A day in the life of a 9-year-old student in China’s biggest Kung Fu school

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Xin Chenxi, aged nine, is part of the elite team at Shaolin Tagou Kung Fu School.
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BestUK net / YouTube

An empty parade ground fills the foreground. The camera pans upwards to reveal misty hills and fir trees and a thin black line of people.

Suddenly, a shout goes up and the black line rushes forward, revealing its great depth. Thousands of figures are charging now, roaring in cacophonous unison all the way as an orchestra crescendos them into proximity.

This is the opening sequence to “Dragon Girls,” one of the greatest documentaries I have ever seen, which also happens to be free to watch on YouTube.

The young protagonists of the film train at the Shaolin Tagou Kung Fu School in Dengfeng City, Henan province.

Shaolin Tagou is the biggest martial arts school in China – the grounds cover 550,000 square meters and are inhabited by over 25,000 students. “Dragon Girls” follows the journey of just three students, though; nine-year-old Xin Chenxi, 15-year-old Chen Xi and 17-year-old Huang Luolan.

Despite their immaturity, these girls are models of discipline and determination. Winning medals doesn’t come easy though, scroll down to see what a typical day at Tagou is like.


Meet nine-year-old Xin Chenxi — her big sister named her after the morning Sun, which is chirpy and bright.

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BestUK net / YouTube

She arrived at Shaolin Tagou Kung Fu School when she was just 7 years old.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Her parents visited her every six months when she was ‘little’ but now that she’s big, she doesn’t seem them so often. Her family home is over 1000km to the south of Tagou school in rural Zhejiang Province.

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BestUK net / YouTube

She’s part of the elite team, which requires extreme dedication — she says there’s a lot of pressure.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Training doesn’t come without risks — in this scene, Chenxi and her friends compare battle scars. Most of them seem to have various cases of frostbitten fingers or ears.

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BestUK net / YouTube

This girl has 16 stitches on her upper arm that were pulled through with ‘fire tongs.’ She says she wasn’t given any anesthetic.

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BestUK net / YouTube

It’s not all banter and comparing scars. A typical day at Tagou starts at 5:40 am.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Then they hit the training ground for a run and morning training — this lasts until 7:30 am.

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BestUK net / YouTube

They take a quick break and have breakfast. They have to be ready for more training by 8:50 am.

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REUTERS / Donald Chan

Training goes on until 11:50 am when they break for lunch.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Apparently, you better be quick with your meal — you have 10-20 minutes before training starts all over again.

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BestUK net / YouTube

There’s just enough time to squeeze in something educational too.

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Best UK net / YouTube

At 6:20 pm, a horn sounds, and the students make their way to the dormitories to wash. They only get to shower twice a week, a wet cloth will have to do inbetween.

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BestUK net / YouTube

It’s cold during winter, there’s no heating. Perhaps that explains all the frostbite. Dengfeng City averages about 0 degrees Celsius during the coldest month of January.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Source: Travel China Guide.


At 8:30 pm, the final horn sounds — it’s time for bed. A register is called in the dormitory then it’s lights out.

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BestUK net / YouTube

15-year-old Chen Xi says her favourite thing to do is sleep — students only have Sundays off.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Life at Tagou is hard, but Xin Chenxi says tears are an expression of weakness, crying won’t change anything.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Xin Chenxi strives to win competitions because they are logged on her record. When she graduates from Tagou, she hopes to find a good job — “Then I can save and give the money to my parents every month,” she says.

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BestUK net / YouTube

Her dad says only if she comes first, will he come and visit her. That seems like motivation enough.

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BestUK net / YouTube

You can watch ‘Dragon Girls’, in full — for free — here: