There are two masters who have inspired me to do this thing and do it right.
The first lives nearby. His home is a drafty farmhouse that sweats in the sun and shivers in the cold grey rain of winter. Most days he sits alone at a table and sips tea. Sun bleached photos of him, his master, and friends and family hang on wooden poles wrapped in rope around the farmhouse. A few kids wander in and out of a room with the TV running. They are unwanted kids from the mountains with little in the way of education or opportunity. Shifu trains them in kungfu, but they are not real students. Just kids in need of a place to be and a father figure to watch over them.
Every now and then he attacks the iron circle, beats up the wooden dummy, dances in and out of reach of swinging bamboo poles. When someone shows up, the energy level rises and he takes off his shirt and starts training. Horse stances, blocks and strikes. Running and stretching. Kicking the bag. When the farmhouse stands empty, he texts his friends and dreams of a school in the mountains, where dozens of dedicated disciples rise before the sun and train till night falls. At night he eats rice and vegetables and slaps mosquitos in his sleep. When I watch him at his table, I think of a warrior-scholar, like many others I have seen in China over the years.
In the mountains north of us is another master. He has long locks, a wispy beard and spotless white kung fu pants. A hulking Sanda champ with scars all over his head sits next to the master and behind him stand two young men, at attention, with their own spotless white kung fu uniforms.
He has thousands of students all over the country and they message him constantly online and via sms as he sits in a small, landscaped garden on the grounds of an international five star hotel. Tomorrow he flies to Beijing to demonstrate his form of qi gong to a group of businessmen and politicians.
He shows me his iPhone app, developed for white collar workers with no time to train, and later we drive to his main school at the top of the mountain in a black Mercedes. All the hotels in town let him eat for free and we take advantage of it, enjoying a multi-course meal over two hours. Nearby middle schools credit him with revitalizing the student body through tai qi. Local governments steer foreigners interested in the martial arts to him and they tell me he choreographed the Kung Fu Panda films. When I look at him sitting there, I think of a businessman, like many others I have seen in China over the years.
These two men couldn’t be further apart in terms of personality, lifestyle, or pedigree, but they are still kung fu brothers. Both of them share a martial art that traces its lineage back thousands of years; I want to know if both of them will share in the martial art that survives into the future.