Speaking of Russell Wong, it was pretty cool translating for him and helping out when he needed a Mandarin speaker. Of course, looking back at it now, it seems strange be able to actually sit down at the same table with a world famous movie star and talk about how sore we all were from practice. And yes, my curiosity overcame me- I asked him how his character on "Vanishing Son" always manages to retrieve his violin, when he is always running away from the state police, Triad gangs, mad dogs, etc... at the end of every show. Russell's answer was something along the lines of "I don't know, why are you asking me this question?" and "blame it on the writers."
As for training, well, a typical day would go like this:
|Here's He Jing De, one of the livelier Beijing Team members. Before practice he would always do crazy stuff, like walk around in a handstand, or flip all over the place. He wanted an English name, so I named him "Harry," since it seemed to fit him. Turned out that he got the words "Harry" mixed up with "Hairy," so he wanted to change it. Too bad, since "Harry He" had a nice ring to it.|
A word on the food- us "foreigners" had it lucky. We would eat pretty well, e.g. rice and various dishes. The athletes ate what seemed to be a mish-mash of rice, egg, meat, cabbage, and whatever else the chefs felt like throwing into mess. Strangely enough, it looked pretty appetizing (a thought which scares me).
One thing Kali stressed about training was that you have to know what the movements in your set are used for, otherwise you are not doing Wushu. Otherwise, all you are doing is flailing your limbs around aimlessly, without intent. In order to make his point, he showed me an application from the Nanquan Compulsory. He used the "uppercut" from the 2nd section as a kind of body-slam/sweep combination. I couldn't really quite do it as well as he did, but the way he did it was scary enough to make his point.
Wu Jing, when coaching Cary (another American) the finer points of Drunken Sword, also told him the same. In order to demonstrate the "essense of the Drunken style", he asked Cary to punch at him. And when he did, Wu Jing put on a goofy face, and wobbled back just enough so that the fist would barely miss him. When Cary retracted his fist, Wu Jing launched himself forward, butting with his shoulder, hip, or head. He even did one of those crazy fist-drilly movements too. I gave a try at it myself, and I have to say, I was quite impressed by his ability to avoid my attacks while cracking me up with his Drunken sound effects (like "whooo-uggghh uggghh", or something like that).
What is interesting about this is that a lot of the traditional Wushu people here like to deride contemporary Wushu athletes as being nothing more than Communist brainwashed gymanstic dancers. Yet some of the top Wushu athletes in China say that knowledge of the application is essential. They even complained about the direction Contemporary Wushu was going, that the new movements being created by the institute were based more in some gymnastics coach's mind than what is considered as wushu. Ironic, considering that this is what many traditionalists in the U.S. are saying about Contemporary Wushu.
|The San-Da group! Sitting in the back is Coach Chen, and from left to right is: Yen Lei, Bien Yuen Tao, and me (yup, the one with the shiny Ohioan tan).|
As for training, well, many would say that being in the company of such Wushu greats is enough to inspire one to try harder. I would disagree, and say that, more than anything, peer pressure was largest reason to work harder. Think of it this way, everyone around you is way better than you and any other foreigners there. Well, some Japanese Wushu team members were there, but honestly, they were pretty close to the Chinese Wushu skill level. You cannot imagine the what's it like to have everone in front of you doing front stretch kicks 5x faster than you could ever do it, and then have them all look at you while you plod along at the end of the line. The embarrassment was enough to make me not care about my driving myself without worrying about hurting myself (which is what most sane people would do, worry).
I also had the privelege of witnessing a scrimmage between the San-Da team and the local military police team. If you were there, you would have noticed that most of the San-Da team members were only about 14-16 years old, while the MPs were in their twenties. It was some of the most brutal fighting I have ever seen in my life, I couldn't believe the punishment those kids were taking. One poor guy had his tooth knocked out. He was whacking away at the MP when the MP threw a hook punch that connected solidly with his jaw. He spun around, and the crowd went silent. A bunch of people crowded around the floor and one of them gave the guy his tooth. The guy looked at it, went up to the mirror on the wall, gave a toothy grin, and went away.
All wasn't lost for the San-Da team though, there was one fight that reaffirmed my belief in "size matters not." This one kid squared off against an MP who was literally a head taller than him. The kid stood in a right-leading stance, threw a few jabs, and when the MP charged him, he'd side kick him. Then he'd step in, and with a mighty (mighty for a little kid) yell, he hip-threw the MP. This happened several times before the MP got wise and stopped charging in. But by then it was too late for him- he was so battered from being slammed into onto the canvas that the kid won the match by tossing him off the platform.
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