Monday, November 18, 2013

12,000 Kung Fu Children

The 12,000 young boys and girls kicked and thrust, their shouted responses echoed from the tall dormitories and off the concrete drill field as their instructor’s Chinese commands squawked from loud speakers. Kung Fu movements in unison as far as I could see, the children and teens were in endless formations radiating in all directions like corn blowing in the wind.

iPhone & iPad friendly version or if you've received via e-mail. Listen to 1:30 of field-recorded sound and watch still photographs from Weseng Tuan Training Center in September, associated with legendary warrior monks of China's Shaolin Temple. 

In September I was visiting the Weseng Tuan Training Center on the same day as picture day, and this being China, picture day was a BIG deal. Mr. Qin Hua was eight stores up with his Nikon to capture the assembled thousands in a grand panoramic view. I opted for a view from ground level.

The school is closely associated with the Shaolin Temple at Song Mountain in China’s central Henan Province. The temple’s legendary warrior monks date from the chaotic politics of the sixth century, when the emperor awarded favors to Buddhists with fighting skills. For centuries many martial arts traditions flourished as trade and religion between China and India flowed, with the Shaolin form of Kung Fu becoming the most prominent.


After just three months at boarding school, five-year-old demonstrates Kung Fu moves. 

From Wikipedia:
Kung Fu is a Chinese term referring to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy and time to complete, often used in the West to refer to Chinese martial arts ... Originally to practice Kung Fu did not just mean to practice Chinese martial arts. It refers to excellence achieved through long practice in any endeavor. 
Today this blending of hand to hand fighting with Buddhist ideology continues to embrace self-defense, body-building and athletics, with Kung Fu becoming a world wide personal philosophy and sport.

Tuition, room and board at the Wuseng Tuan school is around $ 4,800 a year, a considerable sum for a Chinese family in spite of the country’s recent economic growth. Besides good basic academic education, many students hope to join the military or work as body guards. There are thousands of Kung Fu schools throughout China, all competing for a piece of a very big business. Yet the day before I saw a group of a half a dozen English speaking twenty something men and women training one on one with a saffron robed monk in the nearby Shaolin Temple.

Photograph of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Shaolin Temple abbot is proudly displayed at the Wusen Tuan training center in Henan Province, China.

With the school enrolling 15,000 students, I was wondering where the other 3,000 were, as I had taken on face value their assertion of 12,000 Kung Fu children in front of me. Give or take a handful, seemed reasonable to me.

Just as I was about to ask, several accomplished five-year-olds were trotted out to perform for us. With just three months at the boarding school these cute tikes whipped through their foot kicking, hand chopping routine, climaxing with placing one foot behind their heads while standing perfectly still. Were the future generals of the People’s Liberation Army before me, standing like tall storks? With the world’s largest armed forces, China could always use one more Kung Fu practitioner.

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