My Experiences and Impressions of China – by Kevin Mumford
As a young boy growing up in Canada, Asia or the Orient was not only a place on the other side of the world, but a place of intrigue and fascination. I was for some reason always drawn to it. From Bruce Lee movies, to pictures of temples and monasteries, to the magical idea of meditation, Zen, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, all transforming and aligning the body, mind and spirit.
I finally made it to Asia three years ago, beginning in Sri Lanka and participating in a 20 day silent Vipassana retreat in Theravada Buddhism. Then it was off to India to live in a Sivananda Ashram beautifully situated in the Himalayas for a month and complete my yoga teachers training certification and introduction to Hinduism. I then decided to explore Thailand and ending up living and working there while studying Zen Buddhism with some Monks in Chiang Mai.
My profession is that of a Golf Professional, both playing and teaching. This craft has allowed me to see many parts of the world and has now brought me to China. I was so excited to come to China as an opportunity to work brought me to Guiyang. This sadly only lasted a month as the government closed the golf course (over 600 golf courses have been closed in China in the past two years) as golf is still viewed as a game for the wealthy and has mixed reviews from government officials.
I managed to secure another position in Hainan Island. Hainan is a beautiful island in the south with fresh air and sea breezes. This was an excellent job opportunity for me as I became the Director of the Golf Academy at a stunning 36 hole golf resort. Unfortunately, this also gave me mixed reviews of China. I soon discovered that much of the culture and mystic of China I had envisioned was not the current case. Instead of the spiritual and centering land I learned about when I was young, the present China caters more around materialistic achievements and wealth. You can see some parts of culture left with the older generation as the perform Tai Chi by the sea side in the early mornings and at sunset, but with the younger generations, much of this is lost and replaced with materialistic desires.
This proved to be disconcerning to me and I must say I found myself a little disappointed and sad. Especially working in one of the wealthiest recreations offered here, I witnessed the flaunting of money, cars, accessories and arrogance. I also discovered that many of the children are drilled to only concentrate on schooling and studying while having fun and participating in sports and other extra-curricular activities seem to take a back seat to homework, tutors, and more studying, all to prepare you for University, finding a job, buying a house and beginning a family.
Where was the Yin Yang balance in this way of life, it somehow seemed more materialistic then the West. Are we switching places in the new age? I had to find the Eastern way of life I learned about as a youngster.
My contract is one from August to April, giving me a few months break and I decided to take part in the forgotten culture and came here to Yuntai Mountain International School and study Tai Chi. This school is founded from the trainings of the Shaolin Monks, whose famous temple is a short drive away. I decided to study Tai Chi as it would give me an outlet to relax, learn breathing exercises and body movements while blending the two into a type of moving meditation. This exercise in balancing the mind and body could offer rewarding benefits to my own game of golf. The other reason for coming was to explore and see the culture that I have been looking for in China.
The training here is excellent, the school is a regular school for Chinese children learning all the studies while focusing on the tradition of martial arts. For the Westerners, there are three Shifu’s (Masters), one each for Kung Fu, Sanda and Tai Chi training. The training focusses on the physical side and is unlike any cross fit training I have taken part of. They will push you to your limits, and then demand that you go past what you were thought capable of. They will stretch you and have you performing moves to coordinate you body and balance, all with a martial arts twist to the training.
There spirituality exists here and you can feel that not only the exercises, but the forms you learn in Kung Fu and Tai Chi have been passed down from generation to generation. The living is not luxurious and many always refer to this as a combination of school and boot camp, but I did not come here to live in a five star hotel and drink latte’s, I came to train my body, mind and touch into my spirit with the 1000 year old tradition of martial arts. The school is located close to the Yuntai Mountain and its National Park, on clear days you can marvel at the majestic surrounding scenery. There is a Buddhist class once a month, but in my opinion, the school focusses mainly on the physical and mental aspects of training, and I hope that they will bring more of the spiritual side into it for Westerners to discover. The Shaolin Monks are not only experts at their martial arts, but also understand Zen Buddhism plays an important role in the balance of power and peace. Taoism, the understanding of chi and Ying Yang is an integral part of Tai Chi, and this is the only thing that I am missing here.
For all intense purposes, being one month into my two-month stay, has brought me a sense of harmony and peace. The days are run on a strict routine, but this allows you mind to relax and forget all your outside troubles, concerns or desires, and instead allows you to focus on the training and task at hand. The Shifu’s are tough with the training, yet I find this rewarding in a way, and they are excellent motivators that will have you learning your Kung Fu or Tai Chi forms in no time. Once you learn the form, the difficult part is trying to relax your mind and disconnect with thinking of the form and incorporating it into you body so that you can perform with the precision, accuracy, with both power and finesse in the correct places. But this training will give you the form that you can now take with you and practice while continuously developing and understanding the true genius that martial arts offers your body, mind and soul.