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Return to Shandong

For sixteen days in August 1998, Master Tony Yang led a group of students from the Wu Tang Martial Arts Association of Ohio on a trip through northern China. For those in the group whose opinions of China were rooted in old martial arts movies, CNN images of tanks in Tianamen Square, and the Richard Gere movie, Red Square, it was difficult to imagine what the trip would hold for us. Master Yang was taking the group to China to compete in two international martial arts tournaments. Luckily, there was also plenty of time to experience the culture and cultural treasures of China.Our first trip after arriving in Beijing was a visit to Tianamen Square. The square sits in vast juxtaposition between the stark newness of the Renmin Dahuitang (the Great Hall of the People) and the barely visible roofs within the walls of the Forbidden City. It was impossible to stand in Tianamen Square and not remember the images of students facing off against tanks.

Great Hall of the People
However, the gravity of the memories was quickly dispelled by the vendors chanting "one dollar U.S., one dollar U.S." while waving packets of fading postcards in the air. This typified the experience of modern China. Everywhere we went language barriers and cultural differences disappeared in the face of the dollar bill.

Temple inside the Forbidden City
Exterior of Forbidden City viewed across Tianamen SquareFrom Tianamen Square the group went to the Forbidden City. Based only on movie images, it was difficult to imagine the scope of the Forbidden City. Each gate and passage led to a more elaborate and more beautiful temple or throne. Most of the areas accessible to the public had been restored to their former splendor. And it was easy to envision the Emperor holding court in any of the many halls.
After our visit to the Forbidden City, the group was taken to visit the gravesite of Tung Hai Chuan, one of the first to integrate and extensively promote bagua teachings. Although we were not permitted to take pictures of the other graves in this cemetery, the staff graciously allowed us to photograph his markers.
The markers at the gravesite of Tung Hai ChuanThe next morning, now joined by Sifu Ma Long and a group of his students from the New York Wu Tang, we visited Beihai Park. Because it was early morning, we had an opportunity to see many people practicing their taiji sword, Chen’s taiji, bagua, nei gong, and other exercise programs. In keeping with the spirit of the park, a few of our group also practiced some martial arts. A mixed collection of Americans playing martial arts quickly drew a crowd.

Master Yang at Beihai Park

Xi’an City wall
We now left Beijing for Xi’an. Most famous for the terracotta warriors that were discovered near the city, Xi’an has also maintained the wall that enclosed this ancient city during the Ming dynasty. The walls are 40 feet thick and stretch nine miles to form a nearly perfect rectangle in downtown Xi’an.

Robert Figler playing baji in a wu shu training hall

Master Yang with replicas of the terracotta warriors
After a quick tour of the Xi’an city wall, the group moved on to see the terracotta warriors. As with everything else in China, having seen them on television or in a magazine gave us no concept of the size or number of the warriors. Many of the warriors stand over six feet tall. Each of the warriors was truly unique in stature, posture, and facial features. The enclosure of the largest site was easily double the size of an enclosed indoor soccer stadium. Although many of the soldiers and their horses had been fully restored, there were also many areas that were yet to be excavated or restored. We were not allowed to take pictures of the original warriors, but were encouraged to take pictures of the life-size replicas in the gift shop.

Traditional Chinese medical clinic
Later that evening we were taken to visit a traditional Chinese medicine clinic. After a brief lecture and demonstration, we were all offered an opportunity to be examined by the doctor. If the doctor diagnosed a problem, there were remedies available for purchase.

Master Yang, Brendan Lai, and Lily Lau
We also had an opportunity to meet Master Ma Shen Da, a baji master, whose father Ma Fong Tu, was a contemporary of Grandmaster Liu under Great Grandmaster Li Shu Wen. After an overnight train ride in a sleeper car, our next stop was Zhengshou. Near Zhengshou is the present Shaolin Temple. Most impressive at the temple were the grave markers of the abbots and monks who had been part of the temple.
Although a functioning temple, it is also very much a tourist site. Lunch at the temple was one of the more interesting meals of the trip. By now we had all realized that Chinese carryout in the U.S. has little in common with traditional northern Chinese cooking. The delicacies at this meal included both deep fried cicada and scorpions. In fact, the scorpions looked quite alive and well perched on their shrimp chips. Some of the more squeamish in the group resisted the temptation; the more curious dug in. The general consensus was that both tasted pretty much like potato chips.

Jim Easterling samples a cicada

Now it was off to Jinan for our first international martial arts tournament. It was surprising in both Jinan and Qingdao that we were treated almost like travelling dignitaries. When travelling with the tournament tour groups, we received police escorts and traffic was halted to allow us to pass through without stopping. Both tournaments held banquets to honor our participation in their tournaments. In Jinan there was a banquet on the opening night that included both provincial and local government officials. There was also an opening ceremony complete with bands, fashion models, demonstration teams, and a parade of the competitors. Needless to say, it was not lost on the group that this was our opportunity to demonstrate the Wu Tang system of martial arts in the Shandong province that was Grandmaster Liu’s home for much of his life. We all carried that privilege and responsibility into the tournament with us. Luckily, everyone made a good showing. There was a striking contrast between the modern Wu Shu of China and the traditional martial arts that were kept alive inside and outside China. In every traditional division, Master Yang’s students received a gold, silver, or bronze medal.Even while competing, we were given time to visit the sites of Jinan. Close to the hotel was the 1000 Buddhas Park.

Jinan from atop 1000 Buddhas Park
Many in the group found time to climb to the top and look out over the expanse of Jinan. We also visited the famous natural springs of Jinan.

Master Yang demonstrating at temple near Jinan
At the end of our stay in Jinan we traveled to Taishan (Mount Tai). Taishan is considered the holiest of the five sacred mountains in China. The mountain rises an impressive 1,545 meters above sea level.

At the top of Taishan
From Taishan the group headed to Qingdao for our second tournament. Although a smaller event than the Jinan tournament, we were again treated to banquets and much ceremony. A division had to be added to accommodate the women from Wu Tang who wanted to compete in praying mantis. Once again, the Wu Tang team placed well. Certificates and medals were awarded to the first, second, and third place finishers. All participants received a participation certificate.
After the Qingdao tournament we returned to Beijing. This gave us an opportunity for some final site seeing before the trip home. First we visited Tiantan (Temple of Heaven). At the center of Tiantan is a beautiful circular temple, Qinian Dian (Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests). 

Qinian Dian at Tiantan
Our last site seeing trip was to a portion of the Great Wall of China that encloses Juyong. In this location the Great Wall makes a six-mile loop on the surrounding hills. About half of the group completed the challenging hike.

Master Yang playing baji on the Great Wall

 This article was contributed by Melissa Berry.

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