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Has anyone got experience with any martial arts (Kung Fu, Tai Chi, etc.) camps in China? I would like to visit one to fulfil a childhood dream. It is not so easy to find information about which camp (there are thousands of them!) is "good" for an inexperienced newbie in martial arts.

I’m looking for information to help me make the right choice.


This is a fantastic community! Thanks for all your replies!

My time range would be 1-2 months.

I would like to answer the "Why" question:

  • I’m currently in something like a "mid-life crisis". I’m looking for something completely different to everything I have done up to now, to find my limit and clear my mind
  • In my country there are no famous martial arts academies; if you do find one, they are very expensive (Switzerland)
  • I like China
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    Welcome to the site. Generally we do not do well with localised questions. However, I believe this one is one of the few good ones. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Nov 18 '14 at 7:42
  • I edited your post slightly to make it a little more clear. Let me know if I erred. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Nov 18 '14 at 7:45
  • Finally, not an answer at all but someone in a very similar position as yourself wrote a book about his experience: Matthew Polly's American Shaolin. While the name and cover are kitsch, the book is good. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Nov 18 '14 at 7:49
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    I have removed the links you left as they did not add any value to the question, and this is not a place for collecting links to offsite resources. – slugster Nov 19 '14 at 12:09
  • if i dont have martial arts experience will they still train me? – Benito De Vrieze Feb 27 '19 at 15:58
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I have not been impressed with the stories I hear from people who have gone to these Asian martial arts retreats. These camps seem like a way to separate Westerners from their money while providing a bare minimum of services. Much like the explosion of "teacher training" yoga retreats, they provide an experience, not an education.

First-Person Accounts

This guy in a reddit AMA thread stayed a year, gained close to no strength, and improved a bit of his physicality:

The only thing I can show off with is my flexibility, doing high kicks, splits, and the like.

He probably learned close to zero fighting skills:

My biggest complaint with the training [is that there was] very little sparring. We did it maybe once a month for Sanda or Wing Chun.

That doesn't sound like very rigorous or effective training. Nor did the school offer classes in Buddhist philosophy, as it advertised.

This school review on Bullshido paints a similarly grim picture: false promises, false advertising, no real philosophy, problems with instruction and equipment, inadequate food.... The martial instruction sounds cursory, like a survey course.

Why?

I'd ask you to examine your own desire to train in China specifically. Do you think there is something special about a particular country that makes the training better? Remember, good training is found in a particular school, and you can get cultural experiences by traveling or living in a country regardless of whether you sign up ahead of time to live at a fake martial arts monastery.

People envision "training muay Thai in Thailand" or "learning kung fu in China" or "doing a yoga retreat in India" as an incredibly true experience, an authentically different way of living. The truth is that businesses have grown to exploit this feeling. There are legitimate schools, of course, but there are a lot of imitators. Do you know how to tell the difference?

Why not research specific high-quality martial arts schools regardless of location? Particularly if you're new to training, why not try martial arts locally for a few months, at least? Putting 'training in China' on a pedestal seems to me to be a good way to have a mediocre experience.

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Yes, I've been to China to train at the Shaolin temple at Songshan mountain in Dengfeng, Henan, China.

I did this only for a couple of weeks, mostly just for fun. My wife (then girlfriend) was training at a school in Houston where the head instructor was an actual Shaolin monk who had moved to the U.S. to start up a school. So the monk offered to arrange everything and take us there with him when he returned. A group of about 8 of us went. We stayed at a house that was right outside the temple grounds, and every day we would get up at the crack of dawn, head down to the temple, train, go have breakfast, train, go have lunch, train, go have dinner, and then head back to our house to go to sleep. And repeat that for 2 weeks.

The first couple days of our trip was actually a small tour of Beijing. That was very cool. We got to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, and a bunch of other places. Then we headed by plane to Zhengzhou, Henan. Once there, we got into a private bus arranged for us ahead of time and headed to Dengfeng, Henan. We picked up supplies there, including our monk uniforms, leggings, shoes, toilet paper, water, etc. And then we headed by van to the temple, which is about 15 minutes away, if I recall correctly.

Along the way from Dengfeng to Shaolin Temple, you'll see tons of martial arts schools. One in particular (Shaolin Tagou school) has something like 50,000 students. And you'll see them all practicing along side of the road as you travel on the road to Shaolin. The whole town of Dengfeng is setup to cater to martial artists, by the way. There are martial arts supply stores everywhere. Kung Fu is huge in this town.

So, my advice if you're interested in an authentic Shaolin temple training experience, set it up with a monk or one of his students. There are many monks that offer this to westerners. They will arrange everything: Travel (including planes, buses, vans, private cars, etc.), interpreters, hotel room, meals, travel around the city, your personalized training regimen including your instructors (typically by monks at the temple), equipment and uniform purchases, tuition, tours of Shaolin, etc. They can even have tourist guides sent to meet with you in Beijing, Shanghai, etc. if you want to do some looking around.

I don't think our particular monk would offer to take just anyone. So I won't give you his reference. But while I was at the temple, I ran into a group being lead by Shi De Yang, one of the more well known senior monks there. That group's translator gave me his business card and said that if I knew of anyone looking to train, they should contact him to set it up. So here's his contact. I'm not sure if it's still good:

If that contact is no longer valid, you can probably find out online who's setting these training tours up and arrange things through them. There are actually many monks and many schools doing it. My advice, though, is to make sure that you're training at the Shaolin temple itself, not at one of the neighboring private schools down the road. There's also the International Shaolin Center that's not actually part of the temple but is right next to the temple, and that one seems to be run by the monks with the intention of teaching foreigners. So either the temple itself or the International Shaolin Center next door would be fine. But anything else, you might want to really do your homework before you go.

That's for Shaolin kung-fu training. For Taiji training, you'll probably want to arrange a similar training visit at Chenjiaguo (Chen village). I'm not sure how "full service" those groups are, though. You might have to arrange your own transportation and hotel accommodations. But I bet you can find a group that does all that and gets you in to train.

All of this is possible. It just depends on how long you're willing to stay, and how much you want to pay. But I can tell you, everything in China is much cheaper than most other countries, especially U.S. or Europe. Food, clothing, shoes, etc. are super cheap. You can buy meals for a group of 10 people in China for about the same cost as what you'd pay for one meal in the U.S. Shoes like Feiyue sell for around US $5 there. T-shirts will sell for around US $1. A full monk uniform can be bought for around US $5. You can buy weapons real cheap, too.

So mostly it comes down to how long you're willing to spend there. We met a Russian guy there who spoke English, and he said he was going to stay for as long as it took to lose weight. And he was large. It's not uncommon for westerners to just take a year off and go train.

Just one more thing to note. When you get there, you will get traveler's diarrhea. Almost everyone gets it in China on their first trip. It's just different bacteria than what you're used to. It will last between 2 and 7 days. After that, you're fine. The first 7 days is also what you'll need to get used to the altitude. You'll feel terrible that first week, basically. You'll be tired, nauseated, and anything you eat will give you violent diarrhea. Make sure you have toilet paper and carry it with you everywhere, because they don't provide it in their bathrooms anywhere in China.

Bottom line: Plan for at least a two week trip. The first week you might be unable to train due to these problems. The second week will be much better. Return trips might go better, because your body may be immune to it after that (but don't bet on it).

Good luck!

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I know one person who went to train in bagua and tai chi. He went to a relatively small training camp, got some good basic skills.

But. That was 6 months of his life spent doing nothing but martial arts training. A lot of that was conditioning. Although he got a good set of basic skills, I can't say it'd be much different than if he spent the time here, and did a lot of conditioning under an average teacher.

A few acquaintances I know have trained a long time under traditional martial arts teachers here in the US, and their teachers introduced them to people in China. As advanced students up to full time sifus they've gone over to China, spent anywhere from a few weeks to a month or two with those folks and gotten a lot more from their time. They're able to absorb exercises and drills to apply quickly, and can take it home and work on it themselves.

Personally I'd say you're better off finding a good teacher locally, putting in a lot of time in conditioning and core skills, and then you'll have the ability to better see who moves well for what you want to study if you decide to travel later on and you'll get more from your trip.

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