To start with, I do not want to contribute to the discussion of the (non)Wudang styles. I am now in the middle of my field work in China and that brings me to places where foreigners practice their wushu, either modern or traditional (kung fu). In that sense Wudang seems to be a logical step. I contacted first several schools via email to find out if they have any European students during the time and finally was welcomed by two of them. Not exploring origin of any style, but really only the practice itself through people’s experience and its overreach to their life. I could join the training group too, which is typically much better for the trust and the whole atmosphere, even when it makes my body suffer (and my soul happy).
The first school I visited was China Wudang Kungfu Academy. I stayed for three days and the first emotion I had to deal with was shame – when coaches found out how short I will stay, I could see the negative thoughts they suddenly had about me. Time is a big topic in the (traditional) wushu. Therefore, when the international students asked me how long I will stay, I said: “Three days. I came for enlightenment.” After the ice was broken I told them about my research and as I am used to with the traditional wushu people, they were willing to help with the project. Thank you again guys!
Here, like in the other Wudang schools, people stay for some time – from weeks to years – and practice. Only practice. When I was visiting, there was actually a problem with electricity so there was literally nothing else to do than practice. That means that only the training kept me warm, because we were without heating, hot water and light as well. Candle light for sure made it a special memory for me. So, the schedule is like this: After breakfast, there are two hours of training, lunch, two hours of training, dinner, one hour of training. In summer, there is an additional hour before the breakfast. I could finally join the training and with the two weeks spent on train, hostels and not training at all, the first session was a pain (and the others too). The head of this schools is master Chen Shi Xing and the main coach is Cheng Shi Yi; students call him shishou, uncle. He would chose for you your own coach. But he himself will take care of the first hour of every training session and the evening. That is his thing. For my short experience it involved stretch kicks, kicks, other kicks, (lots of kicks), splits (a lot of them), standing in the stances, punching into the boxing pads…
Interesting here is the structure of the class and the role of the teacher. Shishou is walking in between all the students, correcting and giving instructions. All the coaches are active, practicing too or at least showing some sequences. Shishou does not smile much. When I arrived, I notice that everyone respects him a lot. In his thirties, it is him who the whole class wait for while stretching. He would watch them quietly and then order to move one. After one hour of the basics, there is a short pause and forms begin. Here the coaches take the main role and take care of their small groups of practitioners.
My coach kept an eye one me two or three times per that hour, which I consider quite fair. Shishou came once to check out, and then watched from the distance few more times. You feel like they have the control. When I asked the foreigners, they said they feel like shishou care about the students (both Chinese and non-Chinese). The discipline was very strict, that surprised me. However the atmosphere was very family like.
The second main training is similar to the first one, except for the beginning where there are tai ji basics. In the evening it is a review class, which typically involved even more stretching and pain. And some fun, as when you try to kick a pad but cannot see it because the lights do not work…
I saw the coaches and shishou performed few times, or played a little when they were more free and every time their movements wowed me.
This school is new, and has only handful of foreign students. They interact naturally with the locals, most of them can speak at least some Chinese. Different from the modern wushu groups, some people came here because they have health problems. Some of them were even told it is not going to be better by the doctors. So they decided to think otherwise and came here. They join all the trainings and all the exercises, just sometimes with a lower speed/power or a smaller range of motion.
They getting healthier, I became to be a bit sick out of the cold and constant travelling. But nothing could make me better than a warm breakfast: dumplings, spicy something and bean sprouts, and one hour of kicking.
It is really interesting to watch the “education” of those people who were practicing here, both students and mainly the coaches. I now mean how educated they were in terms of knowing other styles. Shishou asked me what style I originally practice and even though he wasn’t sure about this one, he immediately asked if it is close to the choy lee fut. Sadly I do not have this experience with the modern wushu so far.