In 1994, when I was 14 years old, my parents sent me to Wudang Mountain to study martial arts. There are many schools on Wudang now, but the only school at the time was the Daoist Association’s Martial Arts Academy. It was there that I began my training.
Our schedule was intense. We practiced eight hours a day, seven days a week. Occasionally, when we were too tired, we would be given a day off. Here is our daily schedule:
5:30 Wake up & stretching
6:00 Practice #1 (kicks, forms)
8:00 Breakfast break
9:00 Practice #2 (stretching, kicks, forms)
12:00 Lunch break (lunch, nap, shower)
5:00 Dinner break
6:00 Practice #3 (stretching, kicks, forms)
95% of our practice was outside. There was an indoor practice space, but it was small. On rainy days we would use the indoor practice room in shifts. Every winter we had a 2-month vacation for Chinese New Year when most students went home to celebrate with their families. That way, we did not have to practice outside in the snow. We lived in a dormitory, 10 to a room on bunk beds. Our lives were simple, and we did not have a lot of possessions. I had 2 sets of practice clothes, a set of street clothes, a bowl, an empty can for drinking out of, and a toothbrush. We enjoyed joking around in the dorm and chatting at night as we fell asleep. Between classes we would run free, hanging out in the temples, hiking, picking wild berries, and playing cards.
When I first got there, I was not used to the food. Wudang Mountain is in southern China, where the staple food is rice. My village was only a few hours away, but we ate a traditional northern diet consisting mostly of noodles. I was not used to eating rice before I got used to it, the rice gave me a stomach ache. At the academy, there would also be meat 2-3 times a week. Although my family’s farm had animals, we would sell them in the market. My family only ate meat once a year on Chinese New Year. Eating meat 2-3 times a week was inconceivable. Many students who were used fancier things complained about the food, but not me!
After a few months of study, some students became bored and asked if we could run in the mornings. We would run from our school near Purple Heaven Temple (紫霄宫) to Crow Ridge (乌鸦岭) several kilometers away. One of the senior students would lead the group, but he hated to run. He would have us run halfway. Then we would sit and chat, and run back as if we had finished the whole run. We were so naughty in the early days! One year there was a large race. Competitors came from all over to race to the top of the mountain. The prize was a television set. We trained for the race too, running up and down the mountain. It takes most people 2½ hours to get to the top, but we could do it in 50 minutes. On the day of the race, a girl from my school won the women’s division. A porter won the men’s division. Porters earn their living carrying things up the mountain. They make the hike several times each day, carrying heavy supplies, luggage, and even people in wooden sedan chairs. It was rumored that the porter had cheated by taking shortcuts, but we never found out for sure.
In my first year there were about 20 of us at the school. We learned kicks, the Fundamental Form (基本拳), and the first two sections of the Mysterious Attainment Form (玄功拳). 1-2 times a month, we would fight. We enjoyed it because it was exciting, and provided a break from the monotony of our usual training. We were paired off by size. We did not use any safety gear, gloves, or padding. Later, one of the coaches objected because often after a fight, too many people were injured and unable to train. After that, we fought less. By the end of my first year, there were over 40 students at the school. We were split into 2 classes, with two coaches per class.
In my second year there were 60 or so students at the school. The dorms were full and the school had to rent rooms from local villagers. We learned the Taiyi Daoist Sword Form (太乙玄门剑), saber, tai chi, the third section of the Mysterious Attainment Form, and Xingyi. In the second year, the coach who objected to our fighting left on personal business. The temporary coach had us fight once a week. The more we fought, the less injured we got. We were more experienced and had learned to protect ourselves. The day after fight day we would be given a whole day off, which everyone loved. This lasted half a year until the temporary coach got mad at a student and hit him. The student left the school, as did the coach. Our old coach was called back, and weekly fight day ended.
In my third year, there were 40 students at the school. Many of them were new. Of the students who started the same year I did, only 7 were still left. We learned the Taiyi 5 Element Form (太乙五行拳), the Tiger Taming Form (伏虎拳), the Changing Dragon Form (龙化拳), the Mysterious Fist Form (玄武拳), the Changing Dragon Sword Form (龙化剑), tai chi sword, and Bagua. We also learned long weapons, including spear, staff, and monk’s spade) along with horsetail whisk. It was also in the third year that I was promoted to coach and began teaching classes. We had a separate practice time for coaches during the afternoon. This is where we learned most of our forms and weapons. There wasn’t a formal curriculum; we just shared with each other what we knew. Each of us specialized in a few forms or weapons, which we would be asked to perform for visitors. My specialties were saber, saber paired form, horsetail whisk and Xingyi.
In the spring of my fourth year on Wudang Mountain, I chose to enter the temple. During my years of training, my interest in Daoism had grown. I had spent a lot of time visiting the different temples on the mountain and gotten to know many of the monks and nuns. For me, Daoism is a way of putting my actions into perspective and seeing which run contrary to the natural way. Training martial arts had made me physically healthy and strong, and I felt the time had come to focus on spiritual practice. After I was accepted as a disciple, I moved to the Golden Pinnacle Temple (金顶) at the top of the mountain. I lstudied how to recite scripture, meditation and qigong practices, and the I Ching. At night after the tour groups left, I practiced my martial arts.
When they sent me to Wudang Mountain, my parents thought I would one day be the bodyguard of a wealthy businessman. Haha! I guess they were wrong!