Wired to wow

Updated: 2014-08-28 07:00

By Sun Xiaochen in Nanjing and An Baijie in Dengfeng, Henan(China Daily)

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 Wired to wow

Performers from the Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School rehearsing on Aug 9 for the 'Build the Dream' show in the opening ceremony of the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games. Chen Xiaodong / For China Daily

Training ground

The Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School, located near Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng at the foot of Henan's Songshan Mountain, has participated in a series of major ceremonies at grand events, including the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Guangzhou Asian Games, and 12 consecutive CCTV Spring Festival galas.

Tagou was established in 1978 when the government lifted the ban on private business. Its students range from those in kindergarten to the elderly. They come from all parts of the country to enroll in martial arts courses that take up to 14 years. The training costs about 5,000 yuan ($814) a year.

Shi Linlei, 16, a middle-school student who started training at Tagou three years ago, said that the physical training is harsher than what he had expected.

Wired to wow

"At the beginning, I could not help crying when I called my mom and told her about the life here," he said.

"The coaches are strict and there are no entertainment facilities like karaoke or cyberbars in the school."

Shi said that he managed to get used to the tough training within a month, after the coaches gave them advice and helped them when they encountered difficulties.

The students also started to get along well with each other after several weeks because they are always told to be "polite and selfless", he said.

Pan Guili, a businesswoman in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, said that even though her relatives had warned her about the possible violence in martial art schools, she still sent her 14-year-old son to one of them in early March.

Pan worried a lot about her son when he complained about being bullied by other students at the beginning of his training in the school.

"I told him that as a man, you should be strong and accept the rules there," said Pan, who went to see her son on Aug 21.

"He has to live on his own or he will not get by when he enters society and starts looking for a job," she said.

Importance of ethics

Liu Baoshan, 83, board chairman of the Shaolin Tagou Education Group, which runs six schools, including the Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School, said ethics are an important part of its education.

"I have been concerned with one question for decades after I established the school - will the students become talented martial artists or rogues?" he said.

That is why teaching ethics is the top priority for the 35,000-odd students in the six schools of the education group, he said.

"Before learning martial arts, we should learn virtue first. The students are given ethics courses every day," said Yang Songpo, a coach who taught in the Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School for three years.

Some newcomers might not understand why they have to go through so many ethics courses, but they will gradually realize the importance of virtue, he said.

Many of the students are also "left-behind children", whose parents have migrated to urban areas for work and left them in their rural homes. To foster better interaction and build teacher-student ties, coaches also live with their students in dormitories, eat with them in cafeterias and play games with them, Yang said.

"We are strict with the students in training and we are nice to them in their daily life," he said. Such an approach helps, Yang said, citing an example of a rebellious student who improved his behavior and attitude after the teacher took care of him when he was ill.

Zhao Yibo, a teacher with the publicity department of the Shaolin Tagou Education Group, said that the students seem to be in high demand during the People's Liberation Army's Special Forces recruitment exercises.

"Because of their excellent physical condition, many students have become police officers and soldiers," he said, adding that 48 students became SWAT members of Guizhou province in April.

Many students also choose to start an enterprise and teach martial arts after graduation, Zhao said.

"We teachers and coaches will do what we can to help the students fulfill their dreams," he said.

"When my mom told me on the phone that she had watched the TV program and saw our aerial dance 'Build the Dream' during the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games opening ceremony, I felt that all my hard training had paid off," said 16-year-old student Shi Linlei.


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