Forget iPads and video games – how about kung fu for Hong Kong children?
Parents who have signed up their kids swear by martial arts to instil discipline and promote physical well-being
In one synchronised motion, they punch the air with their fists, keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground, their brows furrowed in intense concentration as part of a Chinese martial arts showcase.
But the fierce wushu demonstration comes from unlikely pint-sized performers – these are four to five-year-old Hong Kong children from a kindergarten in North Point.
Leading a separate charge is an older 12-strong troupe of masters from the Shaolin Monastery, a Buddhist temple in Henan province famed for its martial arts training.
The masters were invited by cable car operator Ngong Ping 360 to perform and conduct workshops for a month on Lantau Island, while the children, who also came to display their skills, are from a martial arts course organised by a local kindergarten.
Ten parents watch proudly as their little ones strut their kung fu stuff on stage. The show caps the grand finale of martial arts training for the children, who signed up a year ago.
In this age, allowing children ample time for physical exercise – in between tedious school work and extracurricular activities – can be quite a challenge.
In a city where the young are given electronic devices even before turning one, as found by a government survey in August, there have been concerns over the physical development of children.
And kung fu lessons may be the perfect solution.
Sam Wong, who enrolled his son Nicholas into a basic course early this year, said the changes had been remarkable.
“At first he would cry and refuse to head for class. But gradually he got comfortable and it was all positive from there onwards,” Wong said, adding that his son had become braver and more outgoing.
“It’s a group activity, so he gets to socialise with his classmates. They also have to obey instructions, so he has learned to be more disciplined as well.”
Fellow parent Simon Kan had similar observations. “My daughter has become more confident and courageous … I don’t think kung fu is just for boys. She now looks forward to every class,” Kan said.
Meanwhile, the 12-strong Shaolin troupe said there were plenty of health benefits for practising martial arts.
Zhang Yuchao, the oldest at 22, has been training since he was seven. “There are many elements – coordination, stamina, strength, just to name a few,” he said.
Wong Tung-tai, principal of St Paul’s Church Kindergarten, organiser of the children’s course, said she came up with the idea after teachers had signed up for a similar class provided by a vendor as part of a mental well-being programme for staff.
“The kung fu masters told me that such lessons are not only for adults, so we set up two classes for our children,” she said.
The overwhelming response has prompted her to set up a third class this school year, with about 90 pupils now in the programme.
“We want the children to learn to be focused and well-behaved. We don’t want them to use kung fu moves to bully their peers, so discipline is an integral part of the lesson,” she said.