Its official, Kung Fu Tea is turning one year old. My first batch of posts (including a welcome to readers, a discussion of Wushu and the Olympics and a round-up of Chinese martial studies resources) went live on July 27, 2012. A lot has happened since then.
Kung Fu Tea has since published 127 posts on a wide variety of topics. We have interviewed a number of important guests and explored some of the most interesting ideas and books in the field of Chinese martial studies. I have been pleasantly surprised with the reception that this material has received.
I started this project because I felt that the time was right for a more scholarly discussion of the traditional Chinese arts. It seemed that an increasing number of researchers were engaging in this sort of work, and that a growing number of practitioners were looking for a more historically grounded understanding of their practice. As a result the blog’s readership has expanded rapidly. I was looking back over my metrics and discovered that currently Kung Fu Tea receive as much traffic on a slow afternoon as it did during its entire first month of operations in 2012. Clearly Chinese martial studies is an idea whose time has come.
In the remainder of this post I would like to briefly outline what I consider to be some of our major accomplishments over the last year. I will start by providing a list of “Readers’ Picks,” or those articles that have so far proved to be the most popular with a general (and pretty diverse) readership. I will then delve a little deeper into the archive and provide my own list of top posts sorted out by topic. These will be the short articles that, in my own opinion, have made the greatest contribution to our understanding of some important topic or question.
I hope that this exercise will actually have some enduring value beyond simply nostalgia. Organizing this much information so that readers can easily find the most important posts is actually somewhat challenging. Obviously the search function helps, as do the menus at the right side of the screen. Still, clicking on the tab for “Wing Chun” or “Weapons” will now opens a list of titles many screens long, and I have a feeling few readers ever manage to make it past the first or second entry. The end result is that a lot of the best material remains locked away in the archives.
To help alleviate this problem I will be adding another tab labeled “The Author’s Picks.” It will provide a regularly updated list of list of links to what I consider to be some of my most relevant posts on a variety of topics. Today’s entry is really my first attempt at assembling that list. If you have a favorite post and you don’t see it below, by all means drop me an email or leave a suggestion in the comments.
Lastly I outline one or two goals for where I would like to see Kung Fu Tea go in the coming year. Overall I think that this blog has been a great tool for spreading the word about Chinese martial studies. Getting a chance to correspond with so many other students and researchers with similar interests has been great. But every project must continue to evolve and expand to remain relevant. The conclusion to this post will outline some areas that I would like to further explore in the upcoming year.
Kung Fu Tea: Top Posts on the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts
I thought that some of you might find it interesting to know what posts have been the most popular over the last year here at Kung Fu Tea. Its actually hard to get exact metrics on this. While I have a pretty good idea about viewership on my own blog, many of my more popular posts have been republished by various individuals on Facebook and other social media sites. A post that might have 3,000 views on my own webpage could easily be seen by many times that number of individuals on another venue. As a result I am actually not quite sure what the most popular post of the last year has been. Still, page views on my own blog is probably a pretty good proxy measurement for total viewership.
Below is a list of my top ten most popular posts with readers in descending order. One of the things that really stands out to me is the persistent popularity of traditional weapons. Only Sun Lu-tang managed to break into the top five, and if you count wooden dummies as weapons (or training equipment) then six of the top ten posts dealt with the physical artifacts of the martial arts. Other popular topics included Wing Chun (a major focus of the blog) and the biographies of important martial artists.
Readers Picks: Top Posts by Page Views
Author’s Picks: Top Posts by Subject
I have spent quite a bit of time over the last two days going over my archive, thinking about what worked and what could have used some improvement. As I did that I made a list of posts that were the most interesting to me personally. I selected these either because I liked their arguments or I thought that they made an interesting contribution to an ongoing discussions.
Still, it was not easy to come up with a list of favorites. The posts that I have worked on over the last year touch on so many topics that its just not clear how you compare a news update, a book review and an argument about the history of the southern Chinese martial arts. So to help make the process easier I created a quick typology and chose a couple of my favorite posts each category. Once again I ranked my own arguments in descending order based on their originality and significance.
As I looked back over these posts a few things stood out to me. The first was how important old photographs have been as a source of data. I think that some of our most interesting historical and theoretical discussions have actually happened in posts dedicated to analyzing vintage photographs. I certainly did not anticipate that this would be the case when I started the “Through a Lens Darkly” series.
At the same time it makes sense. Photographs are complex and unyielding. On the one hand we are visually confronted with a reality that we must account for and deal with. But that reality does not emerge out of a void. There is history behind it.
There is also the problem of interpretation. We are forced to question not just our own interpretive lens, but also that of the photographer who selected, composed and edited the image. We are also required to think about the values and agenda of the institution that published it. A single photograph not only records the past, but it also makes a powerful argument about what that past meant. Its no wonder that these images can lead to such rich discussions.
My Wing Chun posts have proved to be popular with a large group of readers. I find it interesting to read back through them and to see a certain lines of argument developing throughout. I have always been fascinated with the martial arts history of Republican China and I think that these posts demonstrate why. It was an exciting time when new individuals were discovering these martial arts.
A close examination of these years shows how certain practices were reformed or re-imagined to conform with pressures coming both from the market and the government. Studying these events also opens up all kinds of interesting insights as to what was going on in Chinese civil society with regards to issues like class, gender and identity. I have always believed that Chinese martial studies is at its best when it through lights on these more universal questions.
A number of posts on the blog have addressed either the collection or social history of different types of traditional weapons. My posts on the dadaos and hudiedaos (as well as Nepalese kukris) have proved to be among the most widely read things that I have ever written. But even more interesting to me are those studies of traditional weapons that view them as the material side of martial culture. No subject has caused more confusion than the relationship between the development of the traditional Chinese martial arts and firearms. This is one area in particular where I hope that my posts will make an impact.
Wing Chun History
Chinese Martial Studies
Visualizing the Martial Arts
The Martial Arts and Popular Culture
Conclusion: New Directions in Chinese Martial Studies
The last year has been an exciting time. One cannot write 128 posts (averaging 4,500 words a shot) without encountering a lot of new topics, resources and research questions. The best part is that I still look forward to doing it all again next year. Of course it will be impossible to do it in exactly the same way.
Here are a few of the things that I plan on working on in the coming months. My main goal is to bring a greater range of voices and theoretical perspectives into the discussion. I think that Kung Fu Tea has accomplished a lot, but one of my aims was always to help to establish a sense community between individuals who were interested in martial studies. I think that the easiest way to do that is to continue to add additional voices and viewpoints into the mix, so look for a number of interviews and guest posts in the following year.
Secondly, most of my posts are dedicated to the topic of Chinese martial studies. My main research area is southern China. I think it would be possible to study the martial culture of just the Pearl River Delta for your entire life and never run out of new things to discover.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of value in the comparative case study method. At the end of the day Chinese martial studies is one part of a larger project. Martial studies students who specialize in other areas, such as Japan, South East Asia and Renaissance Europe, have all developed their own literature full of interesting ideas and observations. As I read through my prior posts I think that it might be time to make an effort to bring more of this material into our discussion. Many of these arguments are fascinating in their own right, and a familiarity with them has the potential to enrich our appreciation of what is universal, and what is truly unique, in the Chinese martial arts.
Most of all, I want to thank those of you who have read and supported this blog. Without your efforts Kung Fu Tea could not be a success. This project has deepened my appreciation for the traditional martial arts, and I hope I have been able to convey even a part of that enthusiasm to all of you. There is nothing that any author appreciates more than engaged readers.