Martial Arts has played a big part in my life. From the age of six, my Dad (a second dan black belt in karate) took me to judo. I loved it. I trained twice a week until I was fourteen years old. Later, I decided to take up kickboxing. I trained hard in my sport and competed at an international level, even winning a couple of titles. I am a 2nd dan black belt and taught my own kickboxing classes for several years. In this time I had the honour of watching my students become strong, fit, and successful in the sport. Now, at thirty-four years old, I have two young children and have stopped teaching. The last time I fought was back in 2010. I now take private boxing lessons and run endurance races instead!
Above: Me and my best mate, Matt, in China back in 2003
Back in the day, I spent a few months in China at a martial arts academy. The training was hard, repetitive, and effective. Imagine living with a handful of fellow Europeans and Americans on top of a mountain in the wilderness of Northern China. The nearest airport is a three hour drive away, the closest town is over an hour away, and the local area is rolling rice fields, winding valleys, and spectacular mountain views.
Above: A rainy day on the mountain
The academy is situated amongst forests of pine and thick woodland. Morning training consisted of Qigong, a Shaolin style of martial arts that uses your body’s energy to generate huge striking power. Students practice every day striking the surrounding trees. Over years, the trees have been shaped by the monks and students: large sections of bark are missing at chest to head height – a visual reminder of years of hard training.
Above: Stunning countryside around the academy
After breakfast, morning training begins. Three hours of kung-fu training mixed with technical, weapon, gymnastic, and fitness training.
Above: The morning run up the mountain!!
This training continues after lunch and culminates in the evening with another session of Qigong.
Every second week the instructors would duly take their bets on their favourite student to win the sparring sessions. Full contact with, frankly speaking, rubbish protective gear. It actually sounds worse than it was, but it certainly added some spice.
Above: Practising my jump kicks
Each morning we would run three miles through the lush forests and mountain paths (over seven hundred steps carved into rock). I’m sure the local farmers wondered what the massive westerners were doing thundering over their land in big orange trousers. Mothers’ lifted their children onto their shoulders so they could get a glimpse of the silly westerners. Probably the first they had ever seen in the flesh.
Above: Reverse-round kick
In the evening, swarms of insects would cover the academy. Attracted by the lights they took up every available space. The window nets barely kept them at bay. It seemed to me at the time that Chinese insects were twice the size of British ones…
Above: Ridiculously big insect
In the two months that I spent at Siping Marital Arts Academy (www.shaolins.com) I barely touched the surface of the deep, intricate, and ancient art of Shaolin. Nevertheless, I took away something special. I took away an experience so rich that it has forever changed the way I look at my own training, and the way I look at life in general.
My latest short story, “The Tournament,” released through TWB Press was inspired by my time in China. It is a science fiction action novelette with a heart breaking touch. I’m happy to announce its release on Amazon US and UK. For more details and a free excerpt click here: http://www.twbpress.com/thetournament.html
Much thanks, as always, has to go out to Terry Wright, owner of TWB Press for all his help and motivation in getting this story published.