Here is a guide for looking for kung fu schools in China. It is a general checklist of what to look for in a great kung fu school. First explore what part of China you want to travel, live and train in. Determine what style you want to practice and how do they train. Then what is the overall atmosphere of the martial arts academy like.
There are kung fu schools located throughout China.
Shaolin Temple is in the heart of China and martial arts. It is located in Henan province which is a poorer part of China. Do not expect to live in plush hotels, it is more hardcore living. Not everyone that travels here is satisfied with the learning experience, they feel it has become too commercialized and some of the masters that teach are “soft”. Still, it many like to come here for different reasons – the history (for thousands of years monks have been training here), the atmosphere (seeing hundreds and thousands of students training can be quite a thrill), the performance (some prefer modern wushu over Traditional), know a good master.
Wudang Mountain This place is mysterious and legendary. With the wispy clouds and temples clinging to cliffs, it’s certainly a favorite for many. The styles primary taught here are considered internal. Styles such as Tai Chi, Bagua, Baiji, and Xingyi. They also practice Qigong, but is not considered Wudang style per se.
Chen Village is also called Chenjiaogou is all Tai Chi. For those that love Tai Chi, it can not get any more hardcore than here. Although it is a small farm village with 3,000 people, 2,500 of them practice the art. Several legendary masters teach here like Wang Xi’an.
Beijing has many masters that train and teach both in the schools and parks. Going to the Temple of Heaven and Temple of Earth early in the morning you will find many people exercising and training. Beijing Sports University trains many elite Wu Shu performers, like Jet Li.
Shandong Province is known for Praying Mantis and there are several Shaolin masters that teach there as well. There are several schools established for westerners as well as masters teaching out in the park.
The Key Know that not all masters in the schools are going to be the best, some of the best are hidden, training with a small group early in the morning. Explore your options.
Type of Training:
Training kung fu forms – All kung fu is going to include forms and drills. Some kung fu schools focus more on the performance side of it as in modern wushu and some are more traditional where they teach the applications of the forms. Both are fine to study in, it’s just that you need to know clearly what it is that you want out of the training. Some traditional kung fu is not as pretty but can be much more effective in self-defense and applying power.
Application of kung fu forms – If you want to learn how to defend yourself and make kung fu effective, you must practice the applications on a regular basis. This will include sparring of some kind. Some masters have different theories towards sparring. Some say you must wait until you reach a certain level before you do full contact and will teach a safer “one-step” sparring where one person attacks in a specific way, and another defends. This is useful in drilling the specific action in a more “live” way to build up muscle memory. Others will prefer the students get started immediately in sparring, though going lighter and half power. To really learn how to fight and defend yourself, there is no other way around putting on the gloves and banging it out, to see how you react under pressure and pain. This can take place much later in your training if you do not feel ready and is probably counter-effective if done too soon.
The masters – The master you train with will make the difference in your experience. First is that the master must be good and if he/she claims a lineage, they are able to prove it. Aside from skill and teaching ability, a good master will have a positive attitude and is able to push the students to higher levels. The master should have a similar attitude that you have towards training. Some practice as a peaceful lifestyle others learn it to compete, fight, and get tough. Different styles will stress each area differently, for example, Tai Chi is about harmony whereas Crazy Monk kung fu is about devastating attacks. Just be sure the master is someone you look up to and respect.
The Kung Fu School
Kung Fu Schools : The schools vary quite a bit in China. Some are opened by locals and others by westerners. Overall though, the key things to look for are:
- Bedrooms – Will you share a room? What is the condition of the rooms? What is included? Internet? Bedding? Table? Heating in the winter – some places can be a bit chilly.
- Food – What type of food do they serve? Some places follow a special diet so check if they are all vegetarian or not. If you have special requests, check if they can manage it for you. Ask wherever they can avoid Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) which is in most Chinese food, most places can avoid it.
- Showers and bathrooms – is it a community shower / bathroom or personal. Most likely it will be a community.
- Payments – What is the total fee that you must pay up front? Some schools split it up the cost between “tuition” and “living expense”, others group it in as one price. What kind of refund will they provide (if any)? How is the school managed overall? China has different ways of doing business and in the past, this has caused conflicts, so read about other students experience to get a good feel for the school.
- Training hall – Do they provide sparring gear? Weight sets? Indoor or outdoor training. How often will you train? Most schools will provide at least the basics of weapons and an indoor training hall.
- Atmosphere – What is the atmosphere of the school like? Is it organized and disciplined? Do the classes start on time? What are the attitudes of the students? The best way to know is from when you contact with the school, do they respond quickly and answer your questions? Also, see if you can contact previous students and email them. Ask what they typical day is like. What do they think of the masters, the staff, the food, other students, how ‘gung-ho’ were students about training? What is the surrounding area like? Is it in the city or the countryside? How far is it from town? You can also look online at different forums and reviews that have been written. The more questions and research you do before going, the better your experience will be.