Swords were whipped through the air, feet were flying, and bodies were flipping. Everybody was Kung Fu fighting in Beijing on Thursday.
As part of a six-day tour of China, a group of Semester at Sea students and lifelong learners spent a morning visiting the Beijing International Kung Fu School. The school is housed in multiple buildings, but the guests were led into a sprawling, warehouse-sized gym, with a stage on one end and open, matted areas on the other. They immediately were ushered towards folding chairs in front of the stage, and welcomed to the facility with a brief performance from some of the schools’ students.
The performance showcased an assortment of the different elements of Kung Fu, a multi-faceted, traditional Chinese martial art form. Students exhibited their mastery of intense acrobatics, launching themselves in the air, perfectly executing standing flips, and completing complicated kicking sequences.
“It involved a lot,” 11-year-old lifelong learner Rex Harrison said. “They had to be really athletic and flexible.”
After their individual stunts, the students returned to the stage wielding a variety of different weapons, including aluminum swords, axes, and even whips. All of them were expertly thrown, spun, and thrashed around the stage by the performers as an extension of regular Kung Fu moves. They also brought out a series of stationary objects, such as long sticks or blocks of wood, that were subsequently broken using only the martial artists’ bodies.
“At one point this guy bent a piece of metal with his neck,” Harrison said. “It was pretty cool. They had skills. “
The school teaches the martial art to students of all ages, most of whom have been studying and training there for years. It was those on the Semester at Sea program, however, who were the subject of the training that day. Following the performance, they were given a Kung Fu lesson of their own.
The group was first taught a sequence of basic Kung Fu moves, even the simplest of which proved more challenging than expected.
“When they performed they were so skilled and they made it look so easy,” student Callie McCall said. “And then once we started learning the moves, I appreciated how difficult it was.”
The guests were also given the opportunity to learn more physically challenging stunts on the gym’s mats, such as head rolls, handsprings, and even standing backflips. While the Beijing International students tried their best to offer help and coach them through the moves, the majority of the Semester at Sea group members found little to no success.
“They were good teachers, but I don’t feel like I learned or could do any real Kung Fu,” McCall said. “At least I got to pretend.”