In the Fall of 1999 I traveled to Spain to join Sifu Adam Hsu. His kung fu brother Su Yu Chang, who has two kung fu schools in Spain, had invited him to lead a series of workshops. The following is the account of our kung fu and cultural exchange.
Shifu and I arrived from our respective homelands and met at the Barcelona airport Thursday morning. We were welcomed by Dr. Su Yu Chang and his students, Carlos Garcia Garcia, Marite, Gonzalo, and Jose. Gonzalo drove us to the Pachi Tang Lang Cultural Association in the Gracia District, known for its narrow streets, hip bars and cafes. We dropped off our luggage and began touring right away. From the school we walked to the Caixa Catalunya Cultural Centre where we first encountered the work of Antoni Gaudi. The Mila House in La Pedrera is considered his most important civil architectural piece. It is an impressive building, designed colorfully and curvaceously, without a straight line to be found. We wandered up and around to the quirky and precarious rooftop to enjoy the view and take some photos. Although I wanted to stay and explore the extensive museum of Gaudi¹s work, we had to leave and continue our tour by car.
From Gaudi’s modernista style of the 1880’s we moved back in time to a 15th century Catalan Gothic Cathedral. The streets in the surrounding area were incredibly congested because of a public holiday, Festes de la Merce. Fortunately we found a temporary parking space close by, behind the church. We rushed in and had only a few moments to absord the holy gothic prayerful atmosphere, and lit some candles for world peace. Outside in front of the church, an orchestra was playing for a festive dancing public. As we headed back to the van we could hear celebratory fireworks blasting off. Outside the school, an anxious Carlos was waiting with our luggage. We held up traffic as we quickly packed our bags into the van to ride back to the airport. We were heading for Mallorca, the Balearic’s largest Island.
Dr Su’s students, Pacho, Monica, Pedro, Rita and others, warmly greeted us and we all drove to the Palma de Mallorca School. At 11:30pm we had our welcome feast and learned to prepare ‘pa amb tomaquet’, sliced bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil and salt, topped with cured ham. Shifu presented Pacho, our host, with an engraved miniature sword from the China Wushu Association to commemorate his first visit to the Mallorca, Pachi Tanglang Chuen Association. After many toasts of Spanish wine with our meal, we finished our first day in Spain nearly 2:00 in the morning.
Dr Su’s school workout patio is surrounded by beautiful local flora compliments of his student Monica. Before breakfast, Shifu and I went over the linking longfist form (lian huan chuan), that I teach to my students at San Francisco State University.
Linking fist (Lian Huan Chuan) is designed to teach time (yu) and space (tsou). The concept comes from the Chinese philosophy ‘yu’, meaning directions such as east, west, north, south, and ‘chou’, meaning time from ancient to future. The seemingly simplistic movements of linking longfist contain key elements towards developing a good base and foundation for one’s long fist training. It can be compared to a beginner learning to write his or her ABC’s using a simple neat printing style. Linking fist contains our kung fu ABC’s: movements using transitions from the horse to bow and arrow stances, alternating punches, palm strikes. The essential ingredient for good kung fu basics is learning the principle of moving our arms and legs at the same time with proper alignment and structure. Lian Huan Chuan opens the door for a beginner to understand these fundamental building blocks of kung fu.
Our second day driving tour took us across the island into the ‘Coves dels Hams’, caves of stalactites. Lunch afterwards was the colorful mix of arros a la Catalana, saffron rice mixed with meat and seafood. Returning to Palma, we stopped by the Gothic Castle of Bellver noted for it¹s unusual circular design and spectacular view of the harbor. That evening we celebrated the harvest moon festival with a bar-b-que buffet and moon cakes that we had brought from Taipei and San Francisco for the the happy occasion.
Shifu’s Thunder style taiji Hu lei Jia weekend workshop was held at a sports facility in Polideportibo, Magalluf. Shifu had the morning session from 10am to 1pm and Dr.Su taught in the afternoon from 3:30 to 8:00. Many of the 30-40 participants who had previously studied other forms of taiji were enthusiastic and eager to be introduced to the thunder style taiji. They had a lot of work ahead of them; Shifu’s plan that weekend was to teach them thirty six linking movements!
The first morning proved to be very invigorating and stimulating. There are 10 levels in the thunder taiji training. We started off spiraling with reeling silk arm basics and a waving step. Shifu then proceeded to methodically teach the first twelve movements of the form. He explained and demonstrated and elaborate a number of the usages such as casually rolling up the clothes (lan zai i) and single whip (dan bien). The students even had a chance to try the usage to Chen taiji’s trade mark move, jing gong dao chui themselves. Shifu intermittently addressed important kung fu paradoxicals as internal/external, hidden/showing, stillness/movement, point/line, revolution/rotation and relax/focus. As always, Shifu encouraged us to write in our notebooks to help us process and digest the material.
The second morning of class started with a stationary reverse reeling silk basic. The basics progressed from a waving free step forward and backward to a mixed step with the arms and legs moving together. After stressing the importance of practicing basics, Shifu began the task of teaching the remaining twenty-four movements wholeheartedly. Shifu also explained the internal practice of of taiji; where and how to focus the breath while holding postures. After hours of hard work and concentration everybody completed the external aspect of the form. The Mallorcans had their first big dose of taiji. Shifu concluded with the Chinese concept of living within the world. We are not living facing the world in front of us and watching from the outside. We are in the middle, surrounded by and participating with all living things around us, aspiring towards world peace.
In the mornings, I practiced longfist. At the linking fist leg (lian huan tuei) intermediate level, balance, strength, agility, coordination and timing in a kung fu way are required. The skill level increases. Blocking and punching is practiced with quick steps and a kick in an upbeat one-two, three tempo. Just as a writing student progresses to a handwriting style, our linking movements become circular with more twists and curves. These fluid continuous movements help us to develop and understand the important principles of shaving and sticking an opponent. After kung fu practice and breakfast our next excursion was to Real Caruj De Jesus de Nazaret located in a pleasant mountain town, Valldemossa. The pianist Frederic Chopin stayed at the monastery for some years during the mid 1800’s. Monica, Dr. Su’s student, was our tour guide through the many cloisters which showcased Chopin and other artists works. I enjoyed a 17th century pharmacy a few doors away from where Chopins piano was housed. To our surprise Monica invited us to have coffee in her residence on the premises. Her great grandmother had purchased a monks suite when the monastery became open to the public. We learned how well the had monks lived with five spacious indoor rooms, a garden terrace, and a backyard with a swimming pool! Eating fresh grapes from the garden vines, we imagined how our lives would be if we resided there. Certainly our kung fu would suffer!
We ended our last day in Mallorca shopping near Palma’s dramatic Gothic limestone cathedral on the waterfront. Our next destination was Madrid. At the airport, every other person was carrying boxes of Mallorca ensaimadas. We often ate the spiral shaped sweet yeast buns for breakfast, and they are the taste treat to bring to friends and families. As I rode in the taxi from the airport to our hotel in Madrid, I was struck by the contrast between this big city and the small Balearic island we had just left.