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 (digital) pages of the South China Morning Post. The paper recently ran a profile (complete with a 15 minutes video) of Sifu Nima King, (Chu Shong Tin lineage) who runs the Mindful Wing Chun School in Hong Kong. As one might guess from the name of his studio, mindfulness is a big part of King’s approach to the martial arts. It is the subject that dominates much of the video and article. But he also has an interesting narrative about the various ways that Wing Chun helped him as an “angry youth” which also plays into popular perceptions of the TCMA.
I think that we will be having at least one academic event looking at the topic of mindfulness in the martial arts in the upcoming year, so this seems to be one area where the traditional arts are well situated to grow. Overall its a nice profile and worth checking out. And I always enjoy getting a glimpse into another school. This one has some very nice dummies on the back wall.
“Clean Footage Of Wing Chun Grandmaster IP Man Has Emerged.” So proclaims the title of another news story which is currently making its way around a number of e-zine and blogs. Many Wing Chun students will already be familiar with this footage, taken during the Master’s final weeks. If its not something that you have seen before, this is mandatory viewing for all Wing Chun students. But what is really interesting to me is that Ip Man now has enough public recognition that there can be a certain level of public discussion of these sorts of artifacts. Thanks should be directed to Donnie Yen (who will be making his own appearance later in this post).
Hong Kong often makes the news, but we hear less about Macau. This week is the exception. The Macau Daily Times ran an article covering the recent Wushu Master Challenge event. The gathering was designed to promote awareness of, and training in, the traditional martial arts. It brought together a large number of practitioners from both Southern China and the global community. Of course the obligatory Sanda matches pitting Chinese and Western fighters against each other were also held.
There is a certain body of academic theory criticizing movie plots in which Caucasian fighters (Chuck Norris, Van Damme….) confront and defeat an “Eastern” opponent to prove their mastery/appropriation of the arts (Chong). What is always surprising to me is that something so structurally similar to these situations get enacted with such regularity and vigor in real life. I suspect that this is an interesting example of mutually reinforcing but different cultural narratives (nationalism vs. the quest for self-cultivation) creating a predictable pattern. Or maybe everyone just wants to live out there own version of Blood Sport?
Our second news item from Macau was reported by the Shanghai Daily. It ran a feature on the recent One Championship MMA event and discussed the growing body of local and regional talent featured in these fights.
The next item will appeal to readers who are more interested in medieval social history. The recent Rio Olympics inspired some Chinese scholars to release a number of images of ancient sports as preserved on the walls of the famous Dunhunag caves. Obviously most of this art work is Buddhist in nature. It is what the area is most famous for. But in this case the emphasis was on some lesser known vignettes showing swimming, wrestling, horseback riding, gymnastic feats and other martial arts. Some of these paintings have an abstract or surrealist quality to them. Plus, if you have never read about the Dunhunag Caves before, this is a great excuse to check some of this material out.
Readers may recall my recent discussion of Charlie Russo’s new (and highly recommended) study of the history of the Bay Area Chinese Martial Arts community, Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of the Martial Arts in America. It looks like he recently had the opportunity to do a radio interview in which he discussed some of the various ways in which Lee’s legacy has lived on after his death. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a full audio copy of this piece, but you can see parts of the transcript here.
The Daily Mail has been wondering whether Bruce Lee might have had a long lost sister. In fact, ever since CCTV ran footage of an incredible nunchuck demonstration lots of people have been asking the same question. Unfortunately the news releases which I have seen on this have very little additional information. But the footage of the demonstration is well worth watching. Now, if someone can just send her a yellow tracksuit….
I have now had an opportunity to discuss Donnie Yen’s upcoming role in Rogue One in a few places. The recent release of a new theatrical trailer for the film (due out in December) now has lots of people in China talking as well. And apparently they don’t all like what they are seeing. By way of background I should begin by noting that unlike other American movie franchises, Star Wars has always struggled in China. The reasons are obvious. Inter-generational nostalgia is a big part of the franchise’s success in North America, but it was never released in China during the 1970s and 1980s. Nor did the Force Awakens do much to win over Chinese audiences.
Disney has been looking for a way to more effectively introduce these stories to new viewers, and to that end the upcoming film will feature not one but two well known Chinese actors. Unfortunately a skeptical public is reading these efforts as yet another example of Hollywood’s penchant for tokenism rather than crafting stories actually designed to appeal to Chinese audiences. It looks this may be another bumpy box office ride for Star Wars in China.
While we are on the subject of Star Wars, I should also mention that I recently did an interview discussing lightsaber combat as a martial art over at Inverse. I would not say that this is my best interview (and the final product could have used some additional editing), but some readers may find it to be a helpful introduction to the topic.
Martial Arts Studies
Summer is generally a slow time for academic news as everyone in on break and working on their new research. But there have been some recent developments on the Martial Arts Studies front. First off, a new book has been announced that will be of interest to students of New World martial arts traditions. Michael J. Ryan’s volume, Venezuelan Stick Fighting: The Civilizing Process, is due to be released by Lexington Books in December. This volume will also feature a forward by Thomas A. Green. The publisher’s note on the project is as follows:
Ryan examines the modern and historical role of the secretive tradition of stick fighting within rural Venezuela. Despite profound political and economic changes from the early twentieth century to the modern day, traditional values, practices, and imaginaries associated with older forms of masculinity and sociality are still valued. Stick, knife, and machete fighting are understood as key means of instilling the values of fortitude and cunning in younger generations. Recommended for scholars of anthropology, social science, gender studies, and Latin American studies.
I have mentioned the book Striking Beauty by the Philosopher Barry Allen a few times on this blog. Michael Wert has just published a review of this volume. While generally critical of Allen’s treatment of the martial arts, it is well worth reading. One of Wert’s central points is that Allen’s repeated gaffs regarding martial arts history are not simply side-notes. Rather they have critical implications for the substance of his philosophical arguments. This line of reasoning is actually quite similar to the argument that Stanley Henning advanced in a number of his writings. A warped understanding of martial arts history leads to all sorts of other problems precisely because these institutions and practices have always been more central to society than we generally care to admit.
Over the last few weeks I have noticed slides and papers from the 2016 Martial Arts Studies at the University of Cardiff begin to appear on Academia.edu. George Jennings and Anu Vaittinen have kindly uploaded the very detailed slides from their presentation on the use of multimedia resources by Wing Chun students. Hopefully this is a subject that we will be hearing more about in the next few months. Neil Hall has uploaded his paper (presented in a special session) titled a “Convenient Myth.” Its abstract is as follows:
This paper looks at how the martial artist’s need to make a living (or on a smaller scale a class teacher’s need to make the class viable) has a determining effect on the things martial artist teachers convey about martial arts. Drawing on real and easy to grasp examples from present-day martial arts schools, including his own, the author explains the financial imperative to engage with potential customers who have no martial arts experience, and whose purchasing choices are shaped by myth and media representation. He shows how quickly and easily the need to play popular perceptions comes to shape not only the marketing of the teacher’s class, club or school, but also the perceptions that the teacher – and their students – continue to convey about martial arts, and how the multiplication of this type of effort itself helps to shape popular perceptions – and often myths – about martial arts
Lastly, William Acevedo has posted an essay on his blog titled “An Overview of Chinese Martial Arts in the Olympics.” This is the most detailed discussion of this topic that I have seen, and I am sure that many Kung Fu Tea readers will find it quite interesting. Its a timely discussion of an important event.
SUNY Press Book Sale, Only One Week Left!
SUNY is currently running a 30% off sale on everything on their webpage. That is great news for you as they have long been one of the premier publishers of innovative studies of the martial arts. I have attached a couple of cover images above just to give you a quick sense of the range of work that they have published over the years.
For the next two weeks its all 30% off, making this a great time to pick up some summer reading or to fill that gap in your library.
If you are wondering where to start I would suggest taking a look at Farrer and Whalen-Bridge’s edited volume Martial Arts as Embodied Knowledge.
And of course SUNY also published my own book, the Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Martial Arts, which they released in a more moderately priced paperback edition last month!
Click the link to see more, and be sure to enter coupon code XSUM16 at checkout. Offer expires August 31, 2016.