MOSCOW, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Panting, puffing but still persevering, about a score of Muscovites, dressed in black T-shirts printed with Chinese "Shaolin" characters, sweat it out on Chinese Kungfu moves for their first lesson with a Master in the New Year.
The Chinese martial arts enthusiasts met together on Sunday, the last of a ten-day New Year break, with their master Shi Yanbinin a spacious rented hall at the All-Russian Exhibition center in northern Moscow.
The Russian Shaolin Martial Arts Learning Center, founded in 1999, was the only educational and training agency designated by the famed China's Songshan Shaolin Temple. Around 1,000 students, between the ages of 5 and 70, currently study at the center.
Against a giant backdrop painted with a Shaolin temple gate, the pupils practiced stretching, backflips, kicking and wooden-stick moves. 11-year old Vasily, like his fellow peers, tried strenuously to get every move right.
Vasily has been in this class for more than one year. He comes to the center three times a week, each time for a 90-minute session. Now he confidently tells others what he thinks the martial art is about.
"Though called 'martial', it's about self-defense, not attacking others," he said. The boy, wearing a dragon-embroidered master suit, is a keen fan of kungfu. He plans to visit the Shaolin temple in China this summer. And his mother Svetlana Primakova is more than supportive.
Primokovais said his son is very much interested in China and the Chinese tradition. "We often go to museums that exhibit oriental culture," she said. "He is also starting to learn Chinese this year. Master Shi also comes helpful when Vasily learns the language."
She watched and filmed his son's session with video recorder. Practicing martial arts helps from self-defense to health maintenance and finally comes as method of self-cultivation. It is also an important carrier of the Chinese culture.
Master Shi Yanbin, chief of the center, said his pupils are well-motivated and keen to learn. "I would score them high on their motivation, but as to their learning process, some are swift learners but others are not. It has to depend on their respective physical conditions. But as far as the attitudes are concerned, my pupils are mostly attentive, humble and eager to learn, and I'm happy with that," Shi said.
In Moscow, there are several martial arts schools or clubs, but Master Shi's is one of the most popular one due to its direct linkage with Shaolin.
Shi has been teaching Kungfu here for five years, and only goes back home two to three times a year. The center also develops cooperative programs with Moscow schools. The master, though strict on himself, finds room for lenience on his Russian pupils.
"The pupils differ from each other in their physical qualities," he said. "different curricula have to be designed according to their age and physical conditions, and only through this way could you bring out the best of them in the shortest time period possible."
The Shaolin kungfu is quite popular in Russia. At the 2009 International Military Band Festival, the Songshan Shaolin Temple martial monks came at special invitation to perform hand-to-hand wrestling, stick work, blade and whip techniques.
In 2006, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin made a special visit to the Songshan Shaolin Temple during his China visit.