For readers in the United States, happy Columbus Day! And what better way to enjoy your three day weekend than getting caught up on the latest martial arts news. “Chinese Martial Arts in the News” is a regular series of posts here at Kung Fu Tea in which we take a look at both what is being said about the TCMA by the media and how they discuss it. Of course there is always a lot going on, so if I have missed a major story feel free drop a link to it in the comments below.
Before delving into our main discussion there are a couple of quick items to consider. On a personal note I would like to thank Mark Stoddard and Kathy Joe Connors of the North East Wing Chun Student Association for inviting me to visit their weekend training workshop with Kenneth Chung held recently in Rochester, NY. Anyone interested in the spread of Wing Chun in North America will already be familiar with the important role that Chung played in promoting the art. It was certainly an honor to have the opportunity to meet and briefly talk with him.
On a less happy note, Stanford Chiou recently brought it to my attention that Alexander Lim Co, an important teacher of the Chinese martial arts in the Philippines, is in need of heart bypass surgery. Readers may recall that we discussed one of his books here. A “go fund me” campaign has been set up to help with his expenses, but it is very much in need to your support. Please consider donating to this cause.
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!
Chinese Martial Arts in the News
Our first set of stories hail from the always interesting pages of the South China Morning Post. The paper recently ran a profile of the shipping scion and martial arts preservationist Hing Chao. Anyone who follows the Hong Kong Kung Fu scene will probably be familiar with at least one of his various projects. In 2013, Chao co-authored Hung Kuen Fundamentals: Fok Fu Kuen with Lam Chun-fai. He also promoted the short lived (but very high quality) Journal of Chinese Martial Studies. Most recently he has been in the news for his work with this the Hong Kong Culture Festival.
The piece in the SCMP is basically biographical in nature. Chao discusses the origins of his interests in Chinese culture, his background in the martial arts, and a few of the projects that he has worked on. Its a short piece but a nice introduction to one of the high profile personalities in the fight to promote and preserve southern Kung Fu.
For those of you interested in heading a little further south, the SCMP also ran an article on the growth of interest in Lethwei by Myanmese women. Again, its a short piece but I found it to be an accessible introduction to a style that I did not know much about. And the article also manages to touch on some of the issues of identity, gender and nationalism that will be of interest to students of martial arts studies. Click here to read more.
NBC News recently ran a profile of Sarah Chang, a five time US National Wushu Team member and actress who currently trains and works in Beijing. The article discusses Sarah’s introduction to Wushu as a child growing up in McLean Virginia, some questions regarding gender in Wushu training and her plans for the future. Overall it is a nice discussion of one woman’s journey into the realm of the martial arts.
On October 10th the Martial Arts History Museum (in Burbank California) had a night of events dedicated to Eric Lee. Lee was one of the first practitioners of the Chinese martial arts to compete in the Karate tournament circuit and later moved into film. The museum offered the first screening of its new biographical film dedicated to Lee’s career, held a reception in his honor and finished up with a Q&A session with Eric Lee himself. Its news releases like this that sometimes make me wish that I lived close to Burbank.
As one might expect, Eric was not the “Lee” to make the news in the last month. As is typical there were a number of Bruce Lee stories. Perhaps the most substantive was the reminder that the Wing Luke Museum has just mounted the new items for the second season of their three year “Bruce Lee Experience” exhibition. In keeping with the mission of this museum the exhibit seeks to contextualize Lee’s career and examine some of his contributions to the evolution of the Chinese American identity and community in the US. If you are in the area this sounds like something that you may want to visit.
As we reported last month, one of the Shaolin Temple’s performance teams is currently in the UK gearing up for a series of theatrical performances. A reporter from the Financial Times decided to drop by their training space and join a class, with predictable results. Still, the article is more detailed than most of these sorts of pieces and I particularly enjoyed the candid discussion of the young monks as to how much of their public performance reflected “real” martial arts training versus a more theatrical approach to movement and acting. As always these kids make for a great photo essay.
There were also a number of Shaolin stories of a more contentious nature. On October 4th the South China Morning Post reported that the embattled Abbot Shi Yongxin (dogged by accusations of both sexual and financial improprieties as well as rumors of an official investigation) reappeared at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan. He is reported to have addressed a group of 30 pilgrims who were visiting the temple and instructed them “to focus more on spiritual development and less on physical indulgence because ‘human bodies are temporary but the spirit is immortal.'” Not to be outdone the Want China Times reported on the 10th that a group of the Abbot’s main accusers, who had taken their case to Beijing but had since been forced into hiding, had also resurfaced to give interviews. It was reported that they were still cooperating with authorities and that the graft probe against the Abbot was still ongoing.
Sascha Matuszak recently updated the Fightland Blog on a couple of highly anticipated matches pitting Chinese Mixed Martial Artists versus their Japanese counterparts. Apparently things did not go well. His title stated simply that “Chinese MMA Faceplants.” I assumed that this was a metaphorical exaggeration…until I watched the clips that were included with his report. It turns that his choice of words was actually a straight forward description of how one of the fights ended.
Chinese Martial Arts in the Entertainment Industry
Without a doubt the martial arts film that is currently getting the most good press is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Tang dynasty drama The Assassin. The New York Times dedicated a fair amount of space to a discussion of the visual style and impact of this film. It sounds stunning. It even looks like the director did some interesting things with his fight choreography to reach his particular vision of “realism.” This film is definitely going onto my “list,” though there is no word yet on when it will be reaching an art house theater near you.
If Kung Fu films are more your thing, or you are fan of the recent Ip Man franchise (and who isn’t), you will be happy to learn that the teaser trailer for Ip Man 3 has just been released. It features both Donnie Yen, reprising his role as Ip Man and Mike Tyson. But before you sit down for this film, Ip Man has a few helpful suggestions for a more enjoyable viewing experience.
A new dramatic series is about to begin filming in China titled “Yip Man and Bruce Lee.” I haven’t heard a lot about this project yet. But there was just an announcement that Kim Bum has been cast to play Bruce Lee. Click here to read a little more about the project.
News From All Over
A lot of people were surprised when the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine went to Tu Youyou, a researcher at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing who has spent her entire career researching traditional Chinese medicine. She was honored for her research into non-traditional (and very successful) treatments for malaria. But given that traditional medicine has never before been on the radar of the Nobel Prize Committee, does this recogonition signal a serious shift in the way that TCM is perceived around the globe? Marta Hanson, an Associate Professor of the history of medicine at John Hopkins University tries to answer that question is an extended piece which ran in Fortune.
In preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games Japan (the host nation) is recommending a number of sports for inclusion. Two of these are Japanese national pastimes, baseball and karate. But what sort of Karate sparring system is best suited to international competition? The Wall Street Journal tackled that question in a recent article. It will be fascinating to see whether the IOC allows a third Asian martial art (along with Judo and Taekwondo) to enter the competition. For a little background on the selection process (as well as the likely fate of Wushu’s bid) see this article in the New York Times.
Martial Arts Studies
Advanced registration for the Second Annual Martial Arts Studies Conference to be held at the University of Cardiff (July of 2016) are now open. Better yet, the organizer has just released the initial list of confirmed speakers including Phillip Zarrilli, Ben Spatz, Adam Frank, Paul Bowman and myself among others. Given the success of last year’s conference this is definitely one event that you will want to get on your calendar. Don’t forget that this year you can also win free registration by entering the short film competition. And if you are interested in the interdisciplinary study of the martial arts, be sure to join our new and improved email list! Just click here to register.
Some of you may remember Dr. Jared Miracle from his guest posts here at Kung Fu Tea. I was very pleased to discover that his new book Now With Kung Fu Grip! How Bodybuilders, Soldiers and a Hairdresser Reinvented Martial Arts for America (published McFarland & Company) is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com with a release date of March 2016. This promises to be a vital work for anyone interested in the social history of the Asian martial arts in the West. Here is the blurb from the publisher:
Why do so many Americans practice martial arts? How did kung fu get its own movie genre? What makes mixed martial arts so popular? This book answers these questions for the first time with historical research. At the turn of the 20th century, the United States enjoyed a time of prosperity but feared that men were becoming soft. At the same time, the Japanese government sponsored research to develop the best fighting techniques for its new empire. Before World War II, American men boxed and Japanese men practiced judo and karate. Postwar Americans began adopting Chinese, Brazilian, Filipino and other fighting styles, in the process establishing a masculine subculture based on physical and social power. The rise of Asian martial arts in America is a fascinating untold story of modern history, from the origin of karate uniforms to the first martial arts themed birthday party. The cast of characters includes circus strongmen, professional cage fighters, an award winning comic book artist, the inventors of judo, aikido and Cornflakes, and Count Juan Raphael Dante, a Chicago hairdresser and used car salesman with the “Deadliest Hands in the World.” Readers will never look at taekwondo class the same way again.
For me this is a long awaited book and I am really looking forward to seeing Jared’s discussion of a critically important subject for students of martial arts studies and the history of popular culture.
Catherine S. Chan recently posted a paper to academia.edu that will also be relevant to anyone interested in Bruce Lee or the globalization of the Chinese martial arts. It is titled “Smudging Economy and Culture: The Commodification of Bruce Lee.” The abstract is as follows:
Four decades after Bruce Lee’s untimely death, the image of the martial artist continues to strive in the realms of popular culture and international society. As an acknowledged martial artist, film star and sometime philosopher and writer, Bruce Lee is commonly credited for transforming the conventional Fu Manchu portrait of Chinese people in the eyes of Westerners to that of a respectable Kung Fu master.
Stripping Lee clean of the yellow tracksuit and nunchucks, one point remains unbeatable: the image of Bruce Lee sells. This paper seeks to explain and comprehend the influence and success of Bruce Lee through the concept of celebrity commodification, breaking down the barrier that separates economy and culture by identifying the components that serve to intertwine. From the existence of a myth to the norms of pseudo-individualization, Lee’s status as a celebrity-icon shall be analyzed to reveal how capitalist marketing rides on the coat-tail of socio-cultural developments in order to effectively produce a cultural ‘kudzu’ that in turn, aims to persist and cash in for as long as possible.
Alex Channon and Christopher R. Matthews have been kind enough to post the introductory chapter of their recent edited volume Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors Around the World (Palgrave 2015), on-line for your perusal. It is titled “Approaching the gendered phenomenon of Women Warriors” and you can read it here.
Did you know that there is a “Budo-lab” at Chapman University (in California) hoping to advance the study of both Hoplology and Martial Arts Studies by becoming “the very first center in the United States to specifically focus on examining the role of both combative behavior and martial arts in modern societies”? The center currently counts Andrea Molle (Political Science and IRES), Michael S. Wood (World Culture and Languages, Japanese) and Alexander Bay (History and Asian Studies) as permanent members. Head on over to their homepage to read more of their mission statement and to check out their current research projects.
Lastly, I am sure that many readers of Kung Fu Tea are already familiar with Daniele Bolelli’s always thought provoking writings on a variety of topics related to the martial arts. He has a new book coming out (just in time for Christmas) titled Not Afraid: On Fear, Heartbreak, Raising a Baby Girl and Cage Fighting (Disinformation Books, December 1, 2015). Here is the blurb:
This book is a meditation on facing fear, heartbreak, and mortality. In his own irreverent and inimitable style, Daniele Bolelli tells the story of his courtship and marriage, which would have been a sweet story had not all hell broken loose. Or as he puts it, “Hell was a ninja who entered my house without being seen. It all began in such an unremarkable way that it barely registered as anything meaningful. Little did I know that the experiences of the next five months would rip me apart and kill me. They would re-forge me into a different man. On that day, I became an unwilling traveler on a journey through the heart of fear. Every step along the way has forced me to face my fears time and time again.”
It is the story of a man who in rapid succession has his wife die in his arms, loses his house and his job, and is left to care for his 19-month old daughter. Oddly enough, the best tools for coping with all of this were those he learned in more than two decades of martial arts practice. Not Afraid tackles this extremely heavy subject matter in a light-hearted style and with an attitude that acknowledges pain and suffering but denies them dominion over one’s life.
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 remembered the life of GM Chen Qingzhou, saw a great discussions of Ming era weapons and read a new translation of Jin Yiming’s 1932 manual on the single dao. 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.