A young teenager would walk into a small gym close to the famous Golden Gate park in San Francisco. Mike greeting me in his warm yet quiet way.
Not understanding what I would find.
Mike offered a small history of the White Crane style and then led me through the gym not saying much. A lot of what I saw was not really clear, but would be painfully so later on.
Stepping practiced on “plum flower stumps” or small cement post in doors.
Drawings of patterns on the floor, “foot work patterns”
A small room with a hot pot of what was called dit dai jow “iron hitting wine” with its distinctive smell.
Later I would find out about burning palm., Mike, had a unique way of introducing things by direct experience, most of which were painful.
Hanging bags in one room filled with small grain pebbles.
Going through another door one would enter into the main training room with a large Army duffel bag filled with sand hanging by a chain. The bag must have weighed three hundred pounds and was hard as a rock.
Touching it I wondered what one would do with such a bag the canvas was very course and as I would find out very unforgiving if one hit off center. Blood stains left by those who had, later I would add my own…
Mike allowed me to watch a class, I watched the training with a certain fascination. It was so different and yet I could some how sense it, feel it. People often talk of old school.
This was “Old School” Chinese Martial Art “old school”.
I would sign up, and found out what the hanging bags filled with small grain pebbles were used for. In doing so, my arms would be blooded and scabbed from the cutting and slicing movements practiced on them.
The large bag in the other room would also add my own blood stains to it caused by hitting it off center. Interesting in that we would swing the bag, allowing it to hit either a fist or kick. This was to test ones alignment and structure.
The bag didn’t seem to mind if one was off center, one could either sprain an ankle or rip the skin off the knuckles. It was funny in an odd way as when it happened every one would know, hearing the swearing that normally followed such a mistake, and having done it themselves everyone would laugh, score one for the bag.
At some point the bag was no longer swung back and forth. One would attack the bag, causing it to either move or making small dents in the rough canvas holding the sand. Needless to say after a session like this the dit dai jow, “iron hitting wine” was applied to prevent bruising and aid in healing any damage done.
The bag was an unforgiving teacher, the bag the gym itself some how filled with the spirit of the instructors who were also unforgiving. It was not a matter of paying ones dues each month to stay. It was a matter of being able to adapt and survive the training.
This was gym like boxing or a weight lifting gym. Make a mistake and one could get hit or knocked out, not understand how to lift a weight and one could get crushed by the weight in trying.
This was an old school kung fu gym, although I didn’t really understand it at the time it was some of the hardest training I would come across. It would also set the tone for how I approached my own training for everything else I would come to do in Chinese Martial Arts.