ARTS / CULTURE & LEISURE
Chinese martial arts gain popularity in Africa
Kung fu fighting
Published: Nov 24, 2021 06:48 PM
A group of African students practice martial arts in Tianjin Municipality in February 2014. Photo: IC

A group of African students practice martial arts in Tianjin Municipality in February 2014. Photo: IC

Chinese martial arts, or kung fu, conjures up an image of the iconic movie star Bruce Lee, whose superb fighting skills were popularized throughout the world.

Over the years, Africa has witnessed the making of several Bruce Lee-wannabes with wushu, the Chinese-language term for martial arts, having become popular across the continent.

Healthy living



Students of the martial arts believe that Chinese kung fu promotes healthy living.

"Practicing kung fu, not only builds discipline and respect, it makes you feel healthy and fit," said Emile Rukundo, vice president of the Rwandan Chinwoo Wushu Kung Fu Academy.

The academy started in 2017 and has been receiving kung fu teachers from China. About 50 people, including young people, are trained in kung fu at the school.

"Kung fu has become a popular sport in Rwanda, particularly among school-age children. They find it interesting because it keeps their body in shape, and it teaches them self-defense and self-control," said Rukundo. 

According to Rukundo, the Confucius Institute at the University of Rwanda and the Chinese Embassy in Rwanda have supported the academy through organizing kung fu competitions, which have motivated young Rwandans to learn kung fu.

"Chinese martial arts teach an excellent way of life," said Dawit Terefe, an Ethiopian Chinese martial arts instructor, adding that the sport helps people become strong, healthy, stay in good shape and develop excellent concentration.

Terefe added that Chinese martial arts are lifetime physical exercises and are performed with balanced movements between the legs and hands, making them preferable to other exercises.

Development plan



"The promotion of the Chinese martial arts feature prominently in the 2021 government's sports development strategy," said John Mapepele, a senior communications officer with the Tanzanian Ministry of Culture, Arts and Sports.

According to Mapepele, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan has directed the ministry to ensure that Chinese martial arts is incorporated in the country's sports and culture development plans.

"The government of Tanzania is giving much support to Chinese martial arts which are attracting tens of thousands of Tanzanians, especially the youth," Mapepele told the Xinhua News Agency at the inaugural Tanzania women sports festival dubbed Tanzanite in September, where kung fu was featured by young Tanzanian girls aged 10 to 14 years old.

"Tens of hundreds of visitors come to watch the girls showing their prowess in kung fu," said Athuman Begeja, a 31-year-old kung fu teacher at Begeja Wushu Club located in Ilala District in Dar es Salaam.

Begeja said during the three-day festival his club received over 100 inquiries from girls who want to join and train in kung fu.

Kung fu goes viral



The kung fu frenzy is sweeping the continent thanks to the friendly relations between China and Africa, cemented through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative, among others.

Humphrey Moshi, a professor of economics at state-run University of Dar es Salaam and director of the Center for Chinese Studies in Tanzania, told Xinhua in a recent interview that the relationship between China and Africa has become stronger since the establishment of the forum.

"We have seen tangible improvement in sectors ranging from agriculture and communications, construction, manufacturing, culture, sports and games, and people to people exchanges," said Moshi.

The number of kung fu clubs in Rwanda organized under the Rwanda Kung-fu Wushu Federation has been growing in recent years, and the total stands at 31 in 2021, with over 2,000 registered members.

Also, according to a recent report by the Ethiopian Martial Arts Federation, there are over 800 martial arts training centers across Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous nation.

Among them, 60 are found in Addis Ababa and each appears to offer martial arts training for about 70 students each season, and a martial arts club exists in every small town in Ethiopia, the report indicated.

The Chinese martial arts are winning the hearts and souls of the Ethiopian youth, Terefe said. 


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