Before getting back in to the experience of learning wushu itself, I thought I would take some time to talk about something that had a huge impact on my experience with wushu over the years. In fact, besides my coach, I would say that this is one of the two factors that contributed the most to my development with wushu:
More specifically, I’m talking about the people I have met through wushu over the years, and who have had a big influence on my views on both wushu and the world.
For the sake of this blog entry, I will limit this to just the people I met while training in the Bay Area before moving to Los Angeles in 2001. (I will tackle the rest of you people later.
Kaz and Tabala
L to R: Tabala, Kaz, Ka Li, Lee, Me (1995)
The first two people I became close to through wushu were Kaz and Tabala. I mentioned them before, but I’ll explain a bit more about them here.
Kaz was half-Japanese like me. A friend of Green Day’s turned kung-fu enthusiast, he came to join Wushu West through an interest in Hong Kong movies. He eventually decided that he wanted a more traditional application-oriented path and went to the city to train at a different school, but even while doing that he kept in contact with Patti and I. We were roommate for a year or two as well, before I ended up getting an apartment with Brandon. Has has since gotten married, had a kid, fell in love with soccer and moved to Malaysia.
Kaz hanging out with Laura, David, Mike and I at Hansie and Inyork's Apartment (1997)
Tabala was an african american man with tight, short dreads. He had grown up with Bruce Lee as his primary father figure and, truth be told, he didn’t talk much about himself. He had been training in some form of Chinese martial arts for most of his life and was very dedicated to his martial arts education. He was really friendly, but at the same time, somewhat mysterious. After a few years he moved to L.A. to get some work and pretty much dropped off the radar. Finally, after years and years he resurfaced on Facebook. Its nice to be back in contact with him.
From Kaz and Tabala I learned that even if you stop training with your teacher, it doesn’t mean you stop giving them your respect.
Gio and Rich
Gio practicing spear during a Wushu West class at the Park (1997)
We called them the Nan Quan Brothers. Two big Philippino guys from San Leandro who started at wushu west about a year after me. I would hang out with them fairly often and we would commute back and forth to class pretty regularly.
I remember one time a bunch of us met at a park in Alameda to train at a park (just for fun, believe it or not) and we were talking about the mechanics of the twist. Of course, none of us could do it and most of us were afraid to try, but Gio decided to go for it. Right there on the grass he went for it. And he almost landed it! He kept trying, each time crashing to the ground, but getting closer. After a little while he stopped, but he had made good progress.
To be honest, I was a bit ashamed of myself, because I didn’t have the courage to try it out. Looking back, I think I could have done it, but I was just too afraid. Now-a-days, if I was in the same physical condition that I was back then, I’d try it in a heartbeat. But again .. hindsight is 20/20.
L to R: Gio, Tien, Mai, Me, Rich, Lindsay at the 1997 CMAT at U.C. Berkeley
They eventually left Wushu West around 1999. I think Rich studied with Tony Chen for a while (it was cheaper) but last I heard neither of them train anymore. They’re on my facebook friends list though (isn’t everyone?) and I was able to see Gio during my last trip back home.
From Gio and Rich I learned that fear should never be a reason not to try something — it’s a signal that you’re in the midst of a great opportunity for self-development.
Karen (middle) and David (right) talking with a Beijing Team Member (1999)
I mentioned David before too. He was the one that helped bridge the abyss between Wushu West and Cal Wushu.
Back when he first started he took his training very seriously. He had started only 5 months before me but his hard work and dedication made him improve very quickly.
Truth be told, he had a few quirks of the body and some might have said that his physique wasn’t well-suited for wushu. But admirably, he never let that stop him.
L to R: Chen Chen, Han Jing, Me, Karen, David, Ely and Lily, Training in Beijing (1999)
He went to China in 1997. Then again in 1999 with me and some other friends. And then again in 2000 .. and 2001. He would train at multiple-schools — Cal Wushu, then Wushu West, then Omei Wushu and then with Liu Bo and others.
He never did it in a way that upset any of his instructors though, because they could see that he was working hard to develop his abilities and you can’t really fault someone for seeking out as much knowledge and understanding as they can.
He would see something he wanted and then pursue it with a single-minded determination until he had achieved it. That’s how he got his awesome drop stance. He saw Amy Chow’s drop stance in 1996 and told himself he wanted one like that. And he got it too.
Amy Chow's Drop Stance (1996)
Eventually he went on to start his own school, Wushu Central, after which I didn’t have too much contact with him. As I understand it, there was a bit of drama here and there, but the David I knew best was the one before all of that happened. The one that was enthusiastic about and dedicated to wushu training. The one that pushed other people to work harder and pushed himself just as hard. That is the David I remember most. I’m pretty sure he’s still there anyway…
From David I learned the importance of training hard and embracing all of one’s wushu opportunities.
Li Jing leads Cal Wushu students in wushu basics (1999)
There have been a lot of friends I’ve met at Cal Wushu over the years. More than I could really list out in any adequate fashion. Some of them have been positive experiences, and some of them have been negative, but all in all my time hanging out and training with Cal Wushu has been one of enjoyable growth.
I’ve been at Cal Wushu as a student; training hard and gasping for air and water after a hard session of training. You develop close bonds with people when you’re in that sort of mutually-exhausting environment. After classes we would all go over to Durant Square, a food court just off campus, and bond together over some Korean BBQ or cheap Chinese take-out. Sifu Bryant Fong or Li Jing were coaching back then and it was great to get to know them better too.
Cal Wushu Students eating in Durant Square (2004)
I’ve also been at Cal Wushu as an instructor. Teaching beginners or the advanced class and putting them through their paces. You learn a lot about yourself when put in that sort of position — your strengths and weaknesses come to the forefront of your attention when you teach others. But, as they say, the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I learned a lot about wushu by helping others understand its fundamentals.
There have been generation after generation of students at Cal Wushu — too many to count over the years — but one thing remained the same. It is a great place to meet people who are as geeked out about wushu as you are.
George and Raffi making an announcement to Cal Wushu students (1999)
For some strange reason .. all of the students stay the same age, but I keep getting older and older. I used to be just a few years older than the students. Now .. they’re all half my age. How depressing is that?
From Cal Wushu I learned the value of wushu fellowship, and the important responsibility you take on when you start to teach wushu.
Patrick at the original Design Reactor Offices in Downtown Berkeley (May, 1998)
I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention Pat. Out of all the people I’ve met in wushu, he’s probably had the singularly highest impact on my life. I first met Pat through wushu when he was at Cal, and eventually I went to work for him at Design Reactor. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 12 years since I first began working with him at our little web design firm. We’ve been co-workers, business partners, classmates, roommates and friends and I owe him a lot for some of the things he’s done for me over the years.
But, this isn’t about all of that. This is about wushu. And Pat’s wushu, believe it or not, was one of the best that had ever come around. He originally trained with Zhang Gui Fung in Maryland before coming to Berkeley to go to school, and that early training paid off.
In 1994 he went to China with Daniel Wu to train with the Beijing Wushu Team. When he came back he was a wushu machine. His front stretch kicks were the things of legend and his front jumping slap kick would freeze the room as they watched his technique. Technique that was, at that time, almost God-like compared to the rest of us.
Pat performing a front stretch kick at Cal Wushu (1995)
He became disinterested in wushu though. Work, life and other things took priority. I also remember him once telling me that, after his experiences training in China he realized that there was no way he would ever get to the level of a Chinese athlete. And, as he put it at the time, if he couldn’t become the best at something, then why spend so much time doing it? That isn’t to say he doesn’t appreciate or enjoy wushu. I think it is more about how the level of committment that wushu requires for you to improve past a certain point makes it prohibitive for some people.
He would return to it from time to time, but none of them were quite as grand as his initial wushu fervor back in the early 90’s, fueled by Cal Wushu friends and a healthy dose of Jet Li’s Wong Fei Hung.
Pat taught me that having natural ability isn’t worth anything if you don’t commit to what you are doing, and that often times hard work can make up the difference for those who might not have been born with the right genetic make-up; either in Wushu, Business or Life.
L to R: Andy, Me, Adrian (splits), Anthony and Chris training in the park (1997)
And, of course, besides the people I listed above, there have been countless students coming in and out of Wushu West over the years. Here are some of the highlights. It might be a little cryptic to you, but these are my lessons, not yours, so they really only need to make sense to me.
: Taught me that just because someone is ignorant, doesn’t mean they are stupid.
: Taught me to never let someone else’s critism let me to doubt my own abilities.
: Taught me that you can never judge a book by its cover.
: Taught me that you’re never too old to feel young.
Anthony and his drenched shirt after practice (1997)
: Taught me that having responsibilities for others doesn’t mean you are no longer responsible for yourself.
: Taught me that the only value fear has is when you use it to excuse yourself from living life.
Mike at Wushu West (2004)
Jennifer & Cheri:
Taught me the value of specilizing in a specific area.
L to R: Patti, Jennifer, Cheri, Bob, Peter after class at Wushu West (1999)
Inyork & Hansie
: Taught me that the cooler a person thinks they are, the less cool they become. And vice versa.
Bryan and Yolanda
: Taught me that life is nothing if you don’t have passion for what you love to do.
: Taught me that putting your heart out on your sleeve doesn’t guarantee that it will be acknowledged.
There are others too, but I think that is probably enough for now. Not that many ofthese people read this blog anyway. And I will be addressing more people when I talk about my return to Wushu West in 2004.
But I’m getting ahead of myself …
Sometimes I wonder what my experiences with wushu would have been like had some people not been a part of it. I’m sure they would have been good too, but each person you meet and each interaction you have, colors your life in very specific ways.
And when you put them all together you end up with a very special tapestry for your life. Each thread weaving around in seemingly haphazzard fashion, but when viewed with perspective, its clear that each is as important to the whole as any other.
My wushu friends have been, as I said, one of the two biggest factors that influenced my experience with wushu during this period of my life.
What is the other? Well, that will be the subject of my next blog. It’s a little something we in the wushu community refer to as “sifu video”.
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