A martial artist on Songshan Mountain.  Source: CNN
A martial artist on Songshan Mountain. Source: CNN


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!

Hing Chao at the famous
Hing Chao at the famous “Blue House” in Hong Kong. Source: the International Guoshu Association Facebook Group.

Chinese Martial Arts in the News

Our very first story for this week can be found in the South China Morning Post (which, incidentally, runs more stories on the martial arts than one might expect).  It describes Hing Chao’s recent efforts to secure a UNESCO listing for a Hakka style of hand combat as well as his ongoing efforts to use motion capture technology to document southern China’s various Kung Fu styles.  Hing Chao has also been active in some architectural preservation efforts that will be of interest to Kung Fu students.  Take a look at this article (in Chinese with an English gloss) to read more.  Its hard to understate how much the physical landscape of the entire Pearl River Delta region has been transformed in the last two or three decades, making these sorts of efforts particularly useful.

A “Kung Fu” nun demonstrates a pole form at a Tibetan Temple in Nepal. Nuns from this order have been in the news following the devastating earthquake in Nepal.

In previous news features we have followed the progress of Nepal’s increasingly high profile “Kung Fu Nuns.”  This Buddhist monastic community is centered in Ramkot in the Western portion of the Katmandu Valley.  Like everyone else in Nepal they were affected by the devastating earthquake that hit the area exactly one month ago.  Since then the nuns have become a fixture providing relief and labor in neighboring communities, helping those affected in the area to rebuild.  I noticed a few stories about this in the week following the earthquake, but the topic has continued to be reported in the press, both in South and East  Asia as well as the West.  If anything these sad events have helped to further increase this community’s media profile.  The Washington Post ran a story about their efforts that touched on the gendered aspect of their situation.   Readers may also want to check out the reporting in India Today.

The Pagoda Temple at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province.  Source: cnn.com
The Pagoda Temple at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. Source: cnn.com

On a lighter note, the growing market for martial arts tourism is another topic that we have previously discussed.  This was the subject of perhaps the single most widely read story to appear in this weeks news update. Zoe Li, writing for CNN, published a piece called “Kung Fu Hustle: How to Master Martial Arts in China.”  This article interviewed Sascha Matuszak, the editor of The Last Masters blog as well as an occasional guest author here at Kung Fu Tea.  He drew on his experience living, researching and traveling in China to advise her and other Kung Fu pilgrims on some possible destinations to consider. The post gives brief discussions of Shaolin, Wudang, Chen Village, Emei Shan and Hong Kong.  I thought that it was interesting that when discussing Wing Chun in Hong Kong Master Sam Lau got a shout out.  That seemed like a strong choice, especially for people who wanted to study the system in Hong Kong but who only had a limited amount of time to do so.  Hopefully some aspiring Kung Fu students will take the advice to heart.

Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine recently ran a slightly different sort of article on their webpage.  It was titled “Yang Jun on the Cultural Revolution and Taiji Today.”  One suspects that it will not reach nearly as large an audience as the cnn piece, but readers of Kung Fu Tea may find it to be even more important.  For all of our discussion of the ancient (and basically unknowable) origins of the traditional martial arts, I am often struck at how little interest there is in their more recent history.  This is a shame as it was these events that have most directly shaped our experience of these practices.

Additionally, some of the event of the middle and later decades of the 20th century reveal much about the essential nature of these institutions.  Obviously the Chinese Cultural Revolution is one of those critical events that had a profound impact on the martial arts in mainland China.  Many of the Masters and Grand Masters of the current generation were directly affected by these events, yet we do not hear nearly as much of them (at least not in the west) as one might expect.  Hopefully we will see more attempts to record and consider the impact of this episode in the near future.

Taiji being demonstrated at the famous Wudang Temple, spiritual home of the Taoist arts.  Notice they wear the long hair of Taoist Adepts. Source: Wikimedia.
Taiji being demonstrated at the famous Wudang Temple, spiritual home of the Taoist arts. Notice they wear the long hair of Taoist Adepts. Source: Wikimedia.

The last three weeks or so have seen a number of other stories examining the growth or significance of the Chinese martial arts in a “global” context.  The recent diplomatic meetings between India and China included public demonstrations of both Yoga and the traditional martial arts (Taijiquan).  One of the things that emerged from this discussion of national physical culture was the announcement that China would be pushing for greater UN recognition for Taijiquan.  I am a little unclear as to what exact form this would take, but it seems to be another indication of the importance of the traditional martial arts to the government’s public diplomacy strategy.

Speaking of public diplomacy, the last month has also seen a steady stream of announcements and news articles coming out of various African countries regarding efforts to educate individuals about Chinese culture through the language classes, paper cutting demonstrations and (of course) martial arts training.  For some samples of what has been going on out there you might want to see the following article in the Shanghai Daily about the attraction of Kung Fu for youths in Nigeria.  Alternatively this account looks at the progress of a cultural tour (including the martial arts) in Botswana.

Taiji classes will no longer held at this Central Southland Presbyterian Church hall.  Source: The Southland Times
Taiji classes will no longer held at this Central Southland Presbyterian Church hall. Source: The Southland Times

The news on the globalization front is not always universally positive.  Quickly spreading practices, especially when they are perceived as being rooted in a foreign culture, can also cause friction.   I noted with some interest the following news account of a dispute that led to a Taijiquan class being booted out of its training space in a church in Central Southland New Zealand.  While the group had practiced in the space for at least five years without incident, for some reason the Presbyterian Parish Council recently decided that the classes were a threat to their community’s “spiritual wellbeing.”  When asked to explain their reasoning the group cited the supposed Daoist religious origins of the art.  Maybe someone should send them a copy of something by Tang Hao or Douglas Wile? Just a thought.

The growing popularity of the Chinese martial arts also leads to them occasionally popping up where you least expect them.  Consider the following wedding announcement of Lowena Tam and Raymond Lee in the New York Times.  What is the significance of this happy occasion?  Lee is the son of Lee Moy Shan, who was a student of Moy Yat, who was (of course) a student of Ip Man.  Like I said, Kung Fu lineages appearing where you least expect to see them.  Still, congratulations are clearly in order!

The Kung Fu Fruit Vendor.  Source: the Shanghaiist.
The Kung Fu Fruit Vendor. Source: the Shanghaiist.

So did you hear the one about the Kung Fu fruit vendor?  Nope, its not pitch for a throwback Kung Fu film.  Rather one enterprising merchant in Hangzhou has found a creative way to keep his Qigong skills sharp while attracting new customers.  His method, issuing open challenges to the crowd.  In historical discussions we often come across accounts of various sorts of “marketplace performers” during the Late Imperial or Republic periods.  It would seem that the tradition is not yet dead (at least not in Hangzhou) and a free Kung Fu demonstration can still draw a crowd.

Qi Shu plays the title role, a young girl who is kidnapped by a nun and trained to become a killer.  Source: New York Times.
Qi Shu plays the title role, a young girl who is kidnapped by a nun and trained to become a killer. Source: New York Times.

Kung Fu in the Entertainment Industry

The Cannes Film Festival has recently wrapped up.  Among the big winners this year was Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s artistic martial arts tale “The Assassin.”  The film, which follows the story of a young girl kidnapped by a nun, taken to the mountains and trained to be a deadly assassin, has been getting a lot of attention, such as the following review in the New York Times.  And it looks like this early buzz was well supported.  While a costume drama set in the Tang dynasty, Hou’s film is also said to be minimalist and highly artistic in its aesthetic vision.  Apparently the Powers That Be agreed with this assessment and Huo took home the “Best Director” award for his efforts.  This win has also made in splash in Taiwan’s press.  Clearly this is a film that is going on my “to watch” list.

Jackie Chan lead a martial arts demonstration outside of Dili in 2008.  Source: www.china.org.cn
Jackie Chan lead a martial arts demonstration outside of Dili in 2008. Source: http://www.china.org.cn

Not every martial arts film is going to be an artistic triumph.  Some of them are not even destined to be very good.  Nor are we seeing as many elaborate and technically difficult fight sequences.  Jackie Chan thinks he know why it is that Hollywood is not producing good martial arts films anymore.   Click the link to see what he has to say.  I realize that not everyone is a Jackie Chan fan, but there is some interesting stuff in this interview.

While we are on the subject of Americans, action films and doing your own stunts, it sounds like Mike Tyson had a mishap on the set of Ip Man 3.  His fist met another actor’s elbow and the result was a painfully (as a number of us can personally attest) fractured finger.  But apparently he was a pro and they just kept right on filming.

Robert Downey Jr. sporting a Bruce Lee T-shirt.  Source: Business Insider.
Robert Downey Jr. sporting a Bruce Lee T-shirt. Source: Business Insider.

Bruce Lee has also been in the news over the last few weeks.  He even made a fascinating cameo appearance in the recent summer block-buster “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”  Did you catch it?  This was not the first time that Robert Downey Jr has made a public appearance while sporting a Bruce Lee shirt, but I was fascinated by the time of its appearance in the film.  It turns out that there is also a bit of a story behind this cameo, as told in the following article by Business Insider.

Bruce Lee fans may also want to note that Justin Lin is bringing a new series to Cinemax titled “Warrior.”  This new show is said to be based Lee’s original material for a project of the same name which later evolved into the “Kung Fu” TV series with David Carradine.  The article describes “Warrior” as “a visceral crime drama that traces the path of a gifted but morally corrupt fighter thrown into crisis after a lifelong quest for vengeance is undermined.” It’s based on handwritten notes from Bruce Lee that were brought to light by his daughter, Shannon Lee.”  Sounds like good stuff.

The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts by Benjamin Judkins and Jon Nielson.  State University of New York Press, 2015.  August 1.
The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts by Benjamin Judkins and Jon Nielson. State University of New York Press, 2015. August 1.

Martial Arts Studies

Jon Nielson and I are happy to announce that our book, The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts is now available for pre-order from both from Amazon and directly from the publisher, the State University of New York Press.  The hardback edition of the book is currently set to ship on August 1.    This is one of only a very few English language academic books looking at the history of the Chinese martial arts, and the only one (that I am aware of) to focus on events in southern China.  Wing Chun students may also be interested to note that it offers the most comprehensive treatment of Ip Man’s biography and career to date.  From the publisher:

This book explores the social history of southern Chinese martial arts and their contemporary importance to local identity and narratives of resistance. Hong Kong’s Bruce Lee ushered the Chinese martial arts onto an international stage in the 1970s. Lee’s teacher, Ip Man, master of Wing Chun Kung Fu, has recently emerged as a highly visible symbol of southern Chinese identity and pride. Benjamin N. Judkins and Jon Nielson examine the emergence of Wing Chun to reveal how this body of social practices developed and why individuals continue to turn to the martial arts as they navigate the challenges of a rapidly evolving environment. After surveying the development of hand combat traditions in Guangdong Province from roughly the start of the nineteenth century until 1949, the authors turn to Wing Chun, noting its development, the changing social attitudes towards this practice over time, and its ultimate emergence as a global art form.

I am very excited to see this project finally coming to fruition.  We will be covering news relating to the roll-out of this book both here and on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group in the coming weeks.

Alex Channon and Christopher R. Matthews also have a new edited volume coming out.  (I would have included a cover image but it does not seem to have been released yet.) Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors around the World in Palgrave’s “Global Culture and Sport Series” is due to be released at the end of August.

“This volume presents a wide-reaching overview of contemporary research and scholarship on women’s engagement in a range of combat sports across the world. Including chapters on boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts, and various other fighting disciplines, the collection provides readers with a comprehensive analysis of the current significance of women’s involvement in these sports, as well as charting many of the problems and opportunities they face in establishing and developing careers within them.

With contributions drawing from anthropology, phenomenology, philosophy, sociology, and sport psychology, this book will appeal to readers interested in the development of women’s sport; the relationship between sport and gender; and the wider, contemporary social significance of combat sports around the world.”

fighting intellectualizing combat sports cover
Fighting: Intellectualising Combat Sports, Ed. Keith Gilbert (Common Ground Publishing, 2015).

Keith Gilbert also has a new book out that will be of interest to a number of Kung Fu Tea readers.  Fighting: Intellectualising Combat Sports is an edited volume currently available from Common Ground Publishing.  This book is unique in that its various chapters cover a range of both theoretical and practical topics related to the martial arts.

“This book is the first of its kind that relates specifically to the practical and theoretical aspects of martial arts in contemporary society. Within its covers are a collection of thirty-five cutting-edge chapters by leading practitioners and academics who raise questions and provide answers regarding the broad relationship between fighting and the intellectualisation of the sports that constitute the martial arts. In their writings they highlight the remarkable work being undertaken by coaches, practitioners and exponents of various martial arts and the benefits of martial arts to children and positive health of individuals in society. Individually, they clarify the meaning of their particular martial art and highlight some of the problems they have encountered throughout their career and in researching the area. However, this is a very positive book that is not just of an academic nature but a text that provides ideas and innovations that can be used by future researchers and aspirants and practitioners in the field.

The authors throughout the book largely agree in concluding that there are aspects of the relationship between the martial arts and general society which have largely gone unnoticed, and they tackle the difficult perspectives of injury, stress, coaching, lack of understanding, pain, and training within their particular martial art. Of importance are their comments relating to the mind–body dichotomy and the power of meditation and practice in their sport. In doing so, they provide examples of good practice and strong programmes and make suggestions as to where the status quo needs to be addressed in order for the field to go forward.

This volume will be of great interest and value to academics working in all fields of martial arts, as well as to undergraduate and graduate students researching different disciplines. More importantly, it will also be a crucial aid to researchers who are interested in developing their sport in universities and colleges across the world.”

Lastly, readers my recall my announcement for the 2014 SUNY Press Volume Warrior Women: Gender, Race, and the Transnational Chinese Action Star by Lisa Funnel.  Paul Bowman has recently published a review of this book for the Journal of Chinese OverseasCheck it out.  And don’t forget to take a look at his new volume, Martial Arts Studies: Disrupting Disciplinary Boundaries (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) which is now shipping in paperback and is available for Kindle.

Also the 2015 Martial Arts Studied conference, to be held at Cardiff University from June 10-12, is fast approaching but there is still time to register.  Be sure to check out the the conference schedule to see what kind of papers will be presented.  I will be giving my keynote, “Imagining Ip Man: Globalization and Growth of Wing Chun Kung Fu,” on the 11th and look forward to meeting everyone who can make it.

Chinese tea set.  Source: Wikimedia.
Chinese tea set. Source: Wikimedia.

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 reviewed a Hung Gar book, discussed “5 Moments that transformed Kung Fu” and shared a moment with “Mrs. Judo,” among other things.   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!