Shilpa! Queen of the body blows! Ouch!
For the last few weeks, at the end of our classes, there have been announcements about the Kung Fu Marathon that was to occur on Saturday, November 20th. At first, I dismissed it and thought: I do Tai Chi, let the hardcore students have their Kung Fu-lishness! As the days went by, I started thinking that it might be a significant challenge and those thoughts changed to: Why not? I signed up.
Before I begin, let us look at the composition/demographics of those in attendance. I don’t know exactly how many people there were, but let’s just call it 35. Of the 35, 34 of them were Kung Fu students. That is, their primary practice is Kung Fu. They may take Tai Chi as well. One of them, guess who, was a Tai Chi-only student. Hmmmmm. I feel, shall we say, like a little, slow moving guppy in a shark tank.
The class started promptly at 9:00. Only 8 hours to go. We did our customary 1/2 hour warm-ups. Sifu came in gave a small philosophical talk about the season, Chinese medicine beliefs about this being the season to work on the lungs … little did I know, at the time, how much time I would be spending working on the lungs today, inhaling and expelling huge volumes of air! Away go. As this was Kung Fu, there were many of the forms that I didn’t know, but I followed along as best I could.
Speed means fast
While practicing each of the forms, Sifu made us increase the speed until we got to full speed. Now, in Tai Chi, we primarily practice form, sometimes with a partner, sometimes, not. Also, Tai Chi is done pretty slowly, this was not slow. Speed means speed! Not Tai Chi speed. During one of the forms, all of which we did with partners, I was standing across from Chad, a student senior to me. He asked if was ready to go full speed. I said, sure. Thump! Thump! Two quick shots to the chest that I didn’t even see coming. I was supposed to have moved out of the way, blocked his hands and delivered a back fist to his face. None of that happened. Ouch! These weren’t light punches either. I felt them. Let us say that that was an object lesson. The first of the day. After that, my speed increased quickly. He tagged me a couple more times, but they were glancing blows as I was moving out of the way!
The morning continued with more such exercises. At one point, sweating copiously, I looked at the clock, 11:45. Almost time for lunch. Sifu said that it was time for Mahn Dah. I had heard of it, but didn’t know what it was. Well, it’s slow motion sparring. It’s where you take whatever skills you have and put them to use against and opponent. OK. Sounds like fun. The first thing that Tim, my senior brother and good friend, told me was to go slow and conserve my energy, because I would need it. I heeded his advice. We did that from 11:45 until 12:35. I faced: 5 opponents, 10 minutes each. When we finished, I was drenched and famished. Tim, Shilpa, and I, along with some other students, went to Just Fresh, a local restaurant, to eat.
When we came back, just one short hour later, we went outside. It was a pleasant day, with temperatures in the mid 60s. We started with a standing meditation in a back stance. Suddenly, I became extremely dizzy, nauseated, and got a big headache. I almost fell. I leaned over, took some deep breaths a few times, and was able to survive.
Next came the elbow sets. I had never done these and Tim was kind enough to show me how. We must have done these for 30 minutes. Suddenly, it didn’t feel so nice outside.
Cults and circles!
Up next, the punching, counting, circle thingy. We all gathered in a circle, assumed a horse stance position, and punched on the count, done in Chinese … Er! Sun! Shi! Bon! Jo-vi!, or something like that. LOL. Again, this went on for quite a while. Soon my shoulders were hurting and legs getting shaky(ier). OK. Done with that! Now, making a tighter circle, imagine this: One one side, someone turns to their left, throws left punch, right punch. The person receiving said punches, blocks them downward with their forearms, then turns to punch the person to their left etc. However, at the same time, on the opposite side of the circle, the same thing is going on, so in essence, double speed. Do it for about 10 minutes. Now, Sifu, the kind and benevolent, stops the action and adds two more people in the mix. Now it is 4x the speed. Punch! Punch! Block! Block! Do this for a while. Now, let’s add a kick at double speed then kick it up to 4 x speed! Punch! Punch! Kick! Quick turnaround! Block! Block! Block! Quick turn around. Punch! Punch! Kick! Sifu leaves to go back inside for tea!
OK, I’m thinking, it’s got to be time to go. Has to be. The sun is getting low in the sky. My energy reserves are pretty much tapped out.
Sifu: OK, everyone. Go to the trail, run three laps and come back here, get in a circle in Mah Boo (Horse stance). WTF? No one said anything about running! Off we go. I run down to the trail and promptly trip on a root. Slowly falling, watching the trees go by, here come the leaves, slight shoulder roll to the left, shoulder contact to the ground, whoosh! sliding through the leaves, face plant! Get up, continue running. 3 laps, back up the stairs, back to the circle. Many already waiting. Heart beating, shall we say, thunderously. Body cooling system working overtime. Forehead? Check! Arms? Check! Fingernails? Check! Wait! Do fingernails have sweat glands? Looks like it! Heart rate slowing quickly, slowing, slowing, breathing returning to normal. Ahhhh. Done.
Sifu: Alright, knuckle push-up position.
Paul: (to self) You’ve got to be kidding me! I just ran!
Sifu: Left hand up.
Sifu: Switch hands
Paul (groan! groan)
Sifu: Switch to fingertip push up position.
Paul (you get where I’m going with this … groan)
Sifu: Left hand up.
Sifu: Crane’s Beak push up position.
Paul: (To self) What the hell is that? Looks around, sees people in push up position with hands folded at 90 degrees. Push ups on your wrist. Hmmmm.
Sifu: Ok. You guys have almost made it through the marathon. Knock out 50 of your best push ups and you’ll be done.
Paul: OMG! I can’t even do 10 really good ones! I’ll do my best.
Sometime later, I stand, tired, happy, and feeling like I really accomplished something. I am so glad that I went. I suffered no ill after effects, such as soreness, or even tiredness the next day. I attribute it to Tai Chi and walking. What a great experience it was and it showed me how far I could go if I am willing to push. Everyone was really encouraging and it was just a fun time.
During this ordeal, I lost 6 pounds. I weighed before and after. Of course, I have since gained those back, after rehydrating myself by drinking buckets of water!
I was suspicious before, but now I am certain that the folks who are hard core Kung Fu are part of cult! Crazy, people!
Of course, I didn’t take any photos, cult rules prohibit it. However, I grabbed some from the archives. This one is of Tim (left) and Jesse, two of my senior brothers and Mahn Dah combatants. The one at the top is of Shilpa, Peaceful Dragon sister. When going against her in Mahn Dah, let us just say that if it would have been for real, I might have had a few broken ribs. Sure, she looks nice and sweet, but don’t let the smooth taste fool you! She doesn’t mind dishing out punishment, nor receiving it!