Life is full of endless possibilities, one possibility that I have firmly ruled out is shaving my head and becoming a Monk. After nearly two weeks spent living in the woods, eating veg and sleeping with the mice, I can assure you that the monastic life style in not for me.
But you know what is for me? KUNG FU!
Vinnie and I joined the Wu Wei Si monastery ready to learn how to kick ass and take names. Instead we spent almost two weeks completely crippled by the early and endless workouts. It turns out that learning Kung Fu is difficult. And painful. And that we were sorely out of shape.
Each morning we woke before dawn, jolted out of bed by the sound of drumming, chanting and the ringing of a 1,000 pound gong. A gong that massive will reverberate for several minutes, repeatedly reminding your beat up body that it’s time to get out of bed. The next hour is spent in a battle between the forces of sleep and the power of Aaaa-mi-ii-to-o-o-o-fuuu chanting from Buddhist Monks. The Monks always win.
As the chanting came to an end, we hurriedly struggled to get dressed in the complete darkness, using all of our strength just to place one foot into the dirty pants that were worn the day before. Putting on socks has never been so difficult – knees refused to bend, leg muscles couldn’t support your weight, and lifting your arms above your head caused minutes of searing pain. It took all of our mental and physical strength to limp down the stairs and begin the day.
Seconds before the sun rose, we began our workout: a run to a nearby river bed where we grab a small boulder and haul it back to the monastery. On the way down, each step on the cobblestone road felt like an electric shock. You could feel your body asking: “Why are we doing this again! We haven’t recovered from yesterday! Stop running! Go back to bed!”
And on the slow walk back up, carrying that huge stone on your head, your body realized that once again it is in for some serious punishment. You began to feel your sore muscles loosen, your back straightened and suddenly you were ready for early morning Kung Fu.
Kung Fu is basically the art of squating. Squat-punch, squat-lunge, squat-block, and the worst, the squat-jump. On the first day our 12-year old teacher, a budding ShaoLin Monk and professional Sadist, had us squat jump, squat jump and then jump into the air to touch our feet. By breakfast at 8AM on the first day, we could not sucessfully walk up the stairs.
It only got worse.
Each morning we would stretch. Our teachers seemed to take great joy in our relative inflexibility but even Mary Lou Retton herself would be considered inflexible next to these men. It was totally normal to see a monk stretch his ankles around his neck – and smile. The Monks would jump in the air, spreading their legs in split kick that went above their shoulders. They could bend backwards to touch the ground with the top of their head.
We needed help from two other people just to stretch our legs…
After our early morning workout we grabbed breakfast and because we were living in a Monastery, certain rules applied.
- No talking!
- No eating before the Kung Fu Master eats.
- You must eat everything in your bowl and anything that doesn’t make to your bowl (so don’t spill your food because you’ll have to eat it off the ground.)
- To leave you must wait until the master has left, and then you must bow and say Amnituofo to each table.
At first we were amazed at how delicious the food was, it almost didn’t matter that there was no meat! We soon found out that the cooks has perfected exactly five dishes, and they were served for every lunch and every dinner. The exact same meal. Everyday.
After breakfast we were back at it, squat-punching our way across a large courtyard. The Monks didn’t speak much English, and what they did know had obviously been taught to them by other foreigners. Everyday we heard the same commands:
“Qui-kuh-ley! Move your S!” (Quickly, move your ass)
“Prak-tees! You! Prak-tees!
“Change arm! Switch leg!”
“Bad. Very Bad.”
It was hard to react seriously when a 12 year old Monk is telling you that your deep knee bend isn’t low enough. You can’t help but think, ‘I can’t possible squat lower than this’. And then the Monk walks right up and smacks you, “BEND LEG!” he shouts, forcing your beleaguered body into a lower squat, “BEND LEG!”
We prak-teesed for six hours a day, everyday.
At first we could barely make it through one workout. Each new move brought a wave of pain to muscles that we didn’t know existed. But after a week or so, our squats got lower, and punches got stronger. I found out that, at age 32, I can still do a front handspring! Vinnie discovered a heretofore unknown aptitude for one legged squat punches.
We may not be the ass kicking KungFu masters that you see in the movies, but we cameout of Wu Wei Si with some serious moves. We managed to survive the monastic lifestyle, and dare I say, enjoyed it?