Wushu summer

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/1 18:28:39

Foreign youngsters spend 30 days learning martial arts at Shanghai government-sponsored program

Peruvian Mauricio Ortiz, with a tiger claw gesture, squats and then jumps, kicking his right leg straight in the air. "Roar!" he howls, like a ferocious tiger pouncing on its prey. At a bright and spacious training hall at the Shanghai University of Sport (SUS), Ortiz repeatedly practices huquan (tiger fist), a style of Chinese martial arts (commonly known as wushu). Having studied wushu for the past 12 years, the 18-year-old is still interested in improving his skills. As a member of SUS's one-month wushu summer school program, Ortiz is taking classes five days a week along with several other foreign youngsters, learning authentic wushu moves from professional Chinese masters.

Since 2008, many Shanghai universities have annually organized summer educational exchange programs for foreign students, providing 30 days of Chinese culture learning courses for free.

These government-sponsored programs are collectively called Shanghai Summer School (3S). Each year, some 500 students are able to enjoy this Eastern exploration opportunity. This year SUS's wushu course attracted 20 martial arts lovers from 12 countries.

"Most are college students," said the program director Zhu Dong, a wushu professor at SUS. "Some have practiced wushu for years, some have never tried it before."

The "tiger fist" is what veteran Ortiz has spent his time here learning, along with some practice techniques he never knew about in his home country. "Wushu routines are not easy to grasp, so I have to practice a lot to understand each movement," he told the Global Times.

Another participant, Raven Chapman from the UK, said she loves martial arts because its movement is quite unique. "I do boxing, and I did a little kick boxing when young, but wushu is very different," she said. "It requires more flexibility."

Chapman's parents practice wushu as well. Growing up in a wushu-family, the 23-year-old has always dreamed of visiting China. "Martial arts and Chinese culture extend a long way back," she said. "So I applied for this program, embracing the opportunity to come here to learn true Chinese martial arts."

Foreign martial arts lovers from 12 countries practise wushu at Shanghai University of Sport. Photos: Courtesy of Jiang Feng from Shanghai University of Sport

Cultural differences

Although the recent extreme heat has been unbearable for many, Chapman has nonetheless enjoyed her summer in Shanghai. "Learning wushu here is very fun," she said. "At home, my trainings and competitions can be very serious, but in a new place (here) seriousness is mixed with enjoyment."

Learning martial arts is never an easy thing for Westerners due to language barriers and cultural differences. Two years ago, when the Global Times covered SUS's wushu summer school for the first time, many participants grumbled that the China-based International Wushu Federation seldom published wushu teaching materials in English.

As a result, those foreign amateurs had to learn by watching videos in Chinese. "How can we promote a sport without proper teaching materials?" they asked. But today's program participants, including Ortiz and Chapman, are now learning wushu directly from English-speaking Chinese masters.

Apart from professional training, the program also arranged several cultural-immersion courses such as calligraphy, archery, tea ceremony and Putonghua.

"3S participants will learn more about how Chinese people live and think, which is beneficial for them to understand martial arts in a more comprehensive way," Zhu told the Global Times.

Foreigner learns wushu from an English-speaking Chinese master.

Growing global influence

Chapman agreed. "Every culture is different and unique. People may have perceptions of what a country is like, but for me it was nice to see what the real China is like and how the Chinese do martial arts, rather than just watching related TV programs or reading books about it."

Despite the difficulties that foreign students in China inevitably face, the consensus is that there is no better place to learn authentic martial arts than the country that invented it.

Fourteen-year-old Evelyn Engen, one of the program's youngest participants, has been learning martial arts for three years. Engen said that wushu is becoming more popular in the US. "At my school, now there are many students learning it."

The number of Western martial arts students is also growing in the UK. "In my country, the biggest (fighting) sport is boxing, but wushu is definitely getting bigger," said Chapman. "More people are finally realizing the benefits of doing it."

Zhou Xinyu contributed to the story

Foreigner kicks his leg straight in the air


Two foreigners practise wushu.


Twenty martial arts lovers from 12 countries at the Shanghai Summer School program



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