A few weeks ago, I discovered West Wind Karate (http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=12416) (also known as West Wind Bok Fu, also known as West Wind Kung Fu), a school that offers "the most expensive training in the world". I suspect I cannot afford the most expensive training in the world, but fortunately, I could afford their free introductory lessons. This is my story.
Disclaimer: To anyone who thinks that I was just stringing West Wind Karate / West Wind Bok Fu / West Wind Kung Fu along and wasting their time, I argue that there should be nothing wrong with checking out a school before making your decision. I visited 2 BJJ schools and a TKD school before I even started martial arts. In college, I visited two jiu jitsu schools before picking one, and in Maryland over winter break, I trained at Yamasaki one year, then tried Evolve and trained there the next. When I arrived in Berkeley, I trained with the Berkeley judo club, then took a free lesson at a local MMA school, where I then began training. Since switching to the MMA school, I've taken a free lesson at Ralph Gracie's (decided it wasn't worth the money and commute) and a free lesson at another BJJ academy (which I enjoyed and now also train at). During my introductory lessons at West-Wind karate / West Wind bok fu / West Wind kung fu, I will be respectful, practice all my forms, and will give them an honest chance to prove that they don't teach utter crap. And if they're worth the money, of course I'll enroll. Anyway, on with the story:
On the urging of members here, I gave West-Wind Bok-Fu a call. There are four schools in the Bay area. On the website each lists the same telephone number, which connected me to their "C.O.R.E." office. (C.O.R.E. stands for center of records and enrollment, I assume it's where they talk you into a long term contract.) I told them I was interested in their Berkeley school (open 9am to 9pm), and they scheduled me for a same-day tour. ("We've had a cancellation – can you make it at 4:00?")
Walking into the school, my first reaction was to laugh. There were about four students there, two practicing kata on their own, while the other two were standing stiffly in front of an instructor. This wouldn't be quite so humorous on its own, except that the instructor was wearing a full three-piece suit. The gym itself was pretty good-sized, with plenty of mat space and a rock garden by the door that was almost the size of the whole mat at my tiny gym.
I was quickly greeted by a pale white lady in a kimono who introduced herself as Ms. S__, the head instructor. (Actually, I think she used some asian title, but I can't keep them straight.) She told me about the history of the West-Wind schools (in the area for 30 years). This particular school (right by UC Berkeley) focuses more on adult classes, though children are also accepted if they were disciplined enough. Ms. S explained that the school stresses discipline very strongly, and I saw a couple students bow very low as they asked permission to enter or leave the school. Because they cared so much about attracting respectful students, their school was very exclusive and a decision must be made about whether each student is worthy before they are allowed to begin instruction.
Ms. S explained how the schools hierarchy must be respected, etc, etc. She also asked if I'd had any previous martial arts instruction, so I told her truthfully that I'd been training for about a year and a half, and had experience in TKD, BJJ, and karate (though I didn't elaborate on the proportions).
Ms. S walked me around the dojo, whose walls are lined with various exotic asian weapons, all of which the students must master before their black belt test. The school teaches a variety of styles, but they want their students to develop a solid base in shotokan karate first. As they become more advanced, they are introduced to tiger style kung fu. Then she rattled off a bunch of other martial arts that I can't remember.
Part of the reason I am having trouble remembering was that I was being distracted by the two students in front of the instructor in the three piece suit. He had finished instructing them and now they were practicing their new techniques on their own. One was holding a crane stance straight out of karate kid and doing a little hop kick every so often. After every few of these he would kneel down and think for a while. The other appeared to be meditating, but every few minutes he would stand up and thrust his hands out in front of him with an enormous KIA! (Think Asia in the kamehameha video – EXACT same thing.) I can only assume that he was throwing chi balls. I'm just glad I was out of range.
There are group classes in the evening, but the school is focused on one-on-one lessons. Every student is required to take at least one private lesson a week. (How do they get enough instructors to teach private lessons to 200+ students each week? I think we all know the answer to that.) I asked how long it takes to get a black belt, Ms. S said that it varied based on the individual (because of the private instruction) but the fastest they'd had was 3.5 years.
Ms. S stopped in front of a pressure point diagram to mention that they did some grappling, but it wasn't really so focused on "just holding someone down". They were more focused on ending the fight instantly. Because they taught such deadly techniques, she said, I must understand how important it was that they could only accept students if the students were worthy. I nodded my head. But, she said, I looked like a pretty good candidate so far. Sometimes students are hindered by their previous martial arts instruction, but she could tell that I was willing to empty my cup and learn their ideas. I nodded again.
After the tour, we went into the office, where she explained that the first step in the application process was a few private lessons with an instructor. She scheduled me for a lesson in two days with Mr. X, the guy in the three piece suit. Evidently I was very lucky to get this opportunity, as he was their most sought-after instructor. He had been training for 14 years and occasionally did amateur boxing (one point in his favor, I guess).
She asked if I had any questions, so I asked about price. She said that the instructors here don't deal with billing at all, which is taken care of at C.O.R.E., where I will be sent later if I am deemed worthy to join the school. Instruction is very expensive, but no one is made to pay more than they can afford. For example, there is an Oakland Raider in their Alameda school who paid $40,000 for his whole family, but they certainly wouldn't charge me that. There are also "scholarships" available, but they are very hard to get. (I do hope I am lucky enough to land one. Anyone want to bet on it?) C.O.R.E.'s job is to figure out what the appropriate billing for me is, but the instructors play no part in that, so as not to taint the student-instructor relationship.
We also had a little discussion about how often I was planning to train. The discussion went like this: I had mentioned earlier that I attended Berkeley, so she asked if I was very busy now. I was. She asked if I was working, because that also takes a lot of time. I just do the usual grad student research stuff. So are my parents helping me out now? No, they aren't.
So that was about it for my introductory tour. On my way out, I heard a woman behind me say "Salutation." I thought she was saying hi to me, but then I noticed the 12-year old in front of her launching into some sort of arm-windmilling, head-spinning, weird, wild, and wonderful body gyration, so I assume she was talking to him.
I'm really looking forward to my first lesson.
Can you get it video taped and produce highlights?
This looks like a very promising school, I hope you have fun training at this respectable acedemy.
The only word that comes to mind:
Well, let's hope you're worthy of their instruction...
Hey, is that you in your avatar TaeBo_Master? That's really cool!
You look very fit and atheltic, you must have done a lot of that TaeBo hahahaha!
This shows women REALLY do come to the internet.
bunyip - I truely respect your willingness to have an open cup. Many people have their cup tainted and not well washed by other so-called effective styles. These styles focus mainly on non-honourable sport fighting matches that are done for entertainment. I think today's honourable martial artist should focus on personal enlightment, spiritual beliefs and non-violence. The art of martial art has not been emphasize enough and we, as the leaders of martial arts today must change this.
Blessing to you,
Oohh, sounds interesting. Can't wait for updates :D
That sounds like some kind of evil organization out of a 60s or 70s movie.
I also like how they teach both Shotokan and Tiger Kung Fu. It makes me think of the newest Mortal Kombat game where everyone switches between 3 rigid styles in the middle of a fight.
Hidden camera videotaping is a MUST!
HA! This **** is going to be great! This is precisely what Bullshido.com is all about!
you'll probably get pwn3d by them.:D
Be careful--you may discover an underground opium factory and hundreds of mindless servants who you'd have to fight your way past on the way back above ground. But even if you make it to the surface, you'll still have to make it through the hall of mirrors, where the Big Boss will be waiting for you with his detachable metal hand-claw...
Bull-****, Mr. Han-Man!
Te No Kage!
I really wonder how they take themselves so seriously, maybe because you're in a big city that this kind of nonsense is able to go on.