Welcome to the St. Patrick’s day edition of “Chinese Martial Arts in the News.” This is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea 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 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!
Irish Martial Artists Saves Father from Being Gored by Bull
Clearly any St. Patrick’s day edition of our news column needs to start with a article from Ireland. The Irish press has been reporting a heartwarming story in which a young karate student used his martial arts skills to save his father from being gored by a bull. Those concerned with animal rights will be happy to learn that he did not go full Mas Oyama on his bovine opponent. Instead he took a more “jujitsu” oriented approach to the problem. Of course they may be disappointing to discover that the bull ended up as hamburger anyway. Still, an interesting story and a quick thinking young man.
Martial Artists, Stunt Man and Fight Coordinator Missing on Malaysia Air 370
The disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370 almost one week ago has been a leading news story in both Asia and the West. The flight, headed to Beijing, was carrying over 150 Chinese citizens. Nor has the Chinese government been happy with the way the subsequent investigation has been handled.
Recently the press began to report that one of the missing Chinese citizens is Ju Kun. Ju was an established figure in the martial arts film industry. He had worked on a number of high profile projects, including Wong Kar-wai’s Ip Man biopic “The Grandmaster.” He had also worked with such luminaries as Jet Li and and Jackie Chan. Ju Kun was headed back to China to begin work on the new “Marco Polo” project being produced by Netflix. Hopefully the investigation of this tragedy can be brought to a speedy conclusion, allowing the families and friends of those who are missing the sense of closure that they need.
Chinese Military to Eliminate Some Hard Qigong and Martial Arts Teams
Anyone following the Chinese media will know that there has been a fair bit of discussion recently of plans to restructure and review the funding of the military. As one might expect the these actions are being framed as an attempt to update the PLA’s capabilities while insuring that the Chinese state is getting the maximum bang for its buck.
Interestingly, this discussion of budget rationalization is already having an impact on some aspects of martial arts training and performance in the PLA. The Chinese military has traditionally maintained a number of different sorts of demonstration teams. Some of these have been made up of martial arts (many of whom are presumably graduates of the nation’s numerous Wushu high schools). In addition to more conventional sorts of martial arts demonstrations these individuals are often skilled in feats of “hard qigong.” In fact, the demonstration of these specialized skills had become something of a hallmark of the PLA.
But it looks like that tradition is coming to an end. In an era of increased belt tightening and a drive towards modernization martial arts demonstrations are set to be phased out. I think that this is one of those stories that readers may want to watch for future developments. “Hard Qigong” demonstrations tend to not be very popular with traditional martial artists in the West, so I doubt that many individuals will feel all that much of a loss. Still, the Chinese military sector has been a major supporter of the martial arts and employer of the graduates of the various Wushu schools. It remains to be seen whether this is a single limited budget decision, or if its signals a broader judgement about the value of Wushu training in the modern Chinese military.
The Chinese Martial Arts in the Entertainment Industry
It has been a while since we had an update on the role of the Chinese martial arts in the global entertainment industry. This is a critical subject as films, TV programs and increasingly video games are the avenues by which most individuals are first exposed to images of the traditional martial arts.
In the film world Columbia Pictures is making waves with their announcements about their latest project, titled “The Monk.” They have recently signed a deal with a local production company to produce a classic Kung Fu thriller in China. The very respected director Chen Kaige has been tapped to shoot the film. Given his past projects (“Farewell My Concubine,” “The Emperor and the Assassin”) this film could be another stunning visual masterpiece in the mode of “The Grandmaster.”
While Chen will undoubtedly bring something new behind the camera, the films storyline looks to be an homage to Hong Kong’s old school Kung Fu films. I was particularly interested in this section of the plot summary:
In the film, when a young monk is forced to leave his impoverished monastery, he relies on his extraordinary martial arts skills to survive in the outside world. In search of a mentor, he crosses paths with a Kung Fu master who is in possession of the Book of Secrets, which reveals the lost art of the deadly Ape Strike Kung Fu technique. The rare book is coveted by a sinister father and son who will go to any extremes to obtain it. The monk finds himself immersed in a deadly battle to protect both the book and his master.
What can I say. They had me at “Book of Secrets.”
Cung Le Reveals that the Production of “The Ultimate Fighter: China” was Basically a Train Wreck
For our next story we turn from the big screen to the small. The UFC has recently wrapped up their production of “The Ultimate Fighter: China.” A continuation of the popular North American series this Chinese language iteration of the franchise was meant to introduce Mainland audiences to the UFC’s brand of MMA competition.
Nor was this expected to be an easy feat. Martial arts competitions and kickboxing are already fairly popular on Chinese television, but traditionally Chinese audiences have seemed to prefer a different (cleaner) style of fighting. At the same time the Mixed Martial Arts are growing rapidly in popularity in China and the UFC would very much like to establish their brand in what is the largest media market on the planet. “TUF China,” directed by the Vietnamese American MMA star Cung Le (who also has extensive experience in the entertainment industry), was supposed to grow that brand by helping to train and recruit local talent while introducing audiences to the UFC’s product.
By his own accounts the project was only a partial success. While Cung Le was happy with the quality and enthusiasm of the Chinese fighters that he worked with, things went much less smoothly behind the camera. Apparently the deal that the UFC signed forced them to use local camera crews with no prior experience with reality TV programing. Nor were some of the locally recruited coaches much better. Cung Le remains confident that the show accomplished its basic goal of increasing interest in the UFC’s brand. Still, it is clear that simply recreating the UFC’s products in the Chinese media market will be more of a challenge than they may have initially thought.
Macao Increasingly Turning to the MMA/Combat Sports Tourism Market
Another recent story in the news emphasized the potential financial rewards for anyone who can figure out how to successfully promote combat sports within China. Relaxed gambling regulations have actually been a boon to sports like MMA and various types of Kickboxing. Casinos in Macao have discovered that hosting and promoting these fights is a great way to both broaden their appeal to patrons and skirt rules that restrict the explicit advertisement of gambling. You can read a nice article on this increasingly lucrative relationship here.
Bruce Lee as a North West Coast Icon
A local newspaper/blog in Seattle recently ran a nice article situating the young Bruce Lee in the area’s youth culture of the time while drawing some parallels to the present. The piece has some great reminisces of both both Bruce and Jessie Glover. Its not a long article but I think that fans and those interested in his martial arts career will enjoy it.
Chinese Martial Studies
There have been a couple of developments in the area of Chinese martial studies over the last month that will be of interest to reader of Kung Fu Tea. First off, Scott M. Rodell (of the Great River Taoist Center) has started a new blog on Tumblr titled “Steel and Cotton.” So far it has featured a number of very interesting short entries, including the photograph above. I also like the series he recently started on martial arts terminology. So head on over and check it out if you want to see more cool stuff like this.
Professor Kai Filipiak, of the Department of Chinese Studies at the University of Leipzig, has a new book coming out that will be of interest to Chinese military historians and some students of martial studies. Civil-Military Relations in Chinese History: From Ancient China to the Communist Takeover (Routledge Press, Forthcoming) will offer readers a comprehensive discussion of the creation of China’s unique military culture and its evolution through time, particularly in regards to issues of civilian control of the military, and the permeation of martial norms throughout society. Filipiak is one of the few professional historians to have devoted sustained attention to the traditional Chinese martial arts.
Readers more inclined to a cultural or critical theory approach to the subject may want to visit Paul Bowman’s “Martial Studies” blog. In the last month he has taken on a number of topics including a multi-part deconstruction of Taiji (much of which focuses on Adam Frank’s work). You can see part 1 of that project here. He has also written a couple of short essays on the topic of Chinese martial arts literature. This is an important subject that turns out to be critical to both historians and cultural theorists. Lastly, I particularly liked his essay on “Martial Arts (and) Migration.“
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
There has been a lot of activity on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. This includes a couple of good discussions of the history of White Crane Boxing in Fujian, some nice vintage photographs, a few essays to help you in your personal training and a couple of wild and crazy Youtube videos (my favorite being the one on martial arts humor in TV advertisements).
In addition to covering some lighter topics the Facebook group is also a great way to stay up to date on new posts here at the wordpress blog. If its been a while head on over and see what you have been missing!