Oliver Vulliamy (UK)

4 years, 2016--2019

Email: oliver.vulliamy@hotmail.com

When I first arrived in China, I had the intention of giving myself a three-month trial basis and to stay for a year if it felt right to do so. I had no idea at that time, that Gong Fu would become such and integral part of my life.

   Three years later, I feel truly lucky to have been introduced and trained by such an accomplished Master; both in his Kung Fu ability, as well as his clear embodiment of the spirit and ethos behind Chinese Kung Fu. It is hard for foreigners to really distinguish between the quality of a Master by their accomplishments, but rest assured that at this school you will receive some of the highest quality of training available.

   I still remember vividly learning 5-step in my first few weeks. Shifu had shown me the new movements and then given me some time to practise what he had taught me, while he went to others in our group; as is the standard way of teaching. When he returned he asked me to show him the movements from the beginning.

   As I did so, I kept getting one movement wrong and so started again; my agitation at myself became increasingly evident, animated and visual as it mounted. So Shifu addressed me quite calmly, saying. “The harder and faster you try to improve, if you are rushed, the slower you will ultimately progress. You must learn your body and limitations and go at your own pace.”

   It was like he had reached into my mind and flicked a switch of understanding and from that moment onwards a sense of acceptance and calm ensued. I could train hard and improve to the best of my ability, but there was no sense in trying to push past the boundaries of limitation that we all have. I confess I saw myself as something of ‘the karate kid’, who would improve and be better than anyone in a far shorter time frame. When in actuality no matter who you are or your natural ability, to truly Master Kung Fu takes much dedication, time and practise.
   

Shifu’s ability to see into what I needed at that present moment astounds me even to this day and over the years as I have observed him with countless students; he has demonstrated time and time again this ability of insight, his caring spirit and his giving nature.

   If there is one tip I can give you, it is to train hard. Putting in the effort and showing persistence really is key in your own development, as well as a form of showing respect. If you faff about, talk and distract others when you should be training and generally think yourself as ‘the bee’s knees’ not only will you not progress as quickly, but you will lose his respect. I can promise you that when you start training, a good relationship with your Master makes the experience all the more rewarding and incredible.

      Shaolin is an incredible and physically demanding Martial Arts form but also has deep roots in Chinese culture, history and virtuous qualities and its origins in Buddhism. This, alongside good instruction, helps us to cultivate our internal and spiritual sides as well as our physical bodies.

   When I first began training, I was in terrible shape physically; unable to touch my toes, unable to run more than one-hundred metres without suffering severely from smoker’s lung and generally far weaker than my sporting days at school.
   However, the training and attentiveness that I received, allowed me to progress steadily and at a challenging, though comfortable pace, both physically and internally. This really is a testament that no matter how capable or incapable you think you are, anybody at any level can come here to train and still gain huge amounts from this experience

   I have one more – out of many – stories to share from my time with Shifu; this one is related to a form of internal progression that aided me in a kind of awareness and acceptance. It was a time when I thought I had done something to upset Shifu, that I had lost his respect and I was begging to panic on a minor level. It was usual for Shifu to come round to you each class, to see your movement and teach you more when you were ready. However, on this particular week, he had not come around to me once.

   No words anyone could say to me, no matter how reasonable would assuage my worry. But I kept my head down and kept practising my form; as asking for new movements is big no. On the last lesson on Friday, we have free training and on this particular day a small number of us were gathered around Shifu asking questions; plucking his brains for his intensely rich knowledge and experiences. This was a rare occurrence and so I sidled into the group to listen.

   As he was answering a question, he deviated from his main point and as he did so, he focused his eyes on me for the majority of what he said. He told us a story of when his Master had ignored him for almost a month; every time he asked his Master if he had done something wrong or asked him to clarify a movement, he would simply walk away without even answering. Shifu eventually stopped asking and instead focused on his training and after some time his Master came up to him and explained that he had been testing his dedication to Gong Fu, and not just to his Master.

   Suddenly I found myself filled with relief and understood that all those tales of subtle Kung Fu Masters and philosophical stories in order to answer questions and impart subtle knowledge was no myth, but actual present day truth. This was an inexplicable lesson for me, that ultimately benefited me on many levels and I am confident that Shifu knew that it would.

The depth, age and richness of Shaolin means that even now, I still feel I have plenty of room for improvement and to expand my knowledge. With many of the oldest martial arts in China it is simply not possible for anybody to learn everything but the quantity, quality and diversity of what I have gained here has enriched my life.

   Being self motivated is an important quality. Though you will be pushed, your own attitude, persistence and determination will only facilitate your chances for higher achievement throughout any period of training. Everyday may not be your best but as long as you arrive at class with an attitude to do your best, within how you presently feel, then there truly lies the potential to gain so much from this experience.
   The amazing thing about training Shaolin forms - and the forms that Shifu will choose for you, if you stay long enough - is that often they are best suited to help you in a general and specific area of improvement. There have been many times where after I finish a form, I suddenly realise my foot work has gotten faster or lighter; that my flexibility has improved in a key area; that it was perfectly suited to develop internal power; and the list goes on. This truly is another insight into the depth of Shifu’s intense knowledge and one of the highest things I hope to obtain before my time if training eventually comes to an end.
   I feel so grateful to have been able to go through this experience and even more grateful that there has been an incredible translator throughout my training. Shifu’s wife has a truly incredible grasp and ability to communicate in the English language; at times you can spot her communicating with Shifu to make sure she fully understands what it is he wants to impart before she translates it. This is truly key to enriching the whole experience and to appreciate and understand the depths, and the accuracy of what is being said.

   Without this something like: “Make sure your punch finishes when your foot does the stamp. Keep your arm straight for a brief moment, before following into the next movement and stay relaxed.”

   Might become: “Foot and hand same time, and straight. Then do next relaxed.” I’ve experienced both of these and cannot stress the difference that a really good translator makes. Here, I have been fortunate enough to train under the best translator I have met as well, as the most accomplished master. The combination is extremely potent and beneficial.

   Another incredibly important factor when training at such regular intensity is food and diet, which they place at such incredible importance here. I’ve had similar dishes at multiple restaurants and they have been nowhere near as good as what is provided here. I was pleasantly surprised with the quantities, as there was never any lacking in quantity. The hardest thing, is maintaining a little self-restraint and consideration for others after you’ve had such fabulous dishes placed in front of you after a hard days training.

   So to finish up, I will share some of the understanding that I have gained about the deeper practise and art of Kung Fu.
   On the surface, to a casual observer, Kung Fu may seem little more than a form of exercise; a kind of dance some might say. Those who begin to cultivate the art form, often find that emotions rise to the surface during their training; some of those, recognise these surfacing demons as a form of cultivating their internal being, and thus recognise the deeper layer hidden within the Art of Gong Fu.

   But what is Gong Fu? What defines an art as Gong Fu? The most common understanding, it that it is a form of Martial Art. Though this is true there are deeper meanings within the term.

   Firstly, it is important to differentiate the difference between a Martial Art and a Martial Sport. The art form cultivates the internal being, as well as the external body and eventually unifies and brings into harmony the mind and the body, as one. Often such practises have spiritual depth and history, such as Shaolin and Wu-Dang: The very movements themselves and ways of training, ignite spiritual aspects within us, even if – or when - we do not consciously notice.


the art form, often find that emotions rise to the surface during their training; some of those, recognise these surfacing demons as a form of cultivating their internal being, and thus recognise the deeper layer hidden within the Art of Gong Fu.

  But what is Gong Fu? What defines an art as Gong Fu? The most common understanding, it that it is a form of Martial Art. Though this is true there are deeper meanings within the term.

  Firstly, it is important to differentiate the difference between a Martial Art and a Martial Sport. The art form cultivates the internal being, as well as the external body and eventually unifies and brings into harmony the mind and the body, as one. Often such practises have spiritual depth and history, such as Shaolin and WuDang: The very movements themselves and ways of training, ignite spiritual aspects within us, even if – or when - we do not consciously notice.

A Martial Sport, in general, lacks this internal cultivation. Often such practices breed a mindset of competitiveness, egotistical thinking and aggression; finding one’s sole drive and motivation from wanting to be better than the person next to, or against you: not always, but in many cases this is true. Some individuals will say that it gives them a way to let out their aggression by ‘hitting the bag’ or ‘getting in the ring’. While this may be true, the practise of Gong Fu, like Yoga, would allow you to calm the aggression and find peace, rather than release the pent up aggression on a regular basis.

  In terms of Gong Fu as a Martial Art, this is an important distinction. But still there is a deeper understanding of what Gong Fu is in its heart and that is, that Gong Fu is everywhere.

  This is something many in the west have heard whether from word of mouth, old Chinese Kung Fu movies, or jokingly racist banter; however, it really is, in its essence, the absolute truth. It is important to acknowledge though, that knowing this and understanding it, are two very different depths.

  Within the understanding that Gong Fu is everywhere, there are also two facets of truthful perception that encompass Gong Fu:

  To begin to understand, it is important to ponder over what the term ‘Gong Fu’ means at its deepest level: ‘The acquiring of great skill, over time, through dedication and persistence.’ – diligence can also be included. What this means is that a painter, a cook, a butcher, a musician, a poet, or a wood sculptor can all have Gong Fu.

  To quote – in part - Jackie Chan: “Do not name it, for it is like water; nothing is softer than water and yet it can overcome rock; it does not fight, it flows; formless, nameless. The true master dwells within us, yet only we can release it. First follow the path, then follow you own; first follow the rules, before you can know when to break them.”

  In this way, Gong Fu is everywhere; you can even use nature to explain it; you can deepen your knowledge of nature through it.

  The other facet of Gong Fu being everywhere - perhaps more commonly understood – is that almost any movement you can perform, even in the ordinary day to day life, can be transferred and altered - to only a slight degree - in order for it to become the art of self defence.

  This is well illustrated in the original karate kid movies with ‘wax on wax off’ while he wax’s his Masters car; elaborated upon in the modern karate kid (which should have been called the Kung Fu kid), when Dre takes off and puts on his jacket.

  This is a concept modernised by these movies but also understood historically. By understanding the craft of a person who sought to train a Martial Art, a traditional Master could better understand how to cultivate their strengths to better suit their specialties and development.

  Traditionally, a monk may only practise one single movement, day after day but over time ‘forms’ were developed and ways of training were altered. These forms and ways of training are over a thousand years old, passed down from one generation to the next in an epic lineage, the likes of which is unparalleled by any other combat form. If yoga were a combat form, it would be the exception.

 This kind of experience, for many, is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that I know stays with people for many years to come; potentially for the rest of their lives. It must be lived to be truly appreciated and I am so thankful to have been fortunate enough to stay here for the time that I have.


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