mandag 28. november 2011

Dealing with exhaustion

Hi guys,
I’ve been here in Wudang for five weeks now, and I’m slowly starting to settle in and find my place in the family (which means I’m at the bottom of the hierarchy symbolized by serving rice and doing the dishes after dinner). I’m making progress with my training, and I’m adjusting to life under what feels like constant supervision by my master. 

Here's a video of my practice for those of you who are not on my facebook.

The first month here was more than anything hard on my psyche. The training was unrelenting, and by the end of the first month I felt like I was running on fumes. My mood was unpredictable, and thoughts of leaving and going back to a more comfortable life started appearing in my mind with increasing frequency. I started questioning if this really was what I wanted to do. What I think was the prime contributor to my feeling down, is that I was told I wouldn’t be allowed a day off. I had three months of nonstop training to look forward to before the spring-festival, and I felt trapped. I was questioning the physical soundness of training that intensively without any time to recover.
Close to the end of my first month back on the mountain, Hallgrim Hansegård, who founded the dance company Frikar, arrived in Wudang to continue working on his collaborative dance project involving a group of Chinese Wudang Kungfu students. We decided to meet up and have a chat while he was here on the mountain. I worked up my nerve and asked my master if I could have the day off to climb to the top, the Golden Summit, together with Hallgrim, and lo and behold he answered “yes” (albeit I would have to do early morning and evening practice). Now climbing a few thousand stairs might not fit your definition of a day off when you’ve been kicking, running, and standing in horse stance for the better part of a month, but I was ecstatic about the prospect of no kicks for an entire day! Master Zhong left the day after to go to his home town for three days to take care of some business, leaving his wife, the friendly Daoist, my master’s three-month-old baby, and me to take care of the house. The next day I met Hallgrim and brought him to the house of Master Zhong. He was invited to stay for lunch and when I during our meal told Master Zhong’s wife, Xia Lingfan that he was a professional “laus” dancer, she immediately asked to see a performance. After dinner her wish was granted when Hallgrim put on some traditional Norwegian mouth harp music and gave them a performance they won’t soon forget, spinning, yipping, doing acrobatics and topping off the act by kicking a hat off a bamboo staff I was holding up high. It was truly a surreal sight to see such an amazing display of traditional Norwegian culture, in the middle of the setting I had been kicking and sweating, to the sound of my master commanding me to speed my lazy ass up.

Speaking of Norwegian culture: this is Master Zhong's daughter
wearing a Norwegian hat knitted by my friend Hilde Barstad
The day after our walk up to the top I felt reinvigorated. I had enjoyed good conversation and speaking Norwegian again. My energy was replenished, and I was enthusiastic about going back to my practice. I told Dong the friendly Daoist what an amazing effect that single day off had had on me, and he agreed that it is wise to have a day off at least once a week. "Otherwise the pressure becomes too great." “If only Master Zhong felt the same,” I said. “Hmmm, I’ll have a word with him,” he said and winked. If it wouldn’t have been hugely inappropriate I would have hugged him and professed my ever lasting love to the man right then and there. 
On the one month anniversary of my arrival in Wudang I got my first whole day off. It was a misty day, so I decided to use it for catching up on old e-mails I hadn’t replied to, and reading a book. At lunch time Master Zhong told me I had to leave the house and do something, or he wouldn’t give me a day off again. So, not wanting to tempt fate, I promptly left the house and went for walk up to the temple, muttering to myself about how unfair it was that I couldn’t even decide what to do with my own time on my day off.

I think most of my master's behaviour results from him wanting me to develop my "yi", which means my mind/will. I'm realising how much of this is just based on that. Without pushing myself and developing my yi, my Kungfu won't be going anywhere.
Ultimately, I realize how blessed I am to be in this situation, and I’m often reminded of that when I’m down by my friends. I know there will be ups and downs during my time here, and my discipline and willpower will be put to the ultimate test, but when I'm down and feel like I've just been thrown out of a vehicle moving full speed, I take comfort in the fact that the only constant here in life is change. 
Love and miss you guys,
Bjarte Ling Yuan Hiley

søndag 13. november 2011


Hi guys,

These last few weeks have been tough! I knew this would be hard, but... I guess you’ll just have to hear the story. 

A few days into my training I started to get anxious about when I would get a day off. He still hadn’t mentioned anything about a break, and wasn’t giving any sign of letting up on the pressure. Going for my morning run was a thoroughly unrewarding experience. I could hardly lift my legs off the ground as I was trotting, clumsy-hippo style, along the road at the pace of a turtle. On the sixth day my body felt like it had been through a meat grinder, and I couldn’t restrain myself any longer. I asked as deferentially as I could, “Master Zhong, when do I get a day off?” To this he simply replied, “Day off? You don’t get a day off! If you’re too tired you rest.” Implied in this was that I shouldn’t take a rest unless I really, really needed it. The mention of him bringing out the staff still fresh in my mind.

The weather had been foggy and humid since I got here, so the clothes I’d washed the day I arrived were still not dry. That led to me having to wear them dry, which after nine days straight of hard training inevitably led to me getting a cold. Luckily Master Zhong wasn’t completely without sympathy towards the sufferings of his new disciple, so he let me sleep and rest until I was better. On day two I recovered from the cold, and my legs no longer felt like divorcing themselves from my body due to assault and battery. After being on the receiving end of a string of insults about how appallingly out of shape I was, I started training again, regularly raising the number of kicks and extending the duration of the mabu. I was making progress with my stretching (my forehead is about 5 cm. away from my toes while my leg is straight), and I was starting to feel like this could be handled. 

Yesterday Master Zhong came up to me and said, “I haven’t given you a rest since you came here, why don’t you join us up to Five Dragons Temple for a walk.” I jumped at the opportunity to have a much needed break, and joined him up there with another Daoist who is living in the house with us, and we took some photos of the Daoist while he was meditating. This morning my master invited me along to do some work in his garden, we weeded it and harvested some sweet potatoes. “Whew, this is nice, finally a break!” I thought foolishly. Apparently he was just resting me up so he could break me back down.

A few pictures from a temple by Five Dragon Temple

This afternoon I started my training again after a 24 hour break (except for my morning run and taiji). This afternoon is when training really started. After running three kilometers down the mountain, and three back up I came back to a little surprise, today Master Zhong was going to supervise the whole thing and increase the amount of kicks to 1500 kicks which should be completed in half an hour. After 1500 kicks while I was trying my best to keep my composure, avoid fainting, throwing up, and burst into tears all at the same time, while my master was shouting at me from the side, I completed the kicks in 40 minutes. I did not harvest any compliments for my apparently horrendously subpar performance, and was told to walk around for a bit and gather myself. Still woozy, I continued on to pushups, mabu, frog-jumps, pushup-jumps, and other “fun” exercises. After two hours of what felt like pure torture, I was told that I could rest, and I scampered into my room feeling completely - excuse my French - shit and demotivated. After I had a shower, we all had some food together, Master Zhong, his wife, the visiting Daoist, and me. The Daoist (who is a hilarious man), told a funny joke, and we all went off into peals of laughter. Master Zhong was even holding his sides because he was hurting from laughing so hard! It’s moments like those that make all the hard work worth it. I am starting to realize what I have embarked on. It will not be an easy two years, that’s for sure. Xuanwu, give me strength!

Ok, I feel like I should polish this a bit, but I’m just going to post it as is, off to sleeeeeep for a few hours. There's so much going on, and I wish I could post about it all, but I just don't have the energy. Thinking about you guys back home!

Oh, and I've shaved my beard!

Lots of love!