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 from All Over
Our first story this week comes from the pages of the South China Morning Post. Zhang Xiauwu, who teaches Taijiquan in Guangzhou, has been honored for his efforts in fighting crime. He has apprehended 30 criminals in as many years, even receiving injuries in some of his encounters. The press reports that he as been presented with an award by the Guangzhou Good Samaritan Foundation. You can read more about his story here. This discussion reminds me of an earlier time when the martial arts were much more a part of community management.
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of stories discussing the role of the TCMA in promoting a positive public image of China abroad. I have selected a couple of the more informative examples to share here. The first of these was distributed by CCTV’s English language network. It profiles the rising number of students who are studying both Chinese language and martial arts at Confucius schools in Uzbekistan. This particular story was significant at is explicitly tied the promotion of these programs to the “One Belt One Road” policy that China hopes will foster greater cooperation and economic ties in the region.
Another article, also from the English language Chinese press, profiled the growing interest in Chinese martial arts in Serbia. This particular story looks closely at the growth of a single instructor’s school, and even includes romantic elements. I thought that it was a particularly nice example of the genre.
Th next couple of stories focus more on the role of the Chinese martial arts in travel and tourism, rather than just public diplomacy. The first of these, published on the Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine webpage, is certainly worth taking a look at. Its a brief account of the author’s extensive experience traveling and training in China, focusing on his recent experiences at a school located near the Shaolin Temple. Click here to check it out.
Of course not everyone is looking for such an intense engagement with the Chinese martial arts. Often Western tourists are more interested in learning something about the Chinese martial arts, and framing these experiences within a broader exploration of traditional Chinese culture. The Republican Herald recently ran a short article profiling the efforts of Henan province to re-brand itself as a major destination for Western tourists who usually pass the over the area as they try to get to some of China’s better known tourist destinations. This article looks at some of the attractions that the province is trying to highlight, including the Shaolin Temple. It is actually a great reminder of some of the very important history that can be found in this region.
Rumors of an impending sale of the UFC have been flying around in recent days. A number of these suggest that the possible buyer could be a Chinese group, raising questions both about a renewed plan to push the company’s presence in China, as well as its future business plans and management. Forbes just ran an article stating that the management of the UFC recently circulated an internal memo to their employees to squash rumors that the company had already been sold. They claimed that no such deal has been reached with any party. But that fact has not stopped speculation that some sort of sale is imminent.
There is also a lot of speculation about why a Chinese tech firm might be interested in the UFC, or what all of this will mean for the future of MMA in Asia. This article has a fascinating discussion of what some of the Chinese bidders might be looking for in a UFC deal.
ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui has also been in the news talking down the possibility that the sale of the UFC to Chinese investors might mean an expansion of UFC events in China. Obviously he has a stake in this issue (being the competition), but it is still an interesting discussion of the business logic of MMA competition in Asia.
“For Chinese companies, why they’re investing in other properties is because they’re really excited about expanding outside of Asia,” Cui said. “That’s the goal. So they’re buying properties so they can expand out of Asia. They’re not buying anything to help their business in China. They don’t care about that. They already have China. They don’t need any help from foreign companies to dominate China.”
The Daily Mail recently ran a piece titled “Beauty and master: Bikini-clad sports graduates combat Shaolin monks to become rafting lifesavers in China.” The title and cover photo of the article pretty much says it all….though I suspect that the word “monk” is being used rather loosely here. The real story appears to be the ongoing fad of inflicting seemingly pointless martial arts training on Chinese females in the service industries as advertising stunts. This is not the only example of this trend that I came across in the last month, but it does seem to be the most exploitative.
“Once hired, the sexy lifesavers will also work as personal companions to help solo tourists enjoy rafting.”
Meanwhile, back in Dengfeng, the monks of the Shaolin Temple have been attempting to craft a slightly different public image. The SCMP ran an article discussing how the monks harvest wheat off their agricultural lands to help support the temple. I thought that this was an interesting image as we often forget that Buddhist Temples became important social and economic powers during the Ming dynasty through their acquisition of farmland and success in agriculture. Oddly, these monks seemed capable of performing their duties without being accompanied by anyone in swimsuits.
The ancient Chinese martial art Taijiquan is a cheap, effective treatment for knee pain, says a new study by a Tufts professor. The study found that Taijiquan practice with an experienced instructor was as effective as six weeks of intensive physical therapy at relieving osteoarthritis related knee pain in a set of patients, mostly over 60 years of age. However, those assigned to the Taiji group showed greater quality of life scores and more improvements in terms of depression than the control sample which received more traditional physical therapy. Taijiquan instruction is also less expensive and taught at a large number of locations. I guess this is another reason for seniors to give Taijiquan a try.
We only have a single Bruce Lee related item in this news update. Readers in Hong Kong may want to check out a new exhibit of his movie memorabilia, costumes, scripts and photographs at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. It is titled “Bruce Lee: Kung Fu. Art. Life” and runs Monday, June 27th through Friday, July 1st. You can find the details here.
In our last news update we discussed the release of director Xu Haofeng’s new film “The Final Master.” Every one of the reviews for this film that I have seen has been very positive and it appears to be succeeding with audiences and critics alike. Recently the IE Examiner ran an interview with the director talking about his film and creative process. Unsurprisingly he sites his prior training in Xingyi as central to how he approaches the martial arts on film. The entire interview is worth reading, but I found his concluding statement about upcoming projects to be particularly exciting. Fans of the Dadao take note!
“IE: What’s your next film about?
Xu: It’s about the last battle with cold weaponry during WWII in China. I will show the big saber techniques from China. During that period of time, China was very behind in modern weaponry. At the beginning of the war, there were barely any modern weapons warehouses in Northern China, so that the Chinese army had to use the big sabers to help fight the war. They had to do sneak attacks and tried to get into melees as fast as they could. You can see some photos with Chinese soldiers with grenades at their waists, but holding big sabers in their hands. I really want to present the huge amount of courage Chinese people had in such a bad situation.”
New information on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has been released, and we now have some understanding of the character that Donnie Yen will be playing. It appears that he will be a blind “warrior monk” with a sensitivity to the Force. But he is not a Jedi and we probably won’t be seeing him wield a lightsaber any time soon. So I guess that makes him “spiritual…but not religious”?
All in all, the director’s original vision for the project seems to have remained intact: “As director Gareth Edwards puts it: “This idea that magical beings are going to come and save us is going away, and it’s up to normal, everyday people to take a stand to stop evil from dominating the world.” I am also excited about the appearance of Jiang Wen in this film, who sadly is getting overlooked in all of the discussion of Donnie Yen. I think the two of them might have a very interesting on-screen dynamic.
The fan reaction to these revelations have been mixed. Most people seemed to be thrilled with the prospect of Donnie Yen bringing his martial arts ability to a Star Wars film in any capacity. But a notable minority lament the fact that we won’t see him as a more classical Jedi or in the numbered films.
Lastly, anyone interested in Star Wars and the Chinese martial arts MUST check out the latest issue of Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine. It contains a very extensive interview with Ray Park, the talented Wushu master who portrayed Darth Mall in the first of the prequels. Unfortunately there does not appear to be an on-line version of the article so I have nothing to link to. But in the interview he discusses how Star Wars inspired him to take up the martial arts as a youth, his later Wushu training, the process of creating and filming his now iconic character among other topics. Its a great interview and well worth tracking down for anyone interested in the connections between the Chinese martial arts and popular culture.
Martial Arts Studies
There have been quite a few developments on the martial arts studies front over the last month. Perhaps the biggest news is that the Spring Issue of the journal Martial Arts Studies is now out and freely available to anyone with an internet connection. This is a themed issue looking at the “Invention of Martial Arts” in a variety settings and contexts.
Some of the subjects tackled in this issue include the evolution of the 52 Hand Block and other African American vernacular arts, a comparative study of Capoeira and Silat in public rituals in Brazil and Indonesia, a feminist analysis of social media discussions of female fighters in the UFC, the invention of an indigenous Mexican warrior tradition and martial art, communication in Akido, and my own article on the invention of lightsaber combat and the definition of the martial arts. In addition to the articles, this issue also includes a number of important book, conference and documentary reviews. Its great to see so much groundbreaking research in one place. Head on over and check it out!
Second, the 2016 Martial Arts Studies at Cardiff University is now less than a month away. Prof. Paul Bowman has released an updated program and list of speakers which looks pretty impressive. Some of the confirmed presenters include Adam Frank (author of Taijiquan and the Search for the Little Old Chinese Man: Understanding Identity Through Martial Arts (Palgrave), Daniel Mroz (author of The Dancing Word (a book on the use of Chinese martial arts in actor training and performance creation, Brill), Benjamin Spatz (author of What a Body Can Do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research (Routledge), Phillip Zarrilli (author of When the Body Becomes All Eyes: Paradigms, Pratices, and Discourses of Power in Kalarippayattu, a South Indian Martial Art (Oxford University Press) and myself (author of The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the South Asian Martial Arts (SUNY). If you are going to be in the UK this July you will not want to miss this gathering. Last years conference was a great success and this one looks to be even more important.
Dr. Jared Miracle’s book Now with Kung Fu Grip! How Bodybuilders, Soldiers and a Hairdresser Reinvented Martial Arts for America (McFarland, 2016) has been released and appears to be shipping from amazon.com. I have been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this important history of the modern martial arts in America for over a year. Of course Jared himself is good friend of Kung Fu Tea and guest contributor to this blog. Here is the publisher’s statement on the project:
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.
Jon Nielson and I are very happy to announce that the soft cover edition of our volume, The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts (SUNY Press, 2015) is now out. Some people have already received their copies, but amazon has the release date as July 1st. At $27 this edition of the book should be much more accessible to a broader readership. If you were waiting to purchase a copy, this is your chance.
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.
Palgrave has just released a new volume that will be of interest to a number of KFT readers. It is titled Body and Senses in Martial Culture and was written by H. L. L. Loh. I have not yet had a chance to review this book, but it sounds very helpful for students of martial arts studies.
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.
Lionel Loh Han Loong is a graduate of the University of Singapore (NUS) with a degree and a masters in Social Sciences (Sociology). His areas of interests include the sociology of the body, social memory, gender and sexuality, sports, and martial arts. He is currently working as an educator and is interested in issues dealing with pedagogy.
I was recently informed that Alex Gillis is releasing and new and updated version of A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do. Readers may recall that I wrote a very positive review of this book a few years ago. Gillis did an incredible job of tracking down sources and bringing the story of Taekwondo to life. Its great to hear that an updated version of his book will be available to a new generation of readers. Hopefully we will be able to convince him to visit KFT again to tell us a little more about his ongoing research.
The leaders of Tae Kwon Do, an Olympic sport and one of the world’s most popular martial arts, are fond of saying that their art is ancient and filled with old dynasties and superhuman feats. In fact, Tae Kwon Do is as full of lies as it is powerful techniques. Since its rough beginnings in the Korean military 60 years ago, the art empowered individuals and nations, but its leaders too often hid the painful truths that led to that empowerment — the gangsters, secret-service agents, and dictators who encouraged cheating, corruption, and murder. A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do takes you into the cults, geisha houses, and crime syndicates that made Tae Kwon Do. It shows how, in the end, a few key leaders kept the art clean and turned it into an empowering art for tens of millions of people in more than 150 countries. A Killing Art is part history and part biography — and a wild ride to enlightenment.
The challenges of translation is a topic that comes up frequently in martial arts studies circles. As such I thought that some readers might find the following volume particularly interesting. The Pushing-Hands of Translation and its Theory: In memoriam Martha Cheung, 1953-2013 (Routledge Advances in Translation and Interpreting Studies)
This book presents an East-West dialogue of leading translation scholars responding to and developing Martha Cheung’s “pushing-hands” method of translation studies. Pushing-hands was an idea Martha began exploring in the last four years of her life, and only had time to publish at article length in 2012. The concept of pushing-hands suggests a promising line of inquiry into the problem of conflict in translation. Pushing-hands opens a new vista for translation scholars to understand and explain how to develop an awareness of non-confrontational, alternative ways to handle translation problems or problems related to translation activities that are likely to give rise to tension and conflict. The book is a timely contribution to celebrate Martha’s work and also to move the conversation forward. Despite being somewhat tentative and experimental, it probes into how to enable and develop dynamic interaction between and reciprocal determinism of different hands involved in the process of translation.
Speaking of the challenges and rewards of translation, the Brennan Translation Blog has just released two new manuals. Both are translations of important Republic era works on the use of the Dadao (big knife) in a military setting. Given the resurgence in popularity that these blades are currently enjoying I suspect that quite a few readers will want to spend some time with these.
Lastly, we received a late breaking announcement as this post was being prepared for publication. Scott Phillips (the author of the blog Weakness With a Twist) has just released a monograph detailing his thoughts on the possible connections between Chinese theatrical, ritual and martial arts traditions. Certain scholars have been connecting these areas in the academic literature, but Phillips aims to provide a much more focused discussion of how these theories might shape our understanding of the martial arts. This is something that gets discussed a lot with regards to Wing Chun’s self-professed roots in Cantonese Opera. It will be interesting to see how a similar discussion of the Northern arts plays out.
A New Book by Scott Park Phillips will be the first cultural history of Chinese martial arts. Every day, millions of people practice Chinese martial arts. Most of them would love to read a history that not only incorporates all the latest research, but also uses easily accessible language to connect history to the art they practice. Everyone wants to know where their martial art came from and how it was created—the real story.
Possible Origins provokes and answers questions like: What is a sworn brotherhood? How do talismans work? Why does Taijiquan have so much mime in it? Why does Baguazhang look like a guy riding around on roller skates? Was the Shaolin Monastery a theater school?
Up until now, histories of Chinese martial arts have been ignoring Chinese culture. Possible Origins: A Cultural History of Chinese Martial Arts,Theater, and Religion shows how the practice of martial arts has preserved religious and theatrical traditions hidden inside of martial skills. With 40 images and a straightforward account of the various historical and cultural factors involved, it is easily accessible to the non-specialist.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last few weeks. We discussed how bacteria do Taijiquan, the upcoming Bruce Lee biopic, and who would win in a sword fight, a samurai or a swashbuckler. 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.