Visit of the Shaolin temple is definitely worth it. But the less you know, the more you will like it. Otherwise, you would not see the amazing kung fu shows on every corner, monks crossing your path in the temple or the dedication of the number of schools around. You would probably see hundreds and thousands of Chinese children, in dirty cloth of the same red color, doing the same movements. Occasionally, you would see a coach, with not a very fit figure, holding his student on a ground in some painful stretching pose, meanwhile checking his phone. You would also see many kids with very poor basics, such as rising their heels when they are not supposed to, and no one corrects them. They will spend years in the school, maybe without winning any competition and therefore a place in some performing team, or a job among coaches. Only a fraction of them will, and that is enough here.
In Shaolin, or rather in Deng Feng (the town nearby) I was going to visit three schools. All of them said they are traditional wushu schools. It turned out I was not so much welcomed in one of them, because “the kung fu students are not friendly to visitors” and “they are now busy training for a movie cast”. It is not necessary to note that I was not very unhappy that I have to skip this one.
During my research field trip I visited master Yuan's school in Wudangshan. You can see the Wednesday's test of progress, featuring the great young practitioner who the foreigner students started to call "The Dragon Boy". You will recognize him when you see him. Enjoy!
Read about the training here!
After the few days in the school of master Chen in Wudang I moved on to the school of master Yuan Xiu Gang. Frozen, I was looking forward to have a hot shower, and I also had a kind of coming home feeling.
It was, of course, absolutely inappropriate for me to have such feeling, because I never practiced Wudang style myself, nor I spent any longer period of time in the school in Wudang. But few years ago, on a competition in China I met this group of foreigners from master Yuan’s school. Then, year or two later I was traveling in China and went also to Wudang. One of those foreigner students helped me to get a room in the school and so I could meet them all again. They were doing a 5-years program in the school, “an international traditional class”. That time I was not aware of what “traditional class” really means here, but this time I found out.
A short video from my visit of the Beijing wushu team during their training. Enjoy!
Read the article about their training here.
To start with, I do not want to contribute to the discussion of the (non)Wudang styles. I am now in the middle of my field work in China and that brings me to places where foreigners practice their wushu, either modern or traditional (kung fu). In that sense Wudang seems to be a logical step. I contacted first several schools via email to find out if they have any European students during the time and finally was welcomed by two of them. Not exploring origin of any style, but really only the practice itself through people’s experience and its overreach to their life. I could join the training group too, which is typically much better for the trust and the whole atmosphere, even when it makes my body suffer (and my soul happy).
The first school I visited was China Wudang Kungfu Academy. I stayed for three days and the first emotion I had to deal with was shame – when coaches found out how short I will stay, I could see the negative thoughts they suddenly had about me. Time is a big topic in the (traditional) wushu. Therefore, when the international students asked me how long I will stay, I said: “Three days. I came for enlightenment.” After the ice was broken I told them about my research and as I am used to with the traditional wushu people, they were willing to help with the project. Thank you again guys!
Wushu as study major is a dream come true for some foreigners coming to China. Big cities offer this possibility and so it guided my steps (or rather railways) to Shanghai and Beijing. Here I got to see two universities: Beijing Sport University and Beijing Capital University of Physical Education. However, in Beijing I still did not join any training, so the further text is a kind of observation/description; training experience came later during my other stops of the field trip.
In the Beijing Sport University the space for wushu is huge. Actually the biggest I have seen so far. They have one building for sanda and the other one for taolu; inside there are two gyms, each holding four carpets. When I was there, there was a different lesson on each of the carpet.
I could watch a training of a group of foreigners. This group are not students of the university, working on their degree, but they pay for the wushu training, as one of my informant explained. They have practice every day, but the wushu major students practice three times a week.
In Beijing I visited three places connected with the modern wushu: the Sport University, the Capital University and the Beijing wushu team.
Thanks to a big help (thank you again!) I could contact one of the coaches of the Beijing wushu team. He said he cannot speak English much, but he was fluent when we met. That was really good, because I could ask questions, and I did. I watched one of the morning trainings, amazed that I witness the Beijing wushu team. Even when you practice traditional styles, which is something completely different, you must have heard about them. The coach proudly announced they believe to be the best in the world, and I guess many would agree.
The Beijing wushu team is not inside any university, but a sports school. The institution is new, fancy, very well equipped. Inside the wushu gym, there are three carpets. They have eight teams. A and B in both junior and senior age groups. Juniors are kids who still attend schools, so they practice usually only in the evening/afternoon. Adults are professional; it is their job.
Each team has several coaches. The one I was watching had three. The friendly coach who was talking to me, once an athlete himself, is now in his almost 30 years working as a coach. He seemed to be very proud about the power training. Learning from other sports, such as golf of basketball and studying some coaching techniques abroad, he said: “We need to look for the new way of coaching”.