By David Gray
When I was told about this assignment late last Friday in Beijing, the brief was simple – a group of young female Chinese college graduates training to be bodyguards; sounded interesting. Little did I know how interesting it would actually be.
Myself and a Reuters television crew were met in a shopping mall car park by two obviously former military-trained men wearing army fatigues and dark sunglasses. This for starters was an unusual scene in China; a foreigner being driven by what looked like army personnel as shoppers did ‘double-takes’ as we drove away. Thinking we would be driving to a distant, secret location I settled in for the long ride. Five minutes later, we pulled into a driveway. In front of us were soccer fields, complete with mini-goalposts. What were we doing here?
Sitting at the side of one of the small fields was a group of women eating lunch. As we got closer, I could see they weren’t your usual group of young Chinese girls. Looking like catwalk models but dressed in army fatigues, one of our two male escorts barked an order at them. They quickly finished their food and stood up in formation. From a small hut out walked the head instructor. He was short, but noticeably fit and strong. Almost instantly, he had the girls running laps around the soccer field, yelling at them constantly with words of encouragement, but mostly abuse. After a few laps, the girls formed a line again, and one girl was asked why she wasn’t wearing any gloves. I couldn’t make out what her reply was but the next moment she was on the ground doing push-ups. This was going to be an interesting afternoon.
The girls were then ordered to do some short sprint exercises, while carrying a colleague on their back. This was the first indication to me that these girls were indeed just that – girls. Losing their balance, they started to fall over each other, and the next thing they were shrieking with laughter. I thought the instructor was going to go crazy but even this hard-nosed, former Special Forces soldier could only smile and giggle along with them. But within seconds, he was yelling again for them to get up, and grab boxing gloves and pads, and start punching and kicking.
The instructor observed the girls but was not satisfied. He started showing one of the girls how to hit a pad, being held by another girl, using his shoulder to give extra force. He then unexpectedly punched the bag to demonstrate this, and the girl holding it keeled over in pain.