A strange few days
22.07.2009 - 30.07.2009 32 °C
So, I believe I owe you a blog. And what an eventful time I've been having.
To start with there was the solar eclipse and a few days ago I competed in my first martial arts competition. And then of course there's my little accident...
As usual I will start at the beginning. The recent eclipse of the sun visible in Asia was kind of a big deal:"the most spectacular observed within China in 500 years" according to the Zijinshan Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (although they measure those 500 years starting in 1814 and finishing 2309 which seems a little cheeky). Eleven provinces in China were to witness the total eclipse as it passed across Asia, unfortunately Shandong, the province I'm situated in, was not among them. The closest the eclipse would come to Yantai was Shanghai, a few hundred miles away but still close enough to be able to experience a good eclipse of up to 90% coverage. Certainly good enough for me
I was fairly excited about the prospect of witnessing an eclipse. I missed the one that occurred in the UK a few years ago and was very pleased to find out my time and placement in China coincided with this eclipse.
I'd made sure that I was well prepared for the event searching the internet for advice on how to view eclipses and constructing various pinhole cameras (with little success) until eventually stumbling across instructions showing how to transform a simple shaving mirror into a cunning device that reflects an image of the sun onto a nearby flat surface.
The day of the eclipse arrived and I have to say, I was more than a little excited. I'd been nervous about the weather, but luckily we had a beautiful day for it. Unlike the day before which had been grey and overcast, the sky was a clear and beautiful blue.
The eclipse was predicted for around 9:35 and since a total eclipse lasts about 6 minutes I assumed the event would be over quite quickly. Class started at 8:30 so I figured we'd probably call it a day around 9:30 to watch the eclipse.
The whole time I was watching the clock, determined not to miss a thing. At 9:15 however the caretaker popped his head in the door of the training hall to tell us the sun was already half covered! I was a little surprised since I thought it was a bit early for that and looking out the window it looked as bright as ever.
I set up my little mirror on the porch of the training hall and sure enough, there was the silhouette of the moon across the sun. I know you shouldn't but I did try to look at the sun a couple of times to check, but even with sunglasses on it was still far too bright. My camera wasn't having any of it either. Over the next few minutes the moon slowly moved to cover more of the sun but the sun seemed to remain as bright as ever. The only difference was that the day didn't feel as warm.
At its peak the the sun looked no different to normal but the light outside looked slightly overcast. It was very strange, the image of the sun we had reflected on the ceiling showed almost none of the sun was visible, yet there was still a tremendous amount of light coming from the small sliver of sun remaining. Even through a welding mask the sun was too bright to look at.
After half an hour of staring at a blob of light on the ceiling and occasional furtive glances at the sun itself we went back inside and continued training. I have to say I was a little disappointed. Despite 90% coverage a partial eclipse was not a particularly earth shattering event. Perhaps a total eclipse would be better.
I'm told that an eclipse is seen as a bad omen in China and I had a competition the following weekend, but I figured everyone at the competition would be equally as unlucky so it would balance out.
The masters were very keen for us to get involved in competitions to raise the profile of the school. We have all been preparing our forms for some time now, Christoph and me practicing Mantis, Daniel practicing Shaolin. I was also preparing a taichi form for the Traditional Kungfu category.
I've got to say, competitions aren't really my thing, I don't like to compete unless I have a good chance of winning and I knew there would be people there who had been practicing kungfu their whole lives so it seemed a little pointless for me to compete against them. I decided not to worry about it and just hoped I could get through my form and not forget anything in front of the judges.
The competition was held on a Sunday morning and started at 8:00am. To get there on time we had to leave at 5:00am. Ouch. We had fetched some bread and boiled eggs from the kitchen the night before and ate them in the bus on the way to the hall where the competition was to be held.
We knew we had arrived when we saw the crowds of kids all decked out in their colourful kungfu suits, many of them waving weapons around. This would never be allowed back home. There were children waving halberds and staves and a large troupe of Koreans all dressed in black with some mean looking metal nunchucks.
Qu Sifu and one of his disciples went inside and got us signed in then we all proceeded to the competition hall where we lined up and waited for the teams to be formally introduced to the judges.
After we had been announced and had waved to the crowds we went to find a good vantage point. The competition opened with some displays from well known martial artists, both local and visiting. There was a brilliant guy with a massive two handed sword, a group of famous taichi practitioners who performed Chen 56 form in unison and those nunchuckers made an appearance too (although they looked bored the whole time they were running through their routine).
Unfortunately the organisers had decided to lay a temporary surface on the floor of the hall, a layer of carpet that was not fixed down. This caused a number of mishaps in the opening displays. One guy slipped when he was doing his form, fell over and had to start again, one decided not to continue any further after his form was disrupted by shifting carpets. The nunchuck guys had a really bad time with their spin kicks. At one point one of them lost control of their weapon and hurled the spinning mass of metal and chain into the judges. Luckily no one was hurt.
After the displays the competition proper started with the kids taking to the display area first. The carpet in this area was better secured but still not great. Thankfully about halfway through someone managed to find some more rolls of carpet and they put down another layer length-ways which made a big difference.
The kids were all pretty good although most of them seemed to have been schooled in modern display wushu rather than traditional and practical kungfu. As the competition progressed we realized this was true of most of the competitors.
The program of events was very loose, no times were mentioned, the judges were just working their way down the list of people. I was getting a little nervous that we would not be told before we went on and therefore not have time to stretch before so I asked if we could find our names on the program and make a guess about how long we had left. This was when we found out my name was not down in the Taichi section.
We asked the masters whether I would actually be performing Taichi and they had a brief argument where we learned that Cui Sifu had forgotten to tell Qu Sifu that I was planning to enter the Taichi category. Cui Sifu had assumed I would tell Qu Sifu, Qu Sifu had assumed that it was only Mantis students and Shaolin students entering, and I had assumed that the masters who had asked me to compete would make all the arrangements. Doh! I wasn't too concerned though, just meant less stress for me
The judges moved through the list of contestants quicker than we had thought they would so it was not long before we had to go and warm up and prepare. As I practiced my form with Christoph we watched Daniel perform his Shaolin Triangle Continuous Striking form for the judges. He got a massive round of applause from a group of kids that had been following him round for most of the day.
Next it was my turn to perform. I joined the line that was due to go on and waited for someone to give me my cue. Had a bit of a yes-no-yes-no? moment with the marshal but I got out there at the right time. I had to share the floor with one other contestant. We were to perform on two rows, him in front, me behind. I bowed to the judges and started my form.
The moment I started I knew I had made a mistake. I was stood too far to the right of the stage so I hadn't enough space to do the moves. I rapidly started altering footwork to compensate as I ran through the movements, I just had to make it to the point where I turned around and I'd be ok... but when I got there and turned around, I picked up the form at the wrong point! I missed out the middle section and continued from a point near the end. I finished the form, bowed to the judges and walked off with a big stupid grin on my face. I knew what I'd done but there was nothing I could do about it now.
Despite my screw up I hadn't paused or panicked, I maintained my composure and just kept going. I don't think the judges really noticed because they awarded me a decent mark, 8.53. Qu Sifu's disciple was up next and he did a fantastic job as always. That guy rocks. Christoph did a good job with his form too, remembered all the moves and kept the power throughout the form.
We sat and watched the competition as Qu Sifu went to get the certificates and any medals we may have won. To my surprise I was awarded a gold! As was everyone else on my team! We were also awarded a plaque for being an excellent team. I have to say though, I don't really feel like I deserved a medal for my performance. I can do a lot better than that. Still, I'm not going to complain
We had the chance to stay and watch the rest of the competition but we decided since it had been an early start and none of us had really eaten anything, to head back to the school and get some much needed rest. As everyone knows, when you get tired, you make mistakes...
My stupid accident:
I've been training broadsword for a few months now. It's not really coming naturally to me. You have to grip the sword really tight but relax your arm and wrist enough to keep it agile, and all the time Qu Sifu is shouting at you to make it fast and show the power.
I've hit myself with the sword before, clipped my arms or dinged the back of my head. I've even slapped myself in the face with the flat of the blade twice, but the other day I made contact with the back edge of the blade as it swang towards my face. I carried on with my form for a little while but it didn't take too long before I realized my head was a little more warm and damp than it should be and there was some red stuff trickling down my nose. I turned to the master and pointed at my forehead... I wish you could have seen his expression, that made my day. He sorted me out with some tissue then went running off to get a car. I was fine, there wasn't really any pain and I've had enough head injuries by now that a little blood doesn't really worry me.
A minute or two later Mr. Wu came driving up in the car and he and Fiona took me to the local hospital. The doctor saw me immediately and took me to a room where he cleaned the blood from my face and assessed the damage. I'd put a vertical gash in the middle of my left eyebrow, not massive but a good size, so he numbed me up and put a stitch in to make sure it holds together as it heals.
Mr. Wu was very kind and paid for everything despite my insistence that he hadn't been the one to hit me and therefore shouldn't be the one to pay.
I returned to the school half an hour later with a course of antibiotics to prevent infection and a large dressing above my left eye. Qu Sifu says I should take a few days off so the wound stays clean whilst it heals so I'm using the time productively and catching up with my blog
I only have two weeks left here now and the time is really flying by. It might be because I don't have much spare time at the moment. When I'm not practicing kungfu I'm working on the school website or teaching English to the kids that are staying here. I am very much looking forward to Bali in two weeks time and relaxing for a while before returning home.
And that's all my news for the moment. I hope you're all well and I expect I'll see most of you in a few short week's time
All the best,