National Geographic : 2011 Mar
• perfect or whose e ort is deemed insu cient. Asked if such harsh treatment could yield an- gry students, Hu smiles. "It is eating bitterness. ey understand it makes them better." Hu's problem has not been students leaving so much as getting enough new enrollees to keep up with the school's costs. Many of the boys come from poor families, and Hu charges them only for food. Unlike the big schools, he refuses to give kickbacks to taxi drivers who troll the Deng- feng bus station for newly arrived prospective students. Gradually, however, he has accepted the teaching trends and has begun o ering a few courses in kickboxing and the acrobatic kung fu forms, hoping to attract new students and then sway them to the traditional forms. From his own experience Hu knows that a boy's idea of kung fu can change as he matures. When he was young, he was obsessed with kung fu lms, absorbing the performances of Bruce Lee and Jet Li and fantasizing about taking re- venge on bullies in his village. At age 11 he man- aged to talk his way into the Shaolin Temple, where he became a servant to the coach of one of the performance troupes. Later the man in- troduced him to Yang Guiwu. "When I met Shifu, I already had memorized many traditional forms," Hu says, "but he taught me the theory behind the moves. Why you must ex your arm a certain way. Why your weight must be on a certain part of your foot." He stands up to demonstrate. A st strike, he explains, is delivered like a chess move, anticipating a range of possible countermoves. "No matter how my opponent responds, I am prepared to block and deliver a second, third, and fourth blow, with each aimed at a pressure point." He pan- tomimes the moves in slow motion. "A student can learn this in a year," he says. "But to do it like this"---his hands and elbows become a blur as he repeats the moves at full speed---"takes many years." e di erence, he says, is making the moves instinctive and delivering each with precision and maximum power to the weakest points of an opponent's defenses. " ere are no high kicks or acrobatics," he says. Such moves create vulnerable openings. "Shaolin kung fu is designed for combat, not to entertain audiences. It is hard to convince boys to spend many years learning something that won't make them wealthy or famous." He seems drained by the thought. "I worry that is how the traditional styles will be lost." A boy dressed in the school's dove gray robes and sneakers appears at the o ce door to report that a student has twisted an ankle. By the time Hu arrives to check on him, the injured pupil has resumed practice, gritting his teeth as he kicks a heavy bag. Hu nods with a teacher's satisfaction. "He is learning to eat bitterness."