Today we have a guest post by returning Northern Shaolin Kung Fu student, Justin Ford. Passionate and determined, Justin is not just a great student, but an outstanding young man all-around. Meet Justin, through this post, and get a feeling of why we love him and the Kung Fu we do.
Oh! And check out his previous post, Good to be Back! A Kung Fu Class Review.
That one word brings so much to mind. Foreign land. Romantic dreams of old history. Hardened warriors.
China was so far away. Not just far to travel though. The idea itself seemed far away, a dream weaved from clouds and dust bunnies; fluffy, fragile, and impossible to grasp.
The idea of traveling to Asia to train is an American Martial Artist’s dream however. For somebody who grew up on the typical Martial Art motivators such as Bruce Lee movies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a journey to the East is like a slice of cake on a diabetic’s last supper dinner plan… It is just too dang tempting to resist!
And a training trip to The Orient is exactly what I am going to be doing with my Summer days. But while a trip to study Martial Arts in Asia has long been a dream of mine, this event is actually quite last minute and unplanned.
Like all of the best ideas and discoveries, it started with a late night watching YouTube…
Journey to the Journey
One of my favorite Martial Art YouTube channels, Martial Club, posted a video stating the opportunity of a lifetime. They were partnering together with Philip Sahagun, another Martial Artist I followed on YouTube, to form a camp for passionate Martial Artists, seven days of hard training at an authentic Shaolin Kung Fu school with some extra days afterwards studying the cultural side of things at the actual Shaolin Temple.
In short, a little slice of heaven.
To say I freaked out when I heard about the trip would be an absolute understatement.
Right then and there, I stopped what I was doing and starting telling everybody I could. I spoke to my family. I texted friends. I called my girlfriend.
Every time I spoke about it, I grew more excited and more incredulous. It seemed too good to be true. A few of my Martial Art heroes were joining forces to bring a group of dedicated and passionate Martial Artists to Asia to study traditional arts, cultural and martial? Sign me up!
Each person helping with the camp represented a piece of me and what I study and love:
- Tricking from Andy and Brian Le
- Northern Shaolin Kung Fu from Daniel Mah
- American Kenpo from Philip Sahagun
Just thinking about the possibility of going gave me a familiar feeling… The feeling of growth. Like the traditional Taiji image of Yin and Yang, I felt a push-pull action of equal parts extreme excitement and extreme nervousness. I was a mix of many different emotions tied together with a feeling of…something. Destiny? Stubbornness? It truly felt like no matter what, this trip would happen. It was meant to be.
That’s not to say I didn’t feel hesitant though. I had never even been out of the country. Getting enough money would be an issue. It would be a lot of time away from friends, family, and work.
One of the reasons I started telling the people around me about the trip was to get their opinion on what I should do. And while in the back of my head I knew it seemed like the right thing to do, there were so many thoughts of what could hold me back. Everybody I talked to said pretty much the same thing however.
I would tell them about the trip and who was hosting it.
They would stare at me.
I would ask if it seemed ridiculous.
They would agree that it was.
And they would continue on to say that it was also the kind of craziness I needed to do.
I knew deep in my heart they were right.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit rash in everything that happens afterwards. It’s how I function when I’m chasing a dream though.
To go to the camp, you have to fill out an application and get accepted into one of only twenty-five available spots. Afraid of missing the chance to go, I rushed ahead and sent in my application as a swarm of butterflies seemed to migrate throughout my stomach.
The next thing I did was figure out if I could arrange for the time off work for this trip. I’m the head instructor at an American Karate school and this trip would mean a lot of missed days teaching. I wanted a second (or really more like thirteenth) opinion. I talked to my American Karate instructor to see what he thought, whether or not I should actually go on this trip, even if it meant I would be away from my students for so long.
To say the least, he thought I should go on the trip. In fact, he really wanted me to go on this trip.
Ok. That was my last extra opinion. I decided to seriously begin getting ready for China. That’s not to say that was my last obstacle however.
It was around this time when I got an email back from the organizer of the camp, Philip Sahagun himself. I was at the Karate school, about to close the building for the evening, when I saw the email on my phone.
You know that feeling where your body starts shaking from nerves? Imagine that and magnify that feel to the point where you get so excited you can barely read.
With shaky…well, everything, I opened up my email.
I got accepted!
I dropped my phone and laid down on the mat for who knows how long.
It could have been a few seconds, it could have been many minutes. I don’t know and I really didn’t care at the moment. I didn’t feel the mat underneath me. I didn’t see the cars driving by outside. All I felt was a weightlessness within me, the butterflies in my stomach from before now seemingly lifting my body towards the heavens.
I spent the next hour and a half jumping, flipping, and kicking across my training floor, letting my energy explode out. It felt good to be so free, to experience pure bliss for even just a single moment. The moment didn’t get to last however.
Including the cost of getting everything necessary (passport, visa, flight ticket, etc.), going to this camp would cost thousands of dollars. I definitely didn’t have thousands. Now that I was officially accepted, I had to pay for the camp and get ready to go to China.
Without much of a plan beyond “winging it,” I paid the down payment to secure my spot for the camp. I didn’t yet have the money for the rest.
My Karate instructor suggested I sell something extra at the school and accept donations for it. Following his advice (to be fair, my mom and sister suggested the same idea), I began selling various homemade bracelets at the Karate school.
The feedback from it was…overwhelming. So many students and their family members gave their love and donated much, all while asking if there was anything else they could help with.
While my mother and sister continued to spend the next few months making bracelets and selling them at various places, I searched for a side job to help raise money. Unfortunately, because of my work schedule, not much panned out.
The good news about not having a second job is that you at least have time to study. I spent my downtime each day studying Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture. The vision in my head of what China would be like grew bigger each night.
Each night I went to bed thinking of bad driving and horrible smelling pollution and squat toilets coupled with idealistic dreams of hardcore training in the mystic looking mountains. I could barely wait to see what China was really like!
I shifted my focus from looking for a second job to instead doing everything I could to save money.
If you wanna get richer then live like you are poorer.
Between budgeting money, selling bracelets, and accepting donations, I straggled together enough money. The camp and everything else necessary for traveling and staying in China was paid for. My mom and sister even gathered enough money to at least travel to China with me.
What a great feeling it was to have everything paid for!
It took a lot of support and focus but everything worked out. I was hit with a big wave of emotions: glee (I’m going to China!), more fear (I’m going to China!), and a realization that this trip was actually coming true. I was in disbelief (I’m. Going. To. China!)
This tsunami of feelings didn’t stop and instead continued until my last day before the trip, my last day in America.
The feeling stayed with me as I went on one final date with my girlfriend before the trip.
The feeling stayed with me as I packed my bags. And as I double checked the bags. And triple checked.
And it stayed with me as we woke up early morning and drove off to the airport.
It was an almost poetic realization to think that when the sun comes up once more, we would be flying towards it…Off to the Far East we go!