I am currently pulling my keynote together for next week’s Martial Arts Studies conference which will be held at Cardiff University in the UK. (There is still time to register if you are in the area). My address is titled “Imagining Ip Man: Globalization and Growth of Wing Chun Kung Fu.” It is loosely based on the concluding chapter of my soon to be released book, The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts. As such I already have a pretty good idea of what I am going to say, though figuring out the slides always takes some time. I am really looking forward to meeting a number of you and hearing a number of papers that I have marked in the program.
Since I will be traveling for most of the next week I won’t have an opportunity to update Kung Fu Tea. Luckily Sascha Matuszak, a friend and occasional guest author here at Kung Fu Tea, has been kind enough to offer some help. As many of you know Sascha edits The Last Masters and has been working on a great series of posts over at Fightland. A number of his more recent essays have tried to bring an informed discussion of the traditional Chinese martial arts into a realm that usually focuses on the mixed martial arts. I think that some interesting cross-fertilization is possible with this sort of writing, and its fascinating to see authors and arguments from Chinese martial studies working their way into the popular discourse. But beyond that, Sascha’s posts are often thought provoking and a lot of fun. I am very happy that he has agreed to share a couple of them here during my absence.
Obviously once I get back I will be providing a full account of the conference. But in the mean time it is great to be able to host a short series of guest posts. Enjoy!
Kung Fu and the China Dream by Sascha Matuszak
The death throes of the Ming Dynasty coincided with systematic attempts to link martial arts with the three major faiths of the region (Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism), medicine, cosmology, spiritual transformation and the quest for immortality. By the middle of the 1600s, just before the fall, martial arts in China had become an integral part of a Grand Unifying Theory of Chinese Culture.
The critical text that rolled all of these elements into one system was the Sinew Transformation Classic, written in the first half of the 1600s. The Classic is a manual for attaining enlightenment through religious and physical exertion and it was the first text to claim Bodhidharma as the founder of Shaolin kung fu. The author, a mysterious person who called himself the “Purple Coagulation Man of the Way,” fabricated prefaces from one famous general who lived 1000 years prior and another from a quasi-mythical figure, Yue Fei, who supposedly learned the secrets of the Classic from a wandering monk-magician.
The ideas set forth in that text helped create a hyper-real cult of kung fu that has survived mostly intact into the present day. Kung fu defined as internal qigong practices and the quest for spiritual immortality through martial techniques passed down from an ancient Buddhist monk has become canon for generations of martial artists. This despite the fact that the Classic is an obvious work of historical fiction.