It is time to begin working on my Bucket List for 2013. Yesterday I went back to my Shaolin class after 3 weeks of having that awful flu that’s been going around. I walked in and everyone yelled out, “Happy New Year”, “Your’e back”, “Where have you been?”. Shifu (meaning: teacher in Mandarin) asked in his best English accent, “Have you been lazy Jeremy” and let out a chuckle. I’ve been sick, I proclaimed as I walked onto the mat and greeted all of my classmates. I was ready to train! After three weeks out, I knew I was in for a challenge.
Shifu’s academy is a hidden gem, nestled in the corner of a small shopping center in the outskirts of Little Saigon. Shifu is a 34th Generation Disciple of the Shaolin Temple, which is considered by many to be the birthplace of Kung Fu. His school is small and cozy, without the glitz and glamour of many modern martial arts schools. The first thing you see from the outside is a small belled arch reminiscent of an entry way to a Buddhist temple. The academy itself is aesthetically pleasing, kept clean with grey mats that hide the wear and tear gained from heavy abuse through hard work. The academy walls have neatly placed pictures of Shifu training at the Temple before he came to the United States. Traditional Shaolin weaponry and Thai shields for pad work are also all out on the mats available for the students.
Shifu’s class is physically and mentally challenging. Although, I have trained different systems of martial arts for the better part of the last ten years; next to Shifu, I am constantly reminded that I am still only a beginner. His power is explosive and his movements are as quick as the eye can blink. We are always pushed, “no, no, no, It’s like this” he says as he makes the smallest changes to our techniques. Once we get the movement down it’s……”Faster!” then…..”More power!”. Once we think we have it, he ups the anti and it looks impossible again. It is so much fun!
Being that the school is in Little Saigon, the majority of the students are Vietnamese. I am Caucasian but never feel out of place. In the academy there is no bias. We are all human beings, individual but equal. I hear a lot of Vietnamese being spoken during the breaks and after class. Whenever I come around, everyone switches to English so I can be a part of the conversation. I have been thinking for some time that this would be a great environment to practice Vietnamese. I have been too shy to start, since I do not know much more than a few choice words. Like anything else in life, I just have to jump in. So…I pledge to start and see where this takes me. Maybe at some point I can start working on some Mandarin too.
I feel fortunate that I have grown up in an area rich in cultural diversity. Everyone has a unique experience and can share a unique perspective. I implore anyone to be open to exploring the diversity that surrounds them. Knowledge can only be gained and can never be taken away.