Friday, April 5, 2013

Roadtrips & Kung Fu Life

"The Journey is the Reward."  
~ Chinese Proverb

Mary Ceallaigh
and Sifu Vyvial

The Chinese New Year of the Snake arrived on February 10th, and, being a Snake person myself, I welcomed this New Year feeling with an especially happy anticipation about the Tao’s unfolding. And it wasn’t long before I found myself travelling for Kung Fu,  to two different cities within one month...

My Sifu regularly travels to visit Moy Tung Kung Fu Academy Houston, a 3-hour drive away, and this time he was joined by Simo and a couple other of us along for the ride on a journey that turned out to be a continuous training – in balance, coordination, timing, sensitivity, and relaxation – kept intact with respect. From the dark winter morning gathering at the school, to attending the Saturday morning Houston class led by Sifu & Dai Sihing Nic, we trained. From some fun side-errands in Houston’s Little India, and an evening return and lingering wrap up conversations in the school office with my Simo, we trained, trained, trained.

This sort of togetherness is called “Kung Fu Life” in Ving Tsun and something Grandmaster Moy Yat emphasized often. It's the process of putting ourselves in situations where we have to directly face moment-to-moment reality through relationship, and respond with our martial attributes. Doing this, we experience the consequences of our actions immediately, and in this way, our physical practices and Kung Fu Life go hand-in-hand. This is why it is said that making the many sacrifices involved to travel for immersion-style training & socializing can exponentially increase your Kung Fu development, as each hour spent together with practice in mind is an hour of great potency. Traditional practitioners of mind-body arts throughout Asia took regular journeys and retreats very seriously, as a way to deepen their practice.

Within days of the Houston trip, I was in my Sifu’s office and he said “You should go to Richmond - you really should! The school can take a van, we’ll take turns driving, it’ll be fun!” Knowing that it was a good date for me to travel, my natural response spontaneously arose without thought – and it was a question: “Is Simo going?” My innate intelligence understood that, as one of the few females in the school, I needed to travel with my Simo, who is not only the most skilled Ving Tsun female presently training in Austin, but also the other half of Sifu. I knew if my Simo was going I would go – and that everything would align in order for me to do so, which it did.

Snakes of the Wood element type of people rarely rely on others, and I wouldn’t normally consider a continuous drive group road trip experience any fun, having done plenty of trekking in my 20s...  And though I have a stable group of close friends that I feel connected to and I love each of these people quite deeply, I am also easily content with solitude!  So, even though 24 hours on the road encapsulated in a jiggling van with 6 other people and a variety of strange pit stop locations isn't my usual thing, I knew it would be wonderful test of martial attributes. I also knew that the Richmond workshops would be energizing and amazing, due to some previous experiences with training transcendence...

Sifu-Simo's presence helped steer our little crew of committed students owards successful improvisation with this trip adventure. Our rental van was a new luxury Chrysler, replete with movie screens, adjustable seats, and fancy seat lighting & air streams - crazy like a jet airplane:

Sifu sat next to the driver, kept drivers awake all night, served up music requests, and helped keep us aware of our progress.

And by the 16th hour on such a journey, when chronological time no longer makes any sense, it was just the power of intention and community spirit that carried us to the final goal.  And after after about 24 hours on the road, we arrived at the tail-end of Richmond West school's Friday night class.  Sifu wanted us to attend, even though we were very sleep-deprived, disheveled, and unshowered....  While normally in such circumstances I would just head straight to hot water and a bed, my Sifu-Simo were enthusiastic so I kept up, understanding that we were in Kung Fu Land with precious people. 

After the class, when everything started to wind down, and I was relishing the thought of crashing at the hotel, I learned that we were headed to a diner for a late night snack of champions (of course)!  My stomach wasn’t growly, so I ordered just a cup of tea, and feeling the heavy, warm diner mug in my hand instantly re-ignited the fires of gratitude and Wu Wei (harmony) in my heart there at the table, in Richmond, Virginia. Sitting across from me was Dai Sihing Neil, and when his plate of food arrived he shared his corncake with me. I was especially touched by this simple act in the wee hours of the morning after what seemed like a really long journey, and it tasted very, very good.

A little later, when our smaller group of Austin students arrived at our hotel at 1am, Sihing Rubin patiently parked our van and got us checked in, paying attention to a multitude of details, just like he had done with all the groundwork before we left Austin and all the fueling on the road. As we walked/stumbled the downtown hotel's hallways in a place I’d never been before (a city formerly known for its very dangerous circumstances), I noticed I felt safe, and that was a remarkable thing as the only female in a small group of men in a city I’d never been in before.

Our two days of training at Sigung’s nearby Richmond school began the next morning. More experienced students who were simultaneously my nephews served as my Sidais, and again, gratitude swelled in me, as they offered their unique structures for me to learn with. The energy of 40 people training together with shared commitment is an awesome thing, both indoors and outdoors under the brilliant Spring light and fresh cool air. Training outside the vacuum of our Austin school was super refreshing, as each new training partner provided a whole new universe to train with. 
Later at the evening banquet event, which was also Sigung’s birthday, there was the sweetest jazzy music, along with food, cake, chitchat, and group photos. 
Eventually Sigungmo & baby Giovanna departed with the senior ladies accompanying their trip home – and Sigung dimissed all other locals. It was then that I realized I was again the only female, this time in a room of a few dozen men, as they started to move tables around and began to train.   I soon realized I also felt protected by the presence of many high caliber, noble warriors - as well as the reliable sign of my own relaxation.

Sigung, seated in his observation post compound near a handful of newer students practicing Luk Sao, had warned me to be careful when he asked me to go around the room filming during the Chi Sau practice - where things change fast and bodies can fly!  As the minutes passed, it began to dawn on me that I was getting to see senior Kung Fu master killers in motion, all of them with at least 10 years of training (and some of them with over 20) and it was so good that it wasn't televised!!! This high-level training ground was the very same dimension inhabited by the ancient Taoist masters - except that we were in the American Northeast. Serious force was being harnessed and let loose in a bar-room brawl without much of a bar, the room permeated with the sounds of bodies crashing on tables and banging on walls, with just enough groundrules to sustain Kung Fu. It wasn't until someone got thrown into a wall and a huge oil painting in a wood frame knocked down to the floor, that I started to know that we were in an alternate dimension, really...

Meanwhile, I was intent on good filming technique and fulfilling my duty - even though one of the bodies that happened to painlessly encounter a wall was mine at one point.  It was really only afterwards that the true reality hit me: my Sifu and Dai Sihings and all the other Chi Sau players were allowing their Kung Fu to flow in ways few people ever get a chance to see, and the energy of the room was Life Force itself. In other words, it was Beautiful Springtime City, and we could have been in some high mountain meadow village.  I was feeling a relaxed trust in the exciting scene - as well as a serious amount of loving nonattachment as I saw dear ones risking bodily harm.  My Sifu was successfully knocking bigger bodies than him into the air, and younger men were surprising older men, and nothing was as it seemed. I was a very different person witnessing this than many years before when I started to cry at an Irish boxing match!!!

Eventually Sigung announced the wrap up and Chi Sau came to a close. I just sat there, blinking.  It had only been maybe an hour of Chi Sau, but Time had definitely stopped. 

The next morning was Sunday,  and Sibak really helped us get more training in by opening the school early just for us.  This was at Sifu’s request of course, because Sifu wanted us to get in as much training as possible in between riding in the van on the road!

Then later the Simos and all the female students were invited to join Sigungmo’s women’s training workshop at the historic Byrd Park carillon, where we practiced
10 Siu Nim Taos in a row, in glorious Spring air. A hawk flew over us many times during this, catching the light like kung fu, and casting huge moving shadows of wings across the pavilion. Sigungmo practiced the highly advanced Babywearing Chum Kiu, and many of us trained Toi Ma on the corridors of the stone tiles. When Dai Sihing Neil, and Sihing Rubin arrived to collect Simo and me so we could join the Austin departure, they took some photos of us, the largest Ving Tsun female group in modern times.

As our Austin group reconvened, Sifu helped us focus on a timeline despite us feeling like we could stay for days. We said our goodbyes at the school, receiving many compassionate wishes for a safe journey in our famous 24 HOUR VAN RIDE to come…. We stopped at the house and Sifu-Simo had a goodbye visit with Sigung, and then we were off, headed to North Carolina. Later, driving through the night’s hills and tree-lined highways, Sifu DJ-d some great tunes and indulged my request for Cibo Matto, even though it made him sleepy. The trip home seemed a lot faster, due to our supercharged SNT energy and enhanced Kung Fu. We drove through a rainstorm in Louisiana, listened to lots of Clifton Chenier, and arrived back in Austin in time for Monday evening’s class.  

This is just one angle of our epic adventure - as a lot more happened as those who were there well know. Personally I have experienced this journey's positive impact on my training life - it has made a regular weeknight class shimmer and fly by quickly - Life is even more alive.  My internal Kung Fu had a huge growth spurt through this experience, and body & mind have opened to whole new foundations.  I love my training even more.  How can this be?  You have to figure that out for yourself, just like the rest of Kung Fu.