I heard Nick Hurst on one of the last shows of Radio 4’s Excess Baggage, talking about his amazing experience in Malaysia, where he trained with a legendary kung fu guru, Sugong,. Nick’s book Sugong, The Life of A Shaolin Master chronicles his own kung fu journey while uncovering the life of this remarkable man.
1) I wonder, when looking at the airport departure board, where have you thought, ‘I really would like to go there someday’, and why?
Anywhere with great mountains (for trekking not climbing), somewhere in Africa with safaris (I’ve probably watched just about every David Attenborough but still need to go to the Mecca of wildlife), and the landscapes of the American West (finished up with a solid dose of Vegas).
2) I wonder if you travel by guidebook or trust your instinct and simply explore.
A bit of both. I take a guidebook but never seem to manage to read it in advance. Which usually leaves me to hastily check through on arrival to put some kind of trip together. I suppose I’d say they’re more of a back-up than a hard and fast itinerary planner for me.
3) I wonder from your travels, what is the favourite photo you’ve taken and the story behind it?
While there are others that probably have greater aesthetic qualities this is the most personal. It captures early relations between Sugong, my kung fu grandmaster, and me. I’m anxious as I await a ‘scolding’; he’s irritated and is moving forward to give one. It also gives a sense of his energy and bullish attitude to life even at 80. But Sugong’s forward movement has some metaphorical qualities as well as after a rocky start we ended up forming a very close bond despite our very different characters and background.
4) I wonder whilst travelling, what is the one thing you can’t live without?
I tend to do fine with whatever there is – for the odd things I miss I’m usually happy with interesting alternatives that compensate. A good fillet steak can be hard to track down though.
5) I wonder what’s the most effort you’ve taken to travel somewhere… and was it worth it?
Getting to work in rush hour on the Victoria line is a constant strain that doesn’t seem worth it. In more exotic locations the bus breaks failing and only a bollard saving us from plunging off the edge of a mountainside in Indonesia made me think the extra cost for a better bus would have been worthwhile. But in general I avoid
meticulous planning and massive effort – I get my travel sorted and let things work themselves out from there.
6) I wonder if I could ask you, why Sugong?
Marketing is a pressurised industry and I always thought I’d take a break. When I decided the time was right I wanted to do something different to back-packing trips I’d done before. I’d been doing kung fu for 10 years, and the idea of training with my master’s master in Malaysia, Singapore and China had so much potential for adventure I couldn’t resist. When I found out about Sugong’s incredible life and his tendency to get caught up in Asia’s most turbulent historical events I couldn’t let his story be lost to time. So my 6 month sabbatical extended another 3 years to research and write the book (and be trained within an inch of my life and shouted at a lot).
7) I wonder what you have planned next and where can people find out more about you?
At the moment I’m back in normal work again. But I do have a future project in mind: Japan from a sumo stable – an exploration of the real Japan and the origins of its culture, based in a sumo wrestlers’ training camp. A little weight-gain may be required…
Many Thanks to Nick for taking part.
Please check out Nick Hurst’s website and purchase the book (by clicking on the cover) for a fascinating read.
by Si Salter