An article I originally wrote in Czech language for the Martial Arts magazine published in Czech Republic (Bojová umění, 9, 74-75), with a bit of exaggeration about the way you may travel Hong Kong if you are a visiting kung fu lover.
For the southern China martial arts lovers Hong Kong is fatal: we all want to get there, and as soon as we arrive, our soul is lost. It all start with stepping out of the airport arrival hall, where the humid air with a mixture of scents from meals and incense sticks attacks the tourists, and kung fu being present almost everywhere – that is why Hong Kong gets under your skin so quickly. Hong Kong is one of the places of something we could call “kung fu tourism”. We could count in for example Shaolin temple, Wudang mountains or Foshan. Besides the foreigner coaches and students, who come to Hong Kong almost every year to visit their teachers, there are always numerous groups of people who lust after a bit less intense training, but the more colourful view for their eyes, the kung fu tourists.
In Hong Kong, kung fu can be seen wherever you walk. Even thought the youngsters nowadays prefer tae-kwon-do, still you can often catch a sight of some kung fu legacy in the TV advertisements (for example telling you to check the the condition of your building) or on the posters (if you are at a construction site, wear a helmet! – said the kung fu construction worker). If you turn on a TV, there will be someone fighting in almost every single TV series. In a poetic way, of course. We are no brutes!
First steps of many will lead to the legendary, but still not enough well-known performance at the Kung fu Corner. In the Kowloon Park, every Sunday afternoon, one local kung fu schools will organize two hours program, and ask their friends-masters to also join. They all will create a performance containing kung fu and lion or dragon dance. Just follow the sound of the drum or rushing people with a weapon over the shoulder. It is unknown beforehand who will perform, so the quality may vary, but if you come for the beginning (2.30 pm), you will see the lion dance and also taste today’s kung fu practice for the next two hours. The biggest masters usually sit in the audience. Yes, those old gentlemen, who record the show, use their fans and brag, that is the generation that still used to fight on the streets.
On Sunday it is closed, but after a whole day spent eating dim sum dumplings, drinking pu-erh tea and cursing the icy air-conditioning, you can head to this kung fu shop on Monday. It is called Ka Fok Sports Supplies Limited on the Kwun Tong MTR station. It is the biggest kung fu shop in Hong Kong and you will regret your visit bitterly. Clothing, shoes, weapons, drums, lions, back scratchers, punching bags… you can find anything here. Just, you won’t have enough money for all of that. The shop owners are of course practitioners themselves, too, and will probably like to take a picture with you. Later, you can find yourself on Facebook. And because they know well the misery of shopping tourists in their shop, they are able to send you a package directly to your home.
Next, you can go and hug Bruce Lee. Just in front of the Heritage Museum there is his kicking statue. However, the most famous one is somewhere else. At the seaside, where in between the mainland and the island seals the Star Ferry, one part of the public transportation but also for many an incredibly cheap tourist attraction, there winds a promenade called Avenue of Stars. Here are all the hand prints of the famous kung fu actors, including Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and you can also see the other statue of Bruce Lee. However, because of some reconstructions the Avenue of Stars is closed now and will be probably until 2018, and the statue was moved to Tsim Sha Tsui East Waterfront. But take the ride with the Star ferry for 3 HKD anyway!
When you feel like getting lost in the tucked streets, to get known the old Hong Kong, you can continue your tour de kung fu souvenir. Do not mind the dirty walls and definitely do not go and have a look inside the kitchens. Get a milk tea instead (which is absolutely different from the British style tea with milk) and snack on stinky tofu at a street stand. Stop somewhere to have noodles, or just point your finger on a one-language menu without English translation. That is always proven fun.
When going to the toilet in a really local street canteen, you would rather have your shoes closed toe. And before you leave, your hips will not complain so much about the deep squad, which is necessary there. You can find a little relaxation in some of the small bookstores; it is not easy to find them but some will always peek out behind a corner after a while. Do not try to search for the commercial chains with English books, instead go there, where you can smell the old paper. You probably won’t be able to use your English, but performing some kung fu pantomimic will help you to find the right shelf. You have quite a big chance to find a book with pictures, even thought you won’t understand the text in characters. But you will buy it anyway, right?
Normal tourist will for sure want to go to the Lantau island. Join them, Lantau offers something for you as well. Take the cable car to the Bid Buddha statue, to which you need to climb the long stairs. Near the cable car station, you can find Stage 360 showing a new kung fu show. Besides that, buy some kung fu tshirts in the local overprized souvenir shops. In any case, at least a half-day trip is worth it. From here you can take a bus to the fishing village Tai O, where they offer a boat trip to observe white dolphins. No one ever saw them around though, but don’t get this small detail distract you. It is a very nice ride around and under the floating village, climbing on its stakes from water. For tea time you can buy for example a dried squid. Yummy!
If you are competitive, plan your arrival during some of the several wushu festivals. They are organized by China, and they are rather performances than competitions. It is a pleasant event, even though the registration is expensive. Unfortunately, the only competition in Hong Kong, which is a not a festival, is not accessible without a residence permit and a Hong Kong ID.
Never mind competitions, you may train anyway; try whichever park. If you seem friendly enough during your practice, for sure some of the local practitioners will try to talk to you. That is the best way how to learn the local kung fu community, unless you already come with someone who has a network here. You may ask for example: “Do you know anyone who teaches tai ji here and could give us a private lesson?”. In contrast to the mainland China, here the internet works without problem, so it pays off to find some likeable local school beforehand.
The kung fu schools are not officially open to the public, but sometimes you may have a look inside. But do not rely on that. A reference is still the traditional way how to get inside: someone will tell you about the school, some local teacher or their students from abroad will send you there in their name and so on. If you are staying and practicing in Hong Kong for a longer period of time, it is usually possible to just come to the school a commit to it. Beside the kung fu schools you will find a sea of modern gyms and centres in the city, which teach MMA, kickboxing and other styles, and which have these conveniences such as showers. These two worlds do not intersect too often.
Getting known Hong Kong with a gang of kung fu elderlies behind your back is always the best fun. Endure the long coffee pauses, where no one will speak English to you, and they may invite you to a kung fu party! (With a little bit of exaggeration, we may say it is a kind of seniors’ spree). In my opinion, these kung fu parties may be the secret motivation of the locals why they practice kung fu at the first place… Do not be afraid to walk back home alone at midnight; Hong Kong has very low level of criminality.
If you are really tired by now, go get a massage or visit a chiropractitioner, and let him have a look on that back of yours that has been hurting for a year already. In the clinics of traditional medicine dit da jow you may also meet another masters, who in their shop’s window exhibit black and white photos of themselves practicing kung fu, just next to a plastic skeleton.
In case you are done totally with your energy, get for dinner salty rice porridge (you may choose what kind of meat or seafood you want to have inside), so called congee. Students of kung fu used to be nicknamed “those who eat congee at midnight”, because after the whole evening of kung fu practice they needed to eat something easy to digest, and cheap as well. I guarantee you never had a meal of such consistency before.
The best way to enjoy Hong Kong is nicely slow. Do not rush, take a break for milk tea, walk through the second hand bookshops, and if you are lucky, listen to the sounds of somebody practicing on a wooden dummy before you go to sleep. Talk to people, the smile of a foreigner can often bridge the language barrier. Showing your kung fu, no matter what its quality, will bring you the love of locals. If that is good or bad depends on you. But for the kung fu tourists it may be the great first ever contact with the Hong Kong kung fu community.
I have been practicing martial arts since 1999. It became the reason for moving to Hong Kong and it guided many of my life decisions. I am addicted to hung kuen kung fu and MMA. Further blog posts are sharing of an enthusiast.