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Easter Kung Fu moves with the Shaolin Warriors

PUBLISHED: 09:34 29 March 2013 | UPDATED: 09:35 29 March 2013

Shaolin Warriors

Shaolin Warriors

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Kung Fu masters will be thrilling Easter holiday audiences with their death defying disciplines and deadly weapon skills at Norwich's Theatre Royal. Producer Stephen Leatherland tells SIMON PARKIN more about the Shaolin Warriors.

It’s not for the feint-hearted.

Thrill-seeking warriors performing a series of death-defying Kung Fu disciplines, including something called drunken boxing and 20 different weapons, in a show devised by the official choreographer of the memorably spectacular Opening Ceremony at the Beijing Olympics.

But though the feats of agility, strength and skill maybe hair-raising, the latest showcase of the power and strength of the Kung Fu masters, the Shaolin Warriors, which arrives at the Norwich Theatre Royal next week, is itself a family-friendly affair.

You don’t need to be a martial-arts fanatic to enjoy the spectacle and amid the Easter holiday activities across the region, it must certainly be the most memorable.

The show’s producer/director Stephen Leatherland said: “This year we’ve looked to recreate the show especially for the UK audience, making it more interactive, more attractive and ultimately, more exciting.”

He adds: “There is even a teaching sequence with children from the audience who can experience being taught Kung Fu live on stage!”

The fully choreographed spectacular, Return of the Master, features 22 professionally trained Kung Fu masters, thrilling with their death defying disciplines such as chi-gong and animal imitation boxing, with some 20 kinds of traditional weapon.

The production continues the story of the journey of a young warrior, from initiation into the monastery to achieving fully fledged warrior status.

Shaolin is a major genre within the kung-Fu and Chinese martial arts world, and is a way of life especially in Northern China.

The training necessary in order to become a Shaolin Warrior is most definitely not for the feint hearted. A typical day for a young warrior includes waking up at 5am in order to complete a full six hours training alongside compulsory meditation and relaxation.

Most of the warriors grew up in poor rural families in the Henan and Shandong Provinces of China.

“The warriors didn’t just become masters overnight; many of them have been training to become this physically and mentally strong since they were just four-years-old!” said Stephen Leatherland.

“The intense training means that not many can bear the hardships during the hottest and coldest months throughout the year. They really are pushed to their limits and as such, we can’t realistically expect all students to become Kung Fu masters. However, no matter how long or short, we aspire to help people become both physically and mentally strong.”

While on tour, the warriors continue both their mental and physical training as they believe mental strength to be vital to a successful performance.

While providing an insight into the Buddhist meditation and rigorous martial arts training, the show is also a theatrical extravaganza of gorgeous scenery, atmospheric music, and hundreds of costumes. It has already been a huge hit over three continents, being seen by almost a million people.

What’s Stephen’s most exciting skill in the show? “It’s tough to pinpoint as there are so many to choose from, but if I had to pick one, I would probably say the stunt where one warrior is suspended in the air with spears, as it’s simply breathtaking,” he said. “However we like to remind our audiences that at the heart of the warrior’s ethos is grace and elegance which is an important theme throughout the show.

“Others include lying on blades, the nail bed, breaking iron bars using forehead alone to name just a few! However although almost any object can be used as a weapon, the warriors are non-aggressive. At the heart of their ethos is grace and elegance which is a fundamental theme throughout the show.”

They may meditate and undergo rigorous training, but surely even these Kung-Fu masters must pick up the odd sprain and pulled muscle?

“Although the odd minor injury may happen, the warriors have been fully trained since they were very young. As most of them began their training as young as four, they’ve established all the tips and tricks needed in order to ensure their optimum safety. They’re also incredibly strict in their meditation and physical preparation before each show.”

t Shaolin Warriors, Norwich Theatre Royal, April 5, £24-£5.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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