This week our sports explorers travelled to Frankfurt to learn all about the ancient art of Kung Fu and how to hit ‘em where it hurts…
Der Tempel der Alten Künste wins the award for the nicest smelling martial arts studio in Germany. The lavender and orange oil infusion lingers in the corridor and once in the studio the fragrance seems to infuse my very soul. It’s 7pm on a warm Tuesday evening and a kids Kung Fu class is just finishing up. Parents are waiting on sofas and armchairs in the entryway, gazing admiringly at their respective children who are kicking violently into the air.
The evening breeze wafts through the windows. Chinese wall-hangings, award certificates and images of South East Asian landscapes adorn the walls. As the kids pack up their things, teacher and founder of the studio, Michael Mehle, spots my Urban Sports Club t-shirt and introduces himself. “You must be writing the blog post!” He says warmly. And then starts kicking the living daylights out of a wooden dummy.
“You’ll need to learn the basics of Kung Fu first,” He says, elbowing the dummy in the armpit. “This dummy is exactly the same form as a person so I like to train on him.” Each time Michael hits the dummy it makes a thick thud noise, like it’s actually been winded. As I watch Michael slam his knee into its groin I make the decision right then and there: to never get on the wrong side of Michael.
Luckily there’s not much chance of this happening. Michael is clearly a popular pillar in Frankfurt’s Kung Fu community. As we chat about his studio a line of young boys, adult women and middle-aged men wait patiently so they can greet their teacher. Michael is mid-40s with a good-natured face and a full sleeve of tattoos on his left arm. He’s extremely composed which, as I find out, is a discipline he learnt through Kung Fu. “I was a bodyguard in the German Police and I learnt Kung Fu during my training,” he tells me. “And it became my passion so I quit my job and opened a school in 2001.”
Michael fell in love with Kung Fu because it taught him respect for himself and others. “Kung Fu teaches you how to defeat your ego, how to stay in control of yourself and to deal with problems head-on. Since I began practicing Kung Fu I became more confident in every aspect in life – even public speaking.”
Michael begins the class with breathing exercises. “Breathe from your stomach,” he says. “Kung Fu is a mental sport. It’s about mindset, self-confidence, and self-defence. The breathing aspect is like your engine.” As he stands at the front of the class, breathing in and out, Michael seems utterly calm, in control and powerful. He has an acute sense of awareness, like he can take charge of any situation.
We circle our hips wide and then our knees, which seems like a simple stretch until Michael shows how one of these knee circles, when sped up, can floor your opponent. But Kung Fu is all about self-defence, and that’s what sets it apart from the other martial arts. “Other martial arts like boxing are all about ego and competition. But with Kung Fu you kill your ego. It’s not a competition here.”
We divide into partners and Michael directs us into a low squat. We sit with the base of our spines back to back with our partners. “Think about your breath, not your legs,” Michael says. “And we’ll hold this position for five minutes.” After minute two it becomes hard not to think about my burning legs, but I take Michael’s advice, breathe through it and somehow make it to the end of the five minutes. Then Michael shows the class how we keep our balance by putting one leg slightly in front of the other and the opposite hand across your chest. It’s almost impossible to push someone over in this stance – an amazing party trick.
Michael demonstrates a self-defense sequence and pairs me up with a young man called Jacob. Jacob pushes me, I stabilise myself, put my arms under his, hit him in the face and then push with my full weight so he slams onto a mattress against the wall. I am very apologetic about the entire debacle but Jacob seems perfectly okay with it. He asks me several times to hit him harder in the face but I politely decline.
Then, after another demonstration from Michael, Jacob grabs my wrist and comes at me as though to hit me. I push my elbows up and his arms away then pull his neck down,knee him in the head and push him backwards onto the mattress. “Kung Fu is really about self defence,” Michael explains. “You use the strength and the power from your opponent against them.” Michael then shows me how to effectively knee poor Jacob in the groin.
Next up is the ‘feeling’ part – the aspect where you predict the movements of your opponent and deflect them. “Try to hit me,” Michael says. I try to punch Michael in the face but I can’t – he just pushes my arm away at the elbow. He then shows me how to do the same thing and redirect his punches away from my face. He punches quite hard in my direction but I am able to push his elbow away in time so I avoid having my skull smashed in like a hard-boiled egg. Kung Fu, it turns out, is an extremely handy life-skill.
After a few more sequences which involve throttling and slamming poor Jacob into the wall, it’s time for some strength exercises: planks, press ups, sit ups and breathing to warm down.
As I pack up my things I ask Jacob if he’s okay. “Oh yeah, that was nothing compared to what we usually do,” he says happily. He bows to Michael shoulders his backpack and, with a slight limp, he walks off.
If you’d like to try Kung Fu Urban Sports Club has plenty of martial arts partners across Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area.
And check out Der Tempel der Alten Künste’s website for all their classes, news and events.