Happy Lunar New Years and welcome to the first post of the Year of the Horse! “Chinese Martial Arts in the News” is a semi-regular feature in which we review media stories that mention or impact the the traditional fighting arts. In addition to discussing important events this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.
While we try to summarize all of the major stories over the last three weeks, there is always a chance that we have missed something. If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA feel free to drop a link in the comments section below. If you know of a developing story or event that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.
Lets get to the news!
And suddenly there were Lion Dancers everywhere…
Lion Dances, traditionally performed by members of local Kung Fu schools, as well as other martial arts demonstrations are a traditional way of celebrating the Chinese New Year holiday. These colorful displays can be seen on television and in local shopping malls districts around the world. Right now the google news feeds are filled with dozens of stories that mention Lion Dancing.
It is certainly true that not all traditional Chinese martial artists are involved in Lion Dancing. Still, the subject raises some important issues. To begin with these sorts of public performances are a good way to observe the ways in which martial arts schools interact with the larger community. You can even do some comparison and look at regional differences, or consider the unique features of these practices that can be seen in immigrant communities like New York City or Toronto. Secondly, lots of individuals get introduced to the actual embodied practice of the martial arts (as opposed to their two dimensional representations) through these festivals and displays.
I have had an opportunity to write a few posts on these subjects (you can see them here and here). Still, given the importance of this subject I am little mystified that it has not attracted more scholarly attention. Hopefully that is an oversight that we will start to address in the coming year. If you are looking for a theoretical framework to start to approach and think about these practices I would highly recommend the following study by Avron Boretz.
Need help planning the ultimate Kung Fu road trip?
Evidently the travel writers over at CNN have noticed the rising popularity of Kung Fu tourism. For those so included they were kind enough to put together a list of “ultimate” destinations in Hong Kong. It makes for an interesting read. When you combine it with this slightly more detailed list of China’s “Top 10 Kung Fu Home Towns,” I think that you can start to build a fairly accurate picture of the how the Chinese martial arts are evolving in the Chinese imagination.
Notice for instance that Wing Chun occupies a fairly prominent place on both lists. Foshan was even named the number two martial arts destination in China. [See this recent Chinese TV program for an example of the rising wave of interest in the town’s martial heritage.] I have always thought that the area has a fascinating history, but its hard to imagine it getting this sort of exposure without the recent spate of Ip Man films. This is a great example of how our “memory” of the Chinese martial arts is always undergoing a process of continual reimagination.
Bruce Lee Introduces Kung Fu to Broadway
The New Yorker and the New York Times both ran pieces on David Henry Hwang and “Kung Fu.” This project offers an interpretation of the life and career of Bruce Lee. It has actually received decent reviews and it looks like its run was just extended by a couple of weeks. Again, it is a testament to Lee’s ongoing significance to popular culture that we are still seeing his name in publications like these every month or so.
UFC Signs Two New Chinese Fighters
In this case the headline says it all. Li Jingliang and Jumabieke Tuerxun, both tested fighters, have recently joined the UFC’s effort to expand their market-share in China. The article speculates that at least one of these fighters may be making an appearance in the TUF: China finale.
Mystery in the Moves: A Taiji Story
I recently ran across this story. Its a nicely produced (and somewhat tragic) example of the “Kung Fu travelogue” genre of martial arts storytelling. Th story focuses on a couple’s quest to move to China and perfect their Taiji Quan, and what happens after one of the partners dies. Its short, but worth the read.
Delving Deeper into China’s Vanishing Kung Fu Traditions
A member of the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group recently sent me a very interesting link. It seems that Chris Crudelli, who presented the televised martial arts series Mind, Body & Kick Ass Moves, is promoting a new project. Simply titled “Kung Fu” this documentary looks like it might be his strongest effort to date. An extended trailer has been released on youtube (click here to watch). A lot of this footage focuses on interesting and rarely seen martial traditions. Some of the interviews appear to be very moving, and the cinematography looks breathtaking. I have not been able to locate a lot of information about this project on-line. It might actually still be looking for a distributor. Still, I can’t wait to see this documentary hit the small screen.
Recent Developments in the Academic Field of Chinese Martial Studies
Paul Bowman has been running a series of posts at his blog asking readers to consider some basic issues in the field of martial studies. He starts by engaging with D.S. Farrer and Whalen-Bridge’s introductory essay in Martial Arts as Embodied Knowledge to ask “what is martial studies?” Next he deconstructs the historical work of Stanley Henning to demonstrate why we need theory in martial studies. (You can read my response to that essay here). Lastly he considers some more nuanced issues concerning learning and identity in the martial arts. If you are interested in emerging trends in the academic study of the martial arts be sure to check this series out.
D. S. Farrer (who authored Shadow of the Prophet: Martial Arts and Sufi Mysticism, as well as the chapter “Coffee Shop Gods: Chinese Martial Arts of the Singapore Diaspora“) has a new essay out. “Becoming Animal in the Chinese Martial Arts” was recently released in an edited volume (Living Beings: Perspectives on Interspecies Engagements, Bloomsbury Academic 2013). This chapter will be of great interest to anyone interested in the idea of animal symbolism or shamanism in the Chinese martial arts. I wrote a short review of the chapter which you can see here.
It would appear that Prof. Farrer has been quite busy. But these announcements do not exhaust his current offerings. It looks like Farrer will also be the editor of a 2014 special edition of the Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social & Cultural Practice. The title of volume will be “War Magic and Warrior Religion: Sorcery, Cognition and Embodiment.” You can see the announcement here.
Paul Bowman is running a series on what defines “martial studies” as an academic field; Also see D. S. Farrer’s latest book chapter.
China’s Vanishing Local Cultures
While not directly addressing the martial arts, the New York Times recently ran an article that will be of interest to many of the readers here at Kung Fu Tea. This piece examines the changes in ethnic and local identity that occur as rural villages are emptied and residents are relocated to urban real estate developments. As these sorts of ethnic identities vanish, unique cultural, theatrical and martial traditions also disappear. Its not uncommon to hear individuals in the west wonder where the great masters of the past have gone and why they can’t be found. This article is helpful as it reminds of the very real role of geographic displacement and shifting identities in this process.
The next question that we as a field need to think about is to what degree local martial arts organizations and practices can become a means of resisting this sort of identity erasure. Alternatively, do national martial arts movements (such as the promotion of government backed Wushu) contribute to or accelerate this process?
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
The Kung Fu Tea Facebook group has pretty much exploded in the last three weeks. At the time of our last news update about 470 individuals were members of that community. I issued a challenge attempting to push us across the 500 “likes” mark. Your response was overwhelming. In a few weeks time we actually got close to 500 new likes!
I have been sorting through the various suggestions that readers made for celebratory posts and will post an update on my progress to the Facebook group in the next few days. In the mean time, if its been a while since you last checked in, this would be a great time to head on over and see what you have been missing. There have been a number of interesting news updates, including the discovery and the restoration of the oldest complete Kung Fu film in Hong Kong. We have also been discussing a number of interesting documentaries and programs including an exploration of Wing Chun in Foshan, re-examining the historical legacy of the Japanese Ninja, and thinking about the history of Hung Gar. Stop on by and let us know what you think.
If you enjoyed this post you might also want to read: Are the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Dying? “Kung Fu Tea” talks with “The Last Masters.”