This article discusses the logistics of Martial Arts training abroad, specifically using the example of the author’s quest to learn Kung Fu in China. It is hoped that this article will help others in their decision-making process of whether or not learning Kung Fu in China is for them, and what preparation steps should be taken before setting off for China. It should be noted that training in China can be an extremely quick and effective way of augmenting one’s current Kung Fu skill set, whether that entails having two weeks or two years to spend abroad. Whilst the author (Oliver) did have a few years’ worth of training under his belt before heading to China to train (in both Southern and Northern Praying Mantis fist – Chow Gar and Tang Lang Chuan respectively) and Shaolin Long Fist (Chang Chuan) along with some training with straight sword and staff, it is his experience that it is entirely reasonable to expect that someone with no prior martial arts knowledge can excel at Shaolin Kung Fu training in China so long as they know what to expect and prepare accordingly.
The first school Oliver attended was in the mountains in Northern China – conditions were the very definition of basic but there were a great assortment of students from all over the world, ranging from performing acrobats to Special Forces soldiers. In short, there is no ‘typical’ description for a student that travels to Shaolin to train, so do not let your ‘background’ get in the way of your aspirations to train in China if you desire to do so. One serious consideration though, highlighted by Oliver’s own experience of breaking his leg whilst training, is that many schools are in remote locations, training is hard and relentless, injuries are common and medical aid is rarely up to scratch outside of major cities. In short, good travel insurance cover is an absolute necessity and it’s definitely worth checking the small print of your cover documentation to ensure that you are covered for sports such as Kung Fu (specialist cover may be required in the ‘extreme sports’ category of travel insurance, such as those one can get for skiing).Have a look at wing chun classes for more info on this.
With regards travelling from the airport to your place of training (e.g. the Wu Dang Mountains), it is recommended that for the inevitable train journey (long and cold on approach into the mountains) you opt for the soft sleeper type of rail carriage – they cost a little more but the premium is more than worth the extra comfort afforded. Finally, do not underestimate the realities that physical training in sub-zero temperatures can present on your body and mind: the first thing that will hit you is just how cold the air is in the mountains. There’s a chasmal difference between reading about training in -10 degrees Centigrade air and actually being there and living in it. This has consequences, not only in living quality (think frozen toilet holes and freeze drying your clothes) but also in training.
There really are no breaks at cold temperatures – the second you stop your muscles go cold and get pulled. The warm up and warming down processes are several fold more important when training in the mountains of Shaolin than at any other time. It’s imperative that strict warm up and warm down procedures are followed in such conditions. In closing, there is no substitute for doing thorough research before deciding to travel to China to learn Kung Fu. Make sure that you adhere to the advice above and any other points that others with first-hand experience can provide and you are well on your way to enjoying a thoroughly life-enhancing and thrilling experience, for which there is really no direct replacement.