Welcome to the Gym 

The great thing about jet lag is that when it’s time for a 6:00 a.m. workout, I’ve been up for three hours already.

Up above is a gallery of the fitness area near my dorm. Unfortunately, due to internet issues, I was not able to get them in order, but I’ll explain for you what’s going on. The picture of the man in the blue shirt isn’t from the gym. He was a nice man who sold me a pair of Kung Fu shoes. I felt like including him because he was a cool guy. I bought the Kung Fu shoes after seeing the man in gold wearing a pair and looking very comfortable.

Until today, I’d never seen a Chinese person work out. I’ve only seen one Chinese person who looked fairly muscular since I’ve gotten to Nanjing. Combined with all the smoking and dangerous driving, I could have sworn that health and wellness was not a huge priority here.

That’s why this fitness area was a huge shock. I discovered it empty on our campus tour one evening, and thought that’s how it would remain. But, when I went there at 5:30 a.m., it was packed. Not only was it packed, but it was packed with people who were much older than I was. There were some people my age on the basketball court and playing badminton, but that was it. However, what was more shocking than the retiree dominated demographic was the fact that the large majority of them were in good fantastic shape. I was repeatedly outclassed on the pull-up bar by men 3 times my age. Many of the grandmothers were flexible enough to kick me in the face. There were a few older men who worked out without shirts, and their 6 packs were better than most of the college students I know. Some of these people were performing exercises I had never even seen before.

I’m not sure what their success is attributed to, but I did recognize some fundamental differences in training philosophy. The first thing I noticed was that their exercises incorporated the entire body. There was not, as their often is in the US, the concept of isolating muscle groups. These practitioners were using their whole bodies in every exercise, and the results were visible in their casual movements. They were comfortable and moved very fluidly. The second thing that was visible was an absence of explosiveness. They didn’t overstrain their bodies or try to perform 110%. They worked very hard, but they did so at a pace. Finally, I managed to recognize that many of the people exercising were performing limbering movements lined out in Mr. Bisio’s book “Tooth from the Tiger’s Mouth“, while few were doing simple static stretching. This is encouraging as I continue to use his book as a resource.

I’ve never seen so many old people moving, chatting, and living with so much energy and vitality. Until now, this kind of movement and, dare I say it, youthfulness at old age was stuff of legend for me. It was reserved for the stories of old kung fu masters, the Gracie family, and legendary fighters such as Randy Couture who won a UFC title at 43 (definitely not elderly, but well beyond what is considered “prime”).

Many of the people in my group have taken to going drinking and clubbing. While they are nice people, I will leave them to their night time parties for now. At 6 am, this is where I will be, and I will need my sleep.