Hi, my name is Alish Zenzejul, I’m a Nomad and a modern wandering Yishu Wuhang monk (more info here).
China – how many images come into the mind just by hearing this word! From rice fields to exotic food, from high technology to A LOT of people, from ancient emperors and their dynasties to the Shaolin monks.
China is also well known for a holistic medicinal practice including acupuncture, herbalism, massages, exercises and dietary therapies and a wide range of Martial Arts. It is believed that body and mind are connected and should be kept in balance. Unbalance will bring sickness. Learning that help to improve health, strength, mind and body control, discipline and self-confidence. Acquiring those skills can help to master a stressful daily life that more and more people are confronted with these days.
These two aspects, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Martial Arts, are the ones that I want to study. My plan was to go to China to a monastery school for one year which is specialised on teaching exactly that. All this was to be part of my on-the-go knowledge (more info here) to teach and share! Everything is included, tutelage, food and accomodation for 365 days.
But after 3 months, my illusions were broken and I had to leave this school. This is my story…
A BITTER-SWEET LESSON
IT ALL STARTS IN THE BEGINNING
“It all happens for a reason, there are no coincidences, just paths to walk”.
Long time ago the idea of coming to China appeared in my mind, but it took long preparation, planning and money saving (thanks to my Oma and crowdfunders) to do it. Finally the time to research for schools came, specially through Book Martial Arts and Shengjing Shan Kung fu Academy was my pick (later I learned that it’s also just a school, the monastery is NOT part of it, it’s a private company, that has nothing to do with Taoism). So I contacted some of the listed students on their profile to ask questions about their staying and the answers were positive in fact.
The daily schedule on their profile listed some “cultural classes”, like Chinese cooking, Chinese calligraphy, Ping Jing (simplified Chinese language), Dao lessons, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chinese massage and acupuncture class. All this classes were a big reason of why I picked this school among others. Another reason was that from the initial conversations with the school director and main Sifu, Qu Sifu, there was the deal of me implementing a marketing plan for the school in return of a payment in part to complete the 12 month total… but the reality was going to be very different.
I payed a discounted total of 4000€ (original price was 4500€) in advance for tutelage, 3 meals per day, and accommodation for 365 days to Book Martial Arts.
After a small injury adquired while working for DHL Munich, waiting for 2 months to the school’s invitation letter and spending 10 days in Seoul, I finally made it to Weihai!
It already started weird… I was received on the airport not by the school director (as prearranged) but by a taxi driver with my name on a paper sheet. No one was around when we entered the school but a delicious meal was waiting for me at the table.
Finally when I got to meet all the classmates and staff (Bo Sifu, the maintenance/cook/gardener/guard person, Ju Li, the small fluffy guard dog and Qu Sifu), I started my new routine: waking up for the 6.00 AM class, breakfast at 7.00, next class at 8.30 and so on until 17.30 when dinner was finished and I was free to rest.
During the first week, the school director came to me and told me that Book Martial Arts couldn’t deposit his part of the payment on his account because of some trouble with the Chinese Bank, so he asked me to accept for the money to be sent to my account, that I get it out in an ATM and pay him in cash, paying also Book martial Arts the 30%… So I did and for that I know exactly how much each of them got.
Since the first day, I was thrilled and open to learn as much as possible of Chi Kung Fu (Chi: inner strenght) and thinking I was in for a long term stay, I decided to exchange some trainings like uphill running or hard weightlifting done there for the Li Kung Fu students (Li: physical strength) and focus on other things like deep stretching and relaxing movements (my knees are not that young anymore). This created dissatisfaction on some of the classmates that started mocking and bullying me because of my different training. This is not a Kung Fu correct attitude.
In the school rules it’s specifically stated that this type of behaviour should be avoided and will be punished (it doesn’t state the punishment), as well as alcohol and drugs consuming inside the school premises. Well, all this happened, and more often than anyone would think. But as I would learn after, either the director is blind or doesn’t want to see all this, because literally, it happened under his nose!
AND SO, IT BEGAN
From the end of my first day of classes I asked Qu Sifu why the “cultural classes” didn’t happen and if the other ones were going to be given, to what he responded that they were going to happen but either I had to ask for them to be given or there was no one to teach them, but of course they were going to be given… but later…
At first we were 5 students, 3 for Li Kung Fu and 2 of us for Chi Kung Fu. There was only Qu Sifu to teach and guide us, but it was enough for our small group. Suddenly, Chen Sifu apears for Chi classes, so we had 2 Sifus for 5 students! We had a lot of Sifu-time per person and the classes were basically personalised!!! Sadly this would change on time because we came to be 17 students and 2 Sifu…
The food was great! Good tasting and abundant! Sadly, this would also change…
The weather in March was still cold and we were called to a student-director meeting to be told that we SHOULD use the room heaters ONLY from 17.00 – 18.00… One hour only??? Well, yes! The temperature could drop 10 degrees from the evening to midnight, and after we argued this we got the authorisation for using the heater from 19.00-21.00… (just to be clear, the staff also lives in the school among the students, so they know about the temperature conditions).
Once per week we had the school director Qu Sifu come into our shared rooms to check upon the cleanliness and order of everything, but there were different standards among students. Some had a real mess inside their rooms! I’m talking about all their clothes thrown over the beds (supposedly for warming up when sleeping), lots of food, garbage and personal things on the tables and a huge stack of liquor bottles (over 10) used on the “free time” to make cocktails with a very noisy blender (so every time it was brruuuurrring around, everyone knew it was cocktail time!); but for other students who were more Zen, clean, empty surfaces, bed done, living plants and incense were not always good enough for his criteria, checking wherever he wanted to, just to tell you anything… This happened even with a family of father, mother and their 11 year old child in one big room… I find this very inappropriate and insulting, as well as the fact that on Fridays and Saturdays (or late nights) he would come to the “social room” where some of us were watching movies to send us to bed, like children and without any explanation, while other students were returning from going to the city drunk, late at night and being noisy.
This continued until the day I left the school…
Not everything was bad or annoying… There were the Kung Fu classes.
From the beginning, my Kung Fu lessons started with Yang Tai Chi, given by Qu Sifu. It was very methodic, strict on the positions and even though Yang style should be soft and gentle, his personal style was hard and fast, soaked with a lot of Mantis Fist Kung Fu, making it very interesting and challenging. I liked it!
Then after finishing the first form, Chen Sifu arrived and I was put under his tutelage. His Chen style was strong, slow and unstoppable! He focused on the flowerish movements of the hands. He taught me another longer Chen form, pushing hands and some individual movements, but the best was that he also introduced applications of the movements for “combat”. Learning with him was very challenging and nice, but as the 3rd week was finishing, him and the school director had an argument and his lessons and strictness faded out, for he had to leave “because of family matters” (apparently it’s very common for this to happen everywhere in China). He only stayed one month.
With all this annoying situations of the double standards rules, the mocking and bullying from other students even in front of the main Sifu and even to the 11 year old child, the quality of food declining and the “cultural classes” not happening, Shao Sifu came and represented a fresh breeze for us.
Shao Sifu has over 20 years of teaching Chen style Tai Chi, he practices every day and learning along another classmate and now friend (Glenn) made the learning process more interesting and fast! Together we learned the longest form I have learned there in just 10 days (the Yang form took almost a month and the first Chen form took more time), but Shao Sifu’s way of teaching was easy to remember and with more flow, even though it’s a hard, strong and determined style. We found out later that this form was a mix of Yang, Chen and Wu Tai Chi, apparently made by himself and had over 50 movements while the Yang has 18 and the first Chen 24.
After finishing the form and tweeching it, learning another way of pushing hands and applications, we started adapting the form for the left hand. Most of the forms are right handed, but the left hand is for the student to learn by him- or herself as part of a deep interest on learning. Once your Sifu sees your left hand interest, it means you are a worthy student for him to teach you a deeper knowledge.
With Shao Sifu, upon learning every move came the aplications (in plural) for defense and for attack or counterattack in combat. He also tought us (3-5 students for him) a Shaolin style of Qi Kung (Chi Kung) and other techniques.
So now I know 3 different Chen style approaches.
At this time, we were around 15-17 students on the school, some training by themselves and others in group classes. Something I couldn’t understand was the “personalized” way to teach, it made it chaotic and annoying when Sifu-time was needed. Shao Sifu had 5 students max (great for us). Even though his knowledge and will were enough to teach more people, Qu Sifu decided that he was going to teach the remaining 13 students of different arts (Mantis Fist, Staff and Sword, Bagua, Yang and Chen Tai Chi). 2 students required no guidance. For all of them, Sifu-time was little and confusing. Qu Sifu would go around the big school camp jumping from student to student, explaining parts, some movements and answering questions. Apparently all this was useless, because when he arrived with someone, the student would stop listening to his explanations of the next set of movements, he would ask them to do the latest movements and with this, they would become confused, questioning about the order and how to do it. They would turn to see him move to another student leaving them lost, confused and annoyed… All this in less than 60 seconds (we timed this process for stating our point and claiming a refund).
There was also a group of 5 among Qu Sifu’s students, who were learning as a group, but I have never seen a more lost and sad group of people trying to learn something, because after their Sifu-time, one would remember some parts and others other parts, but none the real order… It was painful to see them trying to make sense of that mess.
But on the other hand, there were some special students (I still don’t know the difference between them and the rest, but most of them were advanced in Li Kung Fu), that Qu Sifu would give more attention, patience and time for explaining, over 10 minutes each time he was with each of them.
Again, double standards.
PREPARE FOR WAR
As you can imagine, the level of dissapointment among the students was uneven, some loved him and some… well… not.
Many students are recurring to this school or even before when he used to teach somewhere else. But “things have changed”, one said… and “I won’t return anymore” another answered.
This was my 11th week inside the school and most of the “cultural classes” hadn’t been given, but we had a CLEANING CLASS, that was 90 mins for cleaning your part of the room without any “guidance or special Kung Fu technique” nor equipment for all of us to do it at the same time. The massage class was basically anyone who wanted to receive a massage and to give a massage to meet and exchange without any guidance. The calligraphy class was, well, doing some strokes on a rice paper sheet with black ink and a brush following a book’s images.
So I had enough!
I had been asking basically every day for the “cultural classes”, just to get the “later” answer… So with some other students we decided to talk with the school director Qu Sifu and claim a solution or a refund for this non-existing classes.
At first he avoided us. When that became impossible because we would wait for him standing outside his office he gave us some imprecise answers (have in mind that he speaks A BIT of English and that with Chinese accent) until we had enough!
I started writing Book Martial Arts explaining the precarious and confusing situation while having discussions (no longer conversations) with the school director.
Again and again Qu Sifu would present a random explanation to all of us on why this or that class was not given and why we would not get a refund. Book Martial Arts were more interested because of the fact that I am a client, but not on the ethical problem it represented.
Qu Sifu’s behaviour related to this subject was completely inappropriate, unethical and insulting.
Additionally, according to our initial marketing deal, I had prepared the website changes, made new videos and researched, joined and posted ads on more than 35 facebook groups which takes a lot of time and effort to find specific international groups, read their rules, find ways to post without it becoming spam and posting them. I did this for 3 months but no payment was ever made. So we closed this deal in an unfriendly way.
Finally, the discussions turned into yelling arguments and we decided that I was leaving. But, the thing was that I payed in advance for 12 months a total of €4000 (making €333.33 per month) but he wanted to charge me for a 3 month stay (€700 per month = €2100) making me loose a lot of money and Book Martial Arts supported this decision.
Several times through email that I still have I explained Book Martial Arts how this decision was unethical and fraudulent and even as I gave proof of my statements nothing changed.
I understand that Book Martial Arts have to protect the schools that work with them, for without them, they would not have any business… And that, apparently it’s all what this about… money. I recorded Qu Sifu having one of the discussions with me where he states that even though he understands the situation, he will not pay all the amount… And when I sent this recording to Book Martial Arts, they acknowledged it but stayed by his side even though his behaviour is unethical as a Kung Fu Sifu and a business man. He is commiting fraud, because he sells services and charges for them but doesn’t actually give them and Book Martial Arts supports all this.
So now I’m out of the school, with less money than what I should have for booking the remaining months of the year in another school, looking for work and other schools and waiting for Book Martial Arts to pay me the refund of their part.
A bitter-sweet lesson indeed.
If you ever want to enlist yourself in a school like this, even with a company that backs up the schools, be aware that this situation exists and that apparently happens more often than you might think. Here you have some people directly affected by this school, this is just my story.
Crowdfunding my dream!
You can still help me achieving this dream. I started a crowdfunding on gofundme (www.gofundme.com/learn-to-teach-and-share). Please be so kind and take a moment to feel if you can also see the importance in keeping this knowledge alive and if you want to support my path. Every donation helps me!
Edited by Laura Klings