Monday, June 6, 2016

2016 Women's Workshop: A Mighty Family

3:30am - Scramble to shush my alarm before it wakes anyone else. My husband and kids aren’t crazy enough to be getting up this early; that’s all me. I have this morning planned down to the minute. Hell, I’ve been preparing for this morning for weeks, resting and eating right and generally pouring on as much self-care as I possibly can to ensure that my madcap illness will let me do all the things I want to do for the next three days. This is my first time ever travelling out of state for a Kung Fu workshop, y’see, and I’m determined to make sure everything goes right. I jump into the world’s fastest shower, scoop up my pre-packed bags, and slip out the door.

4:15am - Pull up to Simo’s house. I don’t even have time to wonder if I should knock or text to let her know I’m there before she’s opening the passenger door and climbing in. Good, no precious seconds lost. We cruise through the sparse traffic of a barely conscious city, on our way to the airport to meet the other ladies with whom we’ll be traveling. I’m all over my phone, navigation and clock, are we where we should be at this moment? Are we ahead of schedule? I get a little smug about how well it’s all going.

4:45am - Score a princess parking spot in the airport’s long-term lot and hustle to catch the little bus that’ll take us to the terminal. I check that I’ve got all my bags as the bus trundles away from the parking lot. Pretty sure we’re exactly on schedule to catch our flight, but probably I should double check the time.

4:55am - Realize that I left my stupid phone in my stupid car.

Looking back, I can pinpoint this as the first of many (many, many) kung fu lessons of the weekend. I could either pitch a hissyfit and burn a bunch of energy that my sickly self really couldn’t spare on something that would achieve nothing more than making everyone’s life difficult, OR ... I could just take a breath, laugh, and go with the flow of fate. Honestly, I was about to fly 1400 miles away from home to learn Ving Tsun from Grandmaster Moy Tung … what on Earth did I need my phone for? Was I gonna live-tweet about the workshop? Scroll through some Tumblr memes in between rounds of tsui mah? Pffft.

So I caught Simo’s eye. Told her about my phone. We got some dirty looks from the other travellers on the bus - apparently nobody laughs in a pre-dawn airport. Some folks just don’t appreciate irony.

Hours blended together and the passage of minutes became meaningless. For the next three days, we drifted on the tides of kung fu in a strange new world where training, learning, working together, laughing, more training, basically everything … is more important than such mundane details as sleep or the concept of time.

Even the weather seemed uncommitted to any particularly rigid schedule. The wind that howled in over the Atlantic brought everything from glorious sunshine to angry slate-colored clouds and swirls of this mysterious white substance that I would later be assured was, in fact, snow. In April. In a place with “Beach” in its name.

Luckily, the extended kung fu family that gathered for the workshop all banded together to get done whatever needed doing. We fell into an easy rhythm of training, working together, gathering groceries and securing lodging and, yes, making an urgent run to Target for some extra layers of clothes for those of us (me) who were too Texas to handle the weather (I am a delicate flower).

And … look, I don’t like many people. I’m a curmudgeonly sort by nature, though mostly it’s bluster to cover introversion and a sometimes-crippling shyness, so meeting new folks stresses me out and makes me cranky. But there was something about this place, something about all of these women coming together from all over the country, that bypassed my attitude problems completely. We were all there with the same goal in mind: to train, and train hard. To listen and learn and sweat and pass out and get up to do it all over again without even once complaining because we had all moved our own personal mountains to be there.

It’s impossible not to like people under those circumstances. Or, at least, it was for me.

The family that plays forms together, spends time together without talking to each other, is totally my kind of family.
This was a workshop just for women - the only menfolk on that beach were Sigung Moy Tung and his baby boy (I heard that a few of Sigung’s male students were around, helping from behind the scenes like magical elves to keep things flowing smoothly, but I never saw them) - so the entire weekend had its own unique energy. Maybe it’s the same with any all-ladies athletic type thing. Maybe any large group of combat-trained women would gather together this harmoniously. I wouldn’t know; I avoid the hell out of crowds and my most athletic pursuits in the past couple of decades have been marathons of the Doctor Who variety.

What I do know … what I learned from my brain all the way down to my bones over the course of the weekend … is that the women of this Ving Tsun Kung Fu family are a force to be reckoned with.

It's not every day you get to watch a very nice lady put her fist through your Simo's chest.
Ving Tsun women are strong and they know it. But not once in the hours upon hours of training did I encounter so much as a flicker of competitiveness. We tested each other, pushed each other’s limits, but it was never about winning or proving who was stronger. The only person I felt the need to compete with was myself, and I kicked my carcass all over that floor. So yeah, I won, but I also lost. Which is what learning feels like.

Ving Tsun women can fuss and laugh and holler and sing as much as they like, each to her own desires, but when it comes down to violence we all fall silent. Focused. For hours on end, the only sounds in a room full of women was the shuffling of kung fu slippers across slate floors, the rustling of cloth, and the occasional dull thump of impact.

In those long stretches of kinetic silence, I found myself imagining how eerie it would be for an attacker to find themselves dealing with a victim who, instead of screaming or flailing, steps forward with all the quiet inevitable aggression of gravity and every intention to, as Sigung put it, “do everything you can to make them swallow blood”.

Ving Tsun women can drive through five hours of blizzard, in the middle of the night, in solid flurries of silver-dollar-sized snowflakes, at 20 mph in darkest rural Ohio to get to a VT workshop. Some of the ladies at this workshop did exactly that, and stepped right into training the moment they arrived. Luggage still in the car, a long night’s horrible road behind them, and they were doing forms with the rest of us.

Because to a Ving Tsun student fatigue is not an obstacle, it’s a training tool. The more exhausted the muscles, the more solid the structure had to be. All of us survived for days on single-digit hours of sleep grabbed in bits and pieces on whatever horizontal surface happened to be available. We trained until we were tired and then we kept training until tired was a distant unlamented memory.

When midnight rolled around on the last night, Simo, the other Texas ladies, and I looked at the handful of hours stretching between us and when our flight was scheduled to leave and had a decision to make. We could either take a tiny, unsatisfying nap followed by the epic struggle to be awake enough to travel, OR … we could just keep training through the night until it was time to leave. So we trained. Because duh.

A single day in the life of this workshop consisted of …
... absorbing every ounce of education from Sigung Moy Tung that we could,
... dozens of siu nim tao played in slow, deliberate unison like some kind of epic performance poetry,
... chasing giggling babies,
... hours of clashing in rows of chi sao like the world’s quietest mosh pit,
... throwing literally thousands of punches,
... cooking vats of pasta and from-scratch marinara sauce, chopping piles of fresh salad, enough to feed the entire small ravenous army of us,
... taking brutal powerwalks on a beach relentlessly sandblasted with frigid gale-force winds,
... comparing notes on our training experiences,
... laughing together,
... clocking enough hours of touching hands to equal at least month of regular training,
... taking care of each other so that we can wollop the breath out of each other all over again,
... and maybe a nap. Maybe.

The women of this Ving Tsun Kung Fu family are a mighty tribe. And I’m honored to be counted as one of them.

Been there, done that, proudly wear the t-shirt.

A brief word about training with Grandmaster Moy Tung:

There is nothing else like it. Because there is no one else like Sigung Moy Tung. Over the course of this weekend, I started to understand why the term is “martial artist”. Because that level of interpretation, of dedicating one’s life fully to the study, of never losing the joy of discovering new applications of technique, of becoming so brimming-over full of knowledge that it has to spill over and be shared with students who will know its value … that is Art.

This workshop was an immersive experience. Jump into the kung fu pool and start swimming. Lessons were everywhere, in everything we did, around every corner. That’s why we only slept when we absolutely had to - when those lessons are being taught by Grandmaster Moy Tung, you really don’t want to be caught napping. You’ll miss something awesome.

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