese he says, Now
crashes into anxiety. Perhaps this was only some paranoid
demon in my head and I pretend not to hear. He taps my shoulder,
smiles broadly with his eyes dancing and gestures to the
carpet. Now you... No way out. I can not go out on that
carpet. Sixteen local masters have just finished a demonstration
and now after a 4 hour practice and 30 minutes of standing
around getting stiff he says Now you. I smile and nod. As
I walk out toward the carpet he nods encouragingly and adds
"4th Road of Cha Chuan." Now I'm doing requests? Five of
these teachers are Cha Chuan masters and one a direct descendant
of the line. My mind is completely blank. I look to Nelson
for help but his eyes say "you're up dude." He grins and
points the video camera at me.
carpet appears beneath my feet and I give a two hand bow
across the crowd. I don't remember this form! Inhale, exhale,
begin. The crowd dissolves to mist, there is no sound, not
even my own breath (am I breathing?) I am watching myself
doing the form from outside myself. The moves weave together
and in my own awkward way they are flowing. Too shallow
in that stance, open the chest and extend that move. I watch
as if I am not part of it and then it is over. My arms make
a broad sweeping brush past my waist and circle to the front
to finish in the rounded arm fists classic to the style.
A huge smile erupts from me and I almost yell. I again bow
and the crowd responds. The teachers all smile and return
my bow. Sure it was not anywhere near as good as any of
the teachers, it couldn't be. That was never the point.
Something very unique has happened here. Nelson smiles and