IMG_4012-compressor by Ian Gabrielson, Educational Programs Coordinator

From September 9th through September 13th, the Hutong Education set out with Beijing City International School’s grade six students for our annual Shaolin: Kung Fu Kids program in Henan Province. Joining us again for the trip again this year was our very good friend and partner from XMA Martial Arts, Master Xie, whose expertise and knowledge of the area are essential for making this program Hutong Awesome!

Starting in one China’s eight ancient capitals, Zhengzhou, we kicked off our trip with a visit to the Henan Provincial History Museum where students participated in an inquiry mission to learn about rich history of Henan. With Henan being the cradle of China’s 5000 years of history, this excellent museum contains artifacts dating back to the earliest eras of settlement in the region and offered students a peek into the many dynasties that ruled from the banks of the Yellow River. This fun, informative new addition to our itinerary was well received by the students and teachers as well as helped set the context and setting for the rest of the trip.

After building up an appetite at the museum, we headed over to one of Zhengzhou’s most highly recommended hui mian noodle spots to introduce BCIS students and teachers to this delicious Henan specialty. As we have found with so many of our programs, kids love noodles!

IMG_4032-compressorAfter lunch, we boarded the bus and made the one and half hour bus ride to Dengfeng. Arriving at the Kung Fu themed Chanwu Hotel, students got their first taste of the ancient martial arts by spending a grueling 3 hour Kung Fu training session with Master Xie. Steeped in The Hutong Core Values as well as XMA’s Key’s to a successful life, the training pushed students to understand the importance of hard-work, to seek challenge, be good eggs and have courage in what we do. It also taught students some of the essential movements in Master Xie’s Crane Style of Kung Fu, a routine that we would continually practice for the remainder of the trip.

We capped off a busy first day with an authentic Chinese meal at one of Dengfeng’s real gems, San Wei Jie.

We arose early on Day 2 to ensure that we could make it to our primary destination, the Shaolin Temple, before the masses of tourists arrived. Unfortunately, we were greeted with a steady  drizzle of rain and wind, making the walk into the park somewhat miserable for some. When we got into the park however, Master Xie was not about to let a little rain and wind ruin our time at the Shaolin Temple! He was determined to ensure that we got the most of our time their, leading students in a warm-up 1 km jog to the gates of the Shaolin Temple. Once in front of the temple, he led students in Kung Fu training, practicing the Crane Style that he had taught students the day before. Doing Kung Fu in front of the Shaolin Temple in the rain!!! How cool is that!!! 

Students then worked in teams and competed against one another in The Hutong classic Shaolin Temple Scavenger Hunt.  A long-time favorite, the activity pushed students to challenge their inner-critic, think outside the box, and interact with other local visitors within the temple walls. Lunch afterward then offered students the perfect opportunity to get in out of the rain, eat some warm food, and share what they had learned from the scavenger hunt. Despite being cold and wet, the level of detail, critical thinking, and learning the students demonstrated during our debrief was astounding and showed a fantastic level of engagement with the activity!

Inclement weather prevented us from doing our Dharma Cave Hike inside the Shaolin Temple grounds, so instead we took the students for a walk in Songshan Scenic Park back on the outskirts of Dengfeng City. This hike, while not as difficult as the Dharma Cave Hike, still offered a continuous upward gradient and fantastic views of the lush green mountains surrounding the city. Already quite wet, students no longer had a problem being outdoors and had a fabulous time talking with their friends and jumping in puddles as we zig-zagged our way up the park path. This was truly a fantastic opportunity for students to work on one of the primary objectives of the trip, community building amongst the grade sixes.

Back at the hotel, a hot shower and delicious meal awaited the students before we capitalized on one of the main perks of staying at the Chanwu Hotel, the hotel’s in-house Kung Fu show which features some of the best Kung Fu students in city. If you live in China and haven’t had the opportunity to see a real live Kung Fu show- THEY ARE A MUST SEE! SERIOUSLY! Exhausted, students packed up their things and turned into bed early.

IMG_3470-compressorThe next morning, before checking out of the hotel, we took the opportunity to have some genuine reflection time on the trip thus far. The Chanwu Hotel’s big, open padded Kung Fu room offered the perfect space for students to spread out with their advisory groups, do some journaling, and reflect on the trip up this point. A necessary component of every education program, the reflection time offered us a chance to really see what the major take-aways were from the program so far.

After reflection time we went to meet one of Master Xie’s former classmates, Can Sen. Master Can introduced us to his students and showed us around his Kung Fu school, which was established on the outskirts of Dengfeng for orphan children. BCIS students were treated to a full tour of the school, including the dormitories and the classrooms where Master Xie told students about his experiences growing up alone in Dengfeng. Next both schools got together in the main yard where they played games and took turns showing each other what they knew about Kung Fu. Arguably the highlight of the entire trip, it was amazing seeing how practicing Kung Fu together helped the students (both BCIS and the local students) overcome their initial fears and shyness, embrace diversity and learn from one another.

After a quick lunch and debrief at a local restaurant, we made the hour transfer to Luoyang for the culminating activity of the program- a visit to the world famous, UNESCO protected Longmen Grottoes. A new addition to our program this year, it is safe to say the grottoes were a HUGE hit with the students! Inside the riverside park, students worked in small groups to gather information about the history of the grottoes, make observations about various details within the caves, and think critically about some of the challenges faced by China in preserving the ancient landmark throughout history and into the future.

A quick dinner and short drive to the train station later and our time in Henan was officially over. The overnight train journey home provided the perfect environment for one final opportunity to chat with students about their experiences and debrief what they have learned over the course of the program. As always, their responses didn’t disappoint and were incredibly insightful.

Overall, a fantastic trip and we at The Hutong look forward to having more adventures with the students at Beijing City International School!