I was born in the year of the monkey in a small village in central China's Henan Province. My grandparents had moved there after floods had destroyed their hometown. Because we were not native to the village, my family endured a lot of bullying. The locals made sure my parents had to use the worst land for farming, and the worst spot for building our house. When I was in fourth grade my grandfather fell ill, and because we needed money for hospital bills, I had to leave school. I worked on our farmland, helping my family plant corn and cotton. Eventually, my parents decided to send me to Wudang Mountain to study martial arts. I was a very active child, much harder to contain than my brothers. It was also my parents' hope that if a member of the family were good at martial arts, the local villagers wouldn't bully us. As a boy, I used to walk for hours to watch kung fu movies on the sole TV in the area. I was always fighting with my brothers in our family's front yard. So, when my parents asked if I'd like to go study, I readily agreed. My father managed to borrow some money from a distant relative, and we headed out on a two-day tractor, bus, and boat trip that took us to Hubei Province.
In 1994, the only martial arts school actually located on Wudang Mountain was the Wudang Daoist Association School. We lived and trained at Purple Cloud Temple under Zhong Yun Long. He trained with Guo Gaoyi and Zhu Chengde and had spent three years traveling around China, searching out the Wudang practitioners who had gone into hiding during the Cultural Revolution. The tuition at that time was about 1,200 yuan per year, about $170. In addition, we had to pay 25 yuan per week for food. Though it doesn't sound like much, it was difficult for my parents to pay so much money. I was by far the poorest student at the school. I remember that when I got there all I had was one worn-out pair of pants, not suitable for training in. I also didn't have a plate to use at mealtime. Lucky for me, the other students were kind and gave me what I needed. By my second year at the school, I had proven myself as a serious student, and my tuition was waived.
When I first arrived at the school, there were over 40 students. Being 13, I was among the youngest. Most of the students were around 18-19 years old. There were also several middle-aged people and older adults who mostly studied taiji. In my third year there, two 13-year-old girls from Sichuan Province also came to study. The two girls got their own room, which we envied greatly. Us boys were 12 to a room. Many students also complained about the food. In Henan, where I'm from, the staple food is noodles. But, in Hubei Province, they eat rice. I remember that when I got to Wudang Mountain, I hated eating rice. I found it hard to digest, and felt nauseous for weeks. I also wasn't used to eating meat. On our farm we had animals, but they were all sold in the markets. We ate meat maybe once a year. At Wudang we had meat three times a week. Many people found the lifestyle difficult to adjust to. Out of the 40 original students that were there when I entered the school, only 20 returned the next year. By the third year, there were less than 10 of us remaining. I think it is safe to say that at Wudang Mountain, for every 200 students who train there, maybe one or two end up sticking it out.
The Way of the Student The practice was very bitter. We would wake up at 5 am and begin by working on our flexibility. For about half an hour we would practice splits and other stretches. I remember we would fall asleep while in splits. After stretching we would do some basic conditioning: standing in horse stance or doing push-ups. We would stop for breakfast at 7 am, and at 8 am begin the stretching and conditioning all over again. We would also drill basic kicks and punches. The older students, who stood on the sidelines with thick wooden rods in their hands, supervised our morning practice. Their favorite thing was to find one of us slacking. We had class seven days a week. But, we always had a vacation during the Spring Festival. Also, sometimes when they saw that we were exhausted, we'd all be given a day off. read more