It all started when Rich picked me up at my house Friday night. We took off to L.A. @ 9:00, and arrived at 10:00. There was a 4 hour lay over, then we took off for Korea at 2:30. That, was a 14 hour flight, but we arrived at 6:00 in the morning on Sunday because we passed over the date line. There was a 4hour lay over in Seoul Korea, then we took a 2 hour flight to Beijing.
We got off the plane, went through customs (what a joke), we didn't even stand in line, we just walked through. Went outside, took a cab to the Gloria Plaza hotel, took a shower, then went for a walk of a lifetime. We walked for about an hour, and I found myself in Tiananmen Square. Right across the street was the Forbidden City. We walked across the street, and walked all the way through the Forbidden City. It was one of the most spectacular things that I've ever seen. We came out of the back of the Forbidden City, then walked back to the hotel.
That evening we were supposed to meet with some of the Shaolin monks. When we arrived back at the hotel, one of Rich's friends was waiting for us. Her name is Christine. She is a student at the Beijing University. She speaks good Chinese. We all got ready for dinner, went down to the lobby, and waited for the monks. After about 10 minutes, they showed up. Only one of them spoke very broken English, the other two spoke none. So Christine was a big help. I had the opportunity to ask some questions; What kind of testing procedures do the monks go through? Is there such a thing as them burning tattoos of the dragon, and tiger into their arms? What do they think of foreigners coming and studying Chinese Gung Fu? What did they go through to get where they are in the Temple? As the trip went on, I became more aware of the answers to those questions. It took the monks a while to understand what I was asking. I didn't realize that the perception I had of the monks of the Shaolin Temple was from TV, and the movies. There are no testing procedures that they have to go through, No tattoos that they put on their arms. And they love to have people come in and study the Gung fu. When people do come, they don't seem to stay very long anyway. As they get older, they gain in responsibilities. For instance, one would start off as a student, then become what they call a coach or teacher, then they are put in charge of a school. And at that time they are referred as a master. They would never call themselves a master though. Only other people would call them a master.
Shi Yong Ting, Christine, Shi Yan Chang, Kevin, Shi Yong Xu
After dinner we went to TGI Fridays, got a drink or two, then went back to the hotel, and I passed out. Rich and Christine had made arrangements for Rich and I to go to the Great Wall of China. The next day started off with a little breakfast, then a shower, then in a cab for a 2 hour ride to The Great Wall. I asked Rich why there were lines on the roads, because they weren't using them at all. They didn't use their blinkers. Instead they would use their horns. We wound up at a place at the Great Wall (Si Ma Tai..., doc) where there aren't a lot of tourists. There was a chair lift that would take people up to the wall. Rich and I walked over to the chair, and the people said that it was broken. The wall was pretty high up on this mountain. I said, "I guess we have to walk it." In the mean time we hadn't noticed a little old lady was following us around. We thought that she was going to try to sell us something (in China, everyone is trying to sell you something.) She pointed up the mountain, and said, "20 minutes." Rich and I looked at each other and thought she was out of her mind. Rich looked at her, and said, "20 minutes?" And she nodded yes. We started up the mountain, and this little old lady was almost running up the mountain. Rich said, "If we are going to the top, we are going to slow down." I tried to get her, and her friend to slow down. She kept on saying "20 minutes". Rich said, "If she says 20 minutes one more time, I'm going to throw her off this fucking mountain." (She kept on saying it, and he didn't throw her off the mountain.) About an hour later, we were at tower #5. We walked up to tower #12. It was so beautiful. We took lots of pictures. The walk down took us less than half the time it took us to walk up. It also took less than half the effort. We got down ok, but I think that it took us more than 20 minutes. When we got down, the little old lady, and her friend wanted to sell us post cards, and books. So as the suckers that we are we bought some. We got into the little shopping center, and I got 3 T-shirts, and some water. We relaxed for about a half hour, then it was back to Beijing.
When we got back to Beijing, Rich asked the cab driver if he would take us to the Summer Palace. (That took about a half-hour, 'cause the cab driver knew no English.) We made it to the Summer Palace with no problems, and when we got there, Christine was waiting for us. The Summer Palace was just incredible. There is a man made lake in front of it, and the dirt they dug out to make the lake made quite a hill, which the Summer Palace was built upon. I haven't seen anything like it. I thought that the Emperor lived quite the life, 'cause these people took such care in building this place. It took us about 1 hour to get through it. We walked out the back, and decided to take a cab to Tiananmen Square.
By now the sun was getting ready to go down, Rich and I had walked about 10 miles, and I was getting a little hungry. Rich said, "lets go have some of the world famous Peking Duck." We were dropped off at the front of Tiananmen Square, and walked all the way around to where this world famous restaurant is. I've never had Duck to eat before, but it was delicious. The only problem was the fat or the skin. They were telling me that that was the best part or the part that had the most flavors. I tolerated it as much as I could. I drank about 5 orders of water that night at dinner. After dinner, we wound up walking through this evening shopping mall. That was quite an experience. Everyone wanted us to go into his or her shop. I thought that Americans could learn a lot of sales tips from these people. They all said "Come in and just look". I thought yea right, come in, and get strapped down till you buy something. It was fun though. After that we went back around to Tiananmen Square. It was so beautiful at night. Everyone needs to see it at night.
We got a cab back to TGI Fridays, and had another Chocolate Strawberry Dip, or two. The next day was a travel day, so Rich and I where talking about what was going to happen. The next thing I heard a glass brake off the wall across the room from us. I didn't know what was up. The waiter came over, and told us we could leave if we wanted. Apparently there was a fight about something. Rich said he wanted to stay and see the action. All that happened was a lot of yelling back and forth. I said, "why don't the police come in and take care of these idiots." Rich said, "the police in China are different than the ones in America." We decided to leave, and when we got out the front door, there they were smoking their cigarettes. I thought, my kind of cop. We said well by to Christine, and got a cab back to the hotel. When you are in a country that doesn't speak English, it's hard to communicate. The cab driver started to take us to who knows where, we just know that he wasn't going the right way. Rich said, "let us out here!!!" After saying it 10 or 15 times, he finally stopped. Again we were on foot. It was only a 4 or 5 mile walk back to the hotel. That wasn't too bad. We got to the hotel, and passed out again. For spending a day and a half in Beijing, we walked around 15 miles. I thought, not bad warm up for some intense Shaolin Gung Fu training.
The next day was a traveling day. We left the hotel, and headed for the airport. Our next stop was a place called Zengzhou (Jung-Jo). Three people where at the airport to pick us up. One cab driver, and 2 people from one of the schools of the Shaolin Temple. One of the 2 peoples' names is Lu Yong (he speaks English). And the others name is Ah Sung (he doesn't speak English). I spent most of the next 8 days with Lu Yong. Ah Sung was there too, but not as much. We took a 2-hour drive up to Dengfeng (about 10 kilometers from the Shaolin Temple). Ah Sung had made arrangements for us to stay at the Fen-Yong hotel in Dengfeng. We checked in, got arranged a little, then it was off to the Shaolin Temple.
It was a short 10 minutes up to the Temple. We wound up at the Wushu Guan, and all of the students from the school that I had taught at where there. So I got a chance to say hello to some of the people that I know. That was pretty cool for me. And I thought that it was cool that they saw me there.
The Feng Yuan hotel in Dengfeng
Rich had been to the Temple many times before, so he knows lots of the monks, and got a chance to say hello to them. Rich was in contact with a person named Hemming (he spoke very good English). Hemming is a student of one of the schools way up on the hill. We were supposed to meet him in front of the Shaolin Temple, so we took off to meet him. Hemming took us to his school, it is way up, and I mean way up the hill. He says that his master likes it there 'cause no tourists get that far up the hill, and it is quiet. We got a chance to visit with his master for a while, and I learned a lot about what Chinese Gung Fu is for. It is not for showing off or for competition. It is used to make the person practicing it to get healthier. They don't fight with it at all, but if they had to, they would be able to take care of business in a very short period of time. The strength and power these people develop is incredible. He was all upset about the Chinese Government coming in and telling them what they should teach (wushu). He says that the Chinese Gung Fu is good for the body, but the Wushu is not. So when you see the acrobatics that the monks do, that is not the traditional Gung Fu. He also said that what he saw of the American students looked like dance. There was no power in their strikes, and no balance in their stances. He basically said that they didn't know what they where doing. It's not that we don't know what we are doing, it's because it's not Chinese Gung Fu.
We walked around the Shaolin Temple area, just checking it out. We had some lunch in a little restaurant off the side of the road, then started walking back towards the hotel. Before long, a cab driver asked if we wanted a ride. We of coarse said yes. In about 10 minutes we were back at the hotel. The hotel was great, right next to our rooms was a work out room with weights, and a large space to work out in. So we started working out. In the beginning I was helping Rich remember some of the Kenpo we trained in back in the US. Yong said that some of the forms had some Gung Fu traits in them, but only some. Rich, Ah Sung, and Yong had made arrangements for me to take my own Gung Fu classes. I was to start the next day at 4:00. The reason I started at 4 was because the Americans were still there, and I wanted to talk to, and meet with them for a little while in the morning hours. The next morning we woke up early, and went up into the mountains, and trained with the bow staff for a few hours. We went back to the hotel, and had some breakfast, then I went over to where all the American people were.
After all that, I went to the Shaolin Temple by my self, to meet with some of my American school friends. That turned out to be ok. I saw lots of people that were surprised that I was there. I saw some old students from California, and some of the instructors. I noticed they were learning some sort of form. It was short, but looked pretty cool. I wondered if I was going to get that form. I found out later that the form they were getting was a Wushu form that the Chinese Government wanted the monks to teach their students. It is not traditional Gung Fu. Don't tell anyone. Oh that's ok they wouldn't believe you any way.
I took a cab ride back to Dengfeng, went to the hotel, and got ready for my training in Chinese Gung Fu. I went over to the school with Rich, and Yong, and noticed Ah Sung was already there. I guess he is their accountant, or something like that. Yong told the Coach who I was, and what I was supposed to learn. I had no idea. This first lesson was incredible. I have no idea of how many times this guy kicked me in the groin. I learned Ma Bu, the horse stance. That took the better part of an hour. Then Pu Bu. That is like our side blade stretch. The first hour, I think I lost about 2 quarts of water. The lesson went on, and on, and on. He was harder on me than anyone has ever been. I loved every minute of it.
Chen Yo Lee, a head coach of Shi Xing Hong's Shaolin Zen Wu Shu School
On my way back to the hotel, I thought watch what you wish for, it just might come true. I get back to the hotel, socking wet, get up to my room, and there am Ah Sung with one of his Chinese friends. I thought that was cool. His friend said, "How are you?' I said, "I am fine, do you speak English?" He shook his head no, and I thought great, Here I am in my room with two guys that don't speak any English. After a while, Ah Sung's friend said America. I nodded yes, and said Las Vegas. His eyes lit up. I said, "you know Las Vegas?", and he nodded yes. He started to do the first moves in the form that I was learning, and I asked if he knew Gung Fu. He again nodded yes. So now I know this guy has been to America, and he knows Gung Fu. He was trying to say something that sounded like MG. Then I said MGM? He started jumping up and down. After a few more minutes of him and me trying to communicate, I found out that this guy was one of the Masters that was in the show at the MGM. After more body language, I found out that he was the guy that put the spears into his throat, and they broke a granite slab on his back. He said, "Easy, no problem". I was thinking yea right. His name is Shi Xingxie. He is in charge of the Wushu Guan. He is one of the best Martial monks at the Temple. This was going to be our instructor for the evening classes. After I found all this out, Rich and Yong had returned from their work out. I was so excited about finding out who this guy was. Rich said, "see what happens when you come with me? Do I not provide you with the best or what?" Enough of that, Class starts in 5 minutes. We worked on kicks, stances, punches, blocks, grab techniques, and stretching just about every muscle in the body. All in just a half hour.
Then we spent one and a half hours on Chi Gung. Chi Gung is forms of exercise that make ones Chi stronger. The monks are famous for this kind of training. So I thought that I was getting it all, the physical, and the mental. There aren't too many people that go to the Shaolin Temple, and get the kind of stuff that I was getting. So I owe it all to Rich, without him I wouldn't be there learning this stuff. The Chinese are funny about who they will teach their Gung Fu to. One must first show his character, and if they like it, that person can learn. The next few days seem to run together, because I pretty much did the same thing every day. That was; wake up, hike up the mountain and train on the bow staff for 2 hours, go back to the hotel have breakfast, then off to train with Chen Yo Lee for 2 hours, have a 4 hour break, then back to train with Chen Yo Lee for another 2 hours, then back to the hotel, and train with Shi Xingxie for 2 hours. That all happened for 8 days. The 4 hour break was when I got some rest or went to the Temple, had lunch, walked around Dengfeng, or did nothing which was great.
Some of the days we went back up to the Temple, and met some of the most amazing monks. Ones name is Shi Deyang. I had lunch with him 2 times. That was great. Another/s name is Shi Decheng. He is Rich's master. These people are famous throughout Europe. We spoke many times. These people are the most humble I've ever met. There are books, and magazines with pictures, and articles about these guys. Rich would tell them to come to America and we would set up clinics and seminar, or, they could just come to stay with him for a while. They could even make some money while they were there teaching some students. Every single one of them said they weren't interested in the money. But they all wanted to show their Gung Fu to who ever would be interested in it.
One of the days, Rich, Yong and I took a cab to the other side of one of the mountains surrounding the Shaolin Temple. We got out of the cab, and I noticed there were stairs going up, and up, and up. You could not see the top of where the stairs went. As we went up there were Chinese words carved into some of the rocks. I stopped, and asked Yong what one of the sayings was. He said, "Stairs to Heaven." As Rich came up, he said, "This may be the stairs to Heaven, but I call this the hike to Hell." This hike took us up, and around what seemed like three mountains. We then descended down, and found ourselves in Shaolin 4 hours later. The beauty in those mountains I will never forget. There was a bridge made of planks of wood that looked like they should have broken 10 years ago. That was the scariest part of the hike for me.
On another day, Rich took me all the way through the Shaolin Temple. He showed me the stone carvings, and lots of Temples. The oldest Temple was the Thousand Buddha's Temple. That is the one with the footprints in the bricks on the floor. I took lots of pictures of all that stuff. Every morning, and most every night Rich, Yong and I had our meals at this one restaurant across from the hotel. I don't know what it was called, but we got to know some of the workers there. The manager's name is Li Chi. She works about 14 hours every day 365 days a year, and likes it. Rich told me that all these people work like that. I'd say there were about 250 people that worked at the hotel, and each one worked 14 to 16 hours a day for almost nothing. Dengfeng was the most poverty stricken place I've ever been in my life. Shaolin was worse, which is one of the reasons why we didn't stay there. There was no water up at the Shaolin Temple, and there was very little where we were. A lot of the mornings I would get up, and turn on the water in the bathroom, and nothing was coming out of the faucet. Hot water was only on a per chance basis. I think that I took 3 hot showers in the 8 days that I was there.
The Feng Yuan restaurant
The Shaolin Temple is in the shit hole of the world. The bathrooms are disgusting, they are just holes in the ground. If you drink the water, you wouldn't make it out. Most of the food is not eatable. It is not the place to take your wife or girlfriend to for romance. It is a place where the martial arts began, and houses some of the most amazing martial artists anyone would see anywhere. Ever since I saw the show Kung Fu, I've dreamed of one day going to the Shaolin Temple. I've now been there, and have been invited to come back. The honor in that is priceless. Will I go back? I don't know. Do I want to go back? Yes. No one knows what the future holds. Watch what you wish for, you just might get it. On my last day in Dengfeng I spent most of it up at the Temple. I had lunch with Shi Deyang, and a few other people. I walked all around; saw different shops, saw the different schools, and looked at the mountains that surround the Shaolin Temple. What a sight. Then we went back to Dengfeng. I walked around the city and took in as much as I could. During the time I was there, I don't think I could have had much of a better time by changing anything. I learned a form called Shao Hong Chuan, and a Chi Gung form called Ba Duan Jin and part of a staff form. I also learned lots of the basics in Shaolin Gung Fu. What I learned there was priceless.
The next day was a travel day again. From Zengzhou to Beijing. Rich had talked himself, and Yong to come back to Beijing with me, so I thought that was cool. Rich took another flight which was about 45 minutes behind my flight, and Yong took a bus, because his passport was expired. You can't fly in China without a passport. I waited at the airport for Rich, then we took a cab to the Gloria Plaza, dropped off our bags and started the walk to Tiananmen Square. By now I had lost 10 pounds, and was in the best shape I've been in for a long time (hard to believe). We got there with no problems. Went to the world famous Peking Duck restaurant, had an awesome meal. Then walked through Tiananmen Square one last time. Then back to the hotel. By the time we got there Yong was waiting for us. We went back to the room, and tried to call Christine. She wasn't home, so she didn't go to TGI Fridays with us on my last night in China. Rich, Yong, and I all went to TGI Fridays, had the traditional Chocolate Strawberry Dip, then walked back to the hotel and crashed out.
The next day was when I went back to Vegas. It was the reverse of going to Beijing. Beijing to Seoul, Seoul to L.A. L.A. to Las Vegas. For some reason it was shorter to go back, maybe the wind blows that way or something, but the plane went about 120 miles an hour faster back. I arrived in Vegas at 10:00 in the evening, and went right to my 20 year reunion. But that is another story. China was an experience I will not soon forget.
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