Eric Yeh

originally appeared on the now defunct Eric's Wushu Page.


Webmaster's note (2/16/00) - Thanks to Eric for rescuing this article from the ether. Some of the details in this article are dated (for example the dorm rooms foreigners stay in are no longer in the same building as the athletes), but its still worth sharing. It really captures a unique perspective on training in China.

Back in the summer of 1995, I had the opportunity to go to Beijing and train with the prestigious Beijing Wushu Team. Luckily for me, we had just hosted them while they were at Berkeley, so we had made some connections in the team. Well, it wasn't all that easy- trying to write in Chinese for the fax took several hours (I had to look up some words in a Chinese dictionary and rewrite several times because my handwriting looked like the Chinese equivalent of chicken-scratch).

Unfortunately, it seemed that all of my friends who were planning to go never went, so I basically went alone (the one other guy who came left after a week). Luckily, I can speak a barely passable version of Mandarin, so getting around wasn't that difficult. And yes, star power was there too! The famous movie star, Russell Wong was there to train too!

Before I go on, let me introduce my coaches in China:

Kali Kali, my Nanquan coach. He was the Nanquan champion of China for several years. In addition, he also helped put together the Nandao (Southern broadsword) competition set. One of the scariest people I know who's under 5'6".

Chen Chao Chen Chao, my Sanda coach. He won the All-China San-Da championships several times. He's not exactly small (he's 6' tall), which made him even scarier.

The one aspect that stands out above all the other memories was the abuse. It ranged from evil stares to verbal insults, and one time, yes, outright laughter. Here's an example: The first time Kali tried to teach me the Nandao routine, he did the entire first section and then said "Ok, you do it."
Chen Chen
Chen Chen, one of the younger team members, and yes, she was nice to me. Who'd ever believe that she was 16 years old at the time this picture was taken! Note the Beijing Wushu Team member lying unconscious on the floor in the background.
Now, you have to understand something here, the Chinese Wushu team people can learn a set just by watching it. It's because they've been surrounded by Wushu for their entire lives, and that they were selected for the ability to learn physical movements quickly. I would imagine that they'd get very frustrated if they had to teach some slowpoke who can't learn like 10+ movements in 20 seconds. So after I flailed around for a little bit, Kali muttered something along the lines of "stupid" and walked away. Other times he would say that my head was full of sh!t, or that I had eaten sh!t for breakfast.

The worst part of it was that he was teaching me the set at 6:30 in the morning, when we would all go out onto the dirt track and run laps. He'd chew me out right in front of everybody, which added severely to the embarrassment factor. It got so bad that I was strongly tempted to stop learning that set. Luckily for me, the other team members had a little more sympathy for me. Qiu Dong Xing (one of the younger ones) said to me that this was the way they had been taught, and that Kali didn't mean anything by that. Another kid, Chen Yue, told me that Kali had made him cry when he taught him.

Chen Chao was a little better- he didn't curse me out. Instead, he'd just glare at me, or scream at me and then have me do the same movement in front of the wall for an hour or so. I swear, there was one practice session where all I did was a left jab under his "supervision" (i.e. sitting there and glaring). Even the other team members who trained with me (Yen Lei and Bien Yuen Tao) were screaming at me when Chen Chao was away. And these guys were like 16 years old!

There was a funny incident, at a San-Da practice, where Bien Yuen Tao had messed up a side kick. Chen Chao became so angry that he made everyone go up against the wall and practice side kicks, while he stormed around outside and fumed. Bien Yuen Tao took it kind of badly, so I said to him "Geez, I've been here for two weeks only, and I've already gotten used to him screaming at me. And look at you, you've been here how many years? And you're upset because he screamed at you..." Good thing irony is universal...

Now don't get the impression that they're monsters or anything. They were very friendly and open outside of practice. As mentioned before, the way they had been taught when they were younger bordered on child abuse. And so it goes, you teach the way you've been taught. Strangely enough though, others who have trained in China say that their coaches were really nice to them. This leads to the question, "why me?" I figure it's either because: a) I can understand enough Mandarin for them to curse me out, b) my personality was just that endearing. For obvious reasons, I'd prefer reason a. In all honesty, the abuse did help, since it got me so frightened of being yelled at that I would do my damndest to avoid it.

Of course, they were nice to Russell...

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