Although still early in his journey, it was becoming apparent to Andrew that this trip was more for mental growth and learning under the guise of physical training. This is not to say Andrew had nothing to learn about Kung Fu and its applications. He would certainly apply the principles he gathered along the way, particularly the need to include some form of movement pattern training to enhance his coordination and balance.
He wanted to be forced out of his comfort zone. He wanted to experience isolation and a type of solitude where he was separated from close relationships. He would learn how to be content with himself without leaning on others or things.
His comfort zone was quickly expanding. He had begun to utilise airplane mode on his phone for large portions of the day to limit interactions with the outside world, after Forde had mentioned this tactic during one of their conversations. Try to create separation between you and where you’ve come from or it will make the transition more difficult, he had said. Already he was feeling a difference.
With developments occurring at speed, Andrew wondered how quickly the academy setup would become too comfortable. After all, he could remain confined to the school’s walls all day every day with food and shelter provided. He had his books and his training. While he still had much to learn about the martial art, this was turning out to be a by-product of the trip as a whole.
Maybe, he thought, this is what accounted for the lengthy stays of individuals at the academy. Comfort. Martian, for one, rarely trained and instead spent most of his days in his small room.
He would continue to develop here, fostering patience, independence and contentment with himself, but would he mature faster if he pivoted on this adventure? Was a change of course what he needed or should he stay true to his original journey?
The process. Presence. Call it what you will. This was an area Andrew was determined to improve on.
They say depression results from dwelling in the past while anxiety is caused by thinking of the potentialities of the future. Working only on the task at hand did not come naturally to him, after all, lessons lay in past experiences and goals lay ahead, did they not?
He had begun to find ways to become more present. He would remind himself of his core values first thing in the morning along with his overarching goals. After that it was a matter of becoming absorbed in the present whether it be sweeping the yard or following what he deemed to be complex Kung Fu instructions.
His mind continued to flicker. Anxiety rose as he thought of the hill run he had to complete later that morning. No, he thought. There is no value in wasting valuable processing power on something that he could not influence. The only time he would dedicate energy to the hill run, would be during the process of the run itself.
Step by step. That is the only way forward
There is no semblance of a working week in rural China. Farming requires daily contribution in order to get the most out of the land and minimise waste. Other industries follow suit, with the familiar sounds of a construction yard heard even on a Sunday.
Paradoxically though, Andrew thought, the entire system is full of inefficiencies. Today he caught the bus into town for the first time. As he went to hand over the fare, the driver palmed him off, indicating payments are to be made to another man sitting further back in the bus.
While it’s true that the ‘work-life’ balance is a Western construct, Andrew found it interesting that the principle hadn’t made its way to the East. Or perhaps it was still permeating its way from the main cities to the countryside? Is this why countries like China continue to languish behind developed nations in many ways?
Furthermore, their shortsighted approach becomes apparent when it comes waste management. With the government pouring endless resources into creating tourist attractions, such as the irony of modern temples, they fail to educate people of basic waste disposal. Instead, trash heaps can be found everywhere and anywhere.
In saying that, the locals seem happy. As Andrew rode the bus back to the academy, a small child smiled and waved at him playfully and the whole bus was drawn into the interaction, smiling too.
Andrew knew the importance of a good night’s sleep. Rest enabled the body to recover and adapt. He had driven hours of research into how to optimise this part of the training cycle.
As he began to drift off, meeting the odd state between sleep and wakefulness, Hugo and Henry began to bark in chorus. Andrew was yanked from rest and began to feel agitation well up inside him. The two continued for a number of minutes before resting, allowing their vocal chords a chance to freshen up, before commencing a fresh bout of barking.
Andrew was frustrated at their timing. This would hinder his sleep and training progress. Just as quickly though, his attention was brought to his current reading, The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday. The premise of the book is based on stoicism, a philosophy made popular by Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor.
The basis of the philosophy is centred on clarity of thoughts. That is, not allowing destructive emotions to interfere with the objectivity of a situation. When confronted with a crisis, rather than seeing it as an impedance to progress, view it instead as an opportunity for growth by practicing virtues such as humility and resilience.
With this in mind, Andrew brought his attention back to the barking. What could being angered achieve in this situation? Certainly nothing positive. The stirring of such emotions were more likely to keep him awake than the noise itself. He approached the situation trying to separate his emotions for the objective facts. His options were to practice patience, waiting for the dogs to cease on their own accord. Alternatively he could get out of bed and find the target of the barking in an effort to curtail the dog’s efforts.
Before he was able to decide, he was asleep.
He had begun to lace up his shoes for an afternoon training session when Forde confronted him, “Hey man, what are you up to?” he asked expectantly. Andrew explained himself and Forde responded with “Oh…I’m heading to the restaurant across the road to hang out with some Chinese buddies. I was hoping you’d come along so I wouldn’t be the only one who couldn’t understand what was going on”.
Andrew managed to override his default response of ‘no’. He reminded himself that he was writing his own adventure. Perhaps something could eventuate from this situation, a lesson at the very least. Forde was elated when he said he’d tag along. He’d try anything once.
Andrew and Forde made their way across the road to the house-cum-restaurant, the set-up of which was unlikely to pass the most lenient health and safety inspection. Escorted by a Chinese man in his thirties, communication was made possible thanks to the wonders of Google Translate.
They made their way up to a small gazebo where a group were conversing and passed a boy with bandaging around his big toe. Andrew recognised this to be the child whose toe had been inadvertently shortened by his American buddy. The remnants of lunch, including chicken and various soups, sat on the table. Immediately they were offered beer and tea. An odd combination, Andrew thought. The tea was pleasing while Andrew feigned drinking the diluted beer.
He hung about for half an hour, battling to communicate, before calling it quits. Forde pleaded with him, “Dude don’t abandon me!” Andrew was resolute however. He had acquired an experience and recognised it wasn’t for him. The gathering was centred on drinking and smoking, neither of which Andrew found particularly appealing.
He returned to training proud of his ability to be flexible with his plans, try something new and subsequently not get drawn into anything that didn’t meet his values. This, was a small win.