An Italian's worship for Chinese Kungfu

Kleber Battaglia

Enter the Dragon, a martial arts action film starring Bruce Lee, flabbergasted Kleber Battaglia when he was a 9-year-old boy who practiced Japanese Jujitsu and had no knowledge about Chinese Kungfu.

The Italian boy was enchanted with the close-range combat techniques that Lee adopted to bring down the burly chaps in the film and dreamt of fighting like the Kungfu superstar did. And after doing some research on the film, he knew that it is called Yongchun, a traditional Chinese Kungfu style, which focuses on performing combat skills in a relaxed, soft, flexible and quick manner.

Battaglia became a Yongchun practitioner under the guidance of two trainers when he was 21 years old. At that time, he was self-content and imposed himself as a skillful Yongchun fighter until he came across a real master from China.

Encounter with master

In 2008, Battaglia attended a martial arts-related exchange activity in his country, where he was invited to show his Kungfu skills on the stage and was "unexpectedly" bowled over by a Chinese sexagenarian.

"It was unbelievable that such an old man could 'tease' me like a little kid in a combat," said Battaglia.

The old man is Wan Kam Leung, a respected martial artist who taught Yongchun in Hong Kong. Wan was trained by Wong Shun Leung, a disciple of Ip Man, a world-renowned master teacher of Yongchun. The most famous student of Ip is Lee, the actor who aroused Battaglia's strong interest in Chinese Kungfu.

"After I was knocked down, the first thing coming to my mind was becoming Wan's disciple. I told him that I would like to follow him wherever he stayed. And then, he left me a word 'will you go to Hong Kong?'" recalled Battaglia.

Months later, Battaglia fulfilled his promise by quitting his job as a psychological consultant and breaking up with his girlfriend, and came alone to Hong Kong where he was taught by Wan for four years.

"The cost of living in Hong Kong was very high, so I ran out of my money very quickly. But I was happy to spend five hours every day to practice Yongchun with my teacher," said Battaglia.

After the completion of his apprenticeship, the Italian man was recommended by Wan to open a martial club in Shanghai to start his Kungfu career.

"Initially, I had a plan to teach Kungfu in the United States. I was confused about a foreigner teaching Kungfu to Chinese people, many of whom even did not recognize the so-called Chinese Kungfu 'masters'. I was so much in self-denial, but I thought that I had to do something to prove my teacher was right," said Battaglia.

Kungfu career in Shanghai

It is hard for a foreign-run martial club to survive in Shanghai, where many people still follow the tradition of Kungfu and are reluctant to accept foreigners as Kungfu teachers.

"Since Kungfu can be applied in real combat, it can be taught through a scientific method. Martial artists must know how to use their body to perform Kungfu and can use the knowledge of physics to explain it," said Battaglia.

The Italian Kungfu teacher also reads many books about Chinese philosophy such as Taoism in the hope of creating his unique teaching methodology that he can use in Yongchun.

In Battaglia's opinion, some so-called "masters" practice Kungfu superficially and attach no importance to the strengthening of anti-strike capability and stamina, which is a reason why they were defeated by mixed martial arts contestants.

So far, Battaglia has taught more than 400 students, from whom he learns a lot about Chinese culture and ways Chinese people get along with others.

"On the one hand, I feel so lucky to teach Kungfu in China; on the other hand, I feel so sad that many Chinese people have become less interested in Kungfu. I do not want to see Kungfu disappearing in China," said Battaglia, hoping that his Chinese students could take on the responsibility to pass down Kungfu to the next generations.

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