Michael’s travel report

Michael's travel report

My name is Michael, I am 32 years old and come from Germany. After finishing my PhD in philosophy, I thought it would be a good idea to take some time off to go to China for three months, first to train and study Chinese at a Kung Fu school and then to travel. I came to Yuntai Mountain International Martial Arts and Culture School in the beginning of May 2018 and stayed here for six weeks. In the preceding years, I had studied different kinds of martial arts (Jiu Jitsu, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, self-defense) as well as Yoga. Here at the school I hoped to build on this basic knowledge, which is why I enrolled for the Sanda group. I like full contact, even if it looks less spectacular than Kung Fu.
My training started in the morning at 6am with one hour of power training. This morning hour was in general the most exhausting part of the day, because we did all kinds of muscle and endurance exercises, including jumps, sprints and push-ups up and down the stairs of the training hall. After breakfast, we met again at 8am to train Sanda until 11:20am. Our group consisted of approximately five people, thus it was almost like receiving private lessons. As a beginner, you first learn how to punch, to use your hip, to put up your hands and – most importantly – how to relax while being in the fighting stance. Our young teacher was always very careful and dedicated to show us everything. He impersonated a good combination of experienced skillfulness, strictness and subtle humor. Every day he pushed us to our limits. Only a few exercises, like bridges and over-stretching, I still consider to be rather harmful for the body. Accordingly, many shifus here have problems with their knees and backs, which does not give a good example. Also, the Sanda group could do a bit more sparring, because only then you can really apply what you have learned. For example, instead of doing Kung Fu kicks and acrobatics for the monthly exam, it would be more appropriate and healthier to show some sparring fights.
To recover from the hard training, I really appreciated the long lunch break, which lasted until 3pm. Then – in comparison with the Sanda training – the Chinese class in the afternoon was very relaxing and provided a good balance. The extremely friendly teacher did her best to work individually with us students who had, of course, different proficiencies of the Chinese language. The handbook was also very useful. The only thing I would like to suggest is to practice more conversation situations by giving spontaneous answers, thus without reading directly from the book. This would train our listening, understanding and speaking capabilities much better and prepare us for conversations in the outside world. We could also use audio tapes and videos or play interactive learning games.
In the evening I often went to the free training from 7:20 to 8:55, in which we repeated what we learned during the day in a rather relaxed atmosphere. But most of the time I did Yoga exercises to open and stretch my body, since in Sanda you need to have a rather closed, defensive stance. After the training, I went to bed at around 9:30pm. What I did not like were the unannounced evening visits of my shifu. He sometimes came when the light was already off and woke me up, without having anything important to say. Also other students from my group were complaining about this.
For breakfast, lunch and dinner I could go to the dining hall, but the food there is really bad. Many people, including me, got diarrhea or even had to vomit. Please try to improve the taste and the quality of the food there! And please provide a plan for the week, so that everybody knows in advance what to expect and to look for alternatives. The small restaurant here at the school is indeed a good alternative. They could even offer a bigger diversity of dishes. Another great idea would be to provide a common kitchen, so that everybody could cook their own meals. This would also bring the students closer together.
The team spirit of the international students and the resulting friendships are probably the best experience to make here at the school. You live very closely together, share material as well as immaterial things and have ups and downs together. I will definitely miss some people, first and foremost of course my roommate Yang. By the way, you can stop telling him this nonsense of staying away from us westerners. What are you scared of? Apart from this, the teachers are competent and fair. The only really disgusting person here at the school is a certain Tai Chi shifu for the Chinese children who loves to hit them hard until they bleed and kick them in their stomach, even without apparent reason. We students complained about him to our own shifus, but of course without result. Should I ever write a review of this school on facebook or other websites, I will definitely warn new international students of the cruelty of this particular shifu. He should be fired, his approach is inhuman and he clearly has some psychological issues. You know whom I mean.
The trips to the Shaolin Temple and to Yuntai mountain were really beautiful. I wish the school would provide and allow for more opportunities to travel, even for a whole weekend. It would also be nice to have an evening free, for example every second Saturday, to go to the village for a dinner. Then the school would feel less like a prison, which it does to many students here, also due to the many cameras everywhere. We are grown-up people and don’t need to be surveilled and controlled all the time. This connects to a further issue. Although it can be nice to participate at a show or a Kung Fu presentation, it would be respectful towards us students to ask us individually if we want to participate or not. For example, we all had to invest lots of precious training time – for which we paid! – to learn the form for the Tai Chi festival a few weeks ago. Nobody asked us if we wanted to learn this form or not. And after the show we didn’t even receive a “thank you, good job”. The teachers just took our participation for granted, although we all know that putting some laowai in the festival is only advertisement for the school and nothing more. So please treat the international students as adult, self-responsible persons. Most of us are even older and often more educated than the shifus, and we normally know better than them what is good for us and what is not.
Apart from these issues, I really had a great time here at the school. I appreciated that the teachers let me study Chinese also in the morning during my last week because my foot was injured. I also accepted the culturally very different “do not swim against the stream”-mentality of the school, the so-called “propaganda Mondays” and the general discipline that is demanded from the students. Secretly I still hope that a few of the kids WILL swim against the stream later in their lives, because every country needs critical minds to avoid cultural stagnation and political dictatorships (as a German, I know what I am talking about). Please encourage your kids to be (self-)critical, only then others will later truly learn from them.
That is all I have to tell you. Thank you again for all the impressions, sportive and otherwise, your school enabled me to have. I had some unforgettable moments here and will always remember, among others, that one second of friendship and shared Baijiu weighs much more than even a thousand punishment push-ups on a nightly floor.