Welcome to “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.
Its been a while since our last update so there is a lot to be covered in today’s post. Lets get to the news!
Our first big story comes from a seemingly unlikely source, the pages of Popular Mechanics. One of the things that I became aware of through my research was that prior to the creation of specialized martial arts magazines in the 1960s, Popular Mechanics actually ran a number of articles on the Asian fighting arts. So maybe this isn’t really a departure in the historic sense.
Over the last week the internet has been a buzz with links to their rather detailed analysis of Bruce Lee’s famous “One Inch Punch.” Of course a number of style have this same attack, or something mechanically similar. Still, the article is a testimony to the enduring popular interest in the martial arts that Lee has created. This is a nice article to see outside of the popular martial arts literature. It certainly made me think a little harder about the “One Inch” and “Three Inch” punches that we train in my Wing Chun school.
The other big story over the last few weeks has been Chinese MMA fighter Li Jingliang. It seems that he has been the beneficiary of a promotional blitz backed by the UFC. You can see their piece on him here and other internet outlets appear to have picked up the story as well. I think that it would be fair to say that TUF China turned out to be a disaster for the UFC, but it doesn’t look that is going to slow down their efforts to both build a brand presence and cultivate talent within the largest media market on the plant.
Of course the big question is what sort of knock-on effects the rising popularity of MMA in China will have on the martial arts more generally. One would suspect that grappling arts such as Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and some of the traditional wrestling schools (things that have not been getting a lot of attention in China for the last few decades) might be big winners. On that note I noticed that the South China Morning Post just ran a detailed profile of a young female BJJ student. Its a nice story, and from an academic standpoint it suggests interesting questions about gender, class and race within this growing sector of the Chinese martial arts community.
The traditional Chinese arts were also in the news this last week. A number of newspapers in China picked up a story and photo-essay following the attempt to establish a Shaolin Kung Fu class for ethnically Chinese students living in the Philippines. Obviously the parents and instructors had a number of goals for their students, but the one that was emphasized in the Chinese press was using the martial arts to teach these youngsters the true “spirit of their people.” Again, this raises all sorts of interesting questions from a martial studies perspective. The question of Chinese nationalism has been a complicated topic in places like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Further, the martial arts have been used as a tool to try and instill certain identities and values since at least the Jingwu Association’s expansion into the area in the 1920s. If you are looking for something to help you to contextualize the implications of this short article you might want to start here (Hat Tip to Andrew Morris).
Interestingly there was not a lot of news on the Kung Fu film/entertainment front this week. However, if you are a fan of vintage Shaw Brother’s film there is a short documentary that you need to check out. Its only half an hour long, but it provides a priceless look into the studio system that was responsible for mass producing the golden age of Kung Fu thrillers. As an added bonus it even shows a film star working out on a very early hanging Wing Chun dummy back in the 1970s.
A DC area TV station recently ran a segment covering the growing popularity of Qigong in the area. This is an interesting topic. I have now heard a couple of people state that Qigong in the US is a growing market but I personally have not seen a lot of evidence of that. Still, the school that they profile in the video seems to be doing well, so maybe its something that we will be seeing more of in the future.
The New York Times also devoted some space to covering developments in the traditional Asian martial arts over the last week. They ran a story and photo essay covering a major Muay Boran tournament which was recently held in Thailand. The precursor to modern Muay Thai Kickboxing, Muay Boran is seen as a more traditional art (or, depending on who you ask, an umbrella term for a group a of traditional arts). The writer for the NY Times contrasted the success of this gathering of international martial artists to the troublesome political developments in that country over the course of the last week. Its always interesting to see the martial arts covered in such a high profile news outlet, and the photos are definitely worth checking out.
The last month has seen an outpouring of books and articles on all aspects of the martial arts. Probably the most exciting development from a martial studies perspective was the release of the JOMEC Journal special edition dedicated to the new academic field of Martial Arts Studies. The Journal and all of its articles are freely available to the public and can be found here. Over the next few months I hope to discuss a number of these articles. Recently I had a chance to engage with Sixt Wetler’s ideas about universal motifs in martial arts mythology as a solution for the problem of doubt. My own contributions to this issue examined the history and usage of the term “Kung Fu” and asked to what degree this term can be considered a legitimate and authentic label for the traditional Chinese martial arts.
Hing Chao has announced that his new book (a compilation of various articles documenting the martial arts of Hong Kong and Southern China) is getting ready for publication. He has been posting images of some of the finished pages over at his Facebook group. They look fascinating. He also notes that an English translation of this project is in the work but it won’t be released until later.
Ted Mancuso over at Plum Publishing has observed that Five Ancestors Boxing is having something of a moment. Two books on the system have just been released making lots of information easily available to the public for the first time. Perhaps the more interesting of the two volumes (at least for the historically minded reader) is a reprint of a 1917 manual published originally published in Fujian. I am pretty excited about this as these sorts of historic documents are the primary sources that we need understand the evolution and social place of these systems. Unfortunately manuals for the southern arts are rarer than their northern cousins, and they seem less likely to be reprinted.
Last but not least, the guys at Chineselongsword.com have just released their latest translation. This text, written by Cheng Zi Yi at the end of the Ming dynasty, examines the use of the “Long Shaft Axe (Chang Bing Fu).” This might be a great resource for readers who are more interested in the recreation of medieval fighting methods. Once again, its hard to overstate how important it is that these texts are being reprinted in both the original Chinese with facing English language translations.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
There has been a lot of activity on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group during the last month. This includes a number of news item not covered here, some great discussions of documentaries on the traditional Chinese martial arts, demonstrations of some classic Kung Fu styles, and links to great essays from all over the blogosphere.
In addition to covering some lighter topics the Facebook group is also a great way to stay up to date on events and new posts here at the WordPress blog. If you would like to receive regular updates make sure you “like” the facebook page and set your profile settings accordingly. And if its been a while, head on over and see what you have been missing!
May 26, 2014 at 10:29 am
It looks like I missed a link! Sascha Matuszak, who has contributed some great stuff to Kung Fu Tea, recently wrote an article profiling Li Jingliang for the Fighland blog on Vice.com. Be sure to check it out!