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 (almost a month) since our last update so there is a lot to be covered in today’s post. Let’s get to the news!
News from all Over
This week’s report starts with three items from the Shanghai Daily. The first article details the opening of a new exhibit of ancient and traditional Chinese weapons at the Han Tianheng Art Museum in Shanghai. Much of the article focuses on an interview with the individual who collected these artifacts and loaned them to the exhibit. It certainly sounds as though there will be some important early pieces there and if anyone is in the area it would be great to see a report. The exhibit is currently expected to run through February.
That article was followed up by another titled “The Finest Swords Becomes Legends.” It focuses on the mythology surrounding some of the amazing bronze swords produced in ancient China. Dedicated students of the history of China’s weapons will already be familiar with these accounts, but its always fascinating to see them working their way into the more general press.
Next we turn to something a little more current. As part of its Hangzhou Special series the Shanghai Daily also ran a profile of Jiang Hanlong, a cartoonist who, after being introduced to Wing Chun, went on to become an professional martial arts instructor and to open his own school. A student of Lun Jia (who in turn studied with Ip Man), Jiang went on to open a school with a friend and Taijiquan practitioner hoping to help students find peace within the routines of a hectic modern life. In addition to Wing Chun and Taijiquan they also offer courses in Chinese archery, meditation and traditional music.
This next story is by far my favorite in the current news roundup.
How do you know that Wing Chun is officially “big in Japan”? There are reports (such as this one at inverse.com) that some Costco locations have begun to sell wooden dummies (mook yan jongs). Photos on Instagram appear to back this up. I have attempted to contact Costco’s corporate media people in Japan to find out more about this product but have yet to receive a reply. All of the photos seem to show stand-alone (rather than wall mounted) units and feature the “Jeet Kune Do” style head. One assumes that the release of these dummies just prior to Ip Man 3 may not have been a coincidence. Still, the packaging doesn’t make any direct reference to either Ip Man or Bruce Lee. I don’t really need a new dummy at the moment, but I would still love to see these show up at my local Costco! You can read the original Apple Daily story here.
One of the surprises to arise out of the last news cycle was this detailed article published by Bloomberg Business reviewing the current controversies and financial history of the Shaolin Temple. Titled the “Rise and Fall of Shaolin’s CEO Monk” this is probably the best discussion of the current state of the Shaolin Temple that I have seen produced by anyone in the mainstream press. Over the last few years Shaolin has appeared in more and more articles, but very few of them take the time to review the modern history of Shaolin in quite as much detail as you will find here. Definitely a recommended read.
The Chinese Martial Arts also made a recent appearance in the New York Times “Wellness” blog. The topic of the conversation was Taijiquan and whether it had therapeutic value with regards to heart disease. Spoiler alert….the answer is yes, for a couple of reasons. You can read the full discussion here. (No word on how practicing Taiji against Shanghai’s smoggy skyline might impact your health).
As always Bruce Lee’s legacy continued to be discussed. Anyone interested in either Lee’s fight with Wong Jack Man, or the portrayal of the martial arts in comic books more generally, will want to check out this interview on NPR (national public radio). In it Jeremy Arambulo talks about growing up as an Asian-American, Bruce Lee and his current webcomic, “A Challenge.” This work is loosely based on Lee’s well known confrontation with Wong Jack man and also provides some extended meditations on subjects that may be of interest to readers of Kung Fu Tea. Or click here to go directly to the comic.
If you are in the Northwest you might instead want to check out a new walking tour of Bruce Lee’s Seattle which ties into the current exhibit on his life at the Wing Luke Museum. It appears that they are trying to get some good social history into their program.
A few other pioneers of Kung Fu in North America have been in the news. I particularly liked this discussion of Grandmaster Pui Chan as it had some good biographical material about his life in southern China and his early teaching career in the USA. The discussion is well worth checking out if you are interested in the more modern history of the Chinese martial arts.
Also fascinating is the recent feature titled “The Legend of the 52 Blocks” published by the Vice Sports blog. Written by Benjamin Nadler this article provides a fairly comprehensive introduction to the history, legend and mystery of this predominantly African-American vernacular martial arts style. Students of Martial Arts Studies may have been introduced to this unique style through the writings of the anthropologist Thomas Green. I have it on good authority that Prof. Green is getting ready to publish more of his ethnographic research on the topic. As such Nadler’s blog post may be a good way to get yourself up to speed for prior to its release.
Chinese Martial Arts Films
Ip Man 3 has now officially made its way into theaters and the reviews are starting to roll in. I have yet to see it, but the initial signals seem to be encouraging. First off, the Hollywood Reporter has a quick list of five things to expect if you are planning on seeing the film. The San Francisco Chronicle gave the film an overall decent review and thought that it was a fitting end to Ip Man’s martial arts saga. And while a number of reviewers lampooned Mike Tyson’s appearance in the film, the Vancouver Weekly had some surprisingly positive things to say about his performance, starting with the fact that he basically stole every scene that he was in. And what could we do to make the Ip Man franchise even bigger? How about a little cross-promotion with Star Wars? That was another trend that has been evident in a lot of the discussions of Donnie Yen’s recent work.
Possibly the only thing bigger than Donnie Yen right now is a Panda named Po. All of the early discussion of this film has been great. But what has really been turning heads among Hollywood insiders is the business mechanics behind this project. As a joint production between an American studio and a set of our Chinese companies, this film is able to skirt a number of the regulations that are normally imposed on foreign films in China (limiting the amount of time that they can run and the total numbers of screens that they can show on, as well as the distribution of ticket sales). Given the popularity of the franchise in China, its clear that this film is going to be very profitable. Forbes dives into the number here, and The Street offers its own commentary on the Panda’s success.
Lastly, a Star Wars story has emerged for fans of the Chinese martial arts. As I have discussed elsewhere, the internet has been clamoring for an Asian Jedi for some time now. This is not an unreasonable request given the importance of Kung Fu mythology and Samurai films to the genesis of Star Wars. Simply put, no katanaa, no lighsabers. Well, it appears that Disney heard these prayers and responded by giving the fans a Storm Trooper. And not just any white bucket wearing thug. Nope, Kung Fu brought you the internet’s favorite Storm Trooper. You can read more about him here.
Martial Arts Studies
There are a number of forthcoming books on martial arts studies that readers should be aware of. Yet before we launch into these, Paul Bowman recently posted an article on Academia.edu asking the prior question of how we go about making martial arts history matter. It is an interesting paper on an important subject. Be sure to check it out. And while you do, get your registrations in for the 2016 Martial Arts Studies conference to be held in July at the University of Cardiff. Last years event was a great success, and the list of speakers and guests for this year’s event is even stronger. Click here to find out who is coming and how to register.
Lauren Miller Griffith’s volume In Search of Legitimacy: How Outsiders Become Part of the Afro-brazilian Capoeira Tradition (Berghahn Books (January 31, 2016) is about to be released. I have been looking forward to reading this book for a while and am currently in the process of ordering a review copy for the journal Martial Arts Studies. It certainly tackles a topic of central importance to students of many martial art traditions. The publisher’s synopsis is as follows:
Every year, countless young adults from affluent, Western nations travel to Brazil to train in capoeira, the dance/martial art form that is one of the most visible strands of the Afro-Brazilian cultural tradition. In Search of Legitimacy explores why “first world” men and women leave behind their jobs, families, and friends to pursue a strenuous training regimen in a historically disparaged and marginalized practice. Using the concept of apprenticeship pilgrimage-studying with a local master at a historical point of origin-the author examines how non-Brazilian capoeiristas learn their art and claim legitimacy while navigating the complexities of wealth disparity, racial discrimination, and cultural appropriation.
Lauren Miller Griffith is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Hanover College who studies performance, tourism, and education in Latin America.
Later in the spring readers can expect another volume focusing on Capoeria. Sara Delamont (Cardiff University), Neil Stephens (Cardiff University), Claudio Campos will be releasing Dreaming Brazil, Embodying Brazil: An Ethnography of Diaspora Capoeira through Routledge (May 15, 2016).
Capoeira, the Brazilian dance-fight-game, has spread across the world since the 1970s. It has become a popular leisure activity for many people, and a career for many Brazilians in countries as diverse as China and Spain, and as geographically distant from Brazil as New Zealand and Finland. This ethnographic research conducted on capoeira in the UK is not only an in-depth investigation of one martial art, but also provides rich data on masculinity, performativity, embodiment, globalization, rites of passage and tournaments of value, as well as an enhanced discussion of methods and methodology.
This April Lionel Loh Loong will be releasing The Body and Senses in Martial Culture by Lionel Loh Han Loong through Palgrave. While still a few months out, this work will focus on the booming martial arts tourism industry in Thailand.
This ethnographic study of a mixed martial arts gym in Thailand describes the everyday practices and lived experiences of martial art practitioners. Through the lived realities and everyday experiences of these fighters, this book seeks to examine why foreigners invest their time and money to train in martial arts in Thailand; the linkages between the embodiment of martial arts and masculinity; how foreign bodies consume martial arts and what they get out of it; the sensory reconfiguration required of a fighter; and the impact of transnational flows on bodily dispositions and knowledge. The author argues that being a successful fighter entails not only sensitized awareness and knowledge of one’s body, but also a reconfiguration of the senses.
Lastly, students of cultural and film studies may want to take a look at Manga and Anime Go to Hollywood by Northrop Davis (A professor of Media Arts at the University of South Carolina). Various types of comics have had an important impact on film in recent years, and they are also important vectors by which media discourses on the martial arts are spread throughout society (consider the impact of a single title like Scott Pilgrim in promoting a specific image of the martial arts). The publisher’s blurb is as follows:
The media industries in the United States and Japan are similar in much the same way different animal species are: while a horse and a kangaroo share maybe 95% of their DNA, they’re nonetheless very different animals-and so it is with manga and anime in Japanese and Hollywood animation, movies, and television. Though they share some key common elements, they developed mostly separately while still influencing each other significantly along the way. That confluence is now accelerating into new forms of hybridization that will drive much of future storytelling entertainment. Packed with original interviews with top creators in these fields and illuminating case studies, Manga and Anime Go to Hollywood helps to parse out these these shared and diverging genetic codes, revealing the cross-influences and independent traits of Japanese and American animation.
Readers looking for study material of a more “practical” nature may want to check out Scott Rodell’s latest project. Dandaofa Xuan – Chinese Long Saber Techniques Anthology is a translation of a 400 year old manual describing techniques for a the long two handed saber called the dandao. Apparently this was also the first Chinese martial arts manual to be published with accompanying illustrations. As such it is an interesting bit of martial arts history.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
As always there is a lot going on at the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group. We discussed the logic of Taijiquan’s forms, African-American martial arts history and hand combat as intangible cultural heritage. 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.