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Olympic Committee Allows China to Showcase Ancient Martial Art

China has pushed unsuccessfully to have the ancient martial art of wushu -- better known as kung fu outside of China -- included as a demonstration sport in the 2008 Olympics. Instead, the International Olympic Committee has granted permission for an international wushu competition alongside the Games, something Chinese state media are promoting as an Olympic showcasing of the sport.
Sam Beattie has more about wushu from Dengfeng, a small town in Central China's Henan Province where tens of thousands of students receive wushu training.

We saw just one class in a school of 20,000 students. Their studies focus on learning wushu, the Chinese term for martial arts.

Four hours a day, six days a week -- even during school holidays such as the day we visited -- students train here in an unheated building for an upcoming competition. It is drummed into them: practice makes perfect.

Jiao Ruiping is a wushu student. She says, "For example, when there is a move that you cannot get right, the coach will ask you to repeat it again and again, until you do not have any energy left to practice, but you still have to keep on practicing."

Boys and girls as young as six years old come here from across the country. They are drawn by the reputation of a school that has produced a host of wushu champions.

Students say dreams of glory get them through the long days -- practice on top of normal school studies -- and cramped nights, living 10 to a room in a school dormitory.

Student Ye Fangs says, "Except for the classes and wushu, there is nothing else to do. Everyday is just study and training, nothing else."

Even though the sport is not officially part of the Olympics, the coaches hope it one day will be.

Coach Cha Huimin says the art of wushu is treasured in China. "I think every Chinese person is really hoping that more people from around the world will learn about wushu, to understand it or to even practice it, to spread the art of it, because wushu is a treasure of China."

Though wushu athletes will not taste Olympic glory, the sport may still be the key to these students' futures. It can lead them to sporting universities, and to jobs in the military and as coaches. For a few, it can also lead to fame as martial arts stars in film and theater.