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'When practicing Wing Chun, you always regard yourself as the weaker side'

LEARNING Chinese martial arts or wushu is a popular way for expats to learn about Chinese culture, opening a window onto traditional wisdom. Many expats in stressful Shanghai say it helps keeps them centered.

One of the best-known martial arts training centers is Longwu Kung Fu Center on Maoming Road S. Over 10 years, it has enrolled thousands of members, over 70 percent of them foreigners. Every day it handles around 10 phone inquiries or visits by newcomers seeking trial sessions.

The center offers a variety of kung fu/wushu courses, such as traditional Shaolin kung fu, Xingyiquan (shape/will boxing), tai chi, Sanda (free boxing) and Wing Chun ("eternal spring," or Bruce Lee-style).

Expats' favorites are traditional Shaolin kung fu and Wing Chun, which is a combination of traditional moves.

"There's been a surge in Wing Chun learners due to the big success of the 'Ip Man' movie (about the man who trained Bruce Lee)," says Spring Wang, a courses and membership consultant at the center.

More than 20 students gather for Wing Chun sessions, compared with five to 10 students for other courses, she says.

The kung fu biopic "Ip Man" starring Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen was a hit in the holiday season early this year.

Yip Man was a patriotic grandmaster of Wing Chun kung fu and once the mentor of kung fu superstar Lee.

Wing Chun, a female name in colloquial Cantonese, employs practical close-range fighting skills from different schools of martial arts. It involves speed, strength, agility and simultaneous defense and offense.

The Wing Chun saying goes: "Greet whatever arrives, escort what leaves and rush upon loss of contact."

Wing Chun arose in southern China's Fujian Province and became extremely popular in Foshan City of Guangdong Province during the 1930s.

It is named after a woman known as Yim Wing Chun, who was said to have first put the new combat techniques into practice and later taught them to her husband.

The story is the most widely credited among Wing Chun tales.

One student is Peter Kycelt, a 41-year-old Austrian who operates a popular family-style coffee house on Shaoxing Road. He attends two, two-hour Wing Chun courses weekly.

Before each session, to calm down and prepare himself mentally, he takes a 40-minute walk from Shaoxing Road in Luwan District to Fanyu Road in Changning District where the session is held at Wing Chun Kung Fu.

He was always interested in martial arts but didn't know much until a fellow Austrian told him about Wing Chun and they together watched kung fu movies.

Kycelt finds that the history and science of Wing Chun has broadened his understanding of Chinese culture.

"Wing Chun is much more of a lifestyle than a matter of fighting, and it's worth lifelong learning," says Kycelt who has been learning for a year and a half. He has been in Shanghai for seven and a half years.

"The intelligent art has made me confident and brightened my private life. It's not that spiritual but brings out my spiritual potential," he says.

Studying kung fu helps expats stay centered in Shanghai, he says, and better cope with the pressure and frustration of unfamiliar language and culture. "If you don't do anything against the stress, you can easily burn out."

At Longwu Kung Fu Center and others, regular Wing Chun sessions begin with warmup and flexibility exercises.

Students will be paired off for exercises after lifting legs by their own in varied movements in a progressing single file.

Coaches will constantly change practicing partners to ensure they are well matched and the practice is challenging and productive for both.

"Wing Chun is easy to pick up, doesn't require much practice space and is not restricted to only male practitioners," says master Wu Junhui, the center's head coach.

He's a native of Fujian Province and once studied with Wing Chun master Mak Yew Ming in Foshan, Guangdong Province.

Wing Chun also demonstrates Chinese traditional philosophy centered on the Taoist principle of taking the middle path and not pursuing extremes. Success is based on balance.

Wing Chun attacks are focused on the body's center line. Prime targets are the eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus and groin.

Those are traditionally the targets for women who are attacked, and Wing Chun was named after a woman fighter.

"When practicing Wing Chun, you always regard yourself as the weaker side, at a disadvantage," says master Wu. This is supposedly implied by the martial art's development by a "weak" woman.

Practitioners "borrow" their opponents' strength and naturally send it back.

Wing Chun allows smaller, weaker persons to gain an advantage against larger, stronger attackers and turn the attack to his/her advantage.

"Wing Chun also has a calming effect on body and mind," says Wu. "It helps ease irritation and achieve tranquillity."

Practitioners observe good manners and press their hands together in a gesture of gratitude to and respect for their teacher when the session ends.

Wing Chun isn't just a physical defense or way to harden and strengthen the body. It is conducive to patience, discipline, courage, compassion and confidence.

And it's a window on Chinese culture.

Butterfly knives and wooden dummies

The Wing Chun training system includes three empty hand movements, a wooden dummy representing an opponent and two weapons - a long pole and butterfly knives.

Siu Nim Tao (The Little Idea)

This is the first and the most important open-hand movement, or taolu, of Wing Chun. All the basic hand movements are contained in Siu Nim Tao with minimal leg movement. Fundamentals of balance and body structure are developed. Relaxation is important in executing the motion.

Muk Yan Jong (Wooden Dummy)

The wooden dummy, the standard training device, represents the opponent and uses an arm and leg configuration to develop fighting skill and qi (energy) simultaneously.

It has three arms and one leg mounted on a slightly springy frame and can be manipulated to simulate different situations.

Wooden dummy practice helps a practitioner understand and respond to angles, positions and footwork, and to develop full body power.

The open-hand forms are pieced together and used as a whole when applying Muk Yan Jong.

Longwu Kung Fu Center

Address: 1 Maoming Rd S.

Tel: 6287-1528


Wing Chun Kung Fu

Address: Bldg 1, Room 102, 118 Fanyu Rd

Tel: 131-6248-8492


Jiahua Kung Fu Center

Address: Room 2101, 1457 Sichuan Rd S.

Tel: 5187-0305


Zhengdao Martial Arts Club

Address: 2/F, 176 Yazhi Rd, near Xinzhuang Metro Station

Tel: 5413-0746



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