Went to the MMA/Kickboxing gym in Tianshui today where I wound up doing some grappling with the head instructor, Li. Now grappling isn’t so much a thing in China as it is in America, and even though he is an incredible martial artist he has no formal training in wrestling or judo or bjj or anything like it. Incredibly game of him to roll with me, then. His instincts are pretty good for not having been trained, but I was still able to beat him with an armbar before realizing… shoot, maybe I shouldn’t have just beaten the teacher in front of other students at the gym? He’s been incredible to me ever since I started going, giving me individual attention and teaching me so much about Chinese fighting styles, and here I just caused him to lose face in front of students. Damn.
10 minutes later, he comes back to me, beaming. “Another.” He survives longer and I finish him again, but we’re both laughing.
I recognize a kindred spirit in him. He’s a fighter, and he could care less about face if it gets in the way of learning from a student. It’s what makes him a great martial artist, and it’s what makes him an incredible teacher. Our cultures and language differences have no meaning. He will say things as many times and as slowly as he needs to in Chinese in order to help me understand techniques. He is a rare individual, and I am incredibly lucky to have him in my life here.
After my first day at the gym learning SanDa I felt like I had just received a language lesson in the variety of ways to say “almost” or ” ehhhhh close” in Chinese. It was discouraging. After the second day I friended him on WeChat (social media here) and saw he had posted a picture of me training the day I had started. Reading the caption was a language lesson in how to say “he has indescribable guts and sense.” There is nothing quite like a compliment from somebody you respect.
This weekend, Audrey and Michael headed over to Xi Feng for the Labor Day holiday. Initially, I was a little worried trying to think of fun things to do—Xi Feng is pretty isolated—however, we ended up having a great time. The days were remarkably full, and we had an amazingly large amount of great food: all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, barbecue, some great Chinese, and some all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ (the place just opened). We did some moderate hiking, hung out with some students, and even visited “Xiao Kong Tong”.
All and all, I think we all had a wonderful weekend. Thanks, y’all, for visiting!!!!!
We introduced our friends at the local barbecue stand to grilled apples (brought some cinnamon special for the occasion). They disappeared pretty quickly, so this might have to become a regular thing.
Tianshui Fight Club, and a post-workout snack (the China version).
The stereotype about China is that there are martial arts EVERYWHERE, and while it certainly is a common aspect of life here, I haven’t been able to find an outlet for my particular styles. Old folks doing tai chi in the morning or very archaic (granted, also very fascinating) wushu forms didn’t hold as much appeal to me as Muay Thai and BJJ did to me back home. All of that changed this week. Tianshui miraculously got a kickboxing/mma gym recently, and I signed up expecting-at the bare-minimum-bags I can hit and people who are interested in being thrown. What I found was way beyond my expectations.
The owner and trainer (Lee, seen here holding the thai pads) teaches Taekwondo, Sanda (Chinese kickboxing, which is on my list to learn) and Muay Thai. He’s been working me through drills and exercises to teach me the Sanda way of doing things, but since he knows Muay Thai he easily recognizes which of my “bad habits” come from a different form and which ones are, ahem, bad habits. His students are serious martial artists, and are incredibly open-minded. After one session I did some “bladed weapon” (strips of foam rubber) sparring with another student, and we exchanged techniques and details between Chinese Kung Fu and the little bit of Filipino Eskrima I’m lucky enough to have picked up back home. After that another student asked if I could “teach him MMA,” by which I figured he meant grappling since I’d already seen his striking… I showed him a double leg takedown and the sprawl defense to go with it, which led to some good-natured wrestling with the other students.
I was expecting to find a place where I could go to keep my martial arts from backsliding too far, but now I’m excited to see where my skills will go in the next year and a half and to have found a group of martial artists who are eager to learn, exchange, and most importantly, teach me.