Having just returned from my first visit to Beijing in 5 years I have a lot to think about. It was a specifically long and tiring trip as I first went to Poole, UK, accepted a very promising apprentice and taught Gongfu Jia for an exhausting 8 days. I then flew to Beijing and spent more than a week with the kids mostly on my own to give my wife a change to take some time in India to pursue her traditional dance/culture training. After that I was able to take some time to visit old & new friends and connections including specifically Shifu.
I was, thankfully, able to get in many good practices in the courtyard of my father in law’s residential block in the mornings before it got too hot, and occasionally in the evenings before the mosquitos attacked. That courtyard is not so crowded and the stone surface over dirt is the best. The ‘chan’ (cicadas) were memorably loud in the summer as in the years past when I lived in Beijing, and the bats were out in force at night.
Taking one’s gongfu practice to a different geographic location, and climate and is always interesting. I am always surprised that I managed to bring it with me and it still functions. It should not be surprising, but it is to me; the fact that it lives within me. Besides that normal thrill, returning to Beijing and the climate in which the bulk of my gongfu was trained, and a huge part of myself was forged, is a bench mark of progress. I cannot help but feel the shocking difference in my practice from the last time, and the first times I was there in 1999 The progress of gongfu is still something that I rationally understand yet still don’t quite believe, and never did believe would take me to this point. Practicing on the hard stones or dirt of Beijing with the cicadas screaming above and feeling an entirely different action is a measurement of time, life and progress, against the backdrop of 20 years of memories of training in that city.
I was able to meet with my Shifu, Chenyu, Shimu, and elder and junior gongfu brothers for some wonderful celebratory dinners. My senior, Hu Weihangwas in good health and great spirits. We remembered many years past and how fortunate we were to have the opportunity to learn from Shifu in the way that we did at that time.
I met many new junior tudi in person who I had contacted online before and the feeling was warm and fun. My student, HuangYi who now lives in Beijing and trains with Chenyu and Chen Shiwu was able to visit me a few times and review bitter practice.
Chen Shiwu is all grown up now, a big strong guy who has good manners, maturity and a similar sense of humor to his dad, seems he is likely to be married soon. I look forward to watching his progress in practice. Shimu is in good health and is managing a lot, turned 50 this year. We had many old stories to remember.
Shifu’s health is good. He was in great spirits and the jokes were flying. I was honored to sit on his right with Hu Weihang on his left like the old days. We had some excellent baijiu and I heard a lot of the gossip of the Beijing Taijiquan community. We ate Yang Xiezi, which is lamb on the bone in hotpot that is both spicy and numbing. This is something that seems impossible to get in the US and really outside of Beijing I think as well. This brought back wonderful memories. I think we spent nearly 5 hours at dinner with the last two of them involving Shifu teaching application after application with his left hand, which has not apparently lost any power or terror. Several of us left with bruises and other sore spots, but that is what Baijiu is partly for though. Everyone agreed it was a special time and I wish I had more time to spend but this trip was limited for me.
After 20 years from the first time in Beijing and more than 17 following Shifu’s guidance my heart was full with feeling about Shifu and the gongfu family and how the situation and myself had changed, and what remained the same. Something that is very poorly understood in the west and seems impossible to convey is the relationship between Shifu and Tudi. Surely many people know the cinema-romanticized version of this from Hong Kong movies, and while this IS an accurate melodramatic version of something that Chinese do understand, only the superficial side of this seems understandable to westerners. Often the relationship (like many in China) can be quite complicated. There is no monolithic generalized relationship, but is as different and individual as any person in China or elsewhere. Those who are able to persevere will understand, eventually. Those who cannot, certainly won’t understand, and most likely won’t achieve gongfu on this traditional pateither. After many years I begin to understand what the term “Shifu” means. This visit really struck that note very loudly. I am beyond honored to be still standing by Shifu’s side in this line. I kept emotions to myself, but everyone had that feeling anyhow. At this point I am sincerely thankful for yuanfen.