My Kung Fu Journey: How Chinese martial arts helped me finding confidence in myself

My Kung Fu Journey: How Chinese martial arts helped me finding confidence in myself

The Chinese martial arts, to be exact Shaolin Kung Fu, have been a part of my life as long as I can think back. Keeping this part out of a blog about my daily life and struggles seems wrong. This is why I am including one more section: The Kung Fu Monday.

To start off this day, I decided it would be most fitting to share my little story with you. It does not happen every day that a girl travels all the way to China on her own, without Chinese language knowledge to train Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu at a real martial arts school in the middle of nowhere of China.


The unexpected Tai Chi Retreat and a two weeks power course in Shaolin Kung Fu

Actually, my journey to Shaolin Kung Fu started out with a Tai Chi weekend. This might sound weird to people who know me well, and not special at all to people who don’t know me. I am a very active person, and slow movements make me drousy. I never understood the charm of Tai Chi. I still don’t do. I think it will take a few more years for me to grasp the inner strength of Tai Chi movements.


So, when I went to a Tai Chi weekend at our local Martial Arts School in Germany over ten years ago, I had no idea what to except. I was training Taekwon Do and Capoeira for a few years. I got bored of the stiff Taekwon Do movements, and I didn’t like the hard shaolin trainingsinging and dancing of Capoeira. I wanted to try something new. Tai Chi turned out to be the exact opposite of what I wanted to learn, but the same school offered Shaolin Kung Fu courses and they convinced me to give it a try.

I was hooked. Without thinking I signed up for a two weeks intense Shaolin Kung Fu course at their school. We slept there, ate there, and trained from 5am in the morning until 9pm in the evening. You could say it was a life changing experience for me.


My first trip to China to train Shaolin Kung Fu

shaolin kungfu trainingAfter that life changing experience I was addicted. I am saying addicted because if wasn’t at school, I would be at their place training Kung Fu. They offered courses throughout the day, seven days a week, and for students like me they had special offers which made it possible for me to train every day.

After a year one of my Chinese trainers decided to take a group of about kungfu uniformten students to China for some special instructions by “real” Shaolin monks (most of them are not real, but really good at what they do). Of course I went. Even against every ones else’s concern of being too young.

It was a July and like usual the weather in China was hot and humid. We spent three amazing weeks training with experts in the field of Shaolin Kung Fu. We visited the Shaolin Temple and a few more Chinese tourist attractions. I was mesmerized by everything. I knew I wanted more. Three weeks weren’t enough. Not at all.


A Year training in one of China’s biggest Kung Fu schools.

xiaolong wuyaunI kept on training daily. As soon as I graduated from high school I packed my stuff and went back to China. This time though, I went straight for one of China’s biggest Kung Fu schools: Shi Xiao Long Martial Arts School

It covers 150 hectares with a total construction area of more than 60,000 square, and has over ten thousand students. Over the years it has grown and last time I went there (in 2011) it has grown to the double size from when I want there in 2006. I spent a year training there and I loved every minute!


snow in chinaThe training was tough. Winters were extremely cold. No heating or hot water. I was one out of three girls training there. Most of the international students were guys. We were training separately from the Chinese students, but our training was no different from that of the Chinese students.

We had power training, stretching lessons, weapon and forms training. Once a week (usually on Thursday) we would even be running up a mountain! I hated that part. I remember once it was snowing so heavily that we could go up the mountain but instead our trainer decided to simply run through the city. Everyone always runs faster than me. They called my running style Tai Chi Running for kungfu power stretchinga reason. It didn’t take long and I got behind, and not longer until I couldn’t see the others in front of me anymore. I didn’t know the way. It was snowing and dark. I was lost in the middle of the city. It took me about two hours to find my way back to the school. Lucky for me I was wearing the schools uniform, and even though I couldn’t speak a word Chinese, people must have noticed how lost I looked and kept pointing me in the right direction.

My trainer was furious. I was punished by more running in the afternoon. That’s how training was. Very tough, but it brought out qualities in you, and strengths you didn’t know were there.


Keeping on training or not: that was the question

xiaolong martial arts schoolAfter that year full of challenges and rewards training Shaolin Kung Fu, it was time for me to go back to real life. Starting university changed everything. I tried really hard to keep on training, but the academic life doesn’t really allow time for free time, especially if you are looking to earn a scholarship to go back to China.


I temporary gave up on my martial arts dream and focused my attention on solely learning Chinese and getting the higher grades possible. I succeeded. After a year studying in German I got a scholarship for Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University and continued my studies there.

Back in China I wasn’t able to get back to training full time either. But luckily the summer and winter breaks at University allowed for longer trips back to see my old Kung Fu teachers and freshen up on my martial arts skills.

On one of those trips I met my husband, but that is another story. I never went back to full time training. University, and graduating from university, everything pushed me into a “normal” life, where people want you to contribute to society by working a 9-5 job and paying your taxes, and not jumping around throwing punches into thin air in a Kung Fu school.


I semi-retired from Chinese Kung Fu

Since graduating from university, I trained whenever the time allowed it. From 2011 to 2013 I was staying at a Kung Fu school with my husband. While he was teaching eager foreigners to learn Xiao Hong Fist, I helped out with management and the daily needs of first time China travelers. It was a fun and relaxing time, but badly paid, so we had to leave. Since then I have finished a master degree from London university and my husband has started learning acupuncture and Chinese tuina massage.

Since we live back in Bozhou, in my husband’s home city, we both have semi-retired from the Martial arts scene. With all the daily responsibilities of working and studying, we just don’t find the time to train anymore. Plus, there is no place for us to go and train. Adding to this dilemma that I cannot be taught by my husband, simply because he is my husband and not my teacher, and I always start laughing at him when he tries to force to do a hundred push-ups. It’s the same way around when I try to teach him English.

We both miss the time as full-time martial arts practitioners. It’s a longing which cannot be fulfilled any time soon. Sometimes we dream about opening a small Kung Fu school here in Bozhou. My husband really loves to teach small children and he dreams of spreading Kung Fu around the world. But there are always financial restraints… No one wants to pay anymore to send their children to a Kung Fu school, especially with China’s one-child-policy; parents are overprotective of their children, totally missing the point of a good Kung Fu education. Yes training is hard, you will be tired, and you will be in pain, but the rewards are so much greater!

I have become so much more confident since I started training martial arts. It is not just a sport to keep you fit, but it helps to train your mind and spirit. The way we try to overcome the pain or the tiredness during the training, helps us to overcome other difficulties in daily life.


I don’t think I would be who I am today, if I wouldn’t have trained Chinese Kung Fu.


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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

8 thoughts on “My Kung Fu Journey: How Chinese martial arts helped me finding confidence in myself

  1. I was surfing the web for inspirations and found your blog. And I am wondering, did you ever regret not persuing your martial art passion? I am asking this because I am planning on going back to China and learning Shaolin Wushu. I already spent 8 month in a training facility in Qufu and I just fell in love with this martial art. But now I have to decide weather to make this my profession or not. Reading that you love this sport so much too, but you decided to persue another way, makes me wonder if I am doing the right thing.
    This really got me thinking.
    I will still try my luck and go back to train, but thanks for making me think about other options too.

    • Hello Sabine,
      I can say it directly: Yes, I regret not pursuing my martial arts passion. I gave in to social pressures and my mother’s exceptions of how we should be living our life in today’s world. I loved this sport and I still do, and I had the same thoughts like you. I wanted to make it my profession, my life. I have stayed in China’s kungfu school almost three years all together, but when I met my husband things started to change. Pursuing this kind of profession is a very selfish thing to do. If you have a partner, he/she will have to go along with it. After all, you will be spending a longer period of time in China’s kungfu schools to perfect this profession. So, for me, one part was my husband for whom I decided to follow a more regular way of life (did a master degree and moved to him).
      Another problem for me, was the disappointment my mother felt when I told her I wanted to pursue this profession. In her eyes martial arts are a hobby, not something you should do full time. As I am her only daughter and I am all she has left (she lives alone in Germany, while all our family is in Russia) I decided to make her happy as well. Even though I am not living with her right now, since I finished my master degree and am working a regular job here in China, she feels so much more relieved.
      So, it’s not about the sport itself. If you have a supportive family and from your heart you really really want to do it, do it! If you don’t try, you will regret it. Chinese martial arts are more than a sport. They are a way of life.
      If you need anymore advice or just want to talk about this (sometimes it helps to just get the worries and concerns out there), you can write me an email annazech (at) hotmail (dot) de

      • I have to thank you for your honest answer =)it helped really.
        I already made my mind up, but hearing somebody’s story just tells me that I am doing what is right for me.
        Seems like we have quite a bit in common. I am from Germany too, but my parents are from Romania. So I understand your decision quite well, I really had a hard time telling them that I decided to stop my law studies and try something so risky like martial arts.
        My dad is still a bit dissapointed, but luckily my mother supports me =)
        So thanks, for your email adress too. It’s nice to know that there is somebody I can contact.
        Have a great day =)

        • That is great Sabine. I really think our story is very similar. And it’s great your mother is supporting you now. I am sure your father will come around as well, as soon as he sees how happy your choice has made you.
          I would love to stay in contact and hear how your journey is going. Have you already chosen a Kung Fu school in China?

  2. Anna, this is such an amazing read. I am Kim-Leng (which coincidentally translates to Jin Long, it is Hokkien Chinese) and I am Shifu Matt Bindon’s fiancée. I have heard so much about you and Jin Long, reading your story about Chinese Kung fu and training is absolutely brilliant. We are planning a trip to China and really wish to meet up with you and Jin Long, it’ll be such an honour to meet you finally. Ez misses training with Jin Long, she has done so well over here in Sanda, and Matt definitely misses his Kung fu brother! Your blog is inspiring, and we both feel and understand the difficulty of training part time and working full time. Open up a school. It is probably both your destinies! Amituofo xxxx
    Kim-Leng recently posted…Esme Bindon wins Silver at BCCMA full-contact Sanda National ChampionshipsMy Profile

    • Hello Kim-Leng,
      so nice to meet you (or better read you, hope to meet you in person one day).
      Do you know when you will be coming to China? We are always in China, but not in the kungfu school, but I hope we will be able to go for a visit when you arrive.
      But you guys are always welcome here where we live. Its a nice place to learn about traditional Chinese herbal medicine, as this is the biggest centre for it (in the whole world).
      Opening up a school is very difficult in China, because parents dont want to send their kids through hardship anymore. A few schools have opened in or city, but closed only after a few months without students :( But it would be so nice to have place to train and I know Jinlong misses teaching, especially little kids :D
      Best to you both! Looking forward to meet!

  3. Anna – thank you for fantastic story!
    There are many fantastic benefits of martial arts training: physical, mental, health etc.
    You can check more here:
    Confidence you build during the training (wow effect when you realize that you actually can do something which you thought was out of your possibilites) is tranferred to our everyday life.
    This effect is amazing!
    Jason Maine recently posted…How To Clean Boxing Gloves: Simple and Proven Tips For YouMy Profile

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