Introduction: Chinese Martial Arts in the News

It is time for another roundup of news stories about the Chinese Martial Arts.  This is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea.  We have a lot of articles to cover this week but its always possible that we have missed one.  If you are aware of a developing story that deserves attention just drop me a line.

Jumabieke Tuerxun.  Source: MMAmania.
Jumabieke Tuerxun. Source: MMAmania.

1. The UFC continues to build a presence in China.

Recent reports indicate that the UFC is continuing to build their brand in China.  Their initial foray into the Chinese media markets with last years tournament in Macao were generally considered to be a success, and the crowd even found some favorite fighters to back.  However, in the long run the UFC still faces some critical challenges in China.  Among the most important is that there is not a deep bench of experienced, popular, Chinese MMA fighters to draw from.  That lack of talent must be overcome before the brand can really be developed.

The UFC recently took some concrete steps to address this problem by signing Jumabieke Tuerxun, a bantam weight from Shaanxi, who currently has a 14-0 record.  Read more by clicking the link.

2. The Ghost of Billy Banks.

For good or ill, the 1990s are likely to be remembered as the decade of Tae Bo.  Its sort of like how the 70s got branded as the era of bell bottoms, or the 1950s became the personal property of advertising executives.  However, it would appear that the traditional Chinese martial arts are now being subordinated to the “exercise-industrial complex.”  I am trying to figure out whether this is run of the mill cultural appropriation, or if its some sort of brilliant “old-meets” news mash-up.  I will let readers decide for themselves.

Ip Man, "The Final Fight."
Ip Man, “The Final Fight.”

3. Chinese Martial Arts and Film: Two Visions of Ip Man.

Ip Man continues to dominate the discussion of martial arts cinema.  The Hollywood Reporter recently published a nice summery and review of “Ip Man – The Final Fight.”  If you are trying to decide whether to check the movie out, or if you want a plot summery, this is the place to go.  Overall they gave it decent marks.  You can find the complete review here.

Wong Kar-wai’s artful exploration of the early phase of Ip Man’s career (“The Grandmaster”) also continues to get a lot of good press.  The Wall Street Journal Blog recently picked up and published an extensive interview with the enigmatic director in which he discussed the making of this film and answered questions.  Click here for the full interview.

One of the things that becomes clear is that Wong Kar-wai enjoys doing painstaking background research for his projects.  Apparently he really delved into Ip Man’s life and interviewed many of his surviving first generation students.  I have to admit that I found that to be pretty ironic, given how little relationship his film has to anything like “real life” (which is not to say it isn’t beautiful and well worth watching).  But in thinking about it I wonder if some of this “realism” didn’t come through in how he portrayed Ip Man’s personality (as opposed to the historicity of his actions.)  Its something I will have to think about.

In the mean time Tai Chi 0 is now on netflix.  I have been looking forward to that film for a while.

4. Women, the Chinese Martial Arts, and Self-defense.

We have a number of stories this week that deal with the topic of women and self defense from around the globe.  Each of these is a continuation of conversations that have been going on for a while, but I think they are valuable as they demonstrate both the successes and failures of the traditional martial arts with regards to women and the quest for personal security.

Hong Kong Airline flight crews practice Wing Chun.  Source: South China Morning Post.
Hong Kong Airline flight crews practice Wing Chun. Source: South China Morning Post.

The Wing Chun that did not Happen

A couple of years ago Hong Kong Airlines publicly announced, and structured an advertising campaign around the fact, that they were giving their flight crews and stewardesses training in Wing Chun.  I remember hearing a lot about this at the time, but always wondered how it went.  Evidently, someone needs a refresher course.

By way of background it seems that in the last few years “air rage” has become an increasing problem for the airline.  Apparently long delays on flights between Hong Kong and the mainland are resulting in an increasing number of verbal and physical assaults on flight crews.  These attacks have become so common that at this point they often go unreported.  Nor do they seem to result in the same sorts of very serious legal sanctions that one might expect for violently disrupting a flight in the US.

A recent article in the South China Morning Post reviewed a typical incident in which (after a long delay on the tarmac) an elderly man from mainland China got up, walked to the first class cabin and began to punch and assault a flight attendant.  The rest of the crew stood by during the attack, doing nothing, as the angry crowd on the plane shouted encouragement to the attacker.  Eventually the assault was broken up by two foreign businessmen.

In responding to the incident the airline noted that all of their flight crews have basic Wing Chun training available to them.  It was not clear from this article whether the victim of the assault had actually received any self-defense training or not.  Or possibly she felt unable to strike a senior citizen, even in self-defense.  What is clear is that basic cabin security on these flights has become an issue.  It might be time to review those “training guidelines.”

A Coach of the Hong Kong National Wushu Team was arrested for touching young female athletes.

The South China Morning Post recently reported another news story dealing with two girls in the martial arts.  An unnamed 42 year old male coach of the National Wushu Team was arrested on January 31st for inappropriately touching two girls aged 12 and 16.  The story made the papers only a few weeks ago and he has subsequently been released on bail.

So far the Hong Kong Wushu Union is standing by their coach, claiming that he has no past history of complaints and that their security camera footage does not show any inappropriate contact.  Police statements have also left open these possibility that the entire thing was a “misunderstanding.”

One suspects that there has got to be more to this story that we are not hearing.  Martial arts instruction is pretty physical.  Anyone who has been through it knows what it is like.  It seems very unlikely to me that a dedicated wushu student would mistake normal training for an “indecent assault.”

Women practicing martial arts in India.  Source: Mirror.
Women practicing martial arts in India. Source: Mirror.

Women in India turning to the (Chinese) martial arts.

India has seen a dramatic spike in the number (and violence) of rapes and sexual assaults in the last few years.  This growing problem has gained widespread international news coverage and it has sparked an national conversation within India itself.  It has also led to an explosion of interest in traditional martial arts training by women across the subcontinent.  While India has a number of ancient and interesting schools of wresting and hand combat, all of the coverage I have seen indicates that women are instead enrolling in East Asian or more “modern” training schools.  In addition to disciplines like Karate and Tae Kwon Do, schools teaching Wing Chun and Krav Maga have also seen an increase in enrollment.

The following article from the Hindustan Times covered these developments well.  It did so by focusing on one woman and her recent turn to Sanda kick-boxing (a branch of modern Wushu) as a means of both self-defense and personal empowerment.  Meanwhile the Mirror has an interesting story on a group of Indian women and sexual assault survivors who have joined together to study martial arts and create a mutual support society.  Articles like these remind us that there is still a strong demand for practical self-defense systems that views the student as a whole person, training both the body and the mind.

A display team in the "Song-Jiang Jhen Battle Array." Taiwan.
A display team performs in the “Song-Jiang Jhen Battle Array.” Taiwan.

5. Traditional Chinese Martial Culture in the News

12th annual Greater Kaohsiung’s Neimen District Song-Jiang Jhen Battle Array in Taiwan

This week in the Neimen District the 12th annual “Song-Jiang Jhen Battle Array” will be celebrated.  Festivals like this are seen in various parts of Taiwan.  They appear to be hold-overs of from the days of local independent militia organizations.  In the current era they are usually celebrated with colorful parades, performances, Kung Fu demonstrations, local rituals and temple processions.  Many of the participants in these festivals are teens and the celebrations are an important means by which martial culture is remembered and passed on.  If you happen to be traveling to Taiwan, you will definitely want to check this out.

Time Out Hong Kong Review’s Sugong by Nick Hurst.

I have a confession to make.  I do not really enjoy “martial arts travelogues” as a genera.  Oddly, this is even true when I like and respect the people writing the books.  The one big exception that I am willing to make right now is Sugong: the Life of a Shaolin Grandmaster by Nick Hurst.  I think I am willing to give Nick the benefit of the doubt because he did such a wonderful job of contextualizing so much of the abstract history and theory that clutters our more academic discussions of the martial arts.  He took all of that dry stuff and made it come alive in the life and times of two martial arts masters in southern China and South East Asia.

Time out Hong Kong recently reviewed this book.  You can see what they had to say about it here.  If you are at all interested in the post-WWII development of the southern Chinese martial arts, or even what real “martial monks” were actually like, I highly suggest you check out this book.


6. Kung Fu Tea on Facebook

If it has been a while since your last visit, you will want to check out the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group.  Over the last month we have covered a lot of ground.  There have been a number of posts dedicated to the wooden dummy form in Wing Chun.  We have also looked at interviews speculating about the future of the traditional martial arts, talked about the modern (and ancient) history of Qigong and announced the next volume that we will be reviewing in the “Book Club.”  The Facebook page is also a great way to find out about our latest updates here at Kung Fu Tea.  Drop by and see what you have been missing!