They start at my forehead, streaming freely
down my face to drop from the nose and chin of my hanging head in steady
progression. Sweat flows out of every part of me, seeming to take with
it my strength and resolve. I sit on a hard metal chair on the dusty
white tile balcony of my room, my forearms on my knees, head slumped
forward. I watch the steady stream of drops draining from my face as
they fall to the balcony floor, each exploding in a splash of muddy
water. Some drops leave their appointed routes to enter and sting my
eyes. Clothes from the morning workout that have been rinsed in the
sink are draped across a line above my head. Limp, they desperately
attempt to dry in the humid air.
know how they feel. My breath is slow and heavy, thank heavens breathing
is automatic. I am exhausted. It is 1:00 pm on an August afternoon with
a temperature of about 88 degrees fahrenheit. My second story balcony
at the Shaolin Wushu Guan Hotel faces Song Shan (Song Mountain) and
in the distance (off to the left) the large white statue of Da Mo looks
down at me, no doubt in bemused distain, for my current state.
I can't see that now, for that I would have to lift my head.
hour from now, afternoon practice will begin and I cast about desperately
for the inner drive to get up and do it again. It is day three of my
six day training stop at Shaolin and each of my 46 years betray me.
Six days is nothing when it comes to training here or anywhere. What
am I doing here? I am too old for this. Why do I keep returning to train
in China? Stay at home with your wife and children (whom I desperately
miss each trip), my emotional mind says.
this I slowly lift my head. Across from my balcony is a cracked brick
wall, plastered with a white surface coat that long ago lost track of
its color. The top of the wall is trimmed in rows of broken glass, a
common inexpensive security measure in many countries.
afternoon sun shines through the brown, green and clear shards that
separate the back grounds of the hotel from the (apparently dangerous)
corn field on the other side of the wall. I am unclear on the need for
security here, little of value is in the hotel and it is easily entered
via the front side of the building. Today, I am content to watch the
sunlight play through the glass as I search for a little energy. Then,
out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the brown bottle shards move.
I scan the edge of the wall looking for the specific piece but all are
still. Then again, that one moved.
I focus in on the one piece, I can see it seems to get larger, then
smaller as if opening and closing. Even in my tired state, my brain
soon recognizes the butterfly that rests among the broken glass. When
folded, it's triangular wings are almost indistinguishable from the
pointed shards of glass. I am struck by the martial metaphors of this
juxtaposition. The butterfly, the very symbol of gentleness and beauty,
is set hidden amongst the rough, jagged edges of an aggressive defense.
The yin lies within the yang, almost unseen unless you yourself are
still. There is strength in the hidden softness.
a broader canvas, it represents my on-going love affair with this country.
China is a developing nation, rough on the outside. At first glance
one sees the poverty, pollution, dirt and disrepair. But if you look
closely, this is only a rough surface on a culture and people of great
beauty. Let go of the surface and experience what is actually here.
These are the reasons I keep coming back. China and her martial arts
should be experienced within the context that they evolved, within the
culture that spawned them.
smile spreads across my face and I draw a long steady breath. The butterfly
catches a breeze, rising from between the glass shards to drift past
my balcony. I trace its path with my eyes, my head rising and turning
as it passes. As it drifts out of sight, I realize I am looking up at
Song Shan, looking at the stature of Da Mo barely visible in the August
haze. My head is up. I place my hands on my knees and stand up onto
legs that groan slightly from their previous efforts.