"You don't see what you see, and what you see, you don't see".
Shi Su Goong and I go back a long time, but he doesn't know it. As a matter of fact, neither did I.
It all started years ago, when I first started training at Shaolin back in 1995, that I first met Shi Su Goong. But, I didn't know that this man was "the man". You see, the "monks" had just returned from a big tour in the US and Canada at that time, a tour which had culminated in a visit to the David Letterman show. I had been training with my master, Shi De Cheng. Shi De Cheng, in all the times that I had trained with him, had always worn his orange robes. He was a monk, and a master. And you knew it when you saw him. As for me, I was a bum and a neophyte. And you knew that when you saw me.
In the back of my mind, I remember this guy who basically just walked around with his "Shaolin Monks Tour" jacket on. I really had had no idea who this individual was. At first, I had thought he was some sort of manager of the monks, as I had never, ever seen him in orange robes. I had never ever seen him train. Nor had I ever seen him teach. He just hung out around the wushu guan, smoked his cigarettes, and wore that damn jacket. Everyday. Just like I wore my damn gray tee shirt. Every day. And he smiled a lot. I can still remember those nicotine stained rotten teeth. He was a little guy, who probably weighed no more than a hundred and ten pounds. I had thought to myself that this guy must be some sort of director or manager of the traveling "monks" tour, he was just too scrawny to be anything else. There was no way this guy was a monk; he just didn't fit the image that I had construed in my mind. All I could think about when I had ever seen him, were those guys that had always come out of the shadows in the Bowery of New York, to spit on my taxi cab windshield and smear it around with a dirty newspaper. The imagery that my warped mind brought forth caused me great entertainment in an environment which was basically devoid of it.
In the fall of 1998, I had trained for almost a month at the Temple again, but this time, because of various politics between the wushu guan and the Shaolin Temple, I was basically cast out of the wushu guan facility and had to train outside. But that's a different story.... I trained this time with Shi Xing Hong, and we mainly trained in the courtyard outside the wushu guan. Unfortunately, it was under the watchful eyes of who I call, the "mad doctor". But I guess I should digress.
The "mad doctor" claimed to be a specialist in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He lived in a little cubicle with a steel pull down door right next to one of the many Shaolin tourist trap shops. His cubicle basically faced the courtyard where I was working out. I had heard many a story about this individual, ranging from his exploits with acupuncture and acupressure, to his more far fetched medical accomplishments which mainly included bilateral carotid artery pressure to the point of causing unconsciousness. When the patient awakened a few seconds later, he would proclaim that he had "cured" them of their disease, whatever it was. I found this individual hugely entertaining. Especially since he watched me every day, for almost six hours of training, each day. His English was almost as good as my Chinese, which basically meant that we couldn't communicate at all. But I did learn over time that he had wanted to teach me his medical ways, especially when he had learned that I was a doctor. I could only imagine the medical knowledge that I would walk away with. I also eventually learned that, in the past, like, way in the past, he had been a monk. So much for my preconceived imagery of what a Shaolin Temple monk was.
But what really fascinated me about this man, and I can't remember his name, nor can I remember where I wrote it down, was that every time he saw me, he made the effort to stop what he was doing to visit with me. He would jabber on in Chinese, and I would nod my head in agreement. If for some reason his face would turn negative for whatever reason, I would shake my head back and forth in disgust. I didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about, but we became good friends. The culmination of our relationship came when I was sitting at lunch with Yong and a sweet young girl who I call the "town whore" (I was trying to get a date, but she didn't speak English either, and besides, she has good taste in men), when my "mad doctor" friend showed up. Through Yong's translating abilities, I soon discovered that he wanted to teach me acupuncture, an art which I had learned a bit of the year previous in Beijing with some Traditional Chinese Medicine professors. The meeting reached a high point when he placed a six inch acupuncture needle completely through his upper calf, right there at the lunch table. I was not impressed, as I had routinely used two inch acupuncture needles through my wrists to treat my migraine pain. But the pretty young thing that I had been trying to impress, was, and after that stunt, she just couldn't take her eyes off of my mad doctor friend. I'll have to remember that for the next time I go.
But the mad doctor wasn't the only one who had watched me on a daily basis. The guy with the black "Shaolin Monk Tour" jacket was there also, smoking his cigarettes. He watched me fumble through many forms constantly, and, consistently. With thoughts of my taxi cab driving days behind me, I basically just ignored him. And one day, towards the end of my stay there, when he approached me to tell me in very broken English that during my next trip there, he would teach me Chin Na, I basically, just ignored him. "Yea sure, OK. And you can wash my windows too". I completely blew off the entire episode. This little guy was going to teach me something? Where's a newspaper when you need one?
When I got back to the US, I spoke with a good friend of mine, my little Chinese sister, Chen Jing Jing. I told her about the episode with the little bum of a man, who entertained me in a large fashion, when he told me he would teach me Chin Na. I asked her who this guy was, in the little black "Shaolin Monks Tour" jacket. She replied, "Shi Su Goong. He's China's best Chin Na master. And he doesn't take students. He selects who he teaches. And he rarely teaches."
And I had completely blown him off.
All I could think of, was, "Doc shoves his head up his ass once again". China's main man of Chin Na had selected me to be his disciple. And I had treated him like a Bowery bum. Which brings me to yet another mantra of the Shaolin Temple, and life, in general, said by some great man wanna be (me, yet again): "You don't see what you see, and what you see, you don't see". Remember this one, it's a goodie.
The next year I had trained again with Shi Xing Hong, and because I had set up my training directly with my master, and had not gone through the government run wushu guan, I again had no access to the wushu guan facilities. It was outside in the cold air yet again. Shi Xing Hong was teaching me Shaolin gong fu, and that had been the main purpose of my trip. The whole prospect of learning Chin Na from the great Shi Su Goong was just going to be the icing on the veritable cake, so to speak. If I could manage it. And, overcome the uneasiness I had caused a year ago.
But there had been no uneasiness. Shi Su Goong, upon hearing that I had arrived, had searched me out. It was a rarity to be offered the opportunity to learn Chin Na from this master, and I was going to take it. Shi Su Goong was more of the old style Chinese masters; he decided who he was going to teach after that individual had "proven" himself. He was going to decide what was going to be taught, and when. And above all, the training was to be secret. No passing on of information, no practicing amongst prying eyes. It was the old Shaolin, the way it had been for fifteen hundred years.
I guess I should again digress. The monks, and the performers, both teach any foreigner that makes it to the Shaolin Temple. But they are taught some basic gong fu moves, and some basic gong fu forms. The applications (how the forms and moves are used in actual fighting) generally are not gotten into in great detail There are still "secrets" in Shaolin gong fu. But Shi Su Goong takes it to the next level. He would only agree to start my Chin Na training once I agreed not to pass any of the information on. I also had to agree not to train with other people watching. And above all, I couldn't tell anybody how to do any of it. The information was for me, and my benefit, alone. I agreed. We headed out to the mountains to train. There was to be no training anywhere near the Temple or the wushu guan.
The secrecy got to the point of being entertaining, especially to my warped and distorted mind (you try living with people you can't talk to for a few weeks). Whenever a Chinese farmer walked by, we had to stop. Imagine, a little guy in a black "Shaolin Monk Tour" jacket, with nicotine stains on his teeth, standing next to a big white guy, in the middle of a field on a mountainside, just standing there, not talking and not doing anything, waiting for a Chinese peasant to disappear. But wait we did. And when the peasant disappeared, it was back to joint locks, throws, grasps, muscle tearing, and all of that other nasty stuff. I had spent a lot of time on the ground. In pain. Lots of it.
And when a cow walked by, I instinctively stopped. Didn't want any secrets getting out. I had sworn to keep my word about this whole Chin Na secrecy thing, and I wasn't going to even come close to disappointing the main man. Shi Su Goong stopped too. We waited for that damn cow to get out of ear shot, and we started again. But this time was different. Shi Su Goong was laughing. Hysterically. I have no idea what he was saying in Chinese, but I can only imagine. I thought about how adept I was at entertaining my master, as he was throwing me through the air. I soon discovered that that ground gets harder and harder, for some strange reason, as time goes on. (I'll have to look into that....)
He taught me all of the basics of Chin Na, leaving the advanced stuff for my next visit. He had wanted me to perfect it before we moved on. He had taught me a lot; actually, he taught me more than Chin Na. A lot more. You see, this little "bum" of a man, ended up being one of the best martial artists to leave the Temple. He had never lost a fight, and from what he says, he had been in many a "situation". He had always used Chin Na to initially overwhelm his opponent, and then "finish" him off with Shaolin gong fu. He had won many a national championship. And he was the Chin Na master of my masters. Here was this apparently old, little worn out man, who could move like lightning, tie up your limbs in irretrievable knots, and wipe you out, all in the matter of a second or two. I had never, ever seen anything like it. Power, speed, incredible accuracy, he had it all. And, as the Temple's master of hard qi gong, he had the hardest, most powerful limbs I had ever had the misfortune to come crashing against. This was the man that broke stones with his forehead. You don't know what the tearing of muscle off of bone feels like until you've worked out with Shi Su Goong. From "Bowery bum" to incredible Chin Na master, he had taken me on a journey that I will never forget. And definitely one, which I look forward to doing again.