Just a few days ago I heard from an old student. We first got together in 1986, some 23 years ago. At the time in East Germany, martial arts schools didn't officially exist. Only state sanctioned and government organized wrestling, judo and boxing clubs, all geared towards a Olympic future.
Internet? YouTube? DVD's? Videos? Literature? Nothing! Starting at some point in the early 80's, I had the idea to publish little wanted ads in newspapers, initially searching for books about Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. Mostly older people wrote me about books and booklets they had found in the attic, which had survived world war 2. Over time the ads also worked as a means to find students. And Alfred from Neustadt-Glewe was one of the early Wing Tsun students.
Above you can see two of the newspaper ads out of East-German newspapers (Wochenpost) from 1986.
What did one do back then, almost no one having a phone at home. Little story on the side: In 1980 I applied for a phone installation and still remember how in 1988 I got a postcard that currently my order cannot yet be fulfilled. So, no home phone, of course no cell phone, no e-mail or even fax. Now what? Alfred got in his old car, or did he even come by train? I have to ask. He drove from his town at least 1 to 2 hours to my place. Sometimes I had to work longer and wasn't home yet. Unsuccessful, he drove home again, another two hours ... and came back the next week. This was persistence. To do this for a couple of years, this is perseverance. To drive for hours, train for a couple of hours, and drive back home for hours, all that working full time, this was patience. The three P's!
And today I hear at times from prospective students that it is too far to drive from North Vancouver across the bridge into Vancouver.
How did we train? Again, books and videos or posters didn't exist. Whatever I had learned during the annual one or two meetings with instructors from the West, I started teaching the very next day. If you don't know, if and when you will see your instructor again due to political circumstances, if you have no way of receiving information or correction, other than training yourself, you develop a very different attitude. You learn to analyze your own training deep into the tiniest details.
We trained footwork for hours until the soles of our shoes had holes. We did chain punches on the heavy bag until the skin opened up, you heard the blood squishing between your fingers. Made for great conversation while meeting people in the city. They took one look at your face, clean and OK and then at your knuckles, and took at least one step back while talking to you.
I remember training sessions with Alfred. One day he "didn't want to leave". He sat outside the apartment on the stairs, but only because his legs were shaking that much, that he couldn't even take seven, eight stairs down to the house door. Another time he was so brave to order soup in a restaurant, after a tough training. After many unsuccessful tries he put the spoon down. The waitress came and asked if he doesn't like the soup. Oh, he was hungry alright. I never forget the look of the waitress after he told her that he temporarily could not master the spoon. I don't want to know what she thought of us.
Alfred probably still remembers my wardrobe?! In Germany you don't have wall closets for your clothes. I had one of those big old wooden wardrobes with big doors. It was hidden behind a curtain which hung all the way from the ceiling to the floor. Almost like an initiation, every new student got the inch-punch, flew back into the wardrobe, with a giant loud crash pushing the doors inside and often the curtain being ripped off the ceiling and burying the happy new Wing Tsun member on the floor in the wardrobe. Just picture that for a moment. Ah, good old times!
After changes in my life, living in Switzerland, West Germany and West Berlin, I again connected with Alfred. We trained for a couple of years, I did seminars in his school until I moved to Canada.
Alfred never gave up, although it took him ten solid years to advance from 12th student grade to his first instructor level.
Persistence. Perseverance. Patience.
This is how martial arts can shape your life, become a way of living.
P.S.: The two photos are exactly eight years apart. The black & white photo taken in the spring of 1986, still behind the "Iron Curtain". The second one in the spring of 1994 after a WingTsun seminar.
from left to right: Werner Acker, Ralph Haenel, Alfred Ueck