CASA GRANDE -- Students at Vista Grande High School are learning to kick as fast as lightning, since so many of them are kung fu fighting.
The high school began implementing kung fu lessons into its physical education classes this year as part of a cultural exchange sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona.
Two Chinese instructors were brought to the high school to teach Mandarin and martial arts over a two-year period. Xiaohui Li is the instructor assigned to teach kung fu, a sport she’s participated in since childhood.
Li is not fluent in English yet, so she often relies on a phone application to translate words and sentences. During an interview with PinalCentral, some of the questions still got lost in translation.
“Translator is not good,” Li said, laughingly while trying to get her phone to work. Cristina Salcido-Grigg, a Vista High physical education teacher, often assists Li with managing the class of American students.
The school doesn’t have courses dedicated only to kung fu, but Li visits existing PE classes on a weekly basis to teach kung fu moves. Salcido-Grigg said her students were at first intimidated to try the martial art, but now they’re excited to start kung fu again this semester.
Some students have volunteered to showcase a kung fu routine at a Chinese New Year festival Saturday at Centennial Hall on the UA campus in Tucson.
Li is both a performer and instructor of kung fu but admits teaching teenagers the martial art can be difficult at times. Not much taller in height than most of the school’s students, Li gives the impression of not being much of a physical threat.
But she defies that assumption when demonstrating her swift, sharp kicks and hand moves. She likes how kung fu exercises both her body and mind since the sport requires so much coordination.
Salcido-Grigg said working with Li has been quite the cultural exchange. She’s had a chance to try Chinese snacks like mooncakes and wasabi peas, and her students enjoy playing the Chinese schoolyard games Li’s taught them.
Casa Grande Union High School District Superintendent Shannon Goodsell went to China this past summer in preparation for Vista’s new cultural offerings. Before the trip, he told PinalCentral the Chinese program was spearheaded in part due to the anticipated completion of PhoenixMart, an international commerce center under construction in Casa Grande.
Whether the project will actually bring more Chinese students to the district is speculative, but having Mandarin and martial arts available to students does add some variety to the curriculum.
Li said she’s hoping the popularity of kung fu will expand enough to warrant creating an after-school club in the next school year.