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Ladies get a kick out of boxing

CHINESE ladies are taking up self-defense training that combines boxing and martial arts. They're choosing power and grace over milder pursuits and say kung fu makes them confident. Fei Lai reports.

Sweating, punching her opponent and releasing her energy, Sharon Xia feels powerful and exhilarated.

It's just the second boxing session for the 27-year-old office worker at IKEA, but already she is completely absorbed and feels she is getting stronger.

Xia's even thinking about buying a dental guard and plans to talk to her coach. She is about 1.6 meters tall and of medium build. No fancy workout duds, just a T-shirt and plain pants.

Xia is one of an increasing number of Chinese women who are taking up self-defense that can feature both boxing and some aspects of martial arts, such as Wing Chun, believed to have been founded by a Buddhist nun.

Xia practices at Longwu Kung Fu Center where she pays 500 yuan (US$73.30) a month, gets an instructor and attends different classes.

More and more Chinese women are no longer shrinking from flexing their muscles, and using their gloved fists if necessary. They are taking courses in self-defense, boxing, kung fu, kick-boxing, Wing Chun, karate and other martial arts to train mind and body.

"Classes like yoga are too soft, while kung fu is all about combat and strength," says Guo Liang, executive director and chief instructor at Longwu Kung Fu Center.

"Though going to the gym is popular, the trend is for more women to look for a different kind of workout that can sustain their interest in fitness," he says.

Women tend to give up easily at the gym after one or two months when it becomes familiar, he observes. In contrast, the diversity of women's self-defense training is fun and interactive. "Women gain real skills to protect themselves in case of danger," he says.

After doing yoga for a year and a half, Xia shifted to boxing, calling it a shift "from being mild to being strong - strong enough to face work pressure and, more importantly, to face sudden attack."

Her mother warned her not to walk home late at night and not to hang out too late at parties, says Xia. "She was afraid I might become prey on dark and empty streets."

Her mother probably didn't have boxing in mind when she cautioned her daughter.

"I can see the value of boxing and self-defense," says Xia. "Compared with yoga, it's faster, stronger and makes me more confident and persistent."

Also in the boxing class is Lisa Zhang, Xia's friend who works at Intel Shanghai. She has been going to a gym regularly for three years, but after a while she just went swimming and took a shower.

"But in my boxing class, there's passion, interaction and fun," says Zhang.

In the view of Guo of the Longwu Kung Fu Center, effective self-defense techniques are more important for a woman than physical size and strength if attacked.

Multi-faceted self-defense training raises overall physical strength, coordination, reaction speed and confidence, he says.

Since most attacks are sudden and fast, women often feel panicked and confused and don't react swiftly and effectively. Without training, most people don't react well.

Trainer Guo says women are taught simple martial arts movements that are suitable for women and lead to faster reactions, more confidence and less fear of attacks.

"The fist is seldom the most useful weapon for women because men's fists are stronger," he observes. "Elbows and knees are useful as the bones are hard and can be used for attack. Women should attack the opponents' eyes, groin and knees."

There is no best formula for women's self defense - different tactics are useful - it's all about surviving a situation where there is a risk of physical harm.

Gao Chao, a 26-year-old martial arts enthusiast, says self-defense training and kung fu can build up women's determination. Gao studied detective work and graduated from East China University of Political Science and Law. He has lots of thoughts about women and self-defense.

"Nowadays, modern women fancy Western entertainment, clubbing and partying, but by practising kung fu they can also have fun and make friends," Gao says.

"It's not just about losing weight and keeping fit; it's a way for women to protect themselves. A few simple principles and tricks will let them stop attackers."

Forget about being a female Bruce Lee, he says. Women can use what's in their handbag - a small flashlight, hair spray, pens, hair clips, sharp objects. And don't forget high heels.

Self-defense, Gao says, is not combat.

"Training is a way to learn techniques to escape rather than conquer. Don't give up fighting. Finding the proper time to run is always the golden rule," he says.

The Chinese martial art of Wing Chun (Forever Spring) is believed to have been founded hundreds of years ago in southern China by a Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, whose first student was Yim Wing Chun, for whom the art is named. Legends abound.

It enables a smaller person, like a woman, to defeat a much larger opponent and can include explosive techniques.

Wing Chung is featured in "Ip Man," the recent popular biopic of about Bruce Lee's kung fu master who taught him Wing Chun.

Martial arts instructor Xiong Wei, around 50, thinks kung fu can be good for many women.

"Kung fu can be a modern healthy lifestyle with a traditional touch," he says. "I like to see my students go from timid beginners to confident individuals in no time after getting the basics. Girls are more attractive when they are confident and strong."

Xu Xiaoting practices martial arts, yoga and belly dancing. She says a mix of martial arts and gym workouts helps her achieve balance and be both graceful and powerful.

"This makes me look cool and puts me in a good mood," she says. "All these skills enlighten my spirit and bring out my beauty."

Longwu Kung Fu Center

Address: 1 Maoming Rd S.

Tel: 6287-1528


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