I realised at the end of a really busy week that tomorrow was going to be the 12th of November.
This date holds huge significance to me as a person and I realise that for Wenhsiuquan this is a really important day as well.
On this date in 2002 I have met Chen Yu Chi.
Yu Chi, or Carol as she was known to me back then, was 26 at the time. I was 24. I have just finished my LLB exams for that year and showed up for work at the Chinese Restaurant when she had just arrived with her friend Jamie from Johannesburg's OR Tambo Airport.
At that time I thought I would get along with all Chinese people in general. I realise now, however, that this woman is a rare breed.
This post, however, is not about her as a woman, but about what she had taught me of Chinese martial arts.
Looking at Kungfu nowadays I would understand if the public associates it with flowery movements, acrobatics and spectacular techniques. This has been perpetuated by the sport known as Wushu, which also happens to be the Chinese term used to refer to fighting arts.
At that time I had a background in Karate, Judo, Aikido and Jujitsu. I have just started learning Jeet Kune Do and was adopting its teachings within the context of what I already knew and practiced. Back then I called my eclectic style Zanshindo.
It emphasised elevated awareness, defense and swift response.
Sticking hands (chi sao) was something I took from Wing Chun and that had formed the largest part of my defence at the time as well.
So- back then- I blocked quite well and evaded attacks quite easily, but my strikes and punches were not very powerful.
Now- Carol stands about 5 foot 4 tall and is really small built. She is definitely much smaller in build than I am. She had also not told me right away that she knew martial arts, but had heard very quickly that I studied martial arts in my spare time.
The response refuted everything that I have thought I knew.
She did not divert the punch the the side or moved her body, but simply attacked the fist with her palm. The blow had tremendous force and I remember myself being knocked back a bit. I am sure that my wrist would at least have been sprained if the bones of my hand and wrist had not been properly aligned. This type of attack might sound weird, but a while later I got told of a fight between two Chinese masters in an open tournament in China where one of the fighters' fingers got broken when the other punched his fist as he was attacking.
That was the day I have realised that speed and reflexes are important, but that strength was too. And not just any strength...
Before the encounter above I have read about internal strength and concepts such as jing and chi. I have not found any reference to any of this at any of the two Karate schools at which I have studied by then and I have not yet begun a serious undertaking to study Taijiquan at the time.
Carol was my first live example. She was definitely not muscular and her small frame seemed very delicate. Still- when she hit her fists felt as hard as stone and her body immovable as a 2 ton boulder.
This was what had prompted me into studying Taijiquan, Shaolin Kungfu and Xingyiquan.
For a long time afterward I have seemed to gravitate further and further from the light formlessness of Jeet Kune Do and more and more towards the firm stances of these arts.
Besides the secret to developing devastating power with relaxation she has also taught me the following valuable lessons:
1. A martial artist's level of mastery is revealed by what the way he speaks and acts. There are a wide range of signs that reveal one's training or lack thereof.
2. Illness should not occur if your internal training and lifestyle is conducted properly.
3. Martial artists are not controlled by their emotions. It is the other way around.
4. How to spot true friends.
5. Raging and complaining is useless. If something bothers you- do something about it. If you can't- accept it.
I have last heard from Carol in 2012. I don't know what she is doing now and whether she got married or any of those things about which one usually asks.
I have never stopped training, however. For years to follow since her departure I would diligently do my Qigong exercises and meditation, regardless of what type of martial art that I may be learning.
It is little surprise that Carol's teachings remained in place when I have finally settled into Wenhsiuquan. She may be long gone, but I still treasure her gift.