Exploring the world of Chinese Martial Arts

Wushu Training in Xi’an with Ma Chao

Wushu Training in Xi’an with Ma Chao

As I make my preparations to leave Xi’an for a while, I thought it might be nice to share with everyone  a new wushu school which just opened up this month in China’s old capital.

But in order to introduce this new school, I need to start by explaining how it came about.  And that starts by sharing about another wushu school in Xi’an that I used to train at.

Zhao Chang Jun’s Wushu Academy

One of the most famous wushu athletes, not just from the Shaanxi Wushu Team, but in the world, is Zhao Chang Jun (赵长军). As the saying goes, “the 70’s belonged to Jet Li, but the 80’s belonged to Zhao Chang Jun“.

Zhao Chang Jun

Back in the day he was offered a lot of opportunities to go make movies and head out to Hong Kong, but he opted instead to stay in Xi’an and help support the community by opening a wushu school of his own, the Zhao Chang Jun Wushu Academy.

I’ve visited the school before and mentioned my initial reactions at the time, so I won’t get in to that now, except to say that the school will be changing locations this summer (2013), most likely to a location even farther outside the city (and it was already in Chang An, south of the 3rd ring road), so it might not be very convenient for those of you who want to come to train, or are already living in, Xi’an.

A different type of wushu school

One of the boys at the ZCJ Wushu Academy

My experiences there have been rather eye-opening.  I have never trained at this type of facility before, my previous experiences limited to either professional sports facilities, universities/colleges, private schools or the Shaolin Temple. But unlike those types of places, this one is comprised just of kids who live, train, eat and study there — it is essentially a wushu boarding school.

Sure, a lot of the professional training centers have kids who live, eat and train. But this being a private school has a different feel to it. There aren’t any pro’s around to “ooh” and “aah” about — just lots of kids, working tirelessly everyday to become better.  It definitely puts life in a bit more perspective.

One of the fortunate things for these kids is that they have some good coaches to help them on their journey. Many of their coaches were actually kids at the school themselves, who then went on to study wushu in college, coach and train in other locations, and then came back to Xi’an to pass on their knowledge and understanding to the next generation.

If anyone can understand what these kids go through it is someone who went through it themselves.

The Zhao Chang Jun Wushu Academy Wushu Hall

Two wushu friends of mine from Israel, Gadi and Tun, recently spent a year in Xi’an as English teachers and wrote up a blog entry about their experiences training at the facility for a year.  I trained with them a couple times and, man, they are hard workers.  Be sure to check out their write-up, which includes photos and some video footage.

The current head coach of the school is Ma Chao (马超).  A lot of you already know him, but if you don’t, here is a quick video introduction (in Chinese language) done by a TV station in Xi’an and posted to Youtube.

Introducing Ma Chao

A native of Xi’an himself, Ma Chao is actually Zhao Chang Jun‘s nephew. He started training in Xi’an, but in the mid-90’s was recruited to the Beijing Wushu Team as an athlete. In fact, the first time I met him was in 1999 at Shi Cha Hai Sports School when he was just a young man.

Wow we were young back then! [ L-R: Ma Chao, Mark, Yi Shi Xiong (Beijing, 1999) ]

After an injury the next year which sidelined his competitive career, Wu Bin (Jet Li’s coach) asked him to help him  out as a coach at the Wu Bin Wushu Academy in Beijing. While there he developed a lot of experience as a coach, both for Chinese athletes as well as the dozens and dozens of foreign athletes who came to train at that school.

Ma Chao and his super cute baby (From Ma Chao’s Wei Xin)

He also had the opportunity to visit a lot of places around the world as a coach and performer.  In 2006 he joined Cirque Du Soleil’s show, “Ka”, which is a pretty demanding job. (I’ve seen the show — it’s pretty amazing.)  So, he has a lot of international experience both as a coach, performer and professional athlete.

In 2011 he decided it was time to head back home to Xi’an to be closer to his family. He was asked by his uncle, Zhao Chang Jun, to manage and coach the wushu academy and so for the past several years he’s been busy doing just that.

In that time, he also got married, had a kid, and is now hard at work on the next stage of his wushu career.

Ma Chao’s wushu school in Xi’an

This month (July 2013), after a couple months of preparations, Ma Chao has opened his own training facility located at the QiuJiang International Conference and Exhibition Center just off of Chang An South Road (长安南路) and across the street from the TV Tower.

Just show this sign to a taxi driver and they can help you find the place

Unlike the ZCJ Wushu Academy, this is more similar to the type of wushu schools you would see in the West.  When the school officially opens on the 10th of July they will have class options every night and in the morning, so it is a great option for people who want to train in wushu but don’t have the time to  spend all afternoon in the wushu guan. (There is the full schedule later in this post.)

Last night I was able to partake in a class during his “soft launch” period, prior to the official opening of the school next week.  Here is the run down of my experiences…

Arriving at the school and the students

Ma Chao’s Wushu School sign. Nice logo!

Since I had spent the afternoon working in a cafe on Shi Da Road, I was able to walk to the Convention Center where the school is located in just under 20 minutes.  Back when I lived on the campus of XISU (Xi’an International Studies University, or 西安外国语大学), this would have been a super convenient option for me.  Back then I had to cart myself all the way across town to train with the Shaanxi Wushu Team, which was not convenient in the least.  Now the school is not only next to a bunch of universities, it is also right next to a subway station on Line 2.  (I will post up full directions later in this post.)

The school is currently using part of a sports hall, mainly used for badminton.  However, this part of the hall has been cordoned off and repurposed as a martial arts hall.  By the looks of things it is mainly for Tae Kwon Do, and that might be what happens there during the day.  But there are clear signs that show it is Ma Chao’s wushu school so it was pretty easy to find.

You can see the big sign there in front of the door to the martial arts hall — they sell bottled drinks at the counter

I got there early (because I like to arrive early when visiting a new place) so I had some time to do a bit of stretching.  There was one other girl there too, but after a little while Ma Chao showed up and we exchanged some “Long Time No See’s“.  Since he is on my friend list on Wei Xin (Wee Chat) he knew that I had been travelling all over China training at various locations.

Since this was a soft launch of the school, there are still a smaller number of students (around 12 on this day), and due to traffic a few of them showed up late.  But soon enough we were all there.  The students were a mixture of some students from the ZCJ Wushu Academy (in fact, I had taught two of them nanquan before!) and a few total beginners.  I think he might have asked a few of them to come over to help serve as examples, but they might have also just wanted to come and train too.  (I didn’t ask so I’m just speculating.)

One of the guys I taught nanquan to before. 🙂

Most of the students were teenagers in the 14 – 19 age range, with one smaller child too.  Two of them were leaving in the fall to attend university in Beijing — both for performing arts (acting for one, Beijing Opera for the other) so I think they wanted to expand their skill set.

But from some of the pictures I had seen in Ma Chao’s Wei Xin feed, he has had adults, foreigners and a few other people participate in the class too.  So it is a mixed group of students.

The class format

Ma Chao doing some coaching during the class

After saluting and warming up our joints he had us run around the room for about 10 – 15 minutes and then we got busy with some basics, stretching and then more basics.  Here was the format for this class (of course, every class is different, and I noticed that he is pretty good at tailoring the class to the specific needs of the students).

  1. Joint Warm Ups and light stretching
  2. Run around the room for 15 minutes
  3. Stationary Basics (standing punches, palm strikes, etc.)
  4. Cross-carpet running (high knees, butt kickers, etc.)
  5. Stretching on the carpet
  6. Line Basics (kicks, stances, etc.)
  7. Jumping exercises
Students practicing jumps

After that he broke us up in to two groups.  Today we were going to work with the crash pads for a bit of ground work and tumbling.  Since there were total beginners I think he wanted to work on more fundamental things like how to do a forward roll, rather than get them in to learning a taolu right off the bat.

I should probably take this opportunity to mention a bit more about the facility itself.  As I mentioned before, it is in a TKD hall, so they have the mats on the floor.  But since TKD mats are not so great to train wushu on, Ma Chao has two carpets rolled up.  During class either one or both of them come out allowing for a pretty good mixture of carpet texture with nice padding underneath.  If I was a jumper I would definitely have peace of mind practicing my nandu in this space.

You can see that the carpet is thin, which works well over the padding

The nice thing about the carpet is that it is quite thin.  Wushu carpets are normally very thick which make them a pain to move around, but since there is so much padding from the mats underneath, the carpet only needs to be there to help with traction issues.  After rolling it up I was able to move the whole thing by myself.  Something I definitely could not do with a professional wushu carpet.

He also has some crash pads (4 of them) which he brought out for our main training session.  These are great for practicing rolls, ground falls and some other techniques.  And that is exactly what we did.  I was in the group with 3 of the boys from the ZCJ Wushu Academy.

A self-portrait in the wushu hall. I’m not sure what that one guy is doing to the other one but it doesn’t look good. 😉

On the other pads were the beginners being supervised by the more senior of the ZCJ boys (One of the one’s I taught nanquan to), and Ma Chao walked back and forth between the two groups giving pointers, tips and making sure things were running smoothly.

The class was pretty fun and I had a nice time falling down and practicing some various techniques.  After about 40 minutes of that it was time to end the class.

The crash pads were put away and we all did a bit of conditioning.  Burpies, a bit of stretching, and then he said a few words at the end of class before we saluted out and rolled up the carpet.

Students rolling up the carpet after class

 

My thoughts on the school

To be honest, the only thing I didn’t like about the school was the fact that it wasn’t around 3 years ago when I lived down the street.  It would have been super convenient back then and I’m bummed that the timing didn’t work out better.

For those of you who live in the Qiu Jiang or Chang An South Road area, I hope you’re able to take advantage of this opportunity.

It is pretty clear that, while the ZCJ School is Ma Chao’s “day job”, where he goes to oversee it’s operations, I think that this school is actually the one he is more passionate about.  He seems committed to make it a good place to train.

During the soft launch they just have class 3 evenings a week, but you can see the full schedule of their Post-July-10th opening here:

The schedule of classes at Ma Chao’s School
  • 9:00 – 11:00: Wushu (Monday – Friday)
  • 6:30 – 8:30: Wushu (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
  • 6:30 – 8:30: Taiji Quan (Tuesday, Thursday)

Looks like there are a lot of choices of classes to attend.  Eventually I can see him opening up another location (although I really like the current one).  And even while I was there he was signing up new students to the school.

There was a kid who grew up in Chen Jia Gou (the place where Taiji is from) who came to ask about training.  There were people dropping by to check things out during the class too.  I’m pretty sure the place will grow over time.

Who is this school for?

I see three groups of people who could benefit from a school like this.

Lao Wai (老外)

The first are local non-Chinese (i.e. “foreigners”) who are here to study Chinese or teach at a nearby university, and want to try their hand at Chinese martial arts.  With Ma Chao’s experience teaching foreigners in China and also teaching wushu in the U.S., he’s familiar with how the Western mind works.  He can also speak English quite well (he lived in the U.S. for 5 years, after all) so he can clearly explain techniques and ideas to non-Chinese speakers.

Kids (孩子们)

He’s been running a school for kids for the past 3 years, so he definitely knows how to work with and coach Chinese kids.  But on top of that he’s been coaching kids in the U.S. for the previous 5 years, so he’s able to work with non-Chinese children too.

He might be one of the few coaches in Xi’an with this type of experience, so if I had kids in Xi’an and they wanted to try “kung fu”, I would definitely enroll them in the school.

Ma Chao teaching wushu to some kids (snagged from his Wei Xin)

Wushu Tourists

If I was going to visit Xi’an with a bunch of my wushu friends and we wanted a place to train, I would probably consider this as a serious option.  The truth is, training with the Shaanxi Wushu Team is a great experience, but it is not for everyone.

If you aren’t a “serious” wushu athlete and are one of those people who do it for fun and enjoyment, then this is a good option.  Spend the day time with your friends exploring this tourist-friendly city and then spend your evenings training wushu with Ma Chao.

I’ve done the 8 hours a day at the Shaolin Temple training.  And I’ve done the 6 hours a day with a professional wushu team training.  Those are great if you have a specific competition or high-level training goal.

But for the more casual wushu practitioner, this can be a good alternative that will give you a good, daily workout, but not make you regret having legs.

How to find Ma Chao’s Wushu School

I found it a little tricky to locate, but certainly not impossible.  The quick and dirty directions are to go in to the side entrance of the Convention Center complex (just to the south of the main gate on Chan An South Road) and walk down and around to the back (east side) of Hall A.  Go inside and it is on the 2nd floor.

Here is a map that shows the location of Ma Chao’s school in Xi’an:

View Ma Chao Wushu in a larger map

Here are the step-by-step directions too, just in case you don’t speak “map”.

This should be on your right

From the subway, line 2:

  1. Go to the Hui Zhai Zhong Xin (Qujiang International Conference and Exhibition Center) metro station and exit towards Yan Zhan Road.
  2. When you exit, go to Chang An Nan Lu (长安南路) and take a left, heading south, with the TV tower on your right side.
  3. After a couple hundred meters you will pass a KFC and the front gate of the convention center.  Walk past this to the smaller car entrance just past a little building where you can get train tickets.
  4. Walk inside the gate and go straight (east).  You should see several “B” buildings on your right and a larger “A” building farther down on your left.
  5. You will be entering the A building from the back entrance (east side).  Just walk past the building and go in to the first entrance around the corner (south east side of the building)
  6. Either take the elevator or the stairs to the 2nd floor.  Follow the sound of badminton.  The wushu hall is just behind the reception desk on your right side (badminton courts on the left).
This is the A building. Walk around to the east side

The directions are more or less the same if you are walking from anywhere on Chang An South Road.  If you need to tell a taxi driver where you want to go, just tell them you are going to the TV Tower (Dianshi Tai – 电视台) and they will get you there.

You can reach Ma Chao using e-mail or a phone too.  He speaks English and Chinese so use whatever language you are most comfortable with.

You can also use this image to show a taxi driver for the location, since it has the address on it.

Ma Chao’s Contact information

So there you have it.  I’m leaving Xi’an for a while, but I’m glad I had a chance to check out another training location in this old capital city of China.  If you’re in Xi’an try out a class and let me know what you thought by writing in the comments below.

A disclaimer

I should mention that I don’t receive any benefit from recommending Ma Chao’s school as a place to train. These are my actual thoughts and feelings on the matter.  Aside from him inviting me over to train yesterday, I don’t receive any compensation for writing this article.  (It’d be nice if I did … but I don’t. >__<; )

As with any wushu training situation, this won’t be for everyone.  But if you fall in to the categories I outlined above, then this just might fit the bill.  As always, you mileage might vary.

10 Responses

  1. Hey there,

    Thanks for the tips, they’re really useful. I’m in XI’an at the moment and I am one of those laowai who want to try wushu. I would actually like to do some kind of internship rather than taking evening classes. Do you know if I can do that in Xi’an ? Or any other nice school in china (not too expensive^^)? My chinese is not good enough to do the research by myself…

    Cheers!

    Cami

  2. Is there anyway i could contact you through mail? i would like to know more about Wushu. Please send me a mail as i have a lot to discuss. Thanks.

  3. Hi everyone, I am currently a student at ma chao’s new wushu school. If you want to check it out, classes currently are Tuesday , Thursday and Saturday at 700 pm to 830 pm.

  4. Hi. I would like to use the info from ur blog for my project. I’m a design student and my design consists of a martial arts centre. So, I have to learn more about the different types of martial arts and all the spaces that they need. So far, ur blog is the only one which has useful info that I can use for my design. I hope u don’t mind. I would credit u for it. 🙂

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