Jakarta. It was just after sunset on July 25 when six elite junior wushu athletes starting a training session under the watchful eyes of their two coaches at Laba-Laba Sakti, a club in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.
"You can call us spider men," Fready Hartono, one of the coaches, said with smile, referring to the club's name, which means "magic spider."
The club is located on the second floor of the local community office in Pegangsaan Dua, a village in Kelapa Gading subdistrict. And although the club is not required to pay rent, the community head demands that the athletes win as many medals as possible as a tradeoff.
The training area is certainly very modest and minimalistic for a club that has won several prestigious medals in international competitions.
Just two weeks before the Jakarta Globe's visit, two of the club's athletes, Lawrence Dean Kurnia (11) and his sister Patricia Geraldine (15), won medals at the seventh World Junior Wushu Championships in Brazil.
The Indonesian contingent, consisting of 20 junior athletes, won a total of 19 medals during the event, sanctioned by the International Wushu Federation.
Lawrence won a gold medal and Patricia bronze in taolu, a routine-based competition that tests the agility of individual athletes based on their ability to execute a series of martial arts maneuvers and techniques. The other main component of wushu is sanda, which consists of either sparring or physical combat.
"Laba-Laba Sakti is concentrating more on taolu for various reasons," said Fready, who is also technical and development chief of the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Wushu Association.
The club, which opened its doors in 2011, has about 50 members, ranging from juniors to seniors, who train wushu for between five and 15 hours per week.
"We are open to everyone," Fready said, adding that the training hours are based on age and talent.
He said more talented children are placed in the elite group, which involves a more intense training program, while younger children train for fewer hours per day.
"Kids from 3 to 5 years old for example, only train for one hour a day, which means five hours a week, while the elite group, to which Patricia and Lawrence belong, train 15 hours a week," he said.
No Pain, No Gain
Becoming an elite athlete requires lots of sacrifice in terms of time and energy as the training regime can be very tough.
"Perhaps because I was an elite wushu athlete in my previous occupation, the kids adopt my mindset," said Fready, 38, who won bronze medals during National Sports Week in 2004 and 2008.
Beside the physical demands, an athlete also requires strong mental resilience to succeed, he added.
Fready is assisted by Ronny Saputra, 31, a former gymnast who won a silver medal at the 2011 Southeast Asian Games.
Ronny has been helping club members with flexibility training for the past two-and-a-half years.
"As a gymnast, I trained very hard. The requirements for wushu athletes in terms of flexibility are far lower than for gymnasts, so I think my discipline has helped them achieve excellence," said Ronny, who often takes the athletes to a gymnastics center in Buaran, East Jakarta, for special training.
Some movements in taolu require maximum flexibility, which is trained in gymnastics.
"Wushu requires physical ability. The training is very tough and I can see some of the kids suffer when they follow our program," Ronny said.
"I actually don't like the training regime. It is hard and tiring. But my parents always motivate me to carry on," said Patricia, who is also involved in basketball, badminton and swimming.
Heryanti Budhi, Lawrence and Patricia's mother, concurred that the elite group's training regime is rather tough.
"As a mother, I sometimes don't want to see them training because it usually requires very intense physical effort," she said. "But I was convinced by the coaches that my kids have the ability to become winners, so I accepted."
Heryanti said her children sometimes struggle in the evenings after training, often coming home very tired and then still having to do their homework.
"I will let them decide for themselves later on whether they want to continue with wushu, or not. But I always tell them that school is No. 1. They must finish school first before wushu," she said.
Fready initially established Laba-Laba Sakti with the intention to share his skills and experience, while parents just wanted their children to practice wushu socially and learn basic martial arts techniques.
"Nobody expected this club to achieve so much, but I knew some of these kids had the talent to become elite athletes," Fready said.
Heryanti said she never thought her son would win a gold medal at a world championship, but consistency was the key.
Lawrence and Patricia have been involved in wushu for seven years and if they did not practice consistently, they would never have reached their current level, she said.
"At first, I just wanted to fix Lawrence's hyperactivity as he also suffered from asthma. And because we were living nearby, I thought wushu could help him get rid of his excessive energy," said Heryanti, who enrolled all three of her children in the club. Her other child has since stopped participating in wushu due to a health issue.
"We, as parents, never expected to see them win medals on an elite stage. It was all beyond our expectations," she said.
Laba-Laba Sakti has nine athletes between the ages of 8 and 22 in the elite group and they have won several medals, both in national and international elite competitions.
Prior to the world championships in Brazil, Patricia, Lawrence and 16-year-old Saca Ilmare Dinbiru won seven gold medals at a junior national championship in Yogyakarta in March.
"As coaches, we also did not expect to come this far," Fready said. "But if I have to share our recipe for success: it is a mix of coaching and parents' support. You cannot take shortcuts to become an elite athlete; it's a long process."