“Zou (go), mabu (deep knee bend), zou, mabu!” Pu Rujie shouts out instructions to a loyal group of students who turn up unfailingly to his wushu (martial arts) class in Zhongshan Park in Changning district every morning.
The 76-year-old former athlete and coach has been practicing kung fu since 1954 and in that time has taught thousands of students at schools, sports centers and in public parks.
But it was only in 2002 that he received his first batch of non-Chinese wushu students, a group from Japan. Since then, he reckons he has helped train more than 6,000 overseas devotees ranging in age from 7 to 60, and from countries as far afield as the US, France, and Mexico.
Pu teaches wushu to Shaun Hogan. Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT
Early to rise
And despite the prematurely cold temperatures in Shanghai this December, Pu is still out every morning in just a T-shirt preparing and giving classes. He rises at 4 am and starts teaching at 5 am.
“Just look at Pu laoshi (teacher Pu) and everyone else here; age is just a number for these people,” said Shaun Hogan. “Some of them are nearly 80 years old, and yet they are still very strong and can even do the splits; they are an inspiration to me.” Hogan, 52, is an engineer and has been studying wushu alongside Pu since he came to Shanghai six years ago. Before that, he had been practicing karate in his native US for more than 20 years.
Pu takes advantage of an open space behind a small stream in Zhongshan Park to hold his classes, and this has been his students’ regular training ground for many years.
“I gave a private class to a Mexican student at 5 o’clock this morning and I was in the park by 7 am,” Pu told the Global Times. “Hogan was already here getting ready for the class.”
Pu appreciates the efforts many of his foreign students put into the lessons. “I like the fact they go to bed early and don’t spend all night surfing the Internet or chatting online. And they also don’t presume that they know everything already, and that there is very little I can teach them.”
Hogan, however, points out that he doesn’t consider himself a typical Westerner in Shanghai.
“Wo bu hui qu pao jiuba! (I don’t go to bars!),” he said. “On Saturday morning at 7:30 Pu laoshi rings me up and says ‘Hogan, ni zai nali?’ (where are you?). Lai ba, qi dian ban le’ (come on, it’s 7:30).”
Pu explained his philosophy of this martial art to the Global Times.
“Fu Biao, the headmaster of the Shaolin Wushu School in Beijing said that kung fu is the ‘crystallization of sweat and time.’ And in summer my students often have to change their clothes three times because they are sweating so much! And if it’s raining, they are equally determined. ‘Xiayu, mei xiayu, chabuduo‘ (rain or no rain, let’s carry on) they will say to me.”
Pu hopes that his experience can give foreign students a greater insight into Chinese culture, and that his local students can also learn more about the West at the same time. “I don’t want them just to learn wushu, but also to understand the context in which it exists. I think it’s important for us to learn from each other,” he told the Global Times.
Hogan concurs with Pu’s aims. “I have a better understanding of Chinese people through practicing wushu,” he said. “A lot of Chinese traditions and a lot of Chinese business methods are based on the fighting styles of wushu. I can read Sun Zi Bing Fa (the Art of War), San Shi Liu Ji (36 Stratagems) and these texts help me, not only in wushu, but also in business and in my personal life. This type of traditional philosophy has shaped Chinese thinking for thousands of years. And it really shapes how people work now.”
Pu and his non-Chinese speaking students communicate using body language. He demonstrates a pose and shouts the same command word repeatedly to reinforce the message.
“He’s very patient,” added Hogan. “I think when he was younger he was much more strict. Because Chinese wushu is strict about running long distances and working extremely hard. He still says ‘one more time, one more time’, but he only wants you to work hard as hard as you want to work.”
Pu’s students practice wushu with a variety of weaponry including swords, shovels, and spears. And a number have won prizes in competitions.
“At the 10th International Wushu Exposition in Shanghai last year, I took three of my overseas students to compete and we won eight medals. At the 11th expo this year, I brought five such students and we took 12 medals in all: four gold, five silver and three bronze. We were very happy.”