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!
Chinese Martial Arts in the News
Our leading story for this week comes from the (virtual) pages of the Vice Fightland blog. My friend and fellow researcher of Chinese martial arts history Charles Russo just published a short essay titled “The Forgotten (Female) Pioneers of Tai Chi in the West” profiling the lives and contributions of Gerda Geddes and Sophia Delza. Its well worth taking a look at. Incidentally, readers should also check out the last section of this news update for information on the release of Russo’s upcoming volume (published by the University of Nebraska Press) on the development of the Chinese martial arts on the West Coast during the mid 20th century.
Taijiquan has made a few other appearances over the last couple of weeks. One has to do with the decision of Henan’s Military Police to begin to teach Chen style Taijiquan to its officers. The Talking Chen Taiji blog (always one of my favorites) has a nice write-up of the story based on an article posted on the police command’s webpage. Here is a quick quote to whet your interest:
“China’s official military police website recently highlighted the introduction of Chen Taijiquan into the training programme of its officers. The idea behind its introduction is to transmit traditional culture, improve officers physical constitutions and to enrich their cultural awareness and life style when they are not on operational duty. In the time-honoured Chinese way, the movement is encapsulated in a slogan: “Learn Taiji, strengthen the body and spirit, quieten the heart and nurture the body”.
If you are looking for an exciting training opportunity of your own, and you happen to be in the St. Louis area, you are in luck. GM Chiu Chi Ling, a renowned practitioner of Hung Gar, will be leading a workshop at the International Shaolin Wushu Center. If I were anywhere in the area I would definitely be calling to see if there is any space left for this event. But you will have to act fast as he is due to appear on April 5th!
Master Shi Tanxu, however, is in it for the long-haul. The LA Times recently ran a somewhat lengthy story detailing the Shaolin Monk’s life, background and success in spreading the traditional Chinese martial arts in the LA area. As always, these sorts of stories are fascinating windows into the sorts of narratives that accompany the modern Chinese martial arts. This article has a few nuggets on the details of running a high profile martial arts school in a crowded marketplace today. I thought the following incident was particularly revealing:
“When he went to apply for a business license using the name “Shaolin Temple,” he found more than 200 other businesses using the name, Yanxu said. The temple had provided documents certifying that he was an official Shaolin monk, but counterfeiters replicated them so perfectly that they looked more authentic than the real thing.
When he opened his first center in Temple City in 2008, attorneys from the more established kung fu academies told him that he had to stop using the name of Shaolin, Yanxu said with a laugh. He kept using it, and they never followed up with the lawsuits.”
There seems to be one constant that unites the many disparate news stories on the Shaolin Temple. The fighting arts of this institution and its various associated commercial schools generate some astounding visual images. Indeed, one wonders how much of the modern image of the Chinese martial arts in the West can be traced directly to the “Shaolin visual aesthetic”?
The latest contribution to this popular genera comes from the pages of the Daily Mail. It ran a photo essay (appropriately) titled “Masters of inner peace: Hair-raising pictures show Shaolin kung fu monks sharpening their skills on terrifying cliff face.” It appears that the local schools and photographers have been putting Deng Feng’s famous mountains to good use.
The English language branch of CCTV (China’s state run public television network), has recently released a new documentary dealing with the traditional Chinese martial arts. It has been split into four 20 minute chapters. The first of these follows a Western student who has come to a school at Wudang in hopes of finding inner peace. I have yet to find the time to sit down and watch the entire thing, but I must admit to a certain weakness for these sorts of documentaries. If nothing else they are a fantastic example of the way the Chinese martial arts are being deployed as part of the state’s larger public diplomacy strategy.
The blows just keep coming for the producers of Ip Man 3. In our last news update we learned that Chinese government regulators had accused the production company backing the film of buying large numbers of imaginary movie tickets (with very real money) in an attempt to artificially inflate the apparent success of their film and hence the value of the company. Such practices had been rumored for some time, but the government had seemed to turn a blind eye to them in the past, particularly when the “juiced” numbers supported the popularity of a domestically produced film at the expense of foreign rivals. However, there are now worries that estimates of the actual size and nature of the Chinese film market have become so distorted that future products may suffer.
Unfortunately this has not been the end of the story. A recent article by Reuters indicated that over 100 private investors stormed the offices of the Jinlu Financial Advisors in Shanghai (the group that had backed the Ip Man film and a number of other questionable projects) demanding back payments on their loans and other investments. Reports indicate that most of these individuals are not “industry insiders,” but were regular people who had been convinced to invest large amounts of cash with the production company.
Those interested in the portrayal of the martial arts (and Asian Americans) by the Western media will want to check out a recent essay by Arthur Chu (of the Daily Beast) titled “Not Your Asian Ninja: How the Marvel Cinematic Universe Keeps Failing Asian-Americans.” He has a lot of good things to say about the second season of Daredevil on Netflix, particularly as it relates to the introduction of the Punisher’s story line. But then he gets to the ninjas, and that is where the trouble starts….
“Look. Did the producers of Daredevil set out to create a storyline where every single Asian character is an agent of supernatural evil who is deeply corrupted by that evil and empowered to be a monstrous killing machine because of it? I doubt they thought of it in those terms. They just took existing tropes from the comics and ran with them without thinking too hard—and lo and behold, an army of interchangeable evil ninjas plus one sexy femme fatale is what they got.”
Ever since Bruce Lee there has been a debate about value of the portrayal of Asians using the martial arts in the popular media. Did Bruce Lee smash suffocating stereotypes about Chinese masculinity, or did his work subtlety reinforce them? It is a fascinating conversation, and one that martial arts studies has made important contributions to. But Chu’s main beef with the way that this other story-line within the Daredevil franchise is developing is that there is really nothing “nuanced” or “subtle” about the stereotypes that are being put on the screen. It will be interesting to see whether the shows producers respond to criticism like this in the future.
Speaking of Bruce Lee, CNTV recently released a short interview with Lawrence Grey regarding his upcoming Bruce Lee biopic. Interestingly he states that the Lee Estate approached him about the project and that he was initially not inclined to take it. Apparently he changed his mind after they OK’ed something that would look more at the internal emotional and psychological struggles of Lee rather than simply his external battles. Grey states that he has a director for the project but declined to give a name. Nevertheless, he is predicting a 2017 release date.
In other movie news, the NY Times ran a short review of “Rise of the Legend.” All things considered they seem to have liked it, even if they withheld effusive praise. This seems to have been a well produced and enjoyable film. It will no doubt be of special interest to anyone who is a fan of the Wong Fei Hung movies or who follows the development of the folklore surrounding Guangdong’s most famous martial artist.
Martial Arts Studies
As always it has been a busy time in the world of martial arts studies. The conference “Kung Fury: Contemporary debates in martial arts cinema” (April 1 at Birmingham City University) has just wrapped up. We hope to have some “after-action” reports to share soon.
Also the draft schedule for the 2016 Martial Arts Studies Conference is now available. It looks like we have an exciting group of speakers and papers lined up for this year and a few new activities as well. There is still time to register for the conference if you would like to attend. If you want to make use the University’s housing accommodations during your stay its important that you get this registration in soon! Of course there are also lots of other hotels in downtown Cardiff and it is a very charming and walkable city.
If you are interested in Capoeira, or just looking for some good reading material, be sure to check out Greg Downey’s recent chapter “Capoeira as an Art of Living: The Aesthetics of a Cunning Existence.” He first published this in the 2014 volume Fighting: Intellectualizing Combat Sports, and was kind enough to post a copy on his Academia.edu account.
Also, it looks like Jared Miracle’s book Now with Kung Fu Grip!: How Bodybuilders, Soldiers and a Hairdresser Reinvented Martial Arts for America is about to be released and should be shipping within days. Dr. Miracle has written a number of excellent posts for Kung Fu Tea and readers may remember his superb article on the Donn F. Draeger, R. W. Smith and Jon Bluming “Imposing the Terms of Battle” in the last edition of the journal Martial Arts Studies. Be sure to check out this book for more high quality historical research on the modern history of the Asian martial arts.
Last, but by no means least, Charles Russo’s latest book is now available for pre-order through amazon.com. Titled Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America this 272 page volume from the University of Nebraska Press is scheduled to ship around the end of June. This volume should have great cross-over appeal to both practitioners and students of martial art studies, and I hope that it will make an important contribution to our understanding of the history of the Chinese martial arts community in North America. Here is the publishers blurb:
In the spring of 1959, eighteen-year-old Bruce Lee returned to San Francisco, the city of his birth, and quickly inserted himself into the West Coast’s fledgling martial arts culture. Even though Asian fighting styles were widely unknown to mainstream America, Bruce encountered a robust fight culture in a San Francisco Bay area that was populated with talented and trailblazing practitioners such as Lau Bun, Chinatown’s aging kung fu patriarch; Wally Jay, the innovative Hawaiian jujitsu master; and James Lee, the no-nonsense Oakland street fighter. Regarded by some as a brash loudmouth and by others as a dynamic visionary, Bruce spent his first few years back in America advocating a more modern approach to the martial arts and showing little regard for the damaged egos left in his wake.
In the Chinese calendar, 1964 was the Year of the Green Dragon. It would be a challenging and eventful year for Bruce. He would broadcast his dissenting view before the first great international martial arts gathering and then defend it by facing down Chinatown’s young ace kung fu practitioner in a legendary behind-closed-doors high noon–style showdown. The Year of the Green Dragon saw the dawn of martial arts in America and the rise of an icon.
Drawing on more than one hundred original interviews and an eclectic array of sources, Striking Distance is an engrossing narrative chronicling San Francisco Bay’s pioneering martial arts scene as it thrived in the early 1960s and offers an in-depth look at a widely unknown chapter of Bruce Lee’s iconic life.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group. We discussed the life of Yu Chenghui, the relationship between Silat and that state in S. E. Asia, and China’s repeating crossbows! 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.