Wu Wei Temple and the Five Elements
Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
351Trip End Ongoing
Cat, who I met at the Hump, had trained at Wu Wei Temple for three months over the winter but was low on money and needed to work in Kunming for a while. She found a job doing new dance instruction and massage at a yoga institute, but still wanted to return to Wu Wei to visit her monk friends and enjoy the tranquility away from the city.
I began my stay at Wu Wei Temple drinking a ceremonial cup of tea with the robed sifu, an older man with a long Chinese goatee and round smiling face. He and his monks and the nature of the place convinced me to stay, despite the one-week minimum training requirement. "I'm on my way to Shangri-la, where I work," I said. "That's okay," they said.
A need to hike through the forest crept within me, so I headed uphill through the pine forests, wandering slowly and enjoying the views of Erhai Lake and the blooming rhododendrons. Pheasants hid amongst the shrubs, chickadees and wrens inquisitively perched next to me, and hawks circled overhead.
I returned just before dinner, and everyone--monks, the sifu, students--ate in the kitchen: "you must eat all your food--every grain of rice--in your bowl and on the table," was one of the rules. No problem, I thought. Cat and I talked a bit while we ate our rice and plates of shared stir fried dishes. Periodically, a monk or someone leaving one of the three low tables would chant "ah mi to fo" in honor of the Buddha of Infinte Light that is within all of us yet cannot be seen or described physically. We all finished our vegetarian meals down to the last grain of rice: "ah mi to fo."
The temple comes to life at 5:30 a.m. with chanting, drumming, and the striking of a large, resonant bell. I was already awake at 3 a.m.--full of energy and not feeling sleepy. At 6, I walked outside into the cold, dark courtyard and listened to the chanting of the monks within the closed temple in front of me
After a couple of weeks in the big city, Wu Wei Si was tranquil and resonated within me, like the bell.
"Are you going to train?" Cat asked me at breakfast.
"Sure, while I'm here, I'll give it my best shot. Can't really call it training, though...maybe a trial run." After all, Kung Fu is the mastery of things through long-term effort and skill, not one day of kicking and punching.
Formal training at Wu Wei Temple was from nine to noon and four to six every day--five hours. After sitting around with broken ribs for so long, I hadn't done any real exercise for a while. As a true soothsayer would predict: "you are entering a world of pain."
We began with an hour of stretches, followed by an hour of group moves--kicks, punches, somersaults--back and forth across the training room. For the third hour, we broke into groups based on ability level and practiced forms or kata. The sifu watched, periodically correcting the young instructors.
In the afternoon, we repeated the process. For me, this day was a turning point--I could completely leave my rib-healing recovery behind me and move forwards. It felt good, except my hamstrings were played like an old guitar.
The next day, after saying goodbye to the monks, the students, the sifu, and Cat, I left in the rain to catch a bus to Shangri-la. The five elements--earth, fire, water, metal, and wood--were strong today.
On the eastern mountain slopes, a large fire burned, sending billows of smoke into the rainy skies.
The sun pierced these skies sending a rainbow over Wu Wei Temple.
The rain soaked into the earth as the new pine needles were beginning to open for the summer.
Behind me, the students of Wu Wei Temple were practicing their sword-fighting skills.
Soon, I was on a bus to Shangri-la, the land of spruce and fir forests and snow.
Regards to the Coen Brothers and Walter (John Goodman).