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Current Events, Pop Culture Kung Fu

Chinese Martial Arts in the News: May 13th: Culture, Globalization and “Green Dragons” in Boston.

Luc Bendza in front of a state of Bruce Lee in Shanghai.  Bendza immigrated to China to study Kung Fu over 30 years ago and is now a figure in the local film industry.

Luc Bendza in front of a statue of Bruce Lee in Shanghai. Bendza immigrated to China to study Kung Fu over 30 years ago and is now a fixture in the local film industry. Source: Cultural-China (Shanghai City Guide).

Introduction

As long-time readers know, “Chinese Martial Arts in the News” is a regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea.  Every three weeks we take a morning off to review the top stories about the Chinese martial arts.  We also pay special attention to how these fighting styles are covered and discussed in the mainstream global press.

Of course its impossible to catch everything.  If you have a great news story that you don’t see covered below drop a link to it in the comments.  If you are aware of a developing situation that should be included in future issues of this feature shoot me an email.  Lets get to the news!

Weapons of Kung Fu.  Source: Green Dragon Homepage.

Weapons of Kung Food. Source: Green Dragon Homepage.

Green Dragons Invade Boston, Plant Urban Gardens.

First up, we have a very interesting story of community involvement out of Boston.   Matthew Briggs, the owner of Yang’s Martial Arts Association, has started a program combining Kung Fu training, urban agriculture and lifestyle education for local children.  By applying a unified approach to  “mind, body, and soil” he hopes to address basic health problems in his neighborhood and increase quality of life for his students.

This is a great program.  You have to wonder where else something like this could be implemented with equal success.  Also, check out his kickstarter campaign.  That project (which has already met its basic financial goals) will revolve around sending a group of inner city school kids to Wudang Mountain to train.  I can’t wait to hear more about these efforts in the future. You can keep yourself updated on their progress at the Green Dragon homepage and blog.

Chinese Martial Arts and Culture

A number of news stories this week revolve around the cultural and diplomatic value of the traditional Chinese martial arts.  The first of these examines China’s very successful use of Kung Fu (and the Shaolin arts in particular) as tool of public diplomacy.  Its not uncommon to find local business associations, or a branch of the Confucius Institute, sponsoring such displays in the west.  What we often forget is that the martial arts are also very much part of China’s public diplomacy when dealing with its eastern neighbors as well.

The People’s Daily recently ran a good article on the subject.  It followed the progress of a Shaolin exhibition team from Henan as they performed during a ten day tour across Vietnam.  As one might expect, the monks were a big hit, but so was Chinese martial culture.

Wong Kar-wai receives top french honors for his work in film.

Wong Kar-wai receives top french honors for his work in film. Photo by Vincent Yu.

The Chinese martial arts have also made their mark on the world of “high culture” as well.  Wong Kar-wai, still riding high after the positive critical reception of The Grandmaster (his long awaited Ip Man biopic) was recently named a “Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters” by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.  The award acknowledged the Chinese director’s contributions to film across his superb body of work.  Fabius even characterized Wong as a “calligrapher of light.”

If traditional Chinese culture is more your thing, we have you covered.  The Canadian International Documentary Festival just awarded a jury prize to the German director Inigo Westmeier’s for his film Dragon Girls. This unique work follows the lives of three female martial arts students at one of the large Wushu academies in Dengfeng associated with the Shaolin Temple.  Other documentaries and articles have followed the lives and training of students in these institutions, but (to the best of my knowledge) this is the first documentary to examine the lives of female students at these somewhat problematic institutions.

Inigo Westmeier's Dragon Girls.

Inigo Westmeier’s Dragon Girls.

As reported in our last news update, Chinese internet billionaire Jack Ma and movie star Jet Li have been moving forward with their project to create an institution for the promotion of Taiji Quan and traditional Chinese culture.  After an initial delay Jet Li has just cut the opening ribbon on the project’s new Taiji training hall and school in Hangzhou (Zhejiang province).  Its not clear from the announcement who will actually be leading the instruction at this academy, but for anyone interested in the linkage between Taiji Quan and the perception of “authentic” or “traditional” culture within China, this is certainly an interesting story to watch.

Globalization and the Chinese Martial Arts

A number of news stories examining the global spread and changing nature of the traditional Asian fighting arts also came out this week.  First among them was piece by the New York Times looking at the rise of mixed martial arts in Asia, and the increasingly crowded nature of that marketplace.  Needless to say the Times does not normally cover the “martial arts beat.”  However, this is an informative article and a valuable reminder of how much is at stake as the backers of MMA in Asia realign themselves.  Oh, and if Bruce Lee were alive today, he would be totally into this.

No doubt you remember all of the press that Hong Kong Airlines got a few years back when they started offering Wing Chun training to their flight attendants.  At first I thought this was a publicity stunt, but apparently I was wrong.  “Air Rage” is an increasing problem on flights between Hong Kong and the mainland.  The South China Morning Post recently ran another article that gave more background on this problem and once again, discussed the role of Wing Chun in addressing it.  Self-defense training might help, but so would the sure promise of prison time for anyone who assaulted an aircrew in flight.

The Global Times ran a very interesting article on Luc Bendza, an African man from Gabon who immigrated to China in the 1980s to study Kung Fu.  He not only succeeded in his quest to master Kung Fu, but he has become something of an institution in the local film industry.  This is a great article, well worth reading.  In addition to reviewing Luc’s life story it addresses the problem of the racism that individuals of African descent face in China in a direct, straight forward way.  There are lots of individuals from Africa studying traditional Kung Fu in China these days, so it was great to see one get profiled.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the King Club in Beijing.  Source:

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the Big King club in Beijing. Source: China Daily.

The interesting thing about globalization is that its pathways of transmission run in both directions.  The China Daily recently ran an article on the sharp increase of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Beijing.  The article profiles the creation and success of one gym.  Needless to say the success of BJJ is a necessary prerequisite for the emergence of professional MMA in China.  However, this trend does not look great for the traditional arts.  Of course the Chinese fighting arts have always been a vast subject.  It should be possibly to look at schools like this one and ask some critical questions about why exactly they are popular with younger patrons today, and what could be done to offer that same experience in a different art.

Its facebook time!

Its Facebook time!

Kung Fu Tea on Facebook

Last but not least, don’t forget to visit Kung Fu Tea on Facebook.  Its a great way to find out about new posts at the blog as well as to read up on shorter, less formal, items that I think readers of Kung Fu Tea might find interesting.  In the last few weeks we have heard about W. E. Fairbairn’s connection with the Chinese martial arts of the early 20th century, seen articles by Hawkins Cheung discussing the early days of Wing Chun in Hong Kong, passed around some great photos of the western historical martial arts and asked deep philosophical questions about ninjas in the modern world.  If you missed out on any of that be sure to stop on by.

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