Originally found at CircusNews.com this documentary from Shanghai Circus School follows the training of a flying act (specifically, a copy of the Moranbong flying act) and a handbalancer - with 9 and 8 year olds.
I bet these kids don't even understand the caliber of the tricks they're doing - at a fraction of the age of the majority of professional performers.
I'm familiar with a toned-down version of the infamous Chinese discipline. It's rough, it's cold and it's emotionally overwhelming - but it works.
When I moved from the pre-team gymnastics group to the team group when I was maybe 8 years old, my first practice was my Chinese coach telling me that I couldn't do anything else until I learned circles on mushroom and then walking away to work with the rest of the team. So I spent the entire practice by myself doing circles, eventually breaking down and crying for a bit, but coming back to it and doing more while the rest of the group did a normal practice. And what do you know, I learned them. I'd venture to say I learned a lot from that day without anybody saying anything to me. Maybe it was even a test to see if I'd be able to handle his style of coaching. Whatever it was, it had a big part in molding the way I train even to this day.
Most people will look at this documentary and scream "child abuse!" - yes, there are some glaring examples of gross mistreatment, but there's something to be said for the method's efficacy. You won't see an act like this without a disciplinary structure like China's. Personally I think it's easier to teach someone with constant positive reinforcement (and also because in our litigious society you can't get away with making your students cry as easily) but it's often hard to maintain attention and seriousness with a smile on your face.
The other edge of this sword is that Chinese acts have probably the worst emotional content of any circus acts. Largely in part, I imagine, because you have to stifle your feelings to do what your coaches want. I love this example - everyone smiles with their teeth and not with their eyes. But other than that, they are doing one of the hardest acts I have ever seen in my life.
So the obvious ideal is a middle ground, but it's not always easy to find that. Some people are so jaded by their gymnastic development that it's hard to express anything, and some people are so caught up in expressing themselves that it ceases to be impressive. It's a very difficult balance to achieve, no doubt, but something that any performer should aim for.
I kind of wish I had a Chinese coach to beat up on me at this point in my career.