Nerves? What are these things!? For a guy who rarely gets nervous, something shook me to my core, thus making me THE most nervous I have been in recent years. That something was the ‘1st Annual Xuzhou HuaiHai Holding Cup’ – A new Kung Fu competition in one of our closer cities. I knew for months that we would be attending, but with all the performances lately it kind of snuck up on me.
So who was competing? There were 8 of us; Morten, Phil, Jauffrey, Jim, Michael, Shane, Marcel and myself. I heard that the last competition people did here Master Bao drilled them and was very strict, but this time, we barely heard any updates. Curious. We only started putting dedicated time to it 4 days before the competition! To our dismay, we were not entering group form. Slightly annoyed since ours is really in sync (definitely medal worthy) but I hear we didn’t register it with the organisers in time, so fair enough.
My broadsword form is practically engrained on me from the sheer volume of performance training I have been doing, so it was a case of Master Wang disecting each part to show me where I would lose points. As you can imagine, not the best ego building exercise, but so valuable! After all the move analysis over several days, Master Wang hit me with the most important of his words of wisdom;
Yeah…better. Clear. So now, don’t drop weapon.
Drop my weapon! DROP MY WEAPON! I have never dropped it, ever…but now I was constantly worried, and gripping my Broadsword tighter than ever. Aaarrggghhh, worries!
I am currently learning a Tai Chi broadsword form with Headmaster Bao, so I used that time to really familiarise myself with my sword, something my Master encourages alot. This coupled with going over and over my form was laborious, but actually that is what ‘Gong Fu’ translates to. Going over and over something to become proficient, even though the act of practice itself is boring.
A day before we were due to set off, Master Wang took a session to teach us ‘Kung Fu Competition Ettiquette’. This was walking on and off the stage (walking with spirit!), when to bow, how to stand when waiting for your points. This did prove to be great at the comp because we looked professional, and some of the other foreigners competing didn’t get the judges “on side” because they didn’t do this stuff.
On the Road to the Competition
We left on the Thursday afternoon and had to get a coach from Xinyi to Xuzhou. Air conditioned, enough space and only cost like £4…so all good. Back of the bus crew sorted, some worldwide banter flying around, and before we knew it 2 hours had flown by and we were in Xuzhou.
We arrived at the hotel in time for the buffet dinner, where they had everything. They had a lot of roast duck so I was in heaven every time we had to eat! The other boys went insane on the chips, fried chicken, nuggets and ice cream. The competition printed a book with all 2500 competitors and when we were on, so we quickly analysed this and figured out what the hell was going on. There were fist forms on day 1, weapons on day 2, and Group forms and medals on day 3. So I was on at 8:00 on Saturday, time to relax, but offer my support to the rest of the lads since they were on the next day.
We were all up at 6:30 for breakfast and to get the coach to the venue. It was only half an hour away from our hotel. I was really relaxed, mainly because I knew I wasnt competing until the next day.
We got there and it was located next to an Olympic stadium, so quite a prestigious setting. There was an Opening Ceremony we had to be a part of, alongside the 2500 other competitors. None of us were nervous…until we set foot into the main room. MY GOD! Seeing nearly 2000 people watching the competition and a room full of competing athletes was so daunting. Instant chills ran down my spine quicker than Sonic the Hedgehog on amphetamines. What was I letting myself in for? Kung Fu is a national treasure of China, and I was about to perform it alongside those who had been training for years? Good God!!! Although we were representing our academy, we were all divided into our countries. Everybody stood behind a girl with a sign naming our country, and had to face the 2000 strong audience for the Chinese national anthem, with speeches from the head of the judges, head of the athletes and the Chairman of the Wushu Association…it was like being in the Olympics.
There was a ceremony performance that I raced upstairs to the seating area to watch. It included choreographed war reanactment, Chinese opera (I hate that high pitch shit though), a big group Tai chi fan form and the classic chinese lion dance. My highlight of the ceremony was the act called the ‘Shi Ba Tong Ren’ who are 18 Shaolin Kung Fu monks painted in copper. They do cool shit like get held up by sharp spears, and do more flips than a pancake on Shrove Tuesday. Thoroughly enjoyable!
We rushed downstairs to help the others get ready. This first day was hectic! Sign up sheets flying around, organisers and volunteers pacing around trying to restore some kind of order to the proceedings. The boys were ready! I darted upstairs to get a good enough view to cheer them on. There were four areas to perform with a panel of judges in each area, like a condensed over packed version of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Was great as a spectator because if you get bored, just watch something else, like a low budget version of changing the TV channel. The boy’s forms went generally well, only disappointment was in Phil’s Tiger form when he forgot about a third at the end. He paused, flicked his golden hair back like a teenage heartthrob, and that’s when the audience let out a collective sigh, because we knew he had forgotten it. He bowed like professional and lead off. He still hit a respectable score of 8.35 so all the boys still did well. Jim was on later because he was doing a Tai Chi form. As per usual, gave a roaring cheer when he walked on! He did well and as the older gentleman amongst us I’m glad he joined us crazy “youngsters” (using that term very lightly now I’m friggin’ 29) in this competition. After watching the boys I started freaking the fuck out man! All those competitors. All those in the audience. My master watching my form again. All these thoughts were pacing through my head the whole day. Me and Shane were freaking out together, going back and forth making each other worse. I don’t know what happened to me. I’m known for being confident, or at least looking it! I…FELT…TERRIBLE. Me and Shane thought this was funny though, nervously laughing each time we comically screamed “arrghh, kill me. I can’t do this!”.
I woke up in a really good mood! It’s amazing what a soft(er) bed and some air con can do. The nautious nervous feelings of the day before were minimal…I just wanted to enjoy myself because I was not going to be doing this, alongside these Kung Fu brothers, ever again. We could wear anything we were comfortable in, so to pay respect to our masters, and because I could arrange it so that my right arm was out to allow my sword hand to be free (and more importantly show off my toned arm), I decided to wear the academy Shaolin Monk Suit. I shaved my head as well so I really did look the part. Yellow belt with matching yellow decoration on my broadsword. Boom! Me, Shane, Marcel and Mike lined up before going on and we were all ready. Shane was before me but for his performance I generally didn’t look, I just took some deep breaths and tried to relax. My time! As I walked on and bowed, my head was clear, I was ready.
The performance went by in a flash! I came 3rd with a score of 8.43 with Shane beating me hitting 2nd with a score of 8.51. It put both of us in band 2 which means we both got a silver medal! The runners up here get put into bands so there is a single gold and then there can be multiple silvers and bronze. We got smashed up by a Chinese guy in a pristine white suit with a straight sword, he deserved that gold! Happy I got a silver though!
Over the days it was amazing to see the level of Kung Fu alongside the range of ages. There was a small kid, must’ve been about 6, with a pony tail and and star shaved into his head. We think he was from a school in the Shaolin Temple because he could do everything! Impressive to watch but even funnier is after he performed an aggressive form, he was carried off by his mother and put his thumb in his mouth. Backstage is where it was at. Watching everybody practising their forms was cool. It was like a scene from the original Karate Kid Movies! I saw some weapons that looked like they were straight out of World of Warcraft. I watched an old man practice a form with an oversized ice-pick. AN ICE PICK.
There were also weapons stores set up just outside so a lot of us went in! I was coerced into buying ANOTHER Kung Fu suit by Phil (he always tries to convince me to do everything). It was great though, shining black and gold with a golden dragon emblazoned on the left pectoral. I also picked up a new, more elegant looking straight sword to take home with me. Only cost me £10!
Master Bao pulled a worldy and got us tickets to see the sanda competition in the night. I wanted to see blood! It was in a separate arena and each bout was basically China vs the rest of the world. We cheered for the foreigners since they were staying in our hotel, but our cheers did not help. One got knocked the fuck out. A disgusting highlight was that every round there was a pair of scantily-clad, long-legged white girls walking around the ring holding a ‘Round 1’ sign. I was very grateful for their dedication to letting the crowd know what round it was. Well done ladies, well done.
I had a great day, so I seeded the idea of just going out for a celebratory drink. Since we had been to Xuzhou for Chinese New Year we knew an area we could go. In summary, we got absolutely smashed! Quick night in club ‘Muse’ where people gave us drinks for being foreigners and it was a cheap night. Phil is known for doing the splits and a kick up (when you flip up off the floor) when drunk, and he did not disappoint! A bit wobbly because he was drunk, but with his classic hair flick afterwards it was impressive…to like the 5 other people left in the club.
I was a hungover mess in the morning! We went back on day 3 to collect our medals with certificates. We also wanted to take an onslaught of photos together, which all the Chinese people wanted to do with us as well. We’ve all had attention on the picture front but this was too the extreme. “Laoweis” dressed in wushu attire, too good an opportunity to pass up!
All in all a great experience. Had a laugh. Competed. Brought home some metal! Sadly I don’t think I’m going to do this ever again since I will probably be using Kung Fu back home just for fitness (and to keep myself sharp just in case someone starts something), but at least I got to do this alongside a great group. My placing and silver medal was just a bonus, I really was in it for the experience. It marked my half a year training at Maling Academy very well. Now with just under 3 months left before I head back to the Matrix, I wonder what lies ahead and how far I can push my fitness ability.