The time has come! Blood, sweat, a bit more blood, and tears have lead me to the final part of my journey at the Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy. Before you leave the academy you have a chance to grade anything you have been training, and it is a great chance for the masters to give you some final feedback for you to train when you return home. I had 8 forms to grade; Shaolin Broadsword, Tai Chi Broadsword, Baji Black Tiger Fist, 7 Star Fist and 4 Wing Chun dummy forms. This was the culmination of my training here, so I wanted to give it maximum effort, more speed and definitely more power!
I was initially meant to be here for 9 months, but I have had to cut this slightly short by 4 weeks due to a little oversight on my part (oops!). My passport runs out next March and you need at least 6 months validity to fly to other countries. I planned to go to Hong Kong and then Malaysia, and so, not wanting to sacrifice that adventure, I moved everything 4 weeks early to fit in with my passport validity. Gutted at first to miss out on a month of training, but content enough with what I have done in previous months to feel that my time has come. Anyway, onto finishing up here!
Thijs is also ending at the academy soon, just a couple days after me, so we had the chance to relieve the pressure of one person grading by grading together. I started this journey with Thijs as a training partner, so it was fitting that we are both leaving at similar times and grading our final forms together. Everything we do is still similar, even though we have been training under different masters for about 5 months. When we were learning the Bullwhip with Master Bao he commented saying our movements were exactly the same! This boy has kept me young (not that 29 is old!). Seeing how good Thijs is while training with him has forced me to push myself (just that little bit) more to keep up throughout my stay here. When we separated to different masters, Thijs learnt a different Shaolin Broadsword form to me. We decided to teach eachother our forms (we get bored on Sundays), and Thijs reminded me that we should grade those forms! So this added to the list. A day before the grading Thijs refreshed the form in my mind and I was good to go!
Wednesday morning arrived and we were ready. I have graded in traditional attire each time, but now for my return home I wanted to represent where I am from, and where I am returning home to. I put on my West Ham United top and I was ready! #COYI! #EastLondonsFinest! I was nervous about the amount I had to remember, but the feeling was different to all the other gradings. I was just filled with pure happiness that this was a great journey, and wanted to show everyone what I had learned! It went well! I did a different kick in my 7 star form, that eagle-eyed-Master-Wang obviously saw and hit me on the legs while I was walking off, but overall I felt happy with my performance. Master gave me some good feedback and even though my 7 star could do with more practice, he was happy since I learnt it over 3 classes!
I have completed and graded a good amount of forms in my time here, but I know that I need to keep reviewing them to get better. Some people here say that their Kung Fu clubs back home they are standardly learning between 1-3 forms per year, so getting this many taught from my Masters shows how much more intensely we train here. My challenge is remembering them all. I am forgetting them even while here, let alone when I will not be training as regularly! Across 5 different disciplines, I have completed;
- Wubu Quan (5 Step)
- Lianhuan Quan (Continuous Fist)
- Qi Xing Quan (7 Star Fist)
- Yin Shou Gun (Reverse Hands Bo Staff)
- Mei Hua Dan Dao (Plum Blossom Single Broadsword)
- Shao Lin Dan Dao (Shaolin Single Broadsword)
- Da Mo Jian (Darma Monk Straightsword)
- Ji Ti Quan (Group Fist)
- Ji Ti Gun (Group Bo Staff)
- Xiao Quan (Small Fist)
- Hei Hu Quan (Black Tiger Fist)
- Xiao Jian Tou (Little Idea)
- Xun Qiao (Seeking Bridge)
- Biao Zhi (Threading Finger)
- Zhuang 1-4 (Wooden Dummy 1-4)
- 24 Step
- 42 Step
- Fan 36 Step
- Broadsword 36 Step
- Ba Duan Jin (8 Form)
- Shi Er Duan Jin (12 Form)
24 forms! Jesus! There were a few forms I wanted to study here that I didn’t have time to in the end, like a Shaolin form for the Fan so I could learn to defend with it, and Shaolin Tiger form. That being said, I have A LOT here that needs to be mastered anyway so I am content with the breadth of forms I have. Couple this with all the Shaolin Basics I have there are more than enough martial arts movements to train on.
My Sanda Progression
Graded forms are not the beginning and end all of this journey. I was always very open about my dislike of Sanda. My master is a Sanda specialist which at first I dreaded, but in a good way this forced me to improve under the watch of a keen eye. What has changed? Well, when I first started my punches were weak. I had muscle but couldn’t apply power at the right time. I now have a better technique as well as a greater awareness of how to apply my energy to attack. To top off my Sanda journey I had a sparring match with Jauffrey a couple weeks ago. Master Du said to me 6 months ago if I trained hard enough I could fight Jauffrey, and potentially win. Just to put this into perspective, Jauffrey is 6’foot and 95kg, while I am 5’7″ and 62kg! Glad to see my speed and combinations while moving, everything Master Wang trained me on, helped me survive the match, and get in a few good hits (we both ended the match with some blood from our nose. My reaction speed and my aggression in sparring (not afraid to attack) is something I am now good at, and will hold this in anything else I do when it comes to training. My signature back hand spin punch ain’t too bad either!!! Having a Sanda master has also taught me the Sanda-specific warm up, conditioning and exercises that are so damn useful and can train others in this because they are really good for applied fitness. One thing I DEFINITELY won’t miss is Sanda conditioning of the head, where someone is just punching you in the face! Bye bye face punching!
Flexibility & Fitness
I am so much more flexibly than when I got here. I notice the flexibility a lot when it comes to my straight kicks. At first they went just above my hip, now comfortably above my head! Can I do the splits? Ah, No! However my box splits are not that far off and much lower than when I arrived. My body looks and (more importantly) feels much better, and I attribute this partly to really good stretching. It allows the muscles to fully extend and when they reform they are stronger and feel much more enhanced. I neglected this a lot back home, I will not now. The actual techniques of power stretching is another thing to add to the catalogue that I can train others in. When I came here I was 70kg and now I am just over 60kg. I didn’t try to lose weight here, the intensity just shifted the kilos off me! I noticed the weight falling off my legs quickly. My legs are stronger now, but are thin as hell. All the running and forms eats away at them. It’s hard to put on weight here due to the food not being the highest in protein and then the training, but lean is what I’ve become. I’m so lean it’s like I’ve been on a George Foreman grill! I hope I can get back to 70kg (a good weight for my height) but I need to gradually do this through new workouts to keep my low body fat look. I wanted to get in a good physical shape for when I turn 30 (Oh My God, 30!) and my training has definitely done that.
Training Through Injury
You will get injured here. Fact! You have to take the advice of your master, and then train through it. My knees were problematic before I arrived, and this intense training wasn’t helping. With exercises from Master Du and combining that with acupuncture and a roller, I have increased their strength to (re)enable me to do flips, sweeps and low stances. Am I cured? Nope! BUT that is because of the intense training, the rest I will have at home while doing “normal” training means they will get better faster. You have to push through the pain here, but do everything you can to allow you to train safely.
I learnt SO much here it actually blows my mind now I have typed it all out! The next step is recapping and not forgetting my basics. To strive to not be lazy and train myself. Going over old stuff may be (in the words of my East London mates) “long tings fam”, but in the words of my master;
Review to find the new