Wushu – the Chinese term for martial arts – is both an art form, and a full-contact sport which comprises largely of traditional Chinese martial arts.

“It’s not just about the physical. It’s mental. It’s how you think, how you live, how you deal with life. Wushu made me who I am today,” 25-year-old Amina Materukhina says as she strolls onto the football field at Santa Monica College holding several swords and a long wooden stick. Having become a wushu world junior champion at age 13, Materukhina is now at Santa Monica College to start the school’s first wushu club, Wushu SMC.

Competitive Wushu is composed of two disciplines: Taolu (forms) and Sanda (sparring). An athlete versed in wushu will be proficient in fighting, grappling, acrobatics, stances, kicks, punches, throws, sweeps, as well as being able to handle both short and long weapons – such as Materukhina’s striking, elegant long sword, now slung over her shoulder.

Materukhina was born in Moscow, and her parents – who work in education – were fans of martial arts. They sent both her and her brother to a wushu class – but Amina was the one who excelled when she started at the age of four.

By the time she was five, she entered a free government-run, full-time wushu school. She then crammed a traditional education alongside Mandarin classes, training in many of the social, mental, spiritual and cultural aspects of Chinese culture and thinking, and hours of wushu.

The training was intense. Materukhina enjoyed it but was aware it was a lifestyle of discipline and dedication. “If you sleep less than eight hours, you can’t perform,” she said. “You can’t drink alcohol. You must eat well. You stay focused.”

At the age of nine, Materukhina won her first International Junior Championship in China. In 2006, Materukhina became the wushu world junior champion at the age of 13. At age 16 she entered Moscow State University, where she gained a degree in Economics, she competed in her final world junior championship her last year of University. She started to teach wushu and found out that she had a gift for sharing her knowledge with students. Two degrees later, Materukhina decided to take on a new challenge: America.

In 2017, Materukhina entered Santa Monica College to start studying Kinesiology. “It makes it more interesting because I’m studying in a language which is not mine,” she explains. After finding support and encouragement from the professors in her department, Materukhina came up with the idea to start a wushu club at SMC.

“It wasn’t hard to find people who wanted to learn,” she says. Like most clubs at SMC, there is no payment required, and the club meets twice a week on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. and Fridays at 12:30 p.m. in the Core Performance Center in room 218. Materukhina patiently teaches fellow students with a quiet, focused dedication while a large, shaggy dog sits watching in the corner.

Materukhina admits she sometimes misses competing professionally, but continues a regular practice for herself, and now has time for other pursuits, including surfing and yoga. Her ferocious desire for knowledge is also satisfied by the continual challenge of studying in yet another language – English – she is determined to master in addition to her native Russian and proficient Mandarin.

The logo for the club features a graphic version of a photograph of Amina. In it, she’s flying vertically, ponytail swinging, her body suspended, for a moment, in the air. “I love wushu. It changed my life. I want to share that with people” she says, smiling, and then walks away before turning back. “When are you coming to practice? I’ll be waiting for you.”

This story was published as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair Student Newspaper and the Santa Monica Daily Press.