En­ter the Iron Dragon

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By MATT HODGES in Shang­hai

matthe­whodges@chi­nadaily. com.cn

Sub­cul­tural cool­ness oozes through the ma­sonry and stone pil­lars of Iron Dragon Crossfit Box, a cross-fit gym and “big boy’s play­house” in Shang­hai that ser­vices the city’s only Ninja War­rior pro­gram.

Re­cently, there has been talk of set­ting up a Chi­nese ver­sion of the popular US game show Amer­i­can Ninja War­rior, where contestants race around ob­sta­cle cour­ses but forego the black masks, throw­ing stars and badly dubbed death threats.

“The hope even­tu­ally is that we all are able to get the TV show run­ning in China, and also the cour­ses to de­velop the ath­letes,” said Aus­tralian-Chi­nese Mark Soo, a pit bull of a man from Bris­bane, Queens­land who runs Iron Dragon and also trains celebri­ties. Kyle Shapiro’s LINK Park­our helps run the Ninja War­rior pro­gram.

“The top guys are usu­ally the park­our guys,” added the 38-year-old Soo, also the found­ing fa­ther of Eter­nity Fit­ness, which does cross-fit boot camps. “They are typ­i­cally the most ver­sa­tile and suit­able for th­ese kinds of chal­lenges. And it’s al­ways evolv­ing.”

His 1,200-square-me­ter gym for the phys­i­cally gifted is full of su­per­sized graf­fiti, spray­painted mo­ti­va­tional slo­gans, punch bags, cir­cus rings, ropes and even skate­board ramps.

Its mot­ley crew of “cir­cus silk” train­ers, hand bal­ancers, Muay Thai kick­box­ers and fit­ness-fa­natic reg­u­lars look like they are ready to deploy to the bat­tle­field. They sniff at bro­ken an­kles and neck braces.

“The prin­ci­ple was to cre­ate the ul­ti­mate big boy’s play­house, where all your fit­ness dreams can come true,” quipped Soo.

While Pud­ding, an in­struc­tor from Sichuan prov­ince, was prac­tic­ing grav­ity-de­fy­ing som­er­saults off a skate­board ramp one evening, a Swedish man with the face of a young Brad Pitt main­tained a onearm hand­stand in an ad­join­ing room.

“I’m a full-time stunt­man, so I kind of had to broaden my skillset be­cause park­our nowa­days is such an im­por­tant part of it,” said Joel Adrian, 25. He came to China to study wushu but now works in movies.

Ka­te­rina Hauskova of Czech Repub­lic said park­our is all about free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

“We’re do­ing things you’re not sup­posed to. We’re cross­ing bor­ders,” said Hauskova. “It’s free­dom. Peo­ple say, ‘Don’t climb that rail. But we say, ‘Why not?’”

She stud­ies sport medicine in Shang­hai and had just re­turned to the gym from a six-month sab­bat­i­cal af­ter tear­ing her menis­cus (knee) while per­form­ing a side flip.

“We’re kind of weirdos here in Shang­hai,” she said. “It’s not like where I come from, where it’s more nor­mal to see peo­ple do­ing park­our.”

Adrian said it is slowly gain­ing trac­tion.

“A cou­ple of years ago, this gym would have gone out of busi­ness. The rent is crazy. But now the mar­ket is ready for it,” he said.

“It’s like a re­ac­tion against the mush­room­ing of slick and fancy gyms around the city. It’s raw and gritty. You can throw chalk around here and no one cares.”


of Czech Repub­lic watches a park­our in­struc­tor defy grav­ity at Iron Dragon Crossfit Box.

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