The Wudang Swimming Hole

SL371660It’s almost summertime weather here. Blessedly, we’re not there yet. In July and August it can get pretty unbearable – intense, humid heat that doesn’t even abate at night when you lie sweating under your mosquito net, the warm sluggish air from your fan the only thing moving, and moving more like flowing honey than wind at that. We adjust our training schedule so that we rest more in the middle of the day and train early in the morning and late after the sun goes down, but the weather is a real trial to the spirit nonetheless.

But summer has its perks. The mountains behind the school become almost jungle-like, lush and tropical where they were dry and brown all autumn and winter. And the little river valley (in places a canyon, really) becomes a breathtakingly beautiful place to go for a walk or, when its too hot to stand it any more, a swim. On either side of the river pool where Wudang residents most often go to swim, the hills on either side rise in rocky cliffs patched with tufts of brilliant green. For the adventurer, one can climb up rocks and rapids and find several smaller pools further up the valley, and one really wonderful place where the river flows narrow and deep and dark and cold between overarching rocks and trees high overhead. It’s beautiful in a way that makes one stop and appreciate it, even if your mind was on other things.

I suppose any popular swimming spot in the world has its share of litterers – people who selfishly use a beautiful place but mar it for later visitors. That is certainly the case at the swimming hole. As the summer wears on and more and more people go to swim, the rocks and water are littered with food and drink packaging. There is no restroom easily accessible from the swimming hole, so human waste further soils the rocks on either side of the pool. All year round people take baskets of laundry to the river to wash, and so there always seems to be some soap bubbles or an odd sock floating in the eddies among the rocks. But all of that can be left behind if you make your way upriver a little ways, and serenity returns.

I am always writing about my thoughts regarding my training, but today I offer this little picture of the natural setting of my master’s school. Shifu has made it plain that as we study Daoism and try to follow nature, we are meant to be learning about and following our own natures and not to confuse the idea with a bunch of trees and rocks. But who does not feel somehow calmer and purer when surrounded by natural beauty?

Feeling like a Tree

It is definitely autumn here in Wudang now. It is getting cooler, and we just celebrated the Moon festival a little over a week ago. And here at the kungfu school, our daily schedule has shifted.

In the summer, our schedule clusters around the early morning and the late evening, with a long rest period and meditation in the middle of the day to avoid the worst of the heat. In the winter, our schedule gets very busy during the warmth of the day, but we get to rest at night when it is uncomfortably cold. This is one of the first things that I learned to love about our schedule here. One feels much more connected to nature when your daily life actually changes to fit it. Life feels good when it’s “dawn to dusk” and not “nine to five.”

Another aspect I am learning to appreciate more recently is the change in my body’s potential from season to season. In the summer, my muscles are long and limber. It is the time for swift growth and flexibility. Winter, my body gets compact and powerful. It is the time for strength and stoking the embers of the body’s vitality. This shift connects to our larger curriculum. Martial Arts is too varied and complex to practice everything you ought to practice all the time. But there is a time for everything, and so our training comes in waves. Flexibility, low stances, internal development, sparring, body conditioning, kicks, punches, cardio endurance, meditation — each wave comes in its own season. The discipline of martial arts is in maintaining each skill when you can’t focus on it, and seizing the opportunity when the time for growth arrives, like a tree in a tough climate. You can’t cut me open and count my rings, but you get the idea 🙂

Summertime stretch test: Shifu's stick should not pass under my hips in the splits postion