Sunday evening at the Long Wu International Kung Fu Center was dark and quiet-only one teacher, a receptionist and a handful of regulars populated the large martial arts space. The rain kept all but the most dedicated students away, but the five who attended the wing chun class were treated to two hours of careful one-on-one attention from master Wu Laoshe.
For a new student like myself, Wu begins with the basics, a series of six stances and gestures that look like a rapid, fierce version of tai chi poses. The first hour and a half of the class is devoted to perfecting the precise, quick movements that characterize the sport, the last half hour to light sparring. Competent, friendly and encouraging, Wu circulates from student to student offering advice and deflecting frustration at this surprisingly difficult sport.
Wu's Sunday night class was made up of both local and expatriate students, the youngest a high school kid trying wing chun as a way to get in shape and burn off energy after a day of study. Self-defense was the primary motivation for most students, but others came to lose weight and gain muscle mass.
Wing chun's emphasis on overpowering larger and stronger opponents makes it a natural choice for women's self-defense. In fact, wing chun was developed by a woman, Buddhist nun Ng Mui, in the 17th century, and later formed the core of Bruce Lee's signature style of kung fu.
"Women created wing chun to protect themselves," explains Wu. "But men like wing chun because to some extent it is more competitive than other martial arts, and it has all the effects of body building and weight training."
Despite all the chops and punches, Long Wu feels more like a yoga center than a dojo, with dim lighting and soft carpets that muffle the sound of voices. By turns combative and calm, wing chun provides a total body workout, improving balance, strength and flexibility as well as mental concentration, making it an energizing and empowering way to spend a rainy Sunday night.
Long Wu International Kung Fu Center
Location: 1 Maoming Nan Lu
Wing Chun classes are held twice weekly, free with membership.