Arrival in China: Smiling Jade
Can’t remember, was it 30 hours or 36 hours flight until I arrived in Zhengzhou… It was nighttime… Jade, the local high school English teacher in Wenxian greeted me at the airport, and escorted me to Master Wang’s school in Chen Village. It was late, around midnight, and everything seemed so… foreign! Except the conversation with Jade, who always seemed to be smiling! And she spoke such perfect English!
First Impression of Master Wang Xi’an
We went directly to Master Wang’s school in Chen Village and… No Master Wang! Back to Wushu Guan in Wenxian, a large old training center for Master Wang’s students and other Chen teachers that studied with him. It was really late and I was exhausted. Still no Master Wang! And then, out of the dark, he appeared. Tall and standing very straight I remember, and his movement when he walked was… elegant! As if he were floating maybe? He had an entourage of men with him (it was always like this) – about 8 men, all smoking and talking energetically.
Real Chinese Food – for a Vegan
I was taken to eat at a restaurant on the street that was inside a large tent. When we entered, it sure smelled good! REAL Chinese food I thought! Then I thought, how am I going to explain that I am vegan, in a country where the people eat everything and anything? After using every Chinese word I knew and through an interpreter I got the point across. Master Wang at first seemed shocked, and a moment later nodded OK.
The food kept coming, and it was DELICIOUS! Hey I can tell you this for sure – if you never been to China then you never ate real Chinese food!
The Interview: No Extra Charge for Cigarette Smoke!
After dinner I was taken to my hotel room where I would be staying the next 5 weeks. With Master Wang and his 8 buddies all still smoking… Sitting on my bed with 8 men smoking… and then, my interview began!
You see, I made this long voyage to learn from Master Wang. But that didn’t mean he would actually teach me! Hence, the interview that would decide if I was worthy of his time and teaching…
He asked a lot of questions (through his interpreter) – what I studied before, with whom… When he asked what I wanted to learn, I responded that it was up to him, as he was the teacher, as to what he felt I needed to learn.
His last question I found strange – he asked me if I was a tai chi master! Then he was kind of looking at me out of the corner of his eye, cigarette hanging from his mouth… as if, OK this is the deciding question…
My answer: I said that until then, I had practiced tai chi and other martial arts already every day for more than 30 years. By the standards of where I came from, I had some definite skills… but to refer to myself as a master? I saw no reason why or what purpose it would serve to call myself master, other than to feed my ego or maybe convince others to pay me more to teach them!
That was it! Interview over. The next thing I heard was the interpreter saying, “Teacher Wang will take personal responsibility for your training”. I almost fell on the floor with excitement!
Then he said, “Teacher Wang will instruct you personally 5 hours each day!”
I felt like crying! I passed the interview!
You see, for someone like me who had dedicated most of my life (since age 15 anyway) to the study of martial arts, to have the opportunity to learn from a teacher as skilled as Master Wang was literally a dream come true! For years I had dreamed of going to Asia to learn from the masters! And now, here I was, and together with one of the highest skilled tai chi masters alive today! Cigarette smoke and all!
I was instructed to be in the training hall at 9 AM the next morning, ready to start my training.
As exhausted as I was, needless to say, I did not sleep at all that night…
Part 3 of this series will talk about my first day in the training hall with Master Wang, and the demonstration I would witness firsthand! Stay tuned…
Part 1 of this series talks about my beginning years with martial arts.