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. Let’s get to the news!
News on the Chinese Martial Arts
A single story has dominated the news coverage of the Chinese martial arts over the last few weeks. Shi Yongxin, the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple in Henan (regarded by many as the spiritual home of the Chinese martial arts) has been no stranger to criticism. Sometimes called the ‘CEO Monk,’ is both admired and faulted for his emphasis on modern methods and aggressive business strategy in building the Shaolin Temple’s brand. Under his leadership the organization has expanded, built daughter temples and promoted its martial arts heritage through a variety of media projects and traveling shows. Yet critics have questioned this emphasis on expansion at the expense of more traditional Buddhist values.
Some of the controversies that have swirled around Shi Yongxin have been of a decidedly more personal nature. In addition to questions of financial impropriety he was accused of soliciting prostitutes in 2011. In the last few weeks many of these same issues have erupted back into the public consciousness following the publication of a number of anonymous reports linking Shi Yongxin to the misappropriation of large sums of money, accusations that he was previously expelled from the temple and the revelation that he may have been living a double life which included the fathering of at least one child.
Whereas previous controversies had largely been tolerated, these new accusations come at a more sensitive time. On the one hand the Chinese government is currently conducting a high profile anti-corruption campaign. At the same time various religious organizations are coming under increased scrutiny. Shi Yongxi has been questioned by state authorities about these charges and was recently forced to cancel a public appearance in Thailand because of the controversy. At the same time there have been calls in the press for these charges to be dealt with seriously.
Chinese language social media services have provided the most detailed discussion and debate on this unfolding issue. But it has been fascinating to note the number of major Western media outlets (including CNN, Fortune, the Guardian, the Economic Times and the New York Times) who have decided that this story has legs. Given the amount of media attention these anonymous accusations have now garnered it will be interesting to watch both how the investigation progresses, and whether this has any long term impact on the image of the Shaolin temple in the West.
The charges against Shi Yongxin were not the only story competing for reader interest in China over the last month. Even more sensational was the accusation that Wang Lin (a Qigong master who had built an extensive movement of followers) had murdered one of his own disciples on the heels of a falling out. Zou Yong, a wealthy businessman, provincial legislator and associate of Wang had vanished earlier in the month. The New York Times has an account of this case which you can see here, as well as this article by Sky News. Sascha Matuszak has attempted to contextualize the story over at the Fightland blog.
On a more positive note, the South China Morning Post has run a large number of stories relating to the martial arts over the last month. Two of these focused on Bruce Lee’s place in global culture and his special significance as a son of Hong Kong. The first (inspired by a collection of memorabilia) asked “How Bruce Lee made it ‘cool’ to be Chinese growing up in America.” This was followed by a somewhat hyperbolically titled editorial asking “Why does Hong Kong treat Bruce Lee like an outcast and refuse to honour its greatest son?” Bruce Lee fans will want to take a look at both of these pieces.
More interesting to me was this video profile of a Toyama-ryu Iaido (Japanese swordsmanship) school in Hong Kong. You can read more about this group on their webpage. It seems like an interesting group, and I was surprised to discover that the Toyama-ryu had such a well-organized presence in Hong Kong. Their style is something that I have been meaning to check out for years but have never quite managed to get around to.
Lastly, the SCMP had a very interesting piece on Yasuaki Kurata, a Japanese martial artist and actor who became an important fixture in the Hong Kong martial arts and cinema scene during the 1970s. The article contains some nice reminisces as well the following quote which I think that every martial arts school should have hanging up somewhere:
“There are 24 hours in a day. Two should be used to train your willpower.”
Stories from all Over
First up, CCTV ran a short piece on a Taijiquan themed martial arts show which recently opened in Dalian (Liaoning Province). As always the production values of performance looked great. Equally interesting for those us following the issue of “Kung Fu Diplomacy” was the fact that this show is eventually slated to perform internationally with the stated aim of “promote[ing] public awareness of Chinese martial arts and to maintain traditional culture.”
Is kung fu dying? Its a provocative question and one that we are forced to think about every so often. The following editorial on the Business World webpage recently decided to take a stab at the topic. Their answer? Things are not looking great for kung fu (at least not in film) and we can probably blame “kids these days….” But on the bright side things are looking good for the Filipino martial arts and Jay Ignacio’s documentary “The Bladed Hand” got a nod.
If kung fu is dying Jackie Chan does not seem to have gotten the memo. Forbes magazine recently released their list of the highest paid actors which has now been updated to include those working outside of the US film industry. Chan surprised many by appearing in second place with a total take last year of approximately $50 million USD. The only actor to make more than Chan was Robert Downey Jr. (also a student of the Chinese martial arts) who brought in a stunning $80 million. Here is the money quote:
“Jackie Chan is basically the Mickey Mouse of Chinese culture, a celebrity who is so omnipresent that his name has become shorthand,” says Grady Hendrix, cofounder of the New York Asian Film Festival.
Finally, students of Karate (or fans of the Karate Kid) will want to check out the article titled “The Real Mr. Miyagi” over at the Daily Beast. This piece discusses Kevin Derek’s documentary on Fumio Demura and his contributions to the Japanese martial arts in America. It is a well done piece, and it even has the seemingly mandatory Bruce Lee tie-in.
Martial Arts Studies
First off, I am happy to announce that my book (with Sifu Jon Nielson) The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts, is now shipping from amazon and available to the public. Here is the publisher’s statement on the book:
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.
Students of martial arts studies should also note the release of Prof. Barry Allen’s (McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario) most recent volume, Striking Beauty: A Philosophical Look at the Asian Martial Arts (Columbia UP). I noticed that Stanley Henning contributed a blurb for the back of this book as well.
The first book to focus on the intersection of Western philosophy and the Asian martial arts, Striking Beauty collapses the boundaries between Eastern and Western thought, comparatively studying the historical and philosophical traditions of martial arts practice and their ethical value in the modern world. Expanding Western philosophy’s global outlook, the book forces a theoretical reckoning with the concerns of Chinese philosophy and the aesthetic and technical dimensions of martial arts practice.
Striking Beauty explains the relationship between Asian martial arts and the Chinese philosophical traditions of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism in addition to the strategic wisdom of Sunzi’s Art of War. It connects martial arts practice to the Western concepts of mind-body dualism and materialism, sports aesthetics, and the ethics of violence. Incorporating innovations in body phenomenology, somaesthetics, and embodied cognition, the work ameliorates Western philosophy’s hostility toward the body, emphasizing the pleasure of watching and engaging in martial arts, along with their beauty and the ethical problem of their violence.
Readers will also want to remember that Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors around the World (Palgrave Macmillan) by Alex Channon (Editor), Christopher R. Matthews (Editor) is due to drop on August 26th
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.
Grappling with History – Martial Arts in Classical Hollywood Cinema by Kyle Barrowman
A number of shorter works have recently been posted online. First, Wayne Wong has contributed an extensive and probing review of Sabrina Qiong Yu’s monograph Jet Li – Chinese Masculinity and Transnational Film Stardom (Edinburgh University Press) to the Martial Arts Studies webpage. You can read an advance copy of his discussion here. This discussion will be important for both students of film and cultural studies as well as Jet Li fans.
Bianca Miarka recently posted a copy of her paper “Reinterpreting the History of Women’s Judo in Japan” to Academia.edu. Anyone interested in the role of gender in the modern martial arts will probably want to be familiar with this. Likewise, Paul Bowman asks some provocative questions about the practice and portrayal of the martial arts in his latest essay titled “Mediatized Movements: Martial Artistry and Media Culture.” Finally, film studies students and lovers of classic Hollywood movies will probably want to check out Kyle Barrowman’s guest post here at Kung Fu Tea examining the portrayal of the Asian martial arts in golden age American cinema.
On a more practical note there are two other recent publications that readers of Kung Fu Tea may find interesting. The first is an electronic collection of articles from the Journal of Asian Martial Arts titled Chinese Swords: An Ancient Tradition and Modern Training. While this is not new material it might be nice to have it all in one place. Secondly, Chineselongsword.com has just released their latest translation. This is a new edition of General Qi Jiguang’s “Essentials of the Fist.” Obviously this is a work that has had a profound affect on the subsequent development of the Chinese martial arts. Head on over and check it out.
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 vintage photographs of Chinese soldiers, discussed Tongbeiquan training techniques, and even celebrated a birthday! 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.