Its That Time of Year Again!
Welcome to Kung Fu Tea’s fifth annual holiday shopping list! These are always some of my favorite posts to pull together. They also serve as a great reminder to continue to make time for martial arts practice and study during the festive seasons. In fact, training can be a great way to deal with the various sorts of stress that the holidays unintentionally bring. And Christmas is a great excuse to stock up on that gear that you have been needing all year.
This year’s shopping list is split into four categories: books, weapons (some sharp), training equipment, and items of cultural interest. I have tried to select items at a variety of price points for each category. Some of the gift ideas are quite reasonable while others are admittedly aspirational. After all, Christmas is a time for dreams, so why not dream big!
Given the emphasis of this blog, most of these ideas pertain to the Chinese martial arts, but I do try to branch out in places. I have also put at least one Wing Chun item in each category. Nevertheless, with a little work many of these ideas could be adapted to fit the interests of just about any martial artist.
As a disclaimer I should point out that I have no financial relationship with any of the firms listed below (except for the part where I plug my own book). This is simply a list of gift ideas that I thought were interesting. It is not an endorsement or a formal product review. Lastly, I would like to thank my friend Bernard the “Kung Fu Elf” (see above) for helping me to brainstorm this list.
Books to Feed Your Head
If you are browsing this list for gift ideas for others, I would start with the books. They are always the right size, they cover an infinite variety of topics and they never cause uncomfortable questions in an airport security line (unlike some of the other items below).
- WSL Ving Tsun Kuen Hok: An Overview in the Form of Essays by David Peterson
If you are looking for a discussion of old school Hong Kong Wing Chun with fascinating hands-on content this might be the book for you. And if you know anyone who studies in the Wong Shun Leung lineage (or is just a fan), this might make a great gift. When ordering be sure to note that there is both a less expensive paperback in black and white and a pricier hard cover with color photos to choose from. Click accordingly.
2. Possible Origins: A Cultural History of Chinese Martial Arts, Theater and Religion by Scott Park Phillips
This book will appeal mostly to students of the Northern Chinese arts who are interested in the deep cultural background of these practices, or anyone with an interest in the history of the martial arts. Scott writes from the perspective of a practitioner rather than a professional academic, but he is very interested in how questions of cultural understanding impact our relationship with the martial arts. Also, Wing Chun students who are curious about their art’s operatic connections might find some interesting comparative material here.
3. The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts by Benjamin N. Judkins and Jon Nielson
Are you interested in the history of Wing Chun? Are you looking for an academic yet engaging study of the development of the Chinese martial arts? If so I would be remiss not to mention that my book (co-authored with Jon Nielson) is now out in paperback and can be had for about $27 (or less if you read on a Kindle). For those who would like to give this as a gift the more expensive hard cover edition is still available, and SUNY Press seems to have done a very nice job on the production of both volumes.
4. The Virtual Ninja Manifesto: Fighting Games, Martial Arts and Gamic Orientalism (Martial Arts Studies) by Chris Goto-Jones
What is almost as fun as actually doing martial arts? Playing martial arts themed video games of course. But under what conditions might the lines between these two activities become blurred? When should scholars start to think about and analyze gaming in the same way that we do martial arts? This recent publication in the field of martial arts studies breaks lots of new ground and may be required reading for any Kung Fu Tea readers who are also avid gamers.
5. Mythologies of Martial Arts (Martial Arts Studies) by Paul Bowman
This forthcoming volume is due to ship just in time for Christmas. While a scholarly study, this book is also Bowman’s most accessible effort for readers not trained in critical theory. Organized as a series of short essays covering topics as diverse as martial arts history, humor and and the fine art of fake wrestling, anyone with an interest in martial arts studies will find something that will make them think.
Training Gear to Keep You Active
There seems to be a certain seasonal rhythm to the practice of the TCMA. This is especially true if one occasionally practices in outdoor parks, and those spaces are now covered in snow. As such, winter can be a great time to focus more on “indoor” activities, such as the wooden dummy or iron palm training. If you see the later of these in your future you will need two things.
And given that you now have plenty of time on your hands, why not brew your own?
One of the things that I have always appreciated about the traditional Asian martial arts is their simplicity. Very little equipment is needed to get a good workout. Still, when practicing with others its nice to have some basic gear. I find that focus mitts and a good kicking shield covers about 90% of what I need for partner work. Nor do you need to spend a fortune on this gear. I have been using Tiger Claws’ basic kicking shield for a couple of years and have been happy with it.
4. Focus Mitts
Wing Chun guys also spend enough time on punching drills that it is nice to have a set of good curved focus mitts. There are a couple of different styles of mitts that I use for various exercises, but this type is probably my favorite for all around use. Again, a gift like this would see a lot of use throughout the year.
Lets face it. Winters can be long and dark, and that might leave you looking for something a little bit different. And if such an activity is fast paced, pop culture themed, and glows, so much the better. Why not try your hand at lightsaber fencing? You can pick up a basic stunt saber without sound effects (the sort that is most often used for martial arts training) for under $70. That should leave you plenty of cash for some lacrosse gloves and a decent fencing mask if you decide that you want to move beyond forms work and try your hand at sparring. Or you if you are looking for something a little fancier, but still suitable for full contact martial arts use, check out the current offerings at JQ Sabers.
No Christmas list would be complete without a truly aspirational item. When I was growing up that was always a robot (I am not sure why). Now my ambitions take a slightly different form.
This is one of Buick Yip’s “Temple Pillar” dummies, made from architecturally salvaged Chinese timber. I always thought that the symbolism behind these pieces was particularly fitting, given that the Chinese martial arts themselves are essentially modern creations built on the foundations of older, discarded, cultural patterns. This wonderfully carved testament to the ever evolving nature of Chinese society (and the place of martial arts within it) can be yours for about $1400.
Weapons – The Cutting Edge
Of course not all weapons cut. The long pole, seen throughout the southern Chinese martial arts, is no less lethal for its lack of an edge. Given my recent post on the pole I thought that this might be the appropriate place to start our weapons wish list.
Traditional long poles, of the type used in the southern Chinese martial arts, can be pretty expensive. Martial artists on a budget (or those looking for shorter, custom sized, poles), might want to check out Purple Heart Armory. In their HEMA section they offer a wide variety of pole weapons in various lengths, styles and woods that may fit your needs. I purchased an eight foot hickory pole from them earlier this year and have been very happy with what I got. Best of all, their prices and shipping rates are pretty reasonable.
Those with a bigger budget and more space will probably want to check out some of the more traditional poles currently on offer at EWC. I was particularly drawn to their selection of Kwan Din Wood poles. These have some great color to them. They are priced at $199 plus $42 for shipping and handling within the continental United States.
Individuals looking to bring a greater degree of reality to their combative blade training within the TCMA might want to check out Scott Rodell’s new jian. Obviously metal blades feel and behave differently from wood, bamboo and synthetic analogues. Hopefully we will see more of these training blades in the coming years. At the moment these swords are priced at $289.
Traditional butterfly swords seem to be a topic of perennial interest here at Kung Fu Tea. Of course finding a nice set of antique hudiedao can be difficult and expensive. Nor would I be really comfortable using vintage blades for cutting practice or experimentation. But these knives, made in the Philippines, might fill that niche nicely. Their blades are more similar in shape and profile to some of the 19th century pieces while still being accessible to modern martial artists. They are currently priced at $325 for the set.
Artistic and Cultural Objects
It is just as important to feed the soul as it is the mind the body. That is why I always try to have a section devoted to the arts in each of these lists. And many of our training spaces could use some better visual art. As such, posters and prints can make wonderful (and not very expensive) gifts.
Paul Souders has a nice photo that can be reproduced in various formats of a group practicing their morning Taijiquan against Shanghai’s skyline. The juxtaposition of the construction of the “traditional” and the “modern” works well in this piece. The price of this image varies widely depending on how it is framed and reproduced, but you can get into it for less than $30.
Documentaries also make excellent gifts. Some of my favorites are produced by the team at Empty Mind Films. Of course Kung Fu Tea readers will appreciate their offerings on Wing Chun, Tajiquan and the various Chinese martial arts. But their more recent work on the Japanese martial arts is also very interesting. I Particularly liked One Shot. One Life.
So lets say that you did decide to go for the lightsaber, what sort art would inspire an up and coming Jedi? Check out the Star Wars inspired travel posters over at the Etsy. These are available in lots of different styles from a variety of artists. But for some reason the Hoth posters are always the best.
Those with a larger budget might want to check out some of Brasil Goulart’s recent Wing Chun themed paintings. I am particularly partial to “Centerline.” Original canvases are currently available for $1000-$1500 dollars.
Best Things in Life Are Free
Before wrapping up this years holiday list it is probably worth pointing out that there is some great stuff out there that will not cost you anything at all. For instance, we are currently preparing the next issue of the journal Martial Arts Studies for release. As always it will be free to read by anyone with an internet connection. This might be the perfect time get caught up on our back issues.
Alternatively, once you have your lightsaber, be sure to check out the Terra Prime Light Armory, an open source (and very friendly) community dedicated to spreading their art. Or if you are looking for something a little more traditional, did you know that the complete run of Fight Quest can now be found on Youtube? That should make for some great binge watching!