Even at a young age, dozens of adolescent fencers show their dexterity while brandishing their fencing swords against their rivals at a downtown fencing club in Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province.
Among them, 7-year-old Wu Zhangyi, the youngest participant, has received professional training for over a year at the club. "I hope someday I may participate in the Olympics," the pupil said.
After four years of operation, the club now has over 150 members, three national-level coaches, and five top athletes. Similar fencing clubs are available in almost all urban districts in the city.
A large number of professional competitive sports such as fencing, ice hockey, figure skating, and archery are gaining momentum across the country among sports enthusiasts ranging from minors to the elderly.
According to a 2021 national physical fitness plan for the 2021-2025 period, 38.5 percent of the population will take part in physical exercise as a routine by 2025, driving the total size of the country's sports industry to 5 trillion yuan (785.5 billion U.S. dollars).
In July 2021, China introduced a set of "double reduction" rules to ease the burden of excessive homework and off-campus tutoring for young students, which further encourages physical fitness, especially among younger people.
Zhang Xue, Wu's coach, said fencing can not only strengthen the mind but also thinking, adding that "during practice, pupils need to keep their eyes sharp, sum up experiences, adapt to rules, study their opponents, and upgrade tactics to make progress."
Higher and more professional requirements are needed compared with regular sports activities, Zhang said. Although professional equipment and systematic training are required to play competitive sports, more and more people are turning to practice sports like fencing, the coach added.
According to official data, the total output of China's sports industry was nearly 3 trillion yuan in 2019, a rise of 10.9 percent over the previous year. By the end of 2020, China had over 3.71 million sports venues, covering more than 3 billion square meters.
Jin Qiang, a former boxer, runs his own boxing gym in downtown Hefei. He is among a large number of sports enthusiasts seeking opportunities in the expanding market.
Since the opening of Jin's gym in 2019, hundreds of people have received training there.
"My students range from 5-year-olds to people in their 50s," Jin said. "It's a pleasure to see the sport make a difference among them and help my students become stronger, healthier, and more welcome to challenges."