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 month, 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 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!
Martial Arts in the News
Our first set of stories focuses on the “rediscovery” of various aspects of Asian sword culture. First off, we head to central China. Multiple newspapers have run a story discussing Jia Huaijin, a 33 year old entrepreneur and businessman who quit his day job with a state owned company, headed to the countryside, and has begun to research the traditional methods used to produce ancient Chinese swords and other bladed weapons. Based in the outskirts of Zhengzhou, he has apparently succeeded in catching the eye of wealthy collectors in both China and the West. You can read more about his story here. The photos with this article are particularly nice. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find much information on his work independent of this latest batch of reports.
If you are looking for something a little different, consider heading over to Black Belt magazine’s homepage. They are currently hosting a two part article series looking at the traditional swords and sword arts of Korea. The first article (which also has some nice photos) focuses more on the weapons, while the second part looks at their practice. See here for part 1 and part 2.
It would not be a news update without a quick look at what the Shaolin Temple is up to. After fending off accusations of over-commercialism in March following the public announcement of the new branch temple/luxury hotel complex in Australia, Abbot Shi Yongxin once again finds himself in the news. It was reported that one of the temple’s monks recently forced a visiting journalist to increase the size of his donation from 20 to 100 Yuan. The discussion of this story on Chinese social media has been strongly negative. In response the Abbot is promising increased education and emphasis on “monastic principals” for his monks.
Juan Carlos Aguilar, the self-styled Shaolin “monk” accused of torturing and killing two women, has been back in the news. His trial in Spain has generated a large number of media reports. You can see two of them here and here. He pled guilty to murdering his victims on the first day of the proceedings.
Shifu Carlos Alvarez, Master of the Shaolin Temple Spain, gave a statement to the press distancing the Order from Aguilar. He pointed out that Aguilar (like so many others claiming a Shaolin heritage) had studied at one of the many martial arts schools in the area run by a monk or a lay disciple, and not at the Temple itself. Nor had he taken vows in the order. The Temple in China issued the following statement: “Juan Carlos Aguilar was neither a monk nor master and lacked all the essential prerequisites to be one.” That must be the biggest understatement of the week.
On a more cheerful note, the Fightland blog just ran a post looking at Meir Shahar’s work on the evolution of traditional Shaolin combat methods in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Titled “From Staff to Fist: The Origins of the Shaolin Martial Arts” this piece (authored by Sascha Matszuak) is yet another example of the growing presence of martial arts studies in popular discussions.
News from all Over
Bruce Lee has made a number of appearances in the news over the last few weeks. Obviously references to the Little Dragon are never hard to find. One of the more thoughtful pieces that I ran across was this article titled “Consider the Dragon – Reflections on the legacy of Bruce Lee” in the Washington State Magazine. It draws on an interview with a sports sciences professor named John Wong and looks at Lee’s influence on both physical culture and film. Readers should note that I have also included an academic paper by Wong and Rinehart in the final section of this post. If you follow the discussion of Bruce Lee these are two pieces that you will want to check out.
Lee’s association with the Filipino art Escrima is the subject of our next piece. It includes some information from Dan Inosanto on Lee’s conflicted feelings about the style.
Lastly, it appears that the Time magazine blog is hopping on the “daily wisdom” of Bruce Lee bandwagon. I will admit that this has never been my favorite genera (though I am interested in the development of Lee’s thought). Still, the fact that he keeps popping up in unexpected places points to his ongoing relevance.
There is still time to register for this years Tiger Claw Elite Chinese Martial Arts Tournament, to be held on May 16th. Given that I live on the other side of the country I have never had an opportunity to visit this event, but I see footage of it every year and it always looks impressive. You can read more about this, and other related announcements, here.
In entertainment news, the reviews of Donnie Yen’s “Kung Fu Killers” have arrived and they are mixed. Everyone agrees that it is a competent and enjoyable film with great fight sequences. But the general feeling is that it never tried to break new ground or tell a compelling story. The New York Times pretty much sums up this sentiment in its own lukewarm review. The Guardian gave it 3/5 stars.
More interesting was the following interview with Donnie Yen in which he recounts some of his major struggles over the last 30 years. Long story short, being a Kung Fu action star may be less glamorous and financially rewarding than it appears. Yen also talks about his preparation for Ip Man 3 and deteriorating health. He suggests that Ip Man 3 may be his last action role.
Our final article for this section is a public service reminder about why you really do have to pay attention to the character of your students before agreeing to train them. It turns out that not everyone shows up at a martial arts school hoping to use their powers for good. Some people are just really serious about attacking foreign workers.
Martial Arts Studies
I am happy to announce that Paul Bowman’s book Martial Arts Studies: Disrupting Disciplinary Boundaries has just been released by Rowman & Littlefield International. I had the distinct pleasure of reading an advance copy of this manuscript and actually cited it in a recent article here at Kung Fu Tea. By introducing a number of important theoretical considerations and perspectives, this book is sure to have an important effect on future discussions of martial arts studies. Here is what the publisher has to say:
The phrase “martial arts studies” is increasingly circulating as a term to describe a new field of interest. But many academic fields including history, philosophy, anthropology, and Area studies already engage with martial arts in their own particular way. Therefore, is there really such a thing as a unique field of martial arts studies?
Martial Arts Studies is the first book to engage directly with these questions. It assesses the multiplicity and heterogeneity of possible approaches to martial arts studies, exploring orientations and limitations of existing approaches. It makes a case for constructing the field of martial arts studies in terms of key coordinates from post-structuralism, cultural studies, media studies, and post-colonialism.
By using these anti-disciplinary approaches to disrupt the approaches of other disciplines, Martial Arts Studies proposes a field that both emerges out of and differs from its many disciplinary locations.
As if that was not enough, Dr. Bowman has also publicly launched the Martial Arts Studies Research Network. Click here to see its new homepage. This cooperative academic endeavor will be hosting multiple conferences, seminars and networking events over the next few years. You can also find all of the information about the June conference (including its programs and schedules) there. Head on over and see what is in the works. Be sure to check out the call for papers for the new edited volume, Inventing of the Martial Arts.
Our next item will be of interest to film and cultural studies students. Stepen Teo’s 2009 Chinese Martial Arts Cinema has rapidly become a critical text for the discussion of martial arts films. Edinburgh University Press has just announced that they will be releasing an expanded and updated version of this book later in 2015. It will be interesting to see what changes between editions.
As I mentioned earlier in this blog, John Wong and Robert E. Rinehart have an article that contributes to the Martial Arts Studies discussion. This paper (published in Sports History Review) is titled “Representations of Physical Prowess, the Body, and National Identity in Selected Bruce Lee Films.” While originally published in 2013 it is certainly relevant to a number of ongoing conversations in the field.
Lastly, researchers interested in the links between opera, popular literature and the Chinese martial arts will want to take a look at Mark R. E. Meulenbeld’s recent book, Demonic Warfare: Daoism, Territorial Networks, and the History of a Ming Novel (Hawaii University Press, 2015).
Revealing the fundamental continuities that exist between vernacular fiction and exorcist, martial rituals in the vernacular language, Mark Meulenbeld argues that a specific type of Daoist exorcism helped shape vernacular novels in the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Focusing on the once famous novel Fengshen yanyi (Canonization of the Godso), the author maps out the general ritual structure and divine protagonists that it borrows from much older systems of Daoist exorcism. By exploring how the novel reflects the specific concerns of communities associated with Fengshen yanyi and its ideology, Meulenbeld is able to reconstruct the cultural sphere in which Daoist exorcist rituals informed late imperial novels.
He first looks at temple networks and their religious festivals. Organized by local communities for territorial protection, these networks featured martial narratives about the powerful and heroic deeds of the gods. He then shows that it is by means of dramatic practices like ritual, theatre, and temple processions that divine acts were embodied and brought to life. Much attention is given to local militias who embodied demon soldiers as part of their defensive strategies.
Various Ming emperors actively sought the support of these local religious networks and even continued to invite Daoist ritualists so as to efficiently marshal the forces of local gods with their local demon soldiers into the official, imperial reserves of military power. This unusual book establishes once and for all the importance of understanding the idealized realities of literary texts within a larger context of cultural practice and socio-political history. Of particular importance is the ongoing dialog with religious ideology that informs these different discourses. Meulenbeld’s book makes a convincing case for the need to debunk the retrospective reading of China through the modern, secular Western categories of literature, society, and politics. He shows that this disregard of religious dynamics has distorted our understanding of China and that religion cannot be conveniently isolated from scholarly analysis
Scott Philips has written a detailed review of the book discussing its relevance to the Chinese martial arts and opera titled “Literature as Ritual Combat.”
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
As always there is a lot going on at the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group and this last month has been no exception. We looked at a CCTV documentary on the Ming dynasty Shaolin author Cheng Zong You, discussed the problem of cultural appropriation in the martial arts and saw some rare footage of Hung Gar forms. 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!
April 27, 2015 at 8:49 pm
On a slightly unrelated note, I recall having a conversation with an old Chinese master who stated that origins of the European castle, actually have the earliest origin in China. Supposedly the Chinese are uncovering new weapons (every day) and restoring castles that are similar to medieval Norman castles from the European middle ages. According to this teacher, European culture and chinese culture were very similar, in clothing, religion, architecture and technology.
I am extremely sceptical about all this – if there were European castles in China, then they must have been imitations of those found in the West and built later on. It also fly’s smack bang in the understanding that Westerners had of China in the 60s, 70s and 80s which was a very poor country. When Westerners first reached China they would have in reality encountered a very poor country with a ruling class built in antiquity.
If we follow the historical line of archaeology and research in Japan, we discover a culture that is completely different to Europe, with its own unique culture, heritage and archaeology. For example, it is unlikely that a Japanese will pull out a European crusader sword and claim that it was used on the Japanese battlefield.