Dec 09th 2016  

 News, Travel diaries

Instructors and Students from the Fujian White Crane Kung Fu & Tai Chi Martial Arts Club at the 2016 Shaolin Invitational competition

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series 2016 Shaolin Invitational Competition

We hope you enjoyed the creation myth that was Boris’ tale last week. This week we present the non-graphic novella that is ┬áthe story of Dr Strange Michael Westmuckett. Dr Strange? Well, apart from a passing resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael’s PhD thesis was in Quantum Physics (entitled “Type IA Superstring Theory: Cosmology and Compactification”). However, Michael generally doesn’t use the Doctor prefix – he wouldn’t want to be called for on a plane to assist with something messy and only have String Theory (even if it’s Superstring Theory) to offer.

“15/11/2016, 03:52:18: Michael Westmuckett (aka Dr Strange): Day 1

Another year another competition. Let’s see if I’ve got everything prepared. Lots of super training at Dennis’? Check. An unweildy but usefully appointed suitcase? Check. Niggling injury which has flared up two days prior to flight? Check. Excellent, exactly as planned.

Day of the flight I thought I should do some final weapons checking; specifically, have I reminded Instructor A to give my sword to Instructor B to take to China? Errr…. No. Cue a furious (!) session of phone calls and arrangements and all is sorted. Nothing like a relaxing set of 8 tube journeys prior to a flight.

We meet at the airport like a well oiled machine (all black and smelly), and confound baggage control with a mutant package which is either a) a lot of weapons all tied together or b) the thigh bone of a long lost dinosaur.

Post the traditional meal at the traditional place (I think they recognise us…) we spend a happy 11 hours onboard a shiny new Cathay plane. Good films, recognisable food and a pleasant sleep later we arrive at Xiamen (via some beef noodles at HK). As ever it’s changed since last time/last year – more shiny buildings, new exciting smells!

We arrive at the Overseas Hotel at a civilised 10pm, just in time for a long time favourite: street noodles with congealed blood and internal organs. Sounds great, tastes even better ­čÖé

A brief sync-up back at the hotel (and a status check of the whisky) and we head to bed for a well deserved fourth sleep of the day.

16/11/2016, 03:52:22: Day 2.

Feeling slightly rested, the deja vu kicks in. I was last at this competition 4 years ago, but it all seems so familiar. I still recall all the important aspects, i.e., where the food is served in the morning.

Tradtional-black-and-green-lionFollowing a restorative breakfast we head to the local park to entertain the locals with our lack of flexibility and general Western-ness. Adults are relatively circumspect but small children are struck agog when their gaze reaches the taller members of our group. A noticeable difference is the approach to people waving weapons about. In the UK it is disapproved of (nature of the disapproval: rapid, armed response), whereas in China people have no issue at all walking through your sword pattern as you’re doing it. Good for your spatial awareness!

An hour or so in limbs begin to return to normal and patterns improve.

Lunch prompts discussion of Gold medals, and via hand brewed coffee and bespoke training from Chief Instructor Dennis we head back outside to refine our patterns with renewed vigour.

Feeling suitably encouraged we return to the hotel to recuperate and have dinner. Then…there is a meeting to attend! Dennis and translator head to the formal talks whilst competitors hit the bottle. All are reunited briefly before sleep beckons.

17/11/2016, 12:14:23: Day 3.

Ah, sleep! A most satisfying 8 hours leads to breakfast (in uniform of course) in the hotel lobby.

Mr Su Ying Han from Yongchun joins us and we have a pleasant hour or so eating fried eggs and drinking “coffee”. As nature abhors a vacuum (and a relaxing breakfast), we discover that we suddenly must attend a 2 hour opening ceremony, so we head upstairs to the plush banquet hall and soak up the atmosphere. Competition packs are handed out so we now know when we’re competing: Saturday, am and pm. Should be a fun day!

After the meeting it is lunchtime, as the 2 hour break since breakfast was clearly too long for some. A quick light meal and it’s back to super-training (training to be super!).

An outbreak of sword polishing was the primary highlight of the afternoon – who knew brass could gleam? Some members of the group were discovered to have tassles on their swords – concerning for those who didn’t! What if the judges really like shiny things? Luckily this is China so there was a handy weapons shop down the road – a small negotioation later and we were all blinged up.

Dinner, whisky, and for some a bowl of last minute noodles. For tomorrow, we compete.

18/11/2016, 15:49:08: Day 4.

Competition Day. Hard to describe the feeling of the day – nervous, excited, apprehensive, tired and in an unfamiliar environment. Yay!

We have all of our patterns on a single day so for some there is the prospect of doing 3 (or even 5) patterns in quick succession. However it turns out that we aren’t allowed to enter the same person more than once in the same group, so there are both relieved and disappointed faces on show.

At the stadium, as ever, the Shaolin monks are present, this time taking perch like a flock of yellow starlings in the rafters of the stadium. That area is definitely theirs – no intruders!

The actual competition is somewhat a blur, a combination of standing around, running to queue somewhere (behind 175 kids in the same group all doing the same pattern – makes gradings look snappy) and a blur of performing.Michael-Westmuckett-on-the-mat

My patterns end with a bang and I win my “Marvels of the Ancient World” category with my Water Carrier pattern. Happy now – gold medal for a pattern with only 4 distinct moves in it. Turns out it’s quality not quantity that counts…

FWC end up winning a gold medal in every category the men enter and winning several outright, with double silver in the women’s events.

Sweaty, tired and in need of refreshment we stagger back to the bus and head for the nearest shower. Post a very well deserved tasty dinner of tasty things we make a brief sojourn to the weapons shop, but no! It’s shut. So we buy beer instead. Ah well…

19/11/2016, 10:00:38:  Day 5.

Off to Yongchun today for a brief overnight stay and training with Mr Su Ying Han. Usefully Quanzhou is equidistant from both the airport and Yongchun so the transit time is a mere hour in the bus.

On the way we stop off at the competition stadium to take some pictures for posterity. The plan was to get some time on the mat prior to the start, however on arrival we discover it is already in full flight. Never mind, we use the tried and tested method of looking like we know what we are doing. Several dramatic poses and some baffled looks from the audience later and we’re back on the bus.

Yongchun hasn’t changed too much since last year, the only obvious addition being rain. Things progress more or less as usual: eating excellent food, tea at Mr Su’s, training at his new hall and dodging traffic on the way to various places.

In the evening we continue the glorious tradition of the medal ceremony. This year, as several of us had entered three events, we finished all the baijiu by the fifth person – a new record! A second bottle obtained and the medals handed out, we take the party out of Dennis’ room and continue until the early hours. Sleep beckons, and we slope off to bed tired and emotional.

20/11/2016, 14:29:00: Day 6.

Still in Yongchun, we (eventually) arise for breakfast. As befitting a *** hotel it is simple but effective, and congi turns out to be a good post drinking breakfast.

The morning will be training at Mr Su Ying Han’s hall, and we’re already looking forward to a nice relaxed (i.e., sober) lunch. We trot over to Mr Su’s training hall with their kindly lent umbrellas and set about working on our Yongchun patterns in between sets of tea.

Lunch is again at the usual place, but we get there via Mr Su’s house where he gives Dennis some weighty gifts: two large stones for grip strengthening. Luckily we have some young and enthusiatsic members of the group on hand to cart these across town for lunch.

When we arrive we discover the Su family are already there, with the table pre-prepared with ginju and erguetou – there goes the afternoon… The food is excellent and has a backdrop of videos of Yongchun White Crane patterns (and Chris’ tourist board film). Toasting begins in earnest mid-way through with just about sufficient time in between toasts to eat something.

Post-lunch we retire and rest/pack/shop before taking the bus back to Quanzhou for the evening’s competition closing banquet. This is a relaxed affair, with minimal speeches but with added demos from various practitioners. Exhausted from the travel and eating we head upstairs and pack, as we have an early flight home the following morning.”




A group of Instructors and Students from the Fujian White Crane Kung Fu & Tai Chi Martial Arts Club, wait their turn to compete at the 2016 Shaolin Invitational Competition