David Wei, a 16th generation disciple of legendary Taoist master Zhang Sanfeng, shares insights into the joys of Wudang Mountain (Wudang Shan)—not to mention life, love and immortality). >>>
A bit of a local celebrity (frequently seen on CCTV, David Wei seems to be known and liked by almost everyone in town; the local chief of police even pulled over to shake his hand) David has studied at the Wudang Shan Taoist Traditional Kung Fu Academy for almost four years, coming to a deep understanding of Wudang, its history and traditions. Now an assistant to Taoist Kung Fu master Yuan Xiu Gang and special English language liaison to the Wudang Shan Tourism Bureau, David helps countless visitors experience the majestic beauty of these immortal mountains.
Stephan Larose: What first made you decide to visit Wudang Shan?
David: I first discovered Wudang through the popular rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan. I’d ask my mom what Wu-Tang meant, and she told me it was a mountain where monks do kung fu. When I was 13, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Many years later, when I wanted to take my practice more seriously, I thought "what better place than Wudang Shan!"
SL: In your time at Wudang Shan, what local activities, personalities and attractions have you encountered that have enhanced your experience of the place?
Activities… I’ve fallen in love with the hair wash; it has become a weekly ritual. Back in the States, getting a shampoo at a salon can be really expensive, but here, it's very affordable. Plus, with my long Taoist locks, it's quite the treat to have someone wash my scalp and massage my neck and shoulders.
Personalities… Along the course of my three-plus years here, I’ve had the chance to meet a great deal of amazing individuals. Most amazing, I’d have to say, is meeting all the people that have lived through incredible transformations through their martial practice. I have met three people that have cured themselves of diabetes, one person that cured himself of epilepsy, and even a person that cured himself of paralysis, all from kung fu, qigong and meditation!
Localities... I really enjoy the local museum. It was put up about two or three years ago and it is FLOODED with Chinglish translations. I find it absolutely hilarious. Having this amazing history, heritage, and culture explained with horrible English and broken grammar. I love it.
SL: If someone is visiting Wudang Shan, what are some friendly travel tips you can offer? Any pitfalls to avoid, any cool secrets you can share?
I think that there are a few standard tips for China travel in general, but here in super country Wudang, one needs to be particularly aware of price markups. For example, swords are really popular here, especially after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out.
I’ve seen people get charged ridiculous amounts of money for the flimsiest of swords. So that would be my biggest point of advice—be careful in the sword shops. As for cool secrets, if you don't want to pay the mountain admission fee, there is a trail just outside of town that can get you to all the major temples.
Granted you need to hike a few hours, but if you're okay with that, it's a great way to get past the hassles at the Wudang Shan Gate. You just head to Yuxu Gong in Wudangshan City where all the kung fu training takes place, go left at the gate and around back, then cross the farmland to the trail, head left and when you come to a fork follow the uphill path, not the one that goes along the river. Then, once you're in the mix, you can easily catch the tourist bus down; and if they ask for a ticket, just play the ignorant tourist role and you'll be fine!
(Ed: See more about how to buy a sword on Wudang Mountain.)
SL: Treating Wudang Shan purely as a tourist attraction, what are the sights and sounds you would recommend? Are there any waterfalls we can dive from? Secret cave temples to spelunk?
For sights, I would definitely recommend Purple Cloud Temple. It is such a beautiful place with amazing architecture. Plus, if you wander up just behind the palace, there is a small path that goes up to a little temple tucked away in a cave. A happy hermit lives up there and always has fresh fruit for visitors. Then, just another ten meters from there is an eight-sided bagua platform, supposedly where Zhang Sanfeng first created tai chi. Really cool.
Another place to visit would be Tai Zi Po, or the Prince Temple. The temple walls look like the winding back of a dragon curving up the side of the mountain. There is also a room there constructed from huge wooden beams built back in the early Ming Dynasty. A must see.
There is another popular temple on Nan Yan, or "southern peak." Nanyan Temple is built right into the cliff face. It's truly magnificent. There is a great place to sample tea there and lots of cool games that you can play with coins for good luck. There is a beautiful dragon head incense burner that hangs out over a dangerous cliff and just a short walk away is the cliff that the girl jumped off of at the end of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Another place would be Wu Long Gong, or Five Dragon Temple. This spot is well off the beaten path and has pretty much been reduced to rubble over the last several centuries. They’ve been planning to refurbish it for several years now, and construction on the road is nearly complete. If you get a chance, I would highly recommend going to see this place before they rebuild it. Finally, there is my favorite place.
It’s an old abandoned temple deep in the monkey valley of Xiao Yao Gu, the ‘Carefree Valley.’ You have to hike for a little while to get there, but very few people know about it so it is always empty. It’s such a quiet, isolated spot. Really a great place to go and meditate. I love it.
SL: For someone in dire need of a break from the rat race, can a visit to Wudang Shan help them get back in touch with themselves and find a little more harmony in their lives?
YES!!! Wudang is a Taoist mountain, and one of the fundamental principles of Taoism is harmony—discovering the delicate balance of yin and yang. Not only would a hike though the mountains be a great escape from the hustle and bustle, but Wudang is a great place to learn longevity arts such as tai chi or qigong that can help bring that softness back to your life when you return to the hard grind.
SL: How is Wudang Shan a good place for a casual visitor?
Wudang is a great place for a casual visitor. There is a train station that pulls right into town and there are several Wudang Shan hostels to crash at. Also, the tourism developers have gone to great efforts to make all the mountain's scenic spots easily accessible. Buses stop regularly at all the major temples and a cable car has been installed that can take you up to the summit. One can easily do a quick once over of all the major sights in just under two or three days.
SL: How about for someone who needs a radical change in their lives?
This is a good question that kind of ties into Taoist practice. If one is in need of radical change in their lives, we must first analyze why such a change is necessary....
Perhaps one is hurt, diseased, traumatized, or just in an emotional slump and a drastic change is the only way to bring harmony back into their lives. In most cases, these dire conditions don’t appear overnight—they are the result of long held habits, patterns, belief systems, perspectives and world views.
That said, if the problem took years to develop, it will obviously take years to remedy. I feel that in the West, we have grown too accustomed to the quick fix. Consequently, we often only deal with superficial symptoms as opposed to the root causes of our issues. So, for someone seeking radical change in their lives, I’d advise them to remember that "big treasures take time to mature."
Try coming here for at least a month and enrolling in a good school. Learn to meditate, relax the body, and calm the mind. With a calm and quiet mind, the root of disease will be easier to find and the appropriate path for harmony will present itself naturally.
SL: When we spoke earlier, you told me you were feeling a little pent up, so to speak. Is that because the Taoist precepts that you follow require abstinence? Is there anything about Taoism that interferes with your love life, and if so, are there benefits that offset that?
Ha, quite to the contrary. If anything, the Taoist practices I've subscribed to have given me the capacity to enjoy my love life even more. Physically, I’ve found great strength and vitality through my martial practice.
Beyond that, qigong and meditation have heightened my internal awareness and sharpened my sensitivity. This, coupled with Taoist principles of energy development and conservation have made for amazing new experiences in the land of love. Emotionally, Taoism has led me to discover the value of harmony and balance in a relationship. It has given me the tools to constructively communicate my needs all while being receptive to the needs of my partner.
This makes for a deeper understanding, a stronger bond, and a rich, intimate dynamic with my lady. Spiritually, this dynamic harmony allows the love I share with my partner to grow and affect change within our communities. Imagine a love so great, it has to be shared with all! As we have grown in love, we have also grown in purpose and intention and we are constantly looking to create new mediums through which we can share our love with our community through service and charity. All that said, Taoism has expanded my experience of love exponentially. The blue balls issue is more a result of being stuck in this temple academy far away from my lady. Not so much from the Taoist precepts I’ve adopted.
SL: What have you learned from the blind massage master, and how did you find him? What can one do with the skills developed under his tutelage?
The blind massage master is quite famous in this town, so he wasn't hard to find. As I can speak a little Chinese, I was able to develop a nice relationship with him and begin an apprenticeship in exchange for English lessons. I trained with him off and on for the last several years when time permitted and I learned a whole host of information about traditional tui na (tuī ná, 推拿) massage therapy. Most of the lessons revolved around potent point location and function as well has how to massage certain points and point combinations for specific effects. Sadly, he is not a part of an accredited institution and he can't give any certificates for the time spent with him; but, I am already licensed in California and the skills that I have learned will certainly help further my practice.
SL: There must be a few pretty intense characters that show up at such a legendary place, any interesting stories to share? Or are you the most intense guy there?
Oh man, there are some intense folks in the town. The most intense would have to be the local loony whom we've lovingly nicknamed "the General." He's an older gentleman, likely in his late 30s or so, but as a child he suffered from an intense fever that baked his brain, so now he's stuck with the mind of a five year old. Luckily, his family was quite well off, so he gets a nice haircut and a fresh set of clothes every so often. Each day he simply walks around town calling everyone shifu, or "master." It’s really sweet and he always has a huge smile on his face. I love that guy.
How to Travel to Wudang Shan
From China’s major cities getting to Wudang Shan requires a little bit of time and effort, but don’t worry, you’ll be well rewarded once you arrive. From the Wuhan airport (Wudang City proper downhill. Alternately, you can take a train from either of Wuhan’s train stations (Wuchang or Hankou), to Wudang Shan or the city of Shiyan 25 kilometers away. Getting back can be quite painless if you take an overnight sleeper train back to Wuhan (approx 120 RMB), which takes about 8 hours and arrives in Wuhan at around 5:30am. Otherwise you’ll want to get a ride over to Shiyan to catch a bus back from the bus station across from the train station.