Rolling Bamboo for Three Years (how is that even relevant to Kung Fu training?)

One of my favorite stories is Rolling Bamboo for Three Years. It is a short but poignant related by my Sifu.

A young man from a rich family wanted to learn Kung Fu. Of course, his father invited many instructors to teach his son. Now, his son is either inept or lazy, because after just a few seconds of standing in stances he would complain of sore muscles. Stance training is very important in Kung Fu for it builds the force necessary for effective fighting. He would make up a hundred excuses to get away from his force training. I guess you could say he mastered the Kung Fu of A Hundred Complaints.

The instructors were in a bind. Hey, this rich man pays handsomely for my services, and yet his lazy son can’t even bear force training! What am I to do? The smarter ones came up with a solution. Ah! Just fill the young man with many beautiful Kung Fu sets and patterns! It’s not like he’s going to start trouble on the streets anyway just because he learned Kung Fu. So the young man, in addition to his art the Kung Fu of A Hundred and Two Complaints (practise makes perfect), was able to perform many Kung Fu sets.

The father became proud, and would ask his son to perform whenever there was a social function. All the guests would praise the young man for his elegant and beautiful Kung Fu moves. Soon the father and son became arrogant. And naturally arrogance attracts trouble.

One day the father and son were involved in a fight with several people. The young man sprung into action, a blinding whirl of flashing kicks and hammering fists.

He was elegant.

He was agile.

He was beaten senseless.

And so, he got a right royal scolding from his father, in addition to the bruises he received from the fight. That very night, he ran away from home and promised himself never to return until he became an efficient fighter, or die trying. Ok, maybe not the die trying part, but he was very determined to succeed.

The prodigal son went far and wide in search of a Master. He traveled to the far corners of the Earth, to the moon and perhaps even the sun too, though I doubt the Kung Fu he learned previously would have helped him survive there. Ok, so he just went to the nearest mountain to look for a Master, and never set foot on the far corners of the Earth or the moon. He may be lazy, but he had enough common sense to reason that since he had heard tales of many masters living on mountains, he should climb the nearest mountain to look for a Master.

And what would you know, there was indeed a Shaolin monk living on the mountain. Talk about luck! He won’t have to climb the other 999 mountains to look for a master. His legs were already pretty sore just from climbing this one mountain. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to climbing the other 999 mountains.

The monk was Venerable Tie Pi. The young man begged the old monk to teach him Shaolin Kung Fu. “I have practised Kung Fu for quite some time, but when I had to defend myself and my father, I found out that my Kung Fu was useless! Please, Venerable, I beg for your instructions in genuine Kung Fu.”

“Show me your useless Kung Fu.”

After reviewing the young man’s Kung Fu performance, Venerable Tie Pi simply said, “It’s you and not the Kung Fu that’s useless!” The master then ordered the young man to go to the woods and fetch for him some round bamboo stems. “You are not ready for fighting, so stop harboring thoughts of glory and vanity. Why, you are fit only to roll bamboo!”

The young man was speechless. He had never done menial work before his entire life, and now the old monk was not only telling him to go to the forest to get for him bamboo stems, he was only good enough for rolling bamboo! Of course, he wasn’t exactly sure what rolling bamboo would mean here. It could mean rolling the bamboo stems around the mountain with his hands, or it could mean rolling the bamboo with his toes. Good thing for him he had changed, so he did as the monk said and returned with some bamboo stems.

“Now place a bamboo stem on a table. Stand at the horse-riding stance and roll the whole length of your arm over the bamboo. Do it every day. No questions!” The monk instructed the young man.

Will the young man quit, or will he persevere in his training? What secret method is this rolling bamboo?

I shall continue the story in my next post.

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