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 affect 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, 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 item this week is a welcome one. After some delay the Taiping Institute has launched a slick new version of their webpage. If you have not seen it yet head on over there and check it out now. Seriously, I will wait.
The Taiping Institute has been an important resource on a variety of subjects related to Chinese martial studies. Their Facebook group is great, but I have been waiting impatiently for their main webpage to come back on-line. Its a nice resource when when you have questions about certain styles or masters. Hopefully it will continue to grow and expand in the future.
Sascha Matuszak, a guest author here at Kung Fu Tea, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new documentary looking at the intersection of Kung Fu and MMA and in China today. Recently he and a few other members of the production team dropped by to talk about their project. Their project looks very interesting and he gives a good outline of it in the interview.
I just checked with their Kickstarter page this morning and it looks like they are now over 50% funded and still growing. They have also added some new incentives and dropped the donation levels on others. If you might be interested in watching a documentary on this aspect of China’s evolving martial culture, head on over and check out their trailer.
While we are on the subject, MMA fans may also want to take a look at this article at Fighland. In it Matuszak discusses One FC and RUFF’s recent stumbles in China and speculates as to whether either of these ventures will survive in the local market. While MMA is expanding at the grass roots level in China, it doesn’t look like commercial success is yet guaranteed for any of the big franchises.
Students of China’s modern martial culture might also want to take a look at this article which recently appeared in the South China Morning Post. It looks at the growing popularity of Muay Thai Kickboxing in Hong Kong, not among professional fighters but amateur martial artists and fitness students. They have become a powerful demographic driving the fortunes of kickboxing forward at the same time that many regional martial arts styles are struggling.
It seems that every one of these news updates contains a story about the Shaolin Temple. This is not actually something that I plan, but this organization’s ability to keep its name in the headlines is nothing if not impressive.
This week’s story comes from the New York City branch of the order, located in Queens. The New York State Department of Labor has found Shi Guolin guilty of underpaying two Chinese martial arts instructors at his temple as well as other violations. For his part Guolin argues that Shaolin martial arts instructors are essentially religious professionals and are therefore exempt from normal labor laws and business practices. So far New York State does not seem to be buying this, but I suspect that the ultimate resolution of this question (as with so many others surrounding Shaolin) will come down to whether the “martial monks” teaching at the temple are actually religious professionals at all, or simply athletes employed by the religious order. One way or another it will be an interesting case to watch. Unfortunately the Temple has not posted a statement about the proceedings on its webpage.
Classic Kung Fu film fans will soon have something else to be thankful for. This year the El Ray Network is launching a Thanksgiving Day Kung Fu Film Marathon. If that isn’t enough they have also scheduled martial arts movies for all of “Black Friday,” giving those of use who do not want to brave the malls something more entertaining to do. There are a number of classic titles in here, so it may be worth setting your DVR for at least some of these.
The Wall Street Journal also ran a recent piece on the direction of the Kung Fu movie market. While discussing “Kung Fu Jungle,” director Teddy Chen laid out both the central problem facing Hong Kong filmmakers today and what he believes to be the solution – a return to well developed and likeable leading characters. I found this quote to be particularly revealing:
“Can you remember the action scenes of Wong Fei-hung?” he says, referring to the real-life martial-arts master who came to prominence during the late Qing dynasty and has been popularized over the years in films and television series. “I don’t think so, but you remember the character,” Mr. Chen says. “If you build a good character, people will follow.”
Black Belt Magazine recently ran an article reconsidering a different genre of martial arts film making. In it the author discusses the excellent PBS documentary “The Black Kung Fu Experience.” This movie has been discussed in a few other posts here at Kung Fu Tea and on our Facebook group, but its well worth revisiting. If you have yet to watch it, be sure to put it on your list.
Jezebel just ran a great post on martial arts films featuring strong female leading characters. Their list of titles is pretty impressive and includes “Come Drink With Me” (1966), “Stranger from Shaolin” (1977) and “My Young Auntie” (1981) among others. The comments on this post are also pretty good and provide a number of other suggestions for martial arts film with female protagonists.
People Magazine also had a post featuring some amazing female martial artists. This time they turned the spotlight towards a couple of Wushu performers who were demonstrating a spear vs. unarmed boxing set. While such routines are usually quite polished this one was especially impressive. Both of these women must have nerves of steel. Its a short clip, but worth taking a look at.
Academic Martial Arts Studies
There have been a number of developments in the field of Martial Arts Studies over the last few weeks that readers may wish to note. First, Paul Bowman just updated his blog, and announced that he has submitted the finished text of his latest manuscript to the publisher. Tentatively titled Martial Arts Studies: Deconstructing Disciplinary Boundaries, this work will be the first monograph dedicated exclusively to the theoretical development of Martial Arts Studies as a research area. Readers can get a sense of some of the topics that he will be tackling from the detailed table of contents that he included with his announcement.
A couple of papers have recently been posted to Academia.edu that are also of interest to students of martial arts studies. The first of these is by Alex Channon and is titled “Towards the ‘Undoing’ of Gender in Mixed Sex Martial Arts and Combat Sports” (Societies 2014 , 4, 587–605). His abstract reads as follows:
This paper addresses sex integration in martial arts and combat sports, discussing the implications of mixed-sex training for challenging orthodox Western constructions of gender. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 37 long-term martial arts practitioners from around the English East Midlands between 2007–2011, the paper argues that restrictive, essentialist and hierarchal conceptions of sex difference can be challenged through integrated training practices. The paper advocates the “undoing” of gender in this regard as helping to build a more progressive, inclusive and liberal form of physical culture, seen as a key potential of sex-integrated training. To that end, the paper makes a number of proposals for instructors and practitioners interested in developing such inclusive environments in their own clubs and training settings.
Those interested in Cultural Studies will also want to check out the following paper by Sundiata Cha-Jua (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). It is titled “‘Repression breeds Resistance’: Black Audiences, Blaxploitation, Bruce Lee and Challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity.”
Two promising volumes are also due to be released in the coming weeks. The first of these is titled Sound Rising from the Paper: Nineteenth-Century Martial Arts Fiction and the Chinese Acoustic Imagination (Harvard East Asia Monographs). This book will be a welcome addition to the already growing literature on Wuxia novels in the late Qing and Republic periods. In my own research I have found these studies to be quite helpful in understanding larger trends in the cultural landscape.
Oxford University Press has also recently released Oleg Benesch’s (University of York) new monograph Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan.
Inventing the Way of the Samurai examines the development of the ‘way of the samurai’ – bushido – which is popularly viewed as a defining element of the Japanese national character and even the ‘soul of Japan’. Rather than a continuation of ancient traditions, however, bushido developed from a search for identity during Japan’s modernization in the late nineteenth century. The former samurai class were widely viewed as a relic of a bygone age in the 1880s, and the first significant discussions of bushido at the end of the decade were strongly influenced by contemporary European ideals of gentlemen and chivalry. At the same time, Japanese thinkers increasingly looked to their own traditions in search of sources of national identity, and this process accelerated as national confidence grew with military victories over China and Russia.
Inventing the Way of the Samurai considers the people, events, and writings that drove the rapid growth of bushido , which came to emphasize martial virtues and absolute loyalty to the emperor. In the early twentieth century, bushido became a core subject in civilian and military education, and was a key ideological pillar supporting the imperial state until its collapse in 1945. The close identification of bushido with Japanese militarism meant that it was rejected immediately after the war, but different interpretations of bushido& were soon revived by both Japanese and foreign commentators seeking to explain Japan’s past, present, and future. This volume further explores the factors behind the resurgence of bushido , which has proven resilient through 130 years of dramatic social, political, and cultural change.
While this book focuses on developments in Japan, students of Chinese martial studies may also find it useful. It seems likely that Chinese reformers were aware of, and influenced by, development in the realm of Bushido during the 1920s and 1930s. Beyond the immediate historical parallels, Benesch’s theoretical insights may also open a pathway for more detailed and productive comparative case studies.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
There is always a lot going on at the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group and this last month has been no exception. We discussed the role of racism in the creation of the American Chinatown, saw a documentary on the state of Kung Fu in Europe and read the latest text released by the Brennan Translation Blog. Of course joining the Facebook group is also a great way of keeping up with everything that is happening here at Kung Fu Tea.
If its been a while since your last visit, head on over and see what you have been missing!
If you enjoyed this post you might also want to see: Lives of Chinese Martial Artists (9): Woman Ding Number Seven: Founder of the Fujian Yongchun Boxing Tradition