Jakarta

Health and kung fu glory
raise wushu's profile

A female wushu athlete practices at Bung Karno Sports Hall in Jakarta. The traditional Chinese martial art is gaining popularity across the age, sex, ethnic and faith divides. (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)
A female wushu athlete practices at Bung Karno Sports Hall in Jakarta. The traditional Chinese martial art is gaining popularity across the age, sex, ethnic and faith divides. (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)

Over the past few years, the Chinese martial art of wushu has attracted more enthusiasts from all walks of life in the capital.

Some join because of its dance-like movements, others because of how the activity affects their lives.

"Alfath was hyperactive. Wushu helps him channel his abundant energy to better concentrate when doing other activities, and to better socialize with others," said Nurleli about her eight-year-old son, Alfath Firqih, who has taken wushu classes for almost three years now.

The 38-year-old mother recalled earlier times when Alfath's hyperactivity and autism were out of control.

"I know any kind of sport would be useful, but I prefer wushu because it trains him to focus through breathing," she said.

"Wushu also exercises the right and left parts of his brain. It is both a sport and an art. You can see that from the complex dance-like movements."

Nurleli said her son attended wushu training four to five times a week with the Sasana Wushu Inti Bayangan community in Bung Karno Sports Hall in Central Jakarta, with each session lasting two to three hours.

Rudy Wijaya, also known as Thio Tjeng Gwan, a trainer from the Alam Semesta wushu community, acknowledged wushu was not created as a fighting style.

"It aims to create a good physical posture and to improve the body's movements and also the mind," he said.

Indra Kusuma, a wushu trainer from the Sasana Wushu Inti Bayangan community, said the training, just as in other sports, required discipline.

"I see participants in their 40s still displaying the flexibility to practice wushu like those far younger than them, simply because they have the discipline," Indra said.

Cynthia, 16, who in the past six years has practiced wushu at the Sila Paramita private school in Cipinang Jaya, East Jakarta, said the martial art gave her self confidence.

"It helps me control negative thoughts, because when I train, I have to concentrate on the forms and my trainer's instructions. I feel more powerful because of wushu," she said, adding wushu also allowed her to perform well in other sports and make her parents proud.

Although the training is held in the courtyard of a Buddhist private school, participants range in age of six to 30-years-old, and come from all faiths.

Cynthia's trainer, Rudy, said, "We practice wushu mainly for health, here."

King Min, from the Indonesian Wushu Board (PBWI), said since 1994, two years after PBWI's establishment, more people in the capital began to show an interest in wushu.

"Some regard it as a sport for health and others for achievement," he said, adding tai chi, which focuses on balanced breathing, was previously more popular among the elderly.

"Wushu enthusiasts now come from various ethnicities, genders and age."

Rudy, 44, who began wushu training in the 1980s, said some high schools now included tai chi exercises in their extracurricular activities.

Wushu became popular in the country through kung fu, brought to global attention in 1970s kung fu movies through the likes of Bruce Lee.

"These days, people learn wushu as a sport. In the old days, people learned it simply because they aspired to Bruce Lee's moves in his films," Rudy recalled.

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