Do you need guanxi to train in China?

Do you need guanxi to train in China?

For those of you who aren’t in the know, I recently posted up the first version of the China Wushu Guidebook, which includes (among other things) the most comprehensive list of wushu training facilities in China ever produced. Over 680 schools, colleges, universities, private academies and government sports centers where you can fulfill your wushu training dreams.

When I posted a link to it on Facebook one of my friends made a comment that, without having the names of the contact people at each school, it would not be possible to train there. Specifically that guanxi is necessary to even enter some of the wushu facilities in China, and they asked if I was going to update the list with the contact names.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk a bit about the idea of guanxi with relation to finding training in China, as well as what you might want to look for when researching a training facility.

First though, I should mention a few things about the list I created. If you haven’t seen the video where I share a look at how the list is set up then be sure to watch that here:

Second, as you can see from the video, I have included as much contact information as possible for each school. Whenever possible you will get the phone numbers, email addresses and QQ information for each location.

Do I have the name of the person? No.


Well, the people who answer the phones, reply to emails, or handle foreigner admission change pretty regularly, so having a person’s name becomes somewhat useless after a very sport period of time. For the list to be useful, that sort of information doesn’t do you any good.

Also, that isn’t really how guanxi works.

How does guanxi work?

Guanxi is about having a pre-existing relationship with someone. Having someone’s name doesn’t mean you have guanxi any more than having Taylor Switft’s name means you suddenly have a relationship with her. Giving you someone’s name doesn’t help to smooth the path at a training facility, because you don’t have an established raport with them (or someone they know).

Guanxi is what you develop after spending time with someone. It is an investment of energy, kindness, time and consideration. It comes in to play a lot once you have already been to China and have spent time there getting to know people and becoming friends with them.

This is actually one of the biggest fears I hear about people who want to train in China. So, this is a good chance to mention a few of the most common fears and why you don’t really need to worry about them.

Common fears about training in China

Fear related to the whole guanxi issue is a big one. Some people are afraid if they don’t know someone they’ll never find a place to train (not true).

Or they might be afraid that, if they don’t know the language they’ll automatically get taken advantage of (also not true).

And finally, there is a common fear that not having guanxi or speaking the language means the quality of training will be low (definitely not true).

Can those things happen? Sure. But are they a result of not having guanxi?

Not at all.

It’s important not to let the idea of guanxi become an excuse to stall you from taking action. Honestly, your experiences in China have much more to do with who you are as a person than anything to do with your relationship with people.

You experience what you expect

I’ve found that, whatever expectations you might have about a situation, often the reality of the situation will rise to meet them.

If you think you will be taken advantage of, then situations where you will be taken advantage of will often come up. If you think that your training environment or coaching will be terrible, then you’ll probably find a terrible training situation.

I know this might sound like psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo to some of you, but the reality is that what we expect from the world around us often manifests itself and is brought to reality. If you see everything in a negative light, then you’ll have more negative experiences.

Why is this? Well, our outlook isn’t just an internal mechanism. Our perception of the world around us is defined by what we believe. If you believe that two feet of personal space is too close, then you will be uncomfortable (and your perception will change), as opposed to someone who is comfortable being right up in someone’s face.

The meaning you give to things around you is the result of what you believe and focus on. So if you focus on fear and potential obstacles, then that is what you will find all around you.

The reality is, training in China is like anything else in life — you get out of it what you put in to it.

I’ve known many people who have gone to China knowing no one, and found amazing training opportunities. In fact, one friend of mine went to China knowing absolutely no one (at the time speaking very little Chinese, if any) and not only found a great coach, but was able to train with the Jiangsu Wushu Team.

And that is the rule more than the exception. The number of people I know who knew no one and found great training is considerably higher than the number of people I know who were denied training because of guanxi (or other) issues.

What is special about people who go to China and find an awesome training experience? Well, basically it boils down to having an open mind and heart. They embraced the opportunity and overcame their fears to take the leap of going to China and seeing what the reality is.

It’s easy to give in to our fear, stay at home, and do nothing. It’s easy to stick to the safe path and not put yourself out there. It can be scary to do something different and unknown. But those who overcome those fears are those who will have life-changing experiences and come out the other side with newfound understanding and paradigm shifts.

Things to understand before going to China

If you’re thinking about going to China, then that’s great. But before you go there are a few things you might want to keep in mind that will make your trip even better.

You see — it is one thing to face your fears and go for it. But that doesn’t mean you have to go blindly into the storm and not do some due diligence and preparation.

The different types of schools

The first thing to keep in mind is the difference between various types of training facilities. In the list I broke them down into three categories:

Private Schools

These are schools owned and/or run by a private individual or company. They are essentially a for-profit organization, pretty much like your wushu school back home. These are the easiest of the three types to get in to because they are more than happy to have you train with them. (It’s how they make a living, after all.)

Making your stay a good one, means you’ll come back to train again and, hopefully, bring some of your training buddies along with you. The better your experience, the better it is for their bottom line, so most of the private schools are pretty accommodating.

Now, keep in mind that doesn’t mean they’re going to bend over backwards to cater to your every whim. But they’ll do what they can to make sure you enjoy your training experience (within reason).

Private schools are also better set up for foreign students or visiting students, and many of them have English speaking staff specifically in place to help you out.

Colleges and Universities

The next type of training facilities are colleges and universities. However, it is important to understand a distinction between two different types of schools:

Sport Colleges/Universities

These are schools with a focus on the education of athletes and coaches. This is a school like Beijing Sports University (Beijing Tiyu Daxue) where everyone is more or less affiliated with some sort of sport.

I wrote a long blog post about the reality of getting a wushu degree in China which addresses the pros and cons of studying at a Sport College/University, so be sure to read that for more information on these schools.

The main thing to understand is that these are academic programs, not athletic programs. People who enroll in a sport university are going there for a degree, so much of their focus is on history, culture and pedagogy. If you are just interested in training, then this might not be the best option. (Again, read the article since I break things down a lot more.)

College/University Wushu Clubs

The other type of school is one that doesn’t have a wushu program in it’s curriculum, but does have a strong wushu presence on campus. Many schools have wushu as an extracurricular activity and some even give course credit for participation in the club.

A good example of this is the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) that has a great wushu club that meets regularly, and has a fantastic coach who has a master’s degree in wushu education from Beijing Sports University.

The nice thing about these types of schools is that you can go there to focus on academic subjects (such as studying Chinese) and at the same time participate in their club as a wushu athlete (even competing against other colleges and universities).

To be honest, if I was going to go to China and had a desire to study the language or culture, I would go this route. You get great training from top-notch coaches and athletes, and you can focus on really developing some academic excellence as well.

Another example is Fudan University in Shanghai. Their coach is none other than Wei Jian, former world champion and member of the Shanghai Wushu Team. (In fact, I wrote an article about training with him at Fudan University, which you can read here.)

Government Facilities / Professional Teams

The last category of schools are government sports training centers, which are usually where most of the professional athletes train (with the exception of some who train at Sports Universities).

These are more difficult to get in to, and probably what my friend was referring to when he mentioned the necessity for guanxi to train in China. However, the list of government sports schools is relatively small compared to the other two categories, and the number of those that are difficult to get in to is even smaller.

In fact, in my time in China, I’ve only ever been refused entry to a training facility once, and that was because I showed up with no pre-arranged situation and the professional team was preparing for a competition just a month away.

So, naturally they’re not going to let some random foreigner just walk in the door. I wouldn’t let me in there either. lol. 🙂

But, if you due some preparatory work (which I’ll get in to shortly) even the hardest training facility to get in to will be able to accommodate you. And you won’t need guanxi to get your foot in the door.

Actually, as a side note, I knew a guy who showed up at the front gate of a government sports school without knowing anyone, speaking the language, or making any arrangements, and he ended up training with the professional team for several weeks.

Naturally, this is the exception, not the rule.

Due your due diligence and research

The first thing you need to do is some research. Don’t just book a ticket to China and show up at the gate of some school (like the guy I just mentioned). You should get as much information about the school as you can. (In a future blog post I plan to talk about how to find the best school to train at, but for now let’s assume you’ve narrowed things down to your top 3 candidates.)

Look online for other people who have been to the school. Check Youtube for videos of people who visited the school or for footage of training at the school. Find blogs and reviews related to the schools. You’d be surprised what is out there, and how much of an inside look you can get.

Also, go to the school’s website and spend some time perusing it to get your lay of the land. Sure, most Chinese websites for schools are a lot of fluff and boasting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t glean some helpful information.

The more you try to find out about the school you want to train at, the better.

Prepare for the Unexpected

If you go to China expecting everything to go smooth as silk, then you’re not being very realistic. Even the best planned trips can have the occasional hiccup, so the best thing you can do is be prepared.

Double and triple check your arrangements. Be crystal clear with the school what you are looking for, what you expect, and how much you’ll be paying, and make sure they confirm the information.

Assume that something might get messed up and predict what it could be. Ask yourself “what could possibly go wrong in this situation?” and come up with your plan B or C.

Don’t think that, just because you’re paying the schools for your training that they’ll have everything covered. Keep it all covered yourself and know every step of the process so that you aren’t surprised by things later.

One of the realities of Chinese society is that passing the buck (or not even acknowledging the buck) is fairly common place. You will rarely find someone who is willing to take the responsibility for something that goes wrong. The only person who is really responsible for what happens to you, is you.

Most of the time when people feel like they are being taken advantage of it is because they didn’t think all the way through the situation and something comes up which, to them, seems unfair, but was really just never fully explained. Ignorance is never an excuse for getting in a bad situation, so do your due diligence and make sure all your I’s are dotted and your T’s are crossed.

I always plan things out carefully in Evernote and keep that with me at all times (read about that on the blog here) so the more you are on top of things the better.

Focus on the real reason you’re there

A lot of people try to mix in different purposes for their travel to China. They go there to train, but they also want to see the Great Wall, check out the Forbidden City, or hang out with the Terracotta Warriors.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for exploring a location and getting a feel for the culture, but is that the real reason you are going to China? If you want to be a tourist, then don’t expect to be able to get as much focus on your training as you might want.

Decide right now whether you are going to China as a tourist or as an athlete. Because the two types of people are not going there for the same reason.

If you are going as an athlete then focus on that as your core mission.

If you get invited to check out the Great Wall on your off-day? Hey, that’s great. But make sure it doesn’t interfere with your training. The last thing you want to deal with on your rest day is scaling up the side of a steep segment of the Wall.

Use rest days to rest. But if you want to do some tourist stuff, then tack that on AFTER you have finished all of your training. Focus is important, so focus on the real reason you’re there and make sure you give it the respect it deserves.

You get out of your training what you put in to it

Like anything in life, the more you are committed to something, the more you will get out of it. If you don’t have a strong work ethic and are just going to China to have fun, then do yourself and your coach a favor and don’t do waste your time in the wushu guan.

I know that sounds harsh, but the reality is the coach is there to train athletes. And if you aren’t truly committed to putting in the work, eating the bitter, and putting in the time, then you’re just disrespecting both your teacher and the facility you’re visiting.

Coaches can see from the first 5 minutes of your training what sort of athlete you’ll be. If you’re the type of person who will complain, whine or make excuses for yourself, or you expect to be coddled, then guess what? You’ll suddenly drop to the very bottom of that coach’s priority list and they’ll just go through the motions until you are finally out of their hair.

But if you can show them that you love wushu, you want to work hard and you’re willing to be pushed out of your comfort zone, then you will find your coach step up to the plate too.

Here’s a little realized secret that most athletes don’t realize: coaches don’t care how good you are. They care how hard you work. And coaches love having someone to work with who is willing to do the work. It makes their day.

Your skill doesn’t have to be world-class, but your work ethic should be. If you want a great coach, then you need to be a great student. Period.

Develop new relationships

As I said before, guanxi is something you develop over time. It is a relationship, and those are things that require an investment of effort and time.

You don’t need guanxi to go to China and train, but once you are there, the friendships you form and the people you meet will end up providing you with guanxi without even trying.

The people who are overly guanxi-focused and just try to make friends with people so they can get something out of it — you can spot them a mile away. And the people they become friends with (or who befriend them) are only as long-lived as their ability to get something out of the relationship.

So, don’t worry about developing guanxi. Instead focus on making friends. Guanxi will come over time. It’s a result of being a good person, caring about others, and becoming true friends with them. Don’t force it.

I’ve found that, for most people, their first trip to China is more of an exploratory expedition. You don’t know anyone but you will form the friendships and relationships that will become incredibly meaningful during your second, third and tenth trip to China.

The first time I went to China in 1999 I didn’t know any one. But after making friends the subsequent trips further cemented those friendships and they became more substantial as the years went on.

Making friends is one of the best things about training in China, and there is something about suffering through a training session together that brings people together. Embrace it and always make sure to keep a smile on your face.

Follow your gut

Finally, be sure to pay attention to your intuition. If you feel that the situation you are in is unsafe or something is up, then pay attention to that feeling.

I’m not saying you should give in to fear, but our guts are pretty good at knowing when something is wrong. Pay attention to those feelings and make sure you keep yourself safe.

You are the best judge of what is okay, so pay attention to your intuition and go with your gut. It usually knows what is best.

So, are you ready to train?

Going to China to train can be one of the most rewarding and amazing experiences of your life. And, honestly, I envy those of you who are going for your first time. It will be an awesome experience and you will never look at the world (or wushu) the same way again.

If you aren’t sure where to go, then be sure to check out the China Training Guide that I’ve put together. As I mentioned it is a comprehensive list of over 680 training facilities all across China in every single province, so odds are you will find a place that suits you perfectly.

This list isn’t the end of your journey, but it should be the beginning of your research on finding the best training situation you can.

There is a whole lot of wushu in China. And there is a training facility that will match your needs perfectly.

Just remember to follow these guidelines, and you’ll be good to go:

  1. Understand the different types of training facilities
  2. Do your due diligence and research
  3. Focus on the reason you’re there
  4. Get out of your training what you put in to it
  5. Make lots of friends
  6. Follow your gut

and, most importantly, HAVE FUN!

Have any questions or thoughts? Hit me up in the comments below and I’ll get back to you.

Have anything to add? Chime in and share your thoughts too!

1 thought on “Do you need guanxi to train in China?”

  1. Hi I saw that you deleted the article that you wrote about “the reality of getting a wushu degree in China”. Where could I find more information about that, and could you share your insights on getting a Wushu degree in China.

    Thanks again.


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