The fighter’s guide to Shanghai martial arts

The fighter’s guide to Shanghai martial arts

The five best places to learn to kick butt in Shanghai

As the home of traditional kung fu and wushu, China annually attracts thousands of tourists who venture to the Shaolin Temple and Wudang Shan to train and study the ancient martial arts popularized by the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

While Shanghai is also home to a number of kung fu schools, the current worldwide Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) boom has led to growing interests in other martial arts by locals and expats alike, allowing beginners and experienced martial artists to improve their techniques around the city. 

We spent five days trying five different styles in Shanghai to explore which class offers the ultimate butt kicking. 

Shanghai martial arts - Oz Body Fit

Day 1: Oz Body Fit

Style: Muay Thai

The scene: Opened in September 2008 by Israeli expat and professional Muay Thai fighter Tomer Oz, Oz Body Fit is the first Muay Thai training center to open in Shanghai.

Classes at Oz Body Fit begin with an intense 30-minute stretching and aerobic cardiovascular work out, followed by an equally intense hour of kicking and punching combination exercises.

Go there because: Muay Thai is a surprisingly active sport, that helps build your core strength as well as improving your quickness and power.

Drawback: You can count on taking a few shots to the forearms, but fear not, Oz Body Fit provides top-level protective equipment.

Cost: Membership options range from RMB 7,600 for one year and RMB 5,200 for six months, to RMB 1,000 for a month and RMB 100 for a single class. Private instruction is also offered for RMB 400 per hour.

Coach says: “People come for many reasons,” explains Oz, who owns a 9-2 professional Muay Thai fighting record in the 68 kg weight class. “[They come] to relieve stress, to get in shape, to lose weight, but you need to come twice a week to get anything out of it.” 

Oz Body Fit, Rm. 103, 528 Kangding Lu, near Xikang Lu 康定路528号103室, 近西康路, +86 21 6288 5278,

Shanghai martial arts - Shanghai Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Day 2: Shanghai Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (SHBJJ)

The scene: The 400-square meter Shanghai Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy is run by Brazilian import and BJJ black belt Tony Eduardo, a disciple of Rillion Gracie, along with Hong Kong native and purple belt Stanley Tam.

SHBJJ is lined with wall-to-wall training mats, and in addition to top-level jiu jitsu instruction, offers Army Combative classes, boot camp and kettle bell training.

Go there because: SHBJJ offers the most qualified jiu jitsu instructors in Shanghai, and teaches self-defense techniques that will help anyone against a larger, more athletic opponent.

Drawback: Inexperienced fighters will have to learn grappling moves by being practiced upon, leading to some more-than slightly uncomfortable positions, but the instructors will never allow serious injury.

Cost: A full-year membership at Shanghai BJJ will set you back RMB 7,200 (RMB 600 per month).

Shanghai BJJ, 427 Jumen Lu, Bldg. 2, Unit 404, near Xietu Lu 局门路427号二号楼2404室, 近斜土路, +86 150 2113 5476,

Shanghai martial arts - Capoeira Brasil

Day 3: Capoeira Brasil

The scene: Housed in the same space as SHBJJ, Capoeira Brasil is run by Tanque, a Chinese American who has been studying Capoeira, a discipline that combines swift athletic movements with dance style rhythms and places an emphasis on performance, since 2000.

Class sizes average three to eight students with varying degrees of experience, and are athletically demanding to say the least but taught in a relaxed atmosphere.

Go there because: Introductory classes include basic moves like Ginja, Meialua de frente, Esquiva Lateral and Quexada, all of which will challenge your co-ordination and improve flexibility and athleticism. 

Drawback: Inexperienced capoeirists will feel the intense leg burn from those same basic moves for two days after the first class. Don't even try walking stairs.

Cost: 20-class cards run for RMB 1,000, while 10-class cards sell for RMB 600. Drop-in students can train for RMB 100.

Coach says: “Shanghai has the potential to become an entry point for capoeira,” explains Tanque. “I do performances and plan to cooperate with the local Brazilian community to do shows.”

Capoeira Brasil, 427 Jumen Lu, Bldg. 2, Unit 404, near Xietu Lu 局门路427号二号楼2404室, 近斜土路, +86 150 0054 1107,

Shanghai martial arts - Shanghai Karate

Day 4: Shanghai Karate

The scene: Run by Dutch black belt Telly Geenens, Shanghai Karate is focused on the classic Japanese martial art’s Kusano-Ha Shito-Ryu method. While classes are small in size, training is intense and serious, Geenens pairing kicking and punching instruction with cardiovascular exercise and calisthenics.

Go there because: This is nothing like your stereotypical Daniel-san, Mr Miyagi preconception of Karate. Kusano-Ha Shito-Ryu emphasizes practical self-defense knowledge along with useful self-discipline techniques. 

Drawback: Like many of the other martial arts, the only way to improve your technique is to feel the wrath of a more experienced counterpart. While you won’t break any bones, expect a swift punch to the dome or a kick in the gut. 

Cost: 24 classes run RMB 2,560

Coach says: “Other martial arts are fashionable right now, but karate teaches you perseverance, strong will and helps you believe that everything is possible and to believe in yourself.” 

Shanghai Karate, B104 Red Town, No.570 Huaihai Xi Lu, near Kaixuan Lu 淮海西路570号红房B104-B108室, 近凯旋路, +86 21 6127 1551,

Shanghai martial arts - Club Hero

Day 5: Club Hero

Style: Mixed martial arts

The scene: With facilities in both Shanghai and Beijing, Club Hero is a large and dynamic space that offers instruction in BJJ, Muay Thai and boxing. Complete with a boxing ring and state of the art training equipment, Club Hero is attempting to be China’s leading martial arts gym and training center.

Go there because: No other gym offers as many classes in various fighting styles and they have more females in training than any other gym in Shanghai.

Drawback: Hero is Shanghai’s most expensive martial arts training center and it’s sometimes tough for the price to justify the quality of instruction.

Cost: A year at Club Hero runs RMB 5,500 cash (RMB 5,800 if you pay by card), while a six-month membership is RMB 4,000.

Club Hero, B104 Red Town, No.570 Huaihai Xi Lu, near Kaixuan Lu 淮海西路570号红房B104-B108室, 近凯旋路, +86 21 6281 8280,

Writer, front man, promoter and visionary, Dan Shapiro's a Renaissance man who's been covering Shanghai's music and nightlife scenes since 2007.

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