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Kick It: Complete Guide to Martial Arts in Beijing

From the high-flying kicks of kung fu to the gorgeous dance of tai-chi, Beijing's martial arts masters have ways for every age and body type to get in shape for spring. Here’s our guide to the best schools and masters in the capital.

##Kung Fu## “Every one of us hopes to change ourselves for the better,” Master Zhang Shengli, the founder of the Milun School of Traditional Martial Arts, tell us. “Kung fu can help with this process.” The king of Chinese martial arts, kung fu has been practiced for over 4,000 years by monks, emperors—even entire armies. Master Zhang Shengli is a living example of what true kung fu is all about. He spent three decades devoted to grueling training to learn the secrets of China’s most legendary martial arts masters. "I started studying kung fu to change my life," he says. "I was a rural boy looking for my destiny. Kung fu was the bridge to my future." At the Milun School’s atmospheric Ming era siheyuan, students are encouraged to study a variety of styles: Shaolin kung fu, sanda boxing, and internal arts such as tai-chi. “Kung fu builds strength in the body and clarity in the mind,” says Master Zhang Yuxuan, the school’s head instructor and an international martial arts champion. “It helps you to focus, relax and deal with life no matter the situation.” Master Zhang Yuxuan emphasizes that in modern China, kung fu is as much about health as it is about ass-kicking. The school welcomes students of all levels, ages and abilities to its group classes. Expect an invigorating athletic workout that builds strength and tone based on kicks, punches and stances. After a 45-minute group warm up, students break into separate classes where they learn set forms, self-defense and philosophy. "The teachers really try to make you understand the purpose, and even the history, behind the movements,” says beginning student Allie Johnson. “It’s a very warm, fun environment: you want to go there to see everyone as much as to practice.” Martial artists interested in professional study can apply for private training programs with China’s past national champions. The school also organizes weekend travel trips to Shaolin Temple to train in the scenic mountains of Henan. Group classes cost ¥600 for an eight-class card, with discounts for long-term students. In addition to Milun School, students looking to get kicking with kung fu in Beijing have many options. Lovers of acrobatics can enroll at Lu Yan’s Wushu School, where the star that trained alongside action-flick legend Jet Li offers group and private lessons. At the friendly Tianyi Kungfu Club, renowned Master Liu Hongchi and his disciples teach several different forms of traditional kung fu. Students based in Wudaokao can check out daily kung fu classes at the Beijing Language and Culture University (6662-9493). Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳拳 Perfect For: Seekers of true Chinese martial arts Find it: The Beijing Milun School of Traditional Kung Fu, 33 Xitangzi, 西堂子胡同33号 Tel: 158-1070-8207

##Capoeira ## Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art played in pairs, combining music, movement and acrobatics with a rich cultural heritage. First developed by African slaves brought to Brazil, capoeira was disguised as a dance to escape suspicion from slave-masters. Local group Mandinga is a pioneering force for capoeira in China, and the school has quickly built a dedicated following in Beijing. “Capoeira is a beautiful sport,” says community co-organizer Van Yang. “It brings the flexibility of yoga, the physical demands of an acrobat, and the dedication of a martial artist and weaves it into a community filled with music, dance and camaraderie.” New students get in shape by learning capoeira’s signature dynamic moves—often borrowed by breakdancers—and learn to sing infectious call-and-response folk songs in Portuguese. Capoeira class is free for first-time students, with ¥50 drop-in and 10-class punch cards for ¥400. Check back with Mandinga Capoeira in the summer months for cultural parties hosted by "Pau Brazil" that include authentic food and live samba music. Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳 Perfect For: Lovers of music, dance and good times Find it: Mandinga Capoeira, 3/F, Workers Stadium, North Gate, 工人体育场北门3层 Tel: 186-1170-5854, 186-0005-6983

##Neijia Martial Arts## Journeying deeper into the spiritual side of martial arts, Master Liu Xuyang’s highly respected Neijia Internal Martial Arts school offers a unique practice that fuses self-defense with Chinese medicine, qigong and Daoist philosophy. Devoted to martial arts since childhood, Master Liu skillfully guides his students through ancient training methods passed down for generations. Beginning with yoga-like standing poses focused on breathing and meditation, students soon progress to the study of enigmatic internal arts like xingyi and bagua. "For me, neijia provides the combined benefits of health and fitness with a greater understanding of Daoist philosophy,” says student Matt McGarvey. “It helps me feel more relaxed and connected to life." The school also offers special classes on topics like medical qigong and yijing forecasting, as well as seasonal retreats near the Great Wall. Students can join regular evening classes or meet Master Liu in Ritan Park in the early mornings every day of the week. Group classes in English and Chinese run 7-8:30pm three times a week at ¥2,000 for two months (two sessions/week) or ¥3,000 for two months (three sessions/week). Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳 Perfect For: Spiritual seekers and TCM enthusiasts Find it: Neijia Martial Arts1402 Xingfuyuan Gongyu, 16 Gongti Beilu, 工体北路16号幸福园公寓1402室 Tel: 134-6670-1972

##MMA## The newest bad-boy of the combat world, mixed martial arts (MMA) incorporates the most efficient and deadly techniques of other fighting styles. Get ready to rumble with MMA classes at Martial Arts Beijing, a new specialized studio that boasts padded floors, elite equipment and a dedicated core of top fighters like up-and-coming pro Alizhanov Jalil. Try out MMA or other martial arts on offer at the studio with a ¥600 card for 10 classes. Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳拳拳 Perfect For: Bodyguards and over-protective boyfriends Find it: Martial Arts Beijing MMA 3/F, Workers Stadium, North Gate, 工人体育场北门3层 Tel: 158-1128-0931

##Yiquan## Yiquan—a rare martial art practiced through endless hours of standing meditation—may seem a bit out there, but it works. Masters of the art can effortlessly launch opponents in the air with just a flick of the wrist. Translated as “mind-fist,” yiquan believes intense concentration energizes the body’s natural ability to fight. Join classes at the Beijing Zongxun Yiquan academy for lessons in “acquiring devastating combat abilities,” at ¥600 for six lessons. Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳 Perfect For: Transcendental couch potatoes Find it: Beijing Zongxun Yiquan, 4 Bei Zhugan Hutong, 朝内南小街北竹杆胡同4号楼5单元B03室 Tel: 133-9199-2725

##Muay Thai## Promoting “fight fitness,” the Black Tiger club offers conditioning classes that make you look so buff, no one will take you on. With muay Thai, kickboxing and wrestling on offer, Black Tiger stands out with its emphasis on a personalized curriculum, including special classes for women, kids and elite athletes. Workouts with kettlebells, resistance bands and medicine balls add an extra kick to the martial fitness experience. Different packages start at ¥80 per class. Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳拳 Perfect For: Fitness freaks Find it: Black Tiger Club, 5 Laiguangying Donglu, 莱广营东路5号 Tel: 139-1071-2576

##Wing Chun## Break out a white tank top and channel your inner Bruce Lee with the study of Wing Chun. Named after a young woman who got out of marrying a brutish warlord by punching his lights out, Wing Chun is a style of kung fu that focuses on close-range combat that doesn’t rely on strength. As Lee was a student of Wing Chun, it's also a style celebrated in Hong Kong's greatest martial arts flicks. Get grounded in Wing Chun with certified Hong Kong coach Marco Lee, and learn the power of a martial art invented by a nun. Group lessons run at between ¥60-100 per class. Private classes cost ¥200-300 per hour. Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳拳 Perfect For: Kung fu movie buffs Find it: Wing Chun Kung Fu Clan Kai Sai China. Call for address details. Tel: 131-2655-3900

##Krav Maga## Prone to late-night tussles in Sanlitun? Learn krav maga, the official hand-to-hand combat system of the Israeli Defense Forces. It's a battlefield and street-tested system that covers self-defense against chokes, bearhugs, guns and knives. Designed to stop fights as soon as they start, krav maga is for folks who need to learn to brawl as fast as possible. Classes start at ¥60 per lesson, with discounts available for long-term students. Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳拳拳 Perfect For: Soldiers and mercenaries Find it: Krav Maga Beijing 19 Dongfang Donglu, 东方东路19号 Tel: 187-1019-0150

##Nia## Nia is a health and healing technique that combines a lengthy list of influences: yoga, modern and jazz dance, tai-chi, taekwondo, aikido and Alexander Technique. Nia’s fusion of modern movement systems leaves participants feeling energized and radiant, but perhaps more ready for a smoothie than a scuffle. Try it for ¥100, or ¥500 for six sessions. Kick Ass Score: Perfect For: Dancers and yogis Find it: Nia Tel: 135-2299-3724

##Kali## Well before Teddy Roosevelt popularized the phrase "speak softly and carry a big stick," tribal Filipino warriors had already run off Spanish colonizers with their own stick-fighting skills. Kali students train with yantoks (deadly sticks) and bladed weapons as long as a human torso. Join instructors at the Circle of Iron School and learn strangles, joint-locks and brutal striking techniques. The school specializes in Southeast Asian martial arts, so stop by and train in Indonesian silat or muay Thai boxing to impress on your next tropical adventure. Classes start at ¥120 for two hours. Kick Ass Score: 拳拳拳拳 Perfect For: Scrappy adventurers Find it: Circle of Iron at The Hutong, 1 Jiudaowan Hutong, Beixinqiao, 九道湾胡同1号, Tel: 158-1071-8197

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