Chinese kung fu fighters dazzle Dubai

Whirling, diving and balancing their bodies on spearpoints, the Shaolin Temple troupe put on an impressive performance.

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - February 8, 2011.

NATIONAL: Shoppers watch the Shaolin Monks from China perform at the Mirdif City Centre in Dubai on Tuesday, February 8, 2011. Amy Leang/The National
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DUBAI // Martial artists from China's storied Shaolin Temple training centre kicked, leapt, broke steel over their heads and balanced on spearheads onstage at Mirdif City Centre.

At Monday night's show, a crowd of hundreds saved the most applause for the youngest of the seven-strong troupe, 10-year-old Yang Xiaotai, for his fast acrobatics.

The youngster burst onto the stage with three handsprings. Standing, he lifted one leg behind his head, then leapt into splits on the floor. Still sitting, he tucked both legs behind his head, tumbled forward and walked on his hands. Then he backflipped onto his head, whirled around like a breakdancer and flipped back onto his feet.

The older performers, ranging in age from 13 to 18, with shaved heads and wearing matching gold tunics, whipped through the air with quick kicks and sharp 360-degree turns. Some twirled and dodged metal chains that were moving so fast they looked fluid.

Then came the harder, more impressive stunts. Zheng Zhengwu, 18, emerged carrying a steel bar. He warmed up with intense motions apparently meant to concentrate his qi, or inner energy. Then he slapped the steel over his skull - and broke it.

Near the end of the 20-minute show - part of Dubai Shopping Festival - Zheng returned shirtless followed by five teammates carrying spears. They lifted him, face down, over their heads, and then withdrew their arms and held him up instead by the points of their spears: one on his chest, two on his abdomen and two on his feet.

The Shaolin style earned worldwide fame through films such as Shaolin Temple, starring renowned martial artist Jet Li. Major Hollywood movies featuring martial arts widened its appeal.

"We grew up watching them on TV, in movies, so we liked it," Shan Liang, the team manager, said.

Many of the thousands of practitioners at the Shaolin Temple start from a young age and practise every day.

Zheng, 18, said he may have broken 1,000 steel bars over his head by now. "At first I was afraid, but now I am used to it," he said. "I've lost track of how many times I've done it."

The troupe have travelled across Europe, and to Brazil and Australia. They last performed in January in Doha, and next month they will tour Lithuania and Poland. They have given shows in Dubai and Abu Dhabi several times, including three each night in the past week at Mirdif.

After the Monday night performance spectator Abdulrahman Alotaibi, 7, leapt up from his seat on the floor and jumped around, imitating the martial artists as his parents laughed. "The whole thing was very surprising," his father, Fahd, said.

"I like Shaolin very much," said Alessia Corace, 39, a stay-at-home mother from Italy who studied kung fu for four years.

Ms Corace would like her two-year-old son to learn kung fu, but realises he is still young. "Maybe when he is three," she said.