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!
Notes From All Over
Our first story this week originates in Korea. Its no secret that martial arts related tourism is an ever-growing industry. Discussions of it here at Kung Fu Tea tend to focus on the motivations and mechanisms by which individuals from the West travel to Asia. Yet there is also a booming inter-regional trade. One South Korean city seems to have found a way to attract ever growing numbers of Chinese tourists to its various martial arts centers and attractions. How?
“Chungju has just the pedigree, as the home of the oldest Korean martial arts “taekgyeon.”
Chungju has also been hosting the World Martial Arts Festival since 1998. And it is a birthplace for the World Martial Arts Union (WoMAU), an international martial arts organization that counts 60 martial arts organizations from 40 countries as its members….
With this background, providing a stage for Chinese tourists to showcase their martial arts skills was not a difficult choice, according to Cho. The city believes exploring this niche market of martial arts tourism will provide memorable experiences to the visitors.
“We have assets of martial arts and we want to use them,” Cho said. “We are trying to vitalize tourism where visitors can actually engage in activities they like.”
Our next story was written by frequent guest author and friend of Kung Fu Tea, Sascha Matuszak. It is a shorter feature as it is just one part of a multi-part series that he did on Zhengzhou for the South China Morning Post, but it will be of interest to readers. In it he discusses the growing fortunes of some of Henan’s many Wushu Academies. After a period in which their viability was being questioned, he notes that many of these institutions have managed to diversify their pool of students, instructors, and the sorts of martial arts training that they offer. Additionally a growing number of students who attend these schools have career plans that fall outside of the traditional industries that they fed graduates into in years past (professional wushu, the military etc…)
The Economist recently ran an article titled “Modern gladiators: New body armour promises to transform fighting sports.” It discusses a firm which has created a new type of highly protective body armor that is wired with various sorts of computer sensors. These allow the suit to absorb weapons based attacks and determine the severity of the resulting injury (which presumably the armor will also prevent). Obviously this opens up all sorts of avenues for “reality based” weapons training, and multiple armed forces have expressed interest in the project. But the creators seem to see its real future in the creation of a new type of weapons based Mixed Martial Art. If this gets off the ground it will be interesting to see whether it remains a contest between styles, or if it births a new hybrid style of its own (as happened in unarmed MMA environment).
“The first official fights, which are being branded as the Unified Weapons Master, will begin later this year in Australia, with competitions expanding to America in 2017.
Nationalistic fervour will be part of the entertainment mix. Martial arts from different cultures, such as Japanese swordsmanship and Chinese staff fighting, will be pitted against each other. Shen “War Demon” Meng, a Beijing fighter who used a particularly ruthless form of kung fu known as “eagle claw” in the Wellington trials, believes the system lends an air of superhero to the martial arts. He also liked the fact there was less need for a referee to have to step in and stop the fight to prevent injury, and that reviewing the detailed fight data afterwards was good for improving his technique.”
An article in New China recently noted that a Chinese martial arts expert in the UK is inspiring British firms to hire older workers. 71 year old Milton Keyne has been a practicing martial artist for the last 55 years. He has just been hired as the oldest Fitness trainer in the UK by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a drive to raise awareness of the talents of more senior workers. Congratulations are in order! Hopefully his career will also inspire younger martial artist to take better care of their joints so that we too can be just as active 50 years down the line.
The role of the martial arts in promoting a state’s image abroad (and how that can be manipulated through the techniques of “public diplomacy”) is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating. It probably has something to do with my background in International Relations. As such I am always on the lookout for a good “Kung Fu Diplomacy” story. This week provided a couple of nice examples of the genera.
The first was titled “Kung Fu Soft Power in Africa.” It was basically a short editorial looking at the changing public perception of the Chinese martial arts on the continent. Its worth taking a look at if that is a topic which interests you.
The Indian actor Tiger Shroff, has been making waves recently with some statements about the ultimately Indian origins of the Chinese martial arts. In a fascinating bit of cultural appropriation he has claimed that Kung Fu (which apparently means all of the Chinese martial arts) are really Indian in origin because…(you guessed it)…Bodhidharma went to the Shaolin Temple.
This is hardly a novel claim. It has even been widely repeated within the Chinese martial arts community (often with an aim towards explaining why the arts of Wudang are “authentically Chinese” while those of Shaolin are not). Nor does it matter that this is one of the most debunked narratives in all of Chinese martial arts history. [For the record Bodhidharma did not bring the martial arts to Shaolin, and he almost certainly never actually visited the temple. But its still a fascinating story that Meir Shahar has discussed in great depth.]
However, Shroff’s statements have hit a nationalist nerve in China and generated some discussion. And that is now being widely reported in the Indian press. All of which is a good illustration of why it is a problem when the history of the comparatively modern martial arts gets reduced down to supposedly “timeless” ethno-lingustic mythic narratives.
The Daily Mail is reporting that a Kung Fu student in China is facing multiple years in jail after he attempted to intervene on behalf of a woman who was being sexually harassed. The intervention escalated into a full scale fight between the two leaving the harasser seriously injured, and the woman supposedly fled before giving a police report. While the details of this case are not entirely clear, it does appear to be a fascinating example of the interaction between law enforcement, society and the martial arts community in China today.
The Shaolin Temple is (among other things) the institution that has launched a thousand photo-essays. The latest entry in the genera comes from the pages of the Express Tribune. Who ever selected these pictures seems to have had a strong attraction to more geometric motifs! Check them out here.
As Lightsaber Combat (a hyper-real martial art) is now one of my research areas, I have decided to keep an eye open for Star Wars related news stories that might be of interest. One of the issues that my recent blog-posts on LSC highlighted was the importance of materiality. Specifically, the marketing of high quality replica lightsabers, more than any other single factor, seems to have driven the development of this new set of practices. Of course, most of the stunt sabers that performers and martial artists use are relatively primitive compared to the examples that you will see this article and the accompanying video feature. If you wonder what the world of very top-end lightsabers is like, you need to check this out (and bring your wallet)!
Chinese Martial Arts in Film
It looks like we are about to get the Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-ch’ing) documentary that so many of us have been waiting for. The new film is titled “The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West” and it is directed by Barry Strugatz (who, in addition to being a professional film person, has also studied with some of Zheng’s students). You can also follow the project’s progress on facebook. The documentary will premier in Los Angeles on May 6 and in New York City on June 9. Look for an advance review here at Kung Fu Tea sometime in the next week!
The Old School Kung Fu Film Fest is returning to New York City for its sixth season, and it will be featuring some of the finest Asian grindhouse treasures in this year’s screenings. This is definitely something to follow. What can you expect at this year’s festival?
“Get limber, because New York’s Old School Kung Fu Fest is back in action and more bruising than ever. Overseen by Subway Cinema (the NYC genre gurus who mastermind the city’s indispensable New York Asian Film Festival), the series is a portal to a glorious past where every fight scene was choreographed with the grace of a hyper-violent ballet and every kick crackled on the soundtrack like a bolt of lightning. And the sixth edition of OSKFF promises to be the best yet, as Subway Cinema has partnered with the recently opened Metrograph theater so that all of these wild treasures can be screened in 35mm.
This year’s fest celebrates Golden Harvest, the legendary Hong Kong studio that rivaled the Shaw brothers and ruled Kung Fu cinema from the ’70s until the ’90s.”
The Kung Fu classics are also gracing the pages of the New York Times. It notes that ‘A Touch of Zen’ (one of my favorites) will be playing at the Film Forum through May 5th. And if you are a newcomer to the world of “Rivers and Lakes” (or you just need a refresher course) the Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece titled “Kung Fu Movie Viewing, Made Easy.” Get yourself up to speed as the film festival season kicks off.
Martial Arts Studies
Recently I published a couple of posts exploring various definitions of the martial arts and attempted to apply them to a “hard case.” Nevertheless, there is nothing obvious or neutral about the process of defining our terms, particularly in academia. As Paul Bowman responds in the following short essay, there is a solid case to be “Against Defining the Martial Arts.” This is a brief paper on an important topic, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to think more deeply about how we should go about studying the martial arts.
“Is Chinese Martial Arts Cinema Underexamined or Undervalued?” That is the central question which occupies this essay discussing the upcoming second (and expanded) edition of Stephen Teo’s now classic work, Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition. If you read the footnotes of a lot of what is being written in martial arts studies today you will see Teo’s name in all sorts of places. As such the second edition of this book will be a welcome addition to the personal libraries of many scholars.
Prof. Peter Lorge’s single volume history of the Chinese Martial Arts (Cambridge, 2012) has been getting some increased public discussion lately. This also seems to be connected to the greater popular awareness of martial arts studies as a research area. Readers may want to take note of this recent review. I did, however, note the degree to which the reviewer dismissed the civilian aspect of the Chinese martial arts in favor of the more “intellectually respectable” discipline of military history. While we are making progress we still have a ways to go:
“Author Peter Lorge, a history professor at Vanderbilt University, has written an intriguing and thorough history of martial arts in China. Readers interested in military history or the nation of China will find this a rewarding book.
An important distinction for readers to be aware of is that martial arts literally mean the arts of war. Drawing on the written record that stretches back many centuries, Lorge examines how men really fought in battle as well as how subsequent fictional accounts embellished the skills of warriors and heroes. There is much more in this book about the development and use of weapons and battlefield tactics than unarmed fighting techniques or spiritual matters. Readers looking for a critical discussion of the differences between Crane Technique and the Cobra Kai school should look elsewhere.”
Lastly, Prof. Jill D. Weinberg (Assistant Professor of Sociology at Tufts University) has released a new book through the University of California Press titled Consensual Violence: Sex, Sports, and the Politics of Injury. It appears that her central argument will be relevant to multiple strains of discussion that are currently proceeding in martial arts studies. Here is the publisher’s description of the work:
In this novel approach to understanding consent, Jill D. Weinberg presents two case studies of activities in which participants engage in violent acts: competitive mixed martial arts (MMA) and sexual sadism and masochism (BDSM). Participants in both cases assent to injury and thereby engage in a form of social decriminalization, using the language of consent to render their actions legally and socially tolerable. Yet, these activities are treated differently under criminal battery law: sports, including MMA, are generally absolved from the charge of criminal battery, whereas BDSM often represents a violation of criminal battery law.
Using interviews and ethnographic observation, Weinberg argues that where law authorizes a person’s consent to an activity, as in MMA, consent is not meaningfully constructed or regulated by the participants themselves. In contrast, where law prohibits a person’s consent to an activity, as in BDSM, participants actively construct and regulate consent.
A synthesis of criminal law and ethnography, Consensual Violence is a fascinating account of how consent is framed among participants engaged in violent acts and lays the groundwork for a sociological understanding of the process of decriminalization.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last few weeks. We discussed the finer points of the Wing Chun pole form, examined some martial arts studies conference reports, and thought about the meaning of failure in the traditional hand combat systems. 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.