Showing posts from September, 2009

Memories of Taiwan: Lost in Translation

I was walking with my teacher, Chen Yun Ching, through the cluttered, stony streets of Qishan in southern Taiwan, blood-red paper and tinsel jostling with with the pushy crowds and endless market stalls. "How do you you say 'Happy New Year'?" I asked him, and he paused, mid-stream, while people flowed around him, a rock in the rapids. I carefully repeated his words again and again, watching his eyebrows raise higher and his eyes go wider in increasing exasperation at my mangled tones, until he finally waved his hand saying "hao" (good) - whether in satisfaction or in resignation, I wasn't sure. With some optimism I shouted out my newly-acquired greeting to the first people I saw: a group of young men and women walking past, chatting amiably in the spirt of New Year's Eve revelry. Almost at once they fell about laughing (literally, for one young man actually sank to the ground, hugging his belly), stamping their feet, vainly trying to stifle guffaws a

Decadal Gashuku Part 4: The Aftermath

So what was the Decadal Gashuku all about? In 10 days we had run more than 150 km, performed close to 10 000 kicks and an equal number of punches, strikes and blocks. We had trained for 10 hours per day, sweated buckets of water, used up litres of sunscreen and eaten gallons of maltabela porridge. We had lifted chi shis, pressed the kongo ken, done thousands of knuckle push-ups, sit-ups, squat kicks and fireman lifts up steep hills. Certainly the gashuku was, to a large extent, an exercise in spirit training. But there was much more to it than that, and it would be unfair to ignore these other aspects in the face of "more exciting" events like fractured vertebra, dislocated shoulders and dehydration-induced delirium . The Decadal Gashuku is where I learned (and inculcated) some very useful (and in fact fundamental) martial material that in the pre-internet era was particularly hard to come by. In weapons alone I learned Hamahiga no tonfa, Tsukenshitahaku sai kata (a tri

Decadal Gashuku Part 3: Running on Empty

It was mid-afternoon half way through the second week of the Decadal gashuku . Tim Hull and I were shuffling along a dusty track somewhere in the African savannah. The group with which we’d started running had long since dispersed; the front pack having disappeared into the far distance while behind us about 20 or so stragglers were spread out over several kilometres. We were about 16 km into what was a half marathon. As trudged along, each step sent sharp spasms up my spine (due to what I later discovered was a fractured vertebra). I reflected on how we had come to be in this position... The morning had started out promisingly enough; we had a very short run – only 5 or so kilometres – followed by some chi sau (sticky hands drills from wing chun) and then some taiji. So far so good. We had breakfast and rested as the sun came out and the sky cleared away from the previous night’s storm. We were in for a hot, dry day. Our mid-morning lesson was about to begin and I reluctantly