I sit here so sore that I can barely focus to type this, but I will give it a shot.

I have been keeping careful journal notes in what little free time there is, but they sits peacefully back at my kung fu school. I hitched a ride to the nearest town of DengFeng for my part day off. I definitely plan to re-write and upload pics when I can manage to do so!

Amanda’s fist full of mystery pills she gave me in Beijing worked — no more stomach demon. Quite amazing actually, given how sick I was. I told her goodbye and had an uneventful ride and flight out of Beijing to ZhengZhou. As expected, someone from the school was waiting to collect me in the airport. Unfortunately, it was not the person I wanted to see.

It was Amanda’s sifu (teacher).

Amanda had really made it a point in Beijing to tell me what a nightmare her sifu is. Not just because he was hard, but also because he is not such a good teacher. I tried to smile and act pleased to see him, but unfolding perfectly in front of me was the nightmare that Amanda had warned me about. I thought about trying to switch groups, but decided just to stick with him. I might as well get my money’s worth.

Training begins at 6 a.m., we have to be on the ground at 5:50 a.m. before the sun is rising. You do not want to be late. We stand in formation in our little groups ready for whatever the teachers can throw at us, and wow it can be creative — and horrifying — sometimes. On day one of my training, I was doing back bridges (from a standing position you look straight up and fall backwards into a graceful arch…or just hit your head on the concrete like me) and handsprings on concrete! No wimpy luxuries here such as mats, pads, or safe training areas. Our acrobatics training was done in the stone-bricked courtyard, strewn with gravel from the construction.

Trust me, it hurts.

They are literally still building the school around me. I hear that we have a much nicer place than the last school, and the views of the mountains in the morning when we run are spectacular. We line up and join the other 4,000 Chinese students that run down the main road in formation and doing chants. I can feel a sense of hard core swell up in my stomach that I have not felt since basic training, so I love it. That is…until I am gasping for air like a fish flopping around on the carpet.

Today, once a week, we run nine kilometers (almost six miles!) up a mountain which includes many stairs. We are running in kung fu shoes which have no support, so every step reverberates up your legs and to your knees. I have quarter-sized blisters on each foot that stay wet. I’m guessing that they will probably take a long time to heal!

Aside from the hellish PT, the training is good and fun. It’s very motivating to watch the senior students and how much they have learned in just one month here. We finish training at night, then have about an hour before lights out at 9:30 p.m.

You don’t want to be caught up after lights out. But not like anyone has any energy left at that point anyway!

The other foreign students here are very nice and helpful. There is a general we-are-all-in-this-together attitude, so everyone watches out for you. There is a variety of ages, (including a 14-year-old girl!) but I am, no doubt, in the upper-age group. It can be a little disconcerting seeing guys 10 years younger than myself limping around with bandaged knees and torn groin muscles. I know my day for injury is coming.

There is very little free time, and even less English available, so simple things can be quite a chore to get accomplished. I am slowly learning my way around, however, and will soon have a routine. I am sore from head to toe for a variety of reasons. but nothing serious as of yet and I know that I will survive.

All tough training aside, I really think that the hardest thing about being here is that I do not have to be here! I volunteered. To go from the complete and total freedom of vagabonding to staying in one place and being given such a rigid schedule is a serious reality check. It feels like someone stuffed me into a very dirty and unpleasant cage. We can leave whenever we want (forfeiting our payment, of course) so it can be very tempting to just hop a train down to the south to continue backpacking.

I know that I am not going to quit, so I will give it a few weeks at least, or until I get too injured to train Shaolin, which is why I came here in the first place. I can only hope that my Army basic training, albeit years ago, will help me through.

I have Sunday off and will certainly write a much better account of the school and the experience. For now, I have to go lay down before my spleen finishes rupturing. 🙂