Mallorca | Madrid | Taiwan
In the Fall of 1999 I traveled to Spain to join Sifu Adam Hsu. His kung fu brother Su Yu Chang, who has two kung fu schools in Spain, had invited him to lead a series of workshops. The following is the account of our kung fu and cultural exchange.
Day 1 - Shifu and I arrived from our respective homelands and met at the Barcelona airport Thursday morning. We were welcomed by Dr. Su Yu Chang and his students, Carlos Garcia Garcia, Marite, Gonzalo, and Jose. Gonzalo drove us to the Pachi Tang Lang Cultural Association in the Gracia District, known for its narrow streets, hip bars and cafes. We dropped off our luggage and began touring right away. From the school we walked to the Caixa Catalunya Cultural Centre where we first encountered the work of Antoni Gaudi. The Mila House in La Pedrera is considered his most important civil architectural piece. It is an impressive building, designed colorfully and curvaceously, without a straight line to be found. We wandered up and around to the quirky and precarious rooftop to enjoy the view and take some photos. Although I wanted to stay and explore the extensive museum of Gaudišs work, we had to leave and continue our tour by car.
From Gaudi's modernista style of the 1880's we moved back in time to a 15th century Catalan Gothic Cathedral. The streets in the surrounding area were incredibly congested because of a public holiday, Festes de la Merce. Fortunately we found a temporary parking space close by, behind the church. We rushed in and had only a few moments to absord the holy gothic prayerful atmosphere, and lit some candles for world peace. Outside in front of the church, an orchestra was playing for a festive dancing public. As we headed back to the van we could hear celebratory fireworks blasting off. Outside the school, an anxious Carlos was waiting with our luggage. We held up traffic as we quickly packed our bags into the van to ride back to the airport. We were heading for Mallorca, the Balearic's largest Island.
Dr Su's students, Pacho, Monica, Pedro, Rita and others, warmly greeted us and we all drove to the Palma de Mallorca School. At 11:30pm we had our welcome feast and learned to prepare 'pa amb tomaquet', sliced bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil and salt, topped with cured ham. Shifu presented Pacho, our host, with an engraved miniature sword from the China Wushu Association to commemorate his first visit to the Mallorca, Pachi Tanglang Chuen Association. After many toasts of Spanish wine with our meal, we finished our first day in Spain nearly 2:00 in the morning.
Day 2 - Dr Su's school workout patio is surrounded by beautiful local flora compliments of his student Monica. Before breakfast, Shifu and I went over the linking longfist form (lian huan chuan), that I teach to my students at San Francisco State University.
Linking fist (Lian Huan Chuan) is designed to teach time (yu) and space (tsou). The concept comes from the Chinese philosophy 'yu', meaning directions such as east, west, north, south, and 'chou', meaning time from ancient to future. The seemingly simplistic movements of linking longfist contain key elements towards developing a good base and foundation for one's long fist training. It can be compared to a beginner learning to write his or her ABC's using a simple neat printing style. Linking fist contains our kung fu ABC's: movements using transitions from the horse to bow and arrow stances, alternating punches, palm strikes. The essential ingredient for good kung fu basics is learning the principle of moving our arms and legs at the same time with proper alignment and structure. Lian Huan Chuan opens the door for a beginner to understand these fundamental building blocks of kung fu.
Our second day driving tour took us across the island into the 'Coves dels Hams', caves of stalactites. Lunch afterwards was the colorful mix of arros a la Catalana, saffron rice mixed with meat and seafood. Returning to Palma, we stopped by the Gothic Castle of Bellver noted for itšs unusual circular design and spectacular view of the harbor. That evening we celebrated the harvest moon festival with a bar-b-que buffet and moon cakes that we had brought from Taipei and San Francisco for the the happy occasion.
Day 3 - Shifu's Thunder style taiji Hu lei Jia weekend workshop was held at a sports facility in Polideportibo, Magalluf. Shifu had the morning session from 10am to 1pm and Dr.Su taught in the afternoon from 3:30 to 8:00. Many of the 30-40 participants who had previously studied other forms of taiji were enthusiastic and eager to be introduced to the thunder style taiji. They had a lot of work ahead of them; Shifu's plan that weekend was to teach them thirty six linking movements!
The first morning proved to be very invigorating and stimulating. There are 10 levels in the thunder taiji training. We started off spiraling with reeling silk arm basics and a waving step. Shifu then proceeded to methodically teach the first twelve movements of the form. He explained and demonstrated and elaborate a number of the usages such as casually rolling up the clothes (lan zai i) and single whip (dan bien). The students even had a chance to try the usage to Chen taiji's trade mark move, jing gong dao chui themselves. Shifu intermittently addressed important kung fu paradoxicals as internal/external, hidden/showing, stillness/movement, point/line, revolution/rotation and relax/focus. As always, Shifu encouraged us to write in our notebooks to help us process and digest the material.
Day 4 - The second morning of class started with a stationary reverse reeling silk basic. The basics progressed from a waving free step forward and backward to a mixed step with the arms and legs moving together. After stressing the importance of practicing basics, Shifu began the task of teaching the remaining twenty-four movements wholeheartedly. Shifu also explained the internal practice of of taiji; where and how to focus the breath while holding postures. After hours of hard work and concentration everybody completed the external aspect of the form. The Mallorcans had their first big dose of taiji. Shifu concluded with the Chinese concept of living within the world. We are not living facing the world in front of us and watching from the outside. We are in the middle, surrounded by and participating with all living things around us, aspiring towards world peace.
Day 5 - In the mornings, I practiced longfist. At the linking fist leg (lian huan tuei) intermediate level, balance, strength, agility, coordination and timing in a kung fu way are required. The skill level increases. Blocking and punching is practiced with quick steps and a kick in an upbeat one-two, three tempo. Just as a writing student progresses to a handwriting style, our linking movements become circular with more twists and curves. These fluid continuous movements help us to develop and understand the important principles of shaving and sticking an opponent. After kung fu practice and breakfast our next excursion was to Real Caruj De Jesus de Nazaret located in a pleasant mountain town, Valldemossa. The pianist Frederic Chopin stayed at the monastery for some years during the mid 1800's. Monica, Dr. Su's student, was our tour guide through the many cloisters which showcased Chopin and other artists works. I enjoyed a 17th century pharmacy a few doors away from where Chopins piano was housed. To our surprise Monica invited us to have coffee in her residence on the premises. Her great grandmother had purchased a monks suite when the monastery became open to the public. We learned how well the had monks lived with five spacious indoor rooms, a garden terrace, and a backyard with a swimming pool! Eating fresh grapes from the garden vines, we imagined how our lives would be if we resided there. Certainly our kung fu would suffer!
We ended our last day in Mallorca shopping near Palma's dramatic Gothic limestone cathedral on the waterfront. Our next destination was Madrid. At the airport, every other person was carrying boxes of Mallorca ensaimadas. We often ate the spiral shaped sweet yeast buns for breakfast, and they are the taste treat to bring to friends and families. As I rode in the taxi from the airport to our hotel in Madrid, I was struck by the contrast between this big city and the small Balearic island we had just left.
Day 6 - From our hotel, we walked to the Plaza de Espana and took photos with the statue of Don Quijote's creator, Cervantes by Lorenso Coullaut-Valera. A mini bus tour took us to the heart of Old Madrid. There we shopped for fans, hats and other souvenirs in the Plaza Major. Our plan was to meet up with Jose and his wife and to our surprised we bumped into them in the Plaza! Jose had arranged a lunch with his Dad. The Spanish are incredible host with a great appreciation for good food and drink. Josešs father treated us to a delectable five course feast with a different wine for each savory dish. We walked our full bellies off and had a Spanish siesta. We ended our night at a traditional Flamenco called Restaurant Torres Bermejas. There Flamico we experienced the deep passion and intensity of the Spanish music and dance culture.
Day 7 - Day 7 - This morning we walked to the palace for another photo opportunity. Although there were many sights that we wanted to visit, we had a limited amount of time. We chose to see the Plaza De Toros. There were no bull fights, but we did get to tour the museum. We spent the rest of the afternoon meeting with a European martial arts magazine editor. After this brief visit to the Spanish capital, we returned to Barcelona to our hotel along La Rambla.
Day 8 - That morning, Shifu was busy with kung fu interviews and other business. Dan Farber my classmate also visiting from San Francisco, and I took advantage of the free time to visit museums. Museu Picasso Barcelona's most visited museum, occupies three medieval stone mansions. The collection starts on the first floor with sketches and doodles from his earliest years. His developmental stages of mastery goes up throughout the second floor. Finally on the top floor is a series of lithographs done in Picasso's last years. Next we ventured to the Museu Barbier-Muellerd'Art Pre-colombi. This museum holds one of the most prestigious collections of pre-Columbian art in the world. Lastly the Museu Textil i d'Indumentaria, contained local embroidery and items of clothing from the 16th century to the present. In the afternoon we met up with Shifu and Dr. Su to tour Gaudi's famous unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, and my favorite, his garden city, Parc Guell. That evening we traveled up to the Marti -Codolar Seminario for our mountain retreat.
After our arrival, we had a general meeting to discuss the schedule and rules and regulations of the cooperative living situation in the monastery. The students also had a chance to ask Shifu about Thunder style taiji. He said that there are two systems. One system has a 1st form where one is preparing oneself, like saving money in a bank. The Cannon Fist form has application, giving the practitioner the ability to fight, like using the money saved to travel to Barcelona. Shifu's system has one form with ten levels, starting with level 1 linking, level 2 circling, level 3 turning, etc. In closing that night his words were 'If you think you know something about Kung fu think again. If you think youšre working hard, sweating and improving your Kung fu, think again. If youšre getting written about, and winning tournaments, and you think you are improving, think again.'
Day 9 After breakfast at 8, we wandered throughout the beautiful surrounding grounds and enjoyed the fresh mountain air. From 930-130, the pace of the Pao Chui workshop was slow and meticulous. The whole morning was spent on the first five movements of the form. During this session, Shifu taught the Taiji Qi Gong training, focused breathing while holding postures. For instance, we hold the posture jing gong dao chui, (a thousand catties pounds the ground) concentrating at three major points of our body. We focus our first breath on the acupuncture point Bai Hui (one hundred gathering) on the top of the head. Imagine the top of a triangle there with the bottom at your dan tien. Our second breath is on Zhong Men in the middle of the chest between the nipples. his point is the top of a triangle whose base is formed by your feet. The third breath is at the dan tian just below the navel. A triangle from there extends deep into the earth. The idea is to sink downward with each breath using the triangle to also expand outward toward your limbs.
This training nourishes three important fundamental sustances that support our health and well being. One is Jing, translated as essence. This substance is thought to be fluidlike and is the basis of reproduction and developement. Two is Qi, the source of all movement in the body and accompanies all movement. It also protects and warms the body. Shen the third substance, is best translated as spirit. If Jing is the source of life, and Qi the ability to activate and move, then Shen is the vitality behind Jing and Qi.
After lunch we walked around the back gardens where there were more fountains and ponds. After a short rest, Shifu and I worked on Lian Huan Chuan in the back gardens, while Dr. Su taught his lohan kung fu from 4 to 8.
Linking palms(Lian Huan Chang) movements are freer. Movements are all palms, all not regulated but must follow regulation. When we speak of our palms in kung fu, it is both palms connected together across the upper body acting together as one. At this point our long fist practice has matured. Now our writing has a quick and easy style, but like a doctors prescription, itšs not always easy to read. Without predetermined arrangements of fighting techniques our kung fu movements can take care of an unpredictable opponent.
Dinner was at 830 and we ate quickly. Shifu's chin na (seizing and grabbing) workshop was from 930-1130! Shifu learned his chin na from his first kung fu teacher Sifu Han Ching Tang. Of the three popular kung fu techniques, kicking and punching, takedowns, and seizing and grabbing, Shifu thinks that the latter is the most difficult to execute. Many books have been written about chin na, highly praising the effectiveness of this technique. Often these books include photos and explanations which clearly define how to properly seize and grab an opponent. A vital element often overlooked in the books is the footwork. One cannot properly transition from one chin na movement to another without good footwork. With this in mind, we carefully practiced both the chin na techniques and our footwork. We all slept soundly after this very long day.
Day 10 - On the morning of our last workshop, Shifu incorporated the taiji gong practice in the Chan Tse (reeling silk) basics and the first five movements. 'Hu xi', a full breath is, 'yi hu yi dong' one deep exhale and 'yi xi yi dong' one deep inhale. Breathing in this manner is the difficult part of training because it requires mental as well as physical discipline. As Shifu showed us more movements of the pao chui form, the tempo changed. The movements were slow, medium, rapid, and in combinations of these speeds at different parts of the form. He emphasized the importance of letting the body lead the arm movements from the spine. By the end of the workshop we had eighteen moves of the pao chui form to work with. The Spaniards were excited to incorporate their new found knowledge and technques into their existing practice.
We celebrated the end of our trip with a wonderful feast hosted by Carlos Garcia Garcia. As usual the food and wine were delicious and plentiful. We each toasted our new friends and said our goodbyes. The next day, our Spanish friends escorted us to the airport. I was eager to return home but sad to leave this beautiful country and its warm and hospitable people. Although our cultures and languages were different, we were all able to communicate though our common passion for kung fu.