Wushu spirit

Updated: 2013-09-17 07:26

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

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The owner of one of China's top martial arts schools tells Chen Nan why the school is guided by the legacy of the legendary Huo Yuanjia, whose life remains an inspiration for young practitioners of the ancient skill.

In the final scene of the movie, Fearless, Jet Li, who plays Huo Yuanjia, one of China's historical heroes and wushu (martial arts) master, wins a Shanghai tournament by beating four international champions, his feat raising the spirits of his countrymen.

The scene is a favorite of Lang Rongbiao, a wushu master based in Tianjin.

Unlike the movie, which takes some liberties when recounting the life story of Huo, who lived from 1868 to 1910, Lang wants to pass on the true spirit of the martial arts to younger Chinese by running a wushu school, named after Huo.

Founded in 1999 in Xiaonanhe village in Jingwu county, Tianjin, where Huo was born, the school has nearly 2,000 students from around China. Lang has trained them up to perform around the world.

"The movie is fictional but what we are doing is real," says Lang, 44, who started learning wushu at age 11. "I want to keep the wushu spirit of Huo alive among China's younger generation."

He says he wants to teach his students not just China's wushu skills but Huo's wushu spiritual values.

"Chinese kung fu is very popular around the world. Movie stars like Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan are unbeatable on screen. But wushu or kung fu is never about beating up somebody. Instead, it contains the message of telling people to stop fighting," says Lang.

In their upcoming show in Turkmenistan, 40 students from Tianjin Huo Yuanjia Wushu Sports School will give five performances, including a general display of Chinese kung fu, a combination of practicing sword skills while playing the traditional Chinese flute xiao and a group performance by national award-winning wushu performers, showing the skills and philosophy of the art form.

"In our teachings, we tell the students that violence is not a solution. Wushu is a sport of power and balance, which requires a peaceful mind and heart," Lang says.

Growing up in Tianjin, Lang watched lots of kung fu movies, such as Huo Yuanjia and Shaolin Temple. He started learning wushu with his uncle, who was a professional wushu athlete. When Lang was 13, Tianjin founded a wushu team and he became a member.

"I practiced wushu because my parents thought it was healthy and made me strong," recalls Lang. "But the more I learned, the more I became obsessed with it. I feel so proud that I come from the same place as Huo."

Receiving many awards in China and across Asia, Lang became a member of the China National Wushu Sports Team in 1988, competing abroad representing his country.

After retirement at age 31, Lang, together with his wife, Hou Dongmei, also a wushu expert from Tianjin, founded the school. In its first year, only 56 students applied. Thanks to Lang's reputation, the number of students soon rose dramatically and the training courses expanded to include nine styles, including sanda, or free boxing and Chinese wrestling.

Lang and his wife lived at the school with the students for the first 10 years. Besides teaching and practicing, they also spent their spare time with students, introducing wushu history and the story of Huo Yuanjia to them.

"I watched lots of kung fu movies and I came to the school at 10," says Yang Mengyuan, 19. Now a professional wushu athlete, he practices eight hours a day and has won awards at home and abroad.

"In most action films, good guys fight bad guys. The action looks great. But my teacher told me what I was seeing was just violence against violence, which is about revenge, not wushu," says Yang. "I am starting to know the true meaning of wushu after 10 years of learning it, like my teacher says - stop fighting."

An accomplished solo wushu performer, Yang enjoys every moment onstage, especially performing abroad. He says audiences see wushu as a symbol of China, which makes him very proud.

"I want to open my own wushu studio after retirement. Like my teachers, I want to pass the knowledge and spirit of wushu to more young Chinese people in the future," he says.

Wushu spirit

For 14-year-old Li Yixuan, wushu not only represents power and justice, but beauty. Li, from Sichuan province, started training at the school at 7. As a minority group in the school, her wushu skills have the grace and fluidity of dance.

"I fell in love with wushu when I was little. A sister from our neighborhood was a big wushu fan and she practiced every morning. Her moves were so smooth and beautiful," recalls Li.

Lang says the achievements and popularity the school has achieved are within his expectations, although things were tough in the beginning.

"Wushu is in our blood, which is natural and never dies," he says. "If the movie Fearless is about a man's journey, then my school witnesses the journey of 2,000 students and even more in the future.

"We honor the beliefs of Huo."

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn.

 Wushu spirit

Lang Rongbiao, founder of the Tianjin Huo Yuanjia Wushu Sports School, demonstrates his kung fu stunts for students at the school. Photos Provided to China Daily

 Wushu spirit

Students from Lang's school give a performance that shows the elegant side of kung fu, with the message of wushu's spiritual values telling people to stop fighting.

(China Daily 09/17/2013 page20)