Our very first The Students’ Voice blog post is comes by way of Cam Evans, who documented his personal experience on the recent visit to the Atlanta club from the Calgary club.
Trip to Wai’s Kung Fu in Atlanta
If you’ve been on a Kung Fu trip before, you already know that the lack of sleep you get will be more than balanced by the richness of the experience. Certainly, visiting Sifu’s school in Atlanta was no exception to this phenomenon.
The night before we left was a sleepless one. I was much too excited to visit with the family down there; the people I missed and the people I haven’t had the pleasure to meet yet.
Day 1 – Thursday
An early morning and a day of travel found us in The City in the Forest; a name earned by the city’s efforts to maintain a ratio of 7 enormous trees for each of it’s 5.8 million citizens.
At the airport, Sifu was waiting to meet us. Once we had collected all of our travelers and our bags, it was off to the school to get the trip started on the right foot – with some training! The trip from the airport to the school gave us our first taste of the hot and humid Atlanta climate, certainly a welcome change from Calgary’s moderate-at-best weather.
For some of us this was our first chance to see the school, and for others it was a return visit. But Sifu is not one to sit idle; he’s been working hard between visits. Everyone had something new to see there; and so it will be when we visit again. For me, it was all new, and all wonderful. The moment you walk up to the doors you notice the welcoming atmosphere, the deep roots of tradition and lineage, and the familiarity of the training environment. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that I felt right at home.
After a quick tour of the school it was time to get to work. Over the course of the trip I had the pleasure of meeting and working with a few familiar faces who I haven’t seen in too long, and several folks I had just met. It was awesome; you could instantly feel Sifu’s guidance and care in their hands. Playing Chi Sau with everyone was both distinctly familiar in it’s foundation, and unique in everyone’s journey of discovery. This is important! The individual nature of everyone’s hands helps improve the scope of our training; if we all performed and behaved exactly the same we’d be missing out on a whole world of possibilities. Yet there has to be structure – the foundation I previously mentioned – or the training would be inconsistent, scattered, and inefficient. We training well past the end of regular class time; only taking a short break to sample some delicious fish tacos.
Once everyone’s training began to wind down we were off to Waffle House. Waffle House is a simple, unassuming diner that is filled with friendly staff and great food (I strongly recommend trying the Hashbrowns All-the-Way). Sifu had spent long hours and late nights working on the school in Atlanta, and would often go to Waffle House for a late night snack. He already had the opportunity to spend some time building relationships with the folks there, so when we went he was greeted not as a customer but as returning family. We stayed there late, eating and chatting about Kung Fu.
Day 2 – Friday
We were up early to meet with Sifu at the club, where we sat in front and enjoyed some coffee and the early morning. It was quiet, the weather was beautiful, and there was a mockingbird singing us the songs it had learned throughout it’s travels. Then we were off for a day rich in experience! It began with a trip to The Egg Harbour Café for breakfast. On the menu; some delicious grits. For those who don’t know about grits, it’s a dish primarily made of a cornmeal porridge. The cornmeal is densely ground, giving it a ‘gritty’ texture. I’ve had them before, but nothing even close to as good as this restaurant. After breakfast we travelled to the Georgia Aquarium – the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. There’s a sitting area in front of a giant tank home to 3 fully-grown Whale Sharks and a host of other creatures; it’s so relaxing you could easily fall asleep in the midst of all the people milling about.
Having spent close to 2 hours in there we took a walk through beautiful Centennial Olympic Park on our way to The Underground; and indoor, below-grade mall with a unique vibe and a railroad display at one end. It certainly has some unique shops that are worth seeing. You can even get a gold tooth, if that’s your ‘fancy’. Once we had finished looking around there, we caught an Uber back to the school to collect with some folks.
For dinner we went to The Colonnade; having opened in 1929 it holds the title of the oldest restaurant in Atlanta. This is where I started to get the sense of American portion sizes; my Canadian brain had troubles interpreting the menu. It first occurred to me that you could choose between 2-piece or 4-piece options with no price difference. Nope. There were no 2-piece options; those are for the weak. Get 4 pieces or go home. This restaurant is famous for their fried chicken, and rightly so. I would argue it was the best I’ve ever had.
After dinner we were shown down to Little 5 Points; an area filled with individual, specialty shops. Sadly, most were closed by the time we got down there. So we changed our plans slightly and went to a local pub – The Front Page News – for some drinks and more Kung Fu conversation. On the patio, after 11pm, it was still hot enough to have fans going. It was perfect. Later in the evening one of Sifu’s friends – Ira – arrived; still clad in his motorcycle armour. Of course, we took the opportunity to ensure we tested his armour for safety; with our fists. We closed that bar down, hearing stories from Sifu’s training, learning some cultural elements of Ving Tsun (such as how the swords should be hung on a wall and why), and explored some mental elements like assessing risk and training your perception.
Day 3 – Saturday
Once again, we got up early; regular class began at 10:30. Plus there were private lessons scheduled in advance. We trained straight through to lunch; Sifu had cooked a large batch of fried rice – quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. Given that it was cooked in the biggest wok I’ve ever seen, I propose that the size of the wok is directly proportionate to the tastiness of the fried rice.
The plan in the afternoon was to play with an assortment of throwing weapons; knives, axes and stars (oh my!). Before that, however, there was a problem to solve. Wasps. They had built a nest right where our target would be built, and had to be dealt with. In Atlanta exists an elegant solution; a spray able, toxic glue with a 15 ft. range. Once sprayed, the foamy glue sticks to the wasps’ wings, expands, and then evaporates after a short time. If you spray a wasp directly it falls out of the sky and is killed. If you spray a nest, it kills the wasps within before it disappears; leaving the nest intact. This dissuades future nests from being built in the area.
Once dealt with, it was time to launch some projectiles. Best shot of the day? You guessed it, it was Sifu. From at least 50 feet he launched an axe that found it’s home in the face of the poor, spray painted target. There was no chance for survival.
We learned one of the best ways to deal with the heat; mist. They’ve got lots of heat in Atlanta, so trust the experts. Set up a hammock, a portable gazebo for shade, an industrial fan and a misting attachment for your hose and you’re good to go.
After sufficiently killing the afternoon (with projectiles) we got ready; it was time for dinner. Spicy, spicy, dinner.
Tasty China was the destination, a Szechuan style restaurant renowned for their spice. The amount of dried, fried chili’s in some dishes was nothing short of brazen. I know what you’re thinking “That’s too much, you won’t be able to taste the food anymore”. Well, not here. I’ve no idea how, but the flavours in the food balanced exceptionally well with the amount of spice.
Even more interestingly, the restaurant has a special dish that I’ve never experienced before. The unique part was the type of pepper used; one that numbs the tongue. Not in a painful, excessive spice way, but you certainly lose feeling for a time.
Just long enough to get it back for the festivities. We were off to Metalsome. Metalsome is what you get when you combine karaoke, a live band, rock/metal, heat and alcohol. The energy in this place was wild and free. After closing that place down we hung around town for a while. Transportation was easy – we all piled into Capel’s truck. Did you know that it’s legal to ride in the bed of a truck in Atlanta? Well, now you do. And now you know that it’s a lot of fun, too. Especially in that cool night air.
Day 4 – Sunday
Noon came fast, and brought enough hangovers to share. Once we had collected ourselves from the previous night’s festivities, we went to Sifu’s for a home-cooked breakfast. Everything was perfect. The bacon was a well-balanced mix of crispy and chewy, the toast was so good I almost threw out my toaster when I got back home, and the pancakes were the best I’ve ever had (many thanks to Sisook Mia for sharing your tips with Sifu).
Once everyone had eaten, Sifu invited us into his office to show us some pieces of Ving Tsun history; some chops carved by sidaigung Moy Yat himself. Included in the set was Sifu’s name carved into stone! Plus, we got to see sidaigung Moy Yat’s ‘Blush Strokes’ – a series of minimalist paintings matching a series of his chops. Some of them make sense right away, and some take a moment. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil any surprises here.
Now it was off to Ponce City Mall; an outdoor mall with an indoor feel. There lots to see and do there, a couple hours went by before we even noticed.
After all that shopping, we needed a delicious and nutritious lunch. So we went to Krispy Kreme. If you’ve a buck to spare, and want to know what a deep fried sugar addiction tastes like then Krispy Kreme is the perfect place to go. The first one is so easy to eat. The second one, however, is an immediate regret.
So how does one work off those calories? More shopping. We headed back to Little 5 Points, earlier this time, to explore all the cool shops. Once again, there’s so much to see and do that time gets away from you. Before you knew it, it was time for dinner. This time Sifu brought us to a pizzeria whose name escapes (by now many of the details started blurring together). The pizza was amazing, and table conversation ranged anywhere from Kung Fu to discussion on tragic events the night previous.
Once we had packed up the pizza, we found ourselves headed down to Top Golf, a gamified driving range. There are several large, netted holes in the range. Chips in the balls track your shots, and you get points based on difficulty. More points can be earned by shooting closer to the center of each target, and for hitting targets farther away.
Day 5 – Monday
Monday was a day of relaxation and sunshine. After making our way back to Sifu’s condo, we spent several hours in and beside the condo’s pool; enjoying the water, the heat, and some delicious margaritas with ice. This is where Atlanta’s heat caught up to me. You see, in Calgary, I’m not used to wearing shorts, and so I’m not used to thinking about putting sunscreen on my legs. The warm sun, cool drinks, and non-stop experiences all worked together to help me fall dead asleep, waking up resembling our dear friend… the Rock-Lobster (thinking of you, Monte!)
Afterwards we tracked down some food at an excellent Mexican restaurant. They brought out house made nachos with salsa and some nice, chunky, made at the table guacamole to start. The food was incredible, and the drink was plentiful. Each of us only had one drink. One….enormous…..32….ounce….drink.
Suffice it to say that when we got back to the school for more training, we were nice and relaxed.
Again we trained late. Well, most of us did. Rock-Lobster over here needed to sit down after about an hour of training. If you’re looking for motivation to not get hit, I recommend looking for remedies other than a sunburn. While effective, it’s more of a short term thing.
Once the training wound down, it was time to head back to Waffle House for some after training food.
Then, it was back to the school where we packed up our belongings in preparation for the long flight back to Calgary. This night didn’t have the excitement and anticipation from the first night. It was filled with thoughts of all the wonderful people I had the opportunity to see again, to meet, and to work with.
Writing this now, I’m thinking of each and every one of you. The trip was filled with great moments; Sifu joking with his neighbours by the pool, Capel’s Cable Cracks, Jana rocking out at Karaoke, discussing efficiency in learning with Sifu Tony, and so much more. I appreciate all the warmth and hospitality that was shown by everyone, and I look forward to seeing you all again in the near future.
Many thanks for an enriching experience!