I was born on October 2nd 1974... the number one single of the day? Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas. Clearly this was meant to be!
I have mixed feelings about the website for the Shaolin Kung Fu school, [http://www.chun-seh-dau-school-of-shaolin-kung-fu.co.uk/] it seems to protest a little too heavily that it is not a Shaolin Temple, and sat as it is in the centre of Clarendon Park, I'm not too shocked by this revelation. There is plenty of information on the site though, and it's photos and biogs of the Grandmaster, Master and Sifu instructors looks very promising.
I arrive as instructed (by a swift reply to my email) at 6.30pm at the Geeta Bhavan Hindu Temple and follow a lady with a likely looking sword bag up the stairs to a slightly unkempt bare room. I'm given a quick overview of the school by a jean-clad Sifu and quite quickly I'm filling in forms and being relieved of my £8 introductory lesson fee (no freebies here!).
When Grandmaster Dhiman arrives, I'm expecting something quite special, everyone in the room is highly deferential and refers to him only as Grandmaster throughout but I'm still undecided about the huge but softly spoken man, who took no part in the sesssion that night other than to collect money. It would have been nice to see what he was capable of, however I understand he had recently had an operation so I was not able to witness any skills on Thursday.
On to the class itself which started eventually at around ten past seven. At this point I admit to being thoroughly unimpressed with the lack of punctuality and discipline and looking forward to my scheduled 9pm beer.
The warm up was led by a competent green belt (sash?) who spent 45 minutes going through some gruelling but effective stretching and fitness exercises, including push ups, sit ups, squats, star-jumps, crunches and stretches. I felt suitably loosened up (and not a little knackered) when the grade work commenced at around 8pm.
Myself and another novice were taken to one side to work on two basic techniques, the whipping branch block and snapping punch. Both almost polar opposites to my own style of low and hard, these were relaxed but close contact moves for maximum impact. I found the punch easier to master than the blocking but was chided for using my hip and legs to give the punch more power - "stand still!". Hmm, time to admit to that several years of punching very differently is hard to shake?
The block - a low pressing and high sweeping windmill combo - is very Bruce Lee but looks less effective than a good old solid gidan barai. Stances are hard for me too; when asked to sit in horse stance my version is too wide and impractical for the Sifu - chinese horses must be a lot skinnier than Japanese ones...
The class closes with about 30 minutes of sparring. I expect to be left to watch so am delighted to be allowed to have a go with my new found Kung Fu mastery. I'm immediately battered by a stocky green-belt as I try to evade his snaky punches and peevishly resort to a bit of big fisted Karate to even things out.
We end, exhausted, bruised and sweaty, at 9pm. This was easily the most enjoyable session I've attended. Well structured and with a lot of genuine skill and passion in the room. If I stopped my mission now, and Chun Seh Dau became my new home I wouldn't be disappointed, but perhaps, given the implied level of commitment Grandmaster intimated he expected from his disciples (twice a week training, home practice, regular training weekends etc) they might be disappointed in me.