30th January – 14th February
I am sure that this years trip to Fuzhou will be as amazing as the last 20 years of travels to the Fujian area of this spectacular country. In all we are seven strong; myself – Neil Johnson, Matthew Brooks, Imogen Thomas, Ali Canals, Dave Etheridge Barnes and Teo Sartori.
Teo has been training with me for the last 17 years and runs the Danish, Copenhagen club. This year was his mums 70th birthday so they decided to mark this special occasion by visiting Japan and making it his first trip to China!
Teo then thought he would be able to just pop on a plane for a relatively short journey over to China! However it was cheaper to fly all the way home to Denmark and then fly out to Fuzhou to join us. Quite a round trip with a day at home before departing and a lot of jet lag…..
Thursday February 1st
Jet lag on! Up at 5 am after waking at 3 am although hoping all will be normal by tomorrow and we will be on China time. I will save you the breakfast talk this year and just say 7 am then off to training for 8 am.
We walk to the training room on top of the shopping centre, so much less romantic than the early trips to Young Chun but so much more a representation of the city life of training Kungfu.
From where we are we have an amazing view of mountains across three sides of the city. in addition to this you can see the rivers that lead out to the coast amongst but the hustle and bustle of the biggest population in the world.
In China from 5am onwards, many people go to the parks to exercise and socialise. Everything from Taichi, Kungfu, Qi gong and dancing can be seen. People really take the time to look after their health and see friends before work even starts.
I love the morning walk to training. You get to see the city waking up and breathe the air whilst still fresh before the traffic becomes manic. Our hotel is right next to Xi Chan Si, a beautiful temple, followed by several small rivers some of which are enchanting and others truly smell terrible. Wonky pavements are all over the place and building works of an ever growing city’s development maintains Fuzhou’s ever changing landscape.
We finally make it up to the roof top where Shifu (Master Lin) is ready for action at the tender age of 74. Training true to tradition, was everyone showing their own skill level after the years practice and refinement. The whole group did well and we finished with some ground binding.
It’s the small details each year that really help understand the art of locking and pain.
The afternoon was spent ambling around our local temple and then out for dinner with some old Fuzhou friends.
Friday February 2nd
Day two of training and everyone is feeling so much better after a good nights sleep….. The humour has started with Dave doing Michael Caine impressions and to “do another roll” has become (Ham roll) Ali’s nick name is hot stuff and Liz is Napoleon! Anyway we find it funny.
All joking apart, training was super good and we worked on better ways of entering in to achieve the binding skills to actually work in real situations.
3 Lanes Seven Alleys is the tourism venture this evening. It’s an old style Chinese buildings and shopping area…. We always go for gifts and street food. The usual like squid on a stick and fried pork buns keep everyone happy.
ZZzzzzz time again.
Saturday February 3rd
I know I said I wouldn’t tell you about breakfast…… but it has been really very good this year and I am getting quite into hot chilli’s, veg and Soy milk. Not quite the normal toast….
Back at our usual training hall this morning, most sessions are 4 hours and fly past. The walk is 30 minutes so depending on our evening activities we exercise for around 7 hours minimum a day.
The class today was super fun with lots of binding and working the san pan… meaning the three levels of fighting and how to best change the levels masking your intentions.
2pm we meet up with the Lin family for a walk to Fu Dao (Lucky path) it’s an amazing sky path running up the side of a mountain. Leading up to the top giving views of Fuzhou city and the Min Jing river. The path is continuous and smooth providing access to all. The walk takes around 2 1/2 hours.
By the end of the day we have tired legs and it’s time for food and sleep. As we say “Eat, Sleep Roll and Repeat!” ….
Sunday February 4th
The fourth day of full on training means the legs are starting to stiffen, but as ever, after warming up and leg lifts we are all back to life. We have been working on our forms ready for two performances this year. So each group have been working on their timing, to show their forms together. After the forms we started the binding and like usual we train both left and right sides. This lead us to understand how to stop a binding technique and then how to counterattack. Just like all locking systems you learn the lock then how to get out of the situation.
Master Lin also got involved on the ground and locked a few of us up and as ever the pain level rises.
After a short rest back at the hotel, we were out to visit out long term friend at the Very cool Kungfu shop…. as if we needed any more weapons?
So of course, between us we bought a broad sword, a super cool nine section chain whip, taichi shoes, training rings, an array of different coloured tassels and a pair of don’t ask me why nunchucks!
The traffic is so busy nowadays, what with China’s boom in life style. The bus ride took as long as it would have done to walk home!
Beef noodles and bed and another good day was had.
Monday February 5th
Day five – Our bodies are now getting used to the daily regime and everyone is getting stronger.
We never know what’s coming up in training and today was no exception! When we arrived and before I had even finished putting on my kungfu shoes we are chatting about the 9 section chain whip brought yesterday and Master Lin starts teaching us how to use it… we start with a rope as it can be very dangerous weapon to learn. So the first few movements are set to practice. From there into lots of stand up locking. With names like standing bending the chicken wing. Master Lins coiling skills are truly amazing and credit to his life’s practice of Dishu Quan.
Patterns training, timing and more refinement the group are getting tighter ready to perform in a few days.
The afternoon comes super quick and after a spruce up we train up on the hotel roof top. This is just like old Fuzhou training in the sun and much needed after the coldest years visit so far!
Training inside later and out for a big lunch followed by more Zzzzzzz
Tuesday February 6th
Day 6 was most definitely a day of action – For almost the whole 4 hour lesson we focused on binding skills.
We learnt: Wearing the heart button, Devil carries the flag and Carp crossing the creak. Alongside this we practiced many variations front and backwards.
If that wasn’t enough we then did some more 9 Section chain whip movements.
The afternoon was spent visiting the Black and White pagodas. The two pagodas were once used to find your direction around the city when all the houses were single storeys and trees were the tallest thing around.
Back at the hotel we completed some more training ready for the Dog Boxing village tomorrow…..
Wednesday February 7th
Our first big day arrives and we all meet up in the hotel foyer to drive to Xiyuancun, the village that is the home of dog boxing. We arrive, at the same time as all the main old school Dishu Quan brothers but what we did not expect was to see Chen Zhendao Grand Master, Chen Yijiu’s oldest son. It was a great moment and honour to meet him again looking so much better in health.
After presenting Chen Zhendao with a red packet and gift, the usual photo session starts and to see so many of the old and new school boxers together was truly amazing. When the photos were over it. was show time and we start by warming up… Leg lifts, diving rolls and lotus flower legs.
Our bodies warmed up, Helene at the age of 69 shows off her improvement of San Zhan. She is truly an inspiration starting ground boxing at the age of 64 and keeps improving each year.
Imogen Thomas, Ali Canals, Teo Sartori and Dave Etheridge Barns all do a synchronised 7 Stars falling to the ground form. Dave takes pleasure in pretending to rip the audiences groin out as he performs with focus. Everyone look super good this year and again all improving from the last. Ali flies like a whirlwind and Imogen has the poise of a dancer. The locals love seeing the performance.
Teo from Denmark makes a good first impression also doing the Double Bats form, flipping up
in the pattern with ease. The form 36 linking fist was done with Gou Char and myself (Neil Johnson) showing the mixing of East and West.
As planned, the Shaolin Big Knife was performed by Mat Brooks, unfortunately with a Wushu floppy sword!
**Neil Shaolin perfect staff. However, as always in China be prepared as Master Liz said on the spot Neil and Mat do the Sun and Moon knife together! Luckily for us, we were practiced and it all went super well. This was the first time we had publicly performed this rare weapon so we were very happy.
The final performance was the two person form demonstrating the binding skills in action. This is a set form, but is still hard to really bring to life the finer details of joint locking an opponent.
With the show over, the Mayor, Wang Chengliang, whom we have met for many years now, treated us all to an amazing dinner. The food was truly out of this world and lots of toasting was made and good wishes to all.
Before the dinner, we went to the local temple of wealth, which is visited by people from all over China and is over 630 years old. It was a very special moment as Imogen’s mother had passed away last year and Billy Chan my good friend and Chinese teacher has also just passed. To remember and honour them we made the full ceremonial circuit of the temple. You walk right in direction around the gods bowing three times at each and placing three incense sticks at each god with your left hand.
We burnt paper money to wish good fortune to the after life and let off fire crackers to scare away the evil gods. For each of us it was a very powerful moment, leading us to reflect on all the good memories.
Tomorrow is our day off all training so once dinner was done we headed out to let loose for a night! 2am Zzzzzzz
Thursday February 8th
7:30am up for breakfast, some make the most of the day off and lay in a bit.
Myself and Teo head out early for some clothes exchanging and along the way we find a metal worker who was able to shorten my 9 section chain whip to the correct length. Cutting and welding job done we headed off to Drum Mountain.
After an hour and two bus journeys we arrive and start the long walk up to the temple at the top. I have been here many times and never tire of the tranquility of the place. The smells, ringing of singing bowls and chanting vibrates through your body. The panoramic view from the top provides you with an understanding of the vastness of China providing glimpses from various view points as you meander up and around the temple.
In the afternoon we did some more training and caught up with some much needed sleep.
Friday February 9th
When we arrived at training today, Master Lin is very preoccupied as it is the big opening of the Traditional Fujian Dog Boxing Club tomorrow. There will be over 160 of the local top masters and practitioners attending, so ….practice practice practice…. is the word of the day.
Tonight we are out for dinner with Huang Zhen He. He is the supermarket owner, who is building a new training hall planned for next year. He has also fallen in love with the art and is sponsoring Master Lins training grounds.
The dinner was unbelievable – we forget in England that we mostly have one plate of food. In China lots of dishes are shared and many take lots of stages to prepare. Tonight’s food proved to be the best of the trip so far and tasted delicious washed down with red wine!
Once back at the hotel we did a quick practice then went to bed early ready for the day ahead.
Saturday February 10th
Once awake, we all practice our forms again like mad rats in the hotel room. Onto breakfast, then into smart clothes and off to the show venue…….
We arrive and the scale of how many people are attending certainly becomes apparent by the sheer number of tables in front of us.
Slowly, everyone starts arriving and there are many faces we recognise from over the years and famous masters of different styles. This really is the who’s who of Fuzhou martial arts.
The announcement is made, time to start…… Nerves are buzzing we are all prepared and ready but just hoping everything runs smoothly. There is an opening speech from Master Lin to welcome everyone, followed by myself. Part of the speech was stating how some of the Chinese did not like Master Lin teaching the Westerners and after 12 years of returning to learn the style we had won their hearts.
After the meal yesterday, one of our Chinese friends LiYun’s parting words were…..“We are relying on you for our clubs reputation! ” No pressure, we all thought to ourselves !
To kick the show off we did various leg lifts, rolls and lotus flower legs. The audience were captivated – Imogen, Ali and XiaoYun perform San Zhan showing the East and West uniting. Myself and Mat do Lian Quan and get the timing perfect even with all the angles and the jumping kick.
Teo performed the Shang Bian Fu pattern… He only learnt it six months ago and did an amazing job. As ever he flips up effortlessly like a cat and has legs of death. Helene demonstrates San Zhan, a year off seventy and looking smoother than ever. She is now a true dog boxer and has an iron will.
Qi Xing Dui Di performance next with Teo, Imogen, Ali and Dave. It’s the best performance of this the whole trip! Everyone is in sync and so many details that have been worked on over the trip have definitely paid off.
I look on proudly at all my students and the hard work they have done.
Even Liz, she had sustained a serious injury to her shoulder two days before we came to China. She could have not come but still persevered and has worked hard each day doing what she could.
Long Hui does the Eighteen Linking Pearls pattern. He has always been super smooth and displays great poise of posture. This year we can also see the improvements he has made.
I do the Shaolin Tong Zi Gun pattern, this is basic but shows flow and clean power generation. Mat moves on to the Shaolin Dan Dao and uses a proper fighting sword. His cuts are clean and finished to a good round of applause.
No rest before myself and Mat perform the Two person pattern and all runs smooth. We really turn it up for the show and the crowd are loving seeing Dishu in action. There is no hiding as this crowd know what they are looking at! There are thirty of the top local Dog boxing masters present!
Finally, I show the Iron Leg skill. Qi Gong is done before bending the thick mild steel bar with the shin. The old masters love this as very few people can still perform this skill. A massive applause erupted as the show finishes and the big dinner begins.
Top quality food is served and the toasting begins. It is customary if someone toasts your table you should go to theirs so the rest is blurry…….
Later in the afternoon Master Lin and Xiang Yao come over to the hotel to discuss some material for a Dishu Book we are currently writing. It is very scary to think just how much knowledge can be lost from the old school masters if it is not documented for the future.
Another crazy day in Fuzhou. Training in the morning….
Sunday February 11th
With the show over, we are all feeling more relaxed. After my meeting with Master Lin yesterday afternoon we are even more inspired to document the history of Dishu – all the stories of the past, the many binding movements and counter attacks.
This year we have focused a lot on new binding skills. What to do when to technique fails and a counter is needed. Today’s lesson was entirely four hours of just binding. Great fun but definitely feeling stretched in all the wrong places! Time for lunch and a clean up.
In the afternoon, we head back to Three Lanes, Seven Alleys for some final tourism shopping as we only have two more days in Fuzhou. Back at the hotel we do some more practice of the nine section chain whip. Luckily for us we have used a rope to begin our learning in this as it has been called the Casino Royal due to the amount of times we have hit ourselves in the privates! Liz ups the ante by taking out the security camera with the rope and we get caught like kids trying to put it back up by the manager! Whoops!
Monday February 12th
Binding today consisted of: locking the throat and pulling the bow, bending the chicken wing and taking down to the ground then into the nun sits in meditation. In addition to this we incorporated general fighting variations of the art.
It is truly a complete style that Chen Yijiu formed. Master Lin was one of the closest students and did not study any other arts so was the purest of students to the system.
You can only grasp this by being here training year on year. My 12 years of learning Dishu Quan and 22 years of Tiger Crane is all coming together from the strengthening excises to the flexibility movements. Even the iron balls meditation plays a major part in knowing the whole system.
This afternoon we are going to Sheng Quan Si a beautiful temple we trained at two years ago…
The number 86 bus takes us all the way across town and after a short walk we arrive at an almost unrecognisable temple! There is a new road and lots of new parts of the temple. The head monk meets us and it’s like old friends reuniting. Greetings made, we are taken on a tour…
The grand hall has three Buddha’s all with their heads covered, this is until the temple is finished next year. The scale is unbelievable and the whole temple is built with no nails.
As we reach the highest level over looking Fuzhou, we drink tea from a traditional tea table. On the side of the table there is a proud photo of us all to say thanks to the temple for our time training there. The monks hold martial arts very highly as Bodhidhamrma taught the monks the bone tendon and marrow washing exercises in a bid to strengthen their body to enable them to reach a higher spiritual level.
The sun was out, white tea was provided for us – an amazing afternoon from start to finish. We finish our last meal, on our own in a local restaurant where as ever the food is out of this world.
Tuesday February 13th
Today is our last training session this year in Fuzhou! So it is down for one last Chinese breakfast and this year the hotel has been super good to us.
At 8am we are on our final dusty morning walk just before China is fully bustling with people everywhere. The flowers are all starting to come out and Chinese New Year is on its way with people all over China commuting home to see their family.
The final training session and we get the blood flowing, then start reviewing all the binding we have completed on this trip. Before long, Master Lin gets even more excited, he loves it when we are all binding and working out the weaknesses and strengths of the movements. In the old days, they did lots of free sparring and quickly learned what worked or not. Today’s escape lead us to another technique called Chain link hooking. All I can say is it is super painful and most of us had very sore shoulders after!
The lesson comes to an end far too quickly, as has this years training! It really has been such a good trip. We have learnt so many new and refinements. Mat Brooks proudly received Master Lin’s Sun and Moon weapon to use back in the UK. We have eaten amazing street and banquet food, performed martial shows to some of the top martial artists in Fuzhou, visited temples and head monks, made closer friendships with some and formed new friendships with others and have seen Fuzhou itself become a more developed area and finally appeared on TV and the radio again!
Final big banquet tonight….
Up at 4:50am 17 hour flight home…….
Another truly amazing trip – Skills honed – Good company – Delicious food and so many laughs.
Here’s to next year!