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 may 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 has been republished by a couple of English language Chinese news services. It is an interview and photo essay profiling a Wing Chun teacher in Cyprus named Sifu Yiannos Christoforou. (Reader should note that this version of the story has a few additional photographs not found with the first link.) I do not normally report school profiles as there are simply too many of them out there. But I thought that this one was particularly interesting as Sifu Yiannos Christoforou (a student of Philip Bayer) talked about the 2013 financial crisis that gripped the region and how it adversely affected the area’s martial arts culture.
“”The 2013 economic crisis turned things upside down. Some of my students lost their jobs and others had their income slashed and could not afford the fees. As far as I know, at least 10 percent of them went abroad to find a job,” said Christoforou. He told his students who lost their jobs to continue training and pay their fees after they could find a job. “Some of them accepted the offer but many refused out of pride and quitted the academy,” he said.”
The next story, titled “Turkish student pursues martial arts dream in China” was also reported in multiple outlets. It profiles a woman from Turkey who has accepted a Chinese government scholarship to pursue graduate work in the Chinese martial arts. At the moment that she was interviewed she was attempting to decide whether to stay and pursue a PhD, or return to Turkey. As she puts it:
“”Many people in Turkey are learning Chinese martial arts without knowing its culture, and I would like to share with them the stories behind Chinese martial arts after returning home,” said Meiyu.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story was the creation of a subtle juxtaposition between China and the West as competing cultural (rather than simply economic or political) powers. Note the following line: “Meiyu chose to learn Chinese in college after graduating from high school. “Too many people learn English or Spanish, but I did not want to be like them,” she said.” It will be interesting to see whether this sentiment is idiosyncratic, or if its something that we will hear more of in future public diplomacy statements involving the Chinese martial arts.
“It’s a knockout! Brit Kung Fu master ‘Deadly Dicker’ and his three sons quizzed as contest descends into mass brawl,” or so reported the Sun. Apparently tempers flared at a World Union of Martial Arts Championship in Italy leading to a short brawl involving members of the Italian and British teams as well as some spectators. While the police questioned a number of people no arrests were ultimately made. The Sun also reports that the team from the UK ended up winning the tournament.
Meanwhile CCTV was reporting how “Israelis [students] learn Chinese ways of keeping healthy.” The piece profiled a cultural festival hosted by a local branch of the Confucius Institute. As is so often the case, martial arts and qigong both proved to be major draws.
“There was also a martial arts demonstration performed by children. Chinese martial arts are believed to be both a way of defending against enemies and a way to stay healthy. In another room, some students got to experience the traditional Chinese healing system of Qigong. It is a therapy using deep breathing, meditation and a set of movements to cultivate energy and cure diseases. The aim of the Confucius Institute Day at the University is to help more Israeli people get to know China, get in touch with China, know about the country’s history and culture. To ignite their interest toward China. Today’s event attracted many students, most of which were not Chinese majors,” said Michal Kozlovich, student of Confucius Institute.”
The short video produced for this story is in some ways more interesting than the actual text. Note for instance how the mushrooming of “Confucius Institutes” around the world is framed as an explosion in the demand for knowledge about Chinese culture (which certainly exists) rather than the equally significant decision by the Chinese government to plow huge amounts of funding into these programs (the corresponding supply side of the equation). All in all, an interesting example of public diplomacy in a story about cultural diplomacy.
Do you remember the 2001 film “Shaolin Soccer?” It looks like a few of the martial arts schools in the area around Shaolin are determined to make that a reality. So why would anyone want to combine kung fu and football? One of the articles to come out on this topic over the last month reported:
“China is investing hugely in football training and has vowed to have 50 million school-age players by 2020, as the ruling Communist party eyes “football superpower” status by 2050. The vast Tagou martial arts school has 35,000 fee-paying boarders, who live in spartan conditions and are put through a rigorous training regime. Some 1,500 of its students, both male and female, have signed up for its new football programme centred on a pristine green Astroturf football pitch where dozens of children play simultaneous five-a-side-games.
“We are responding to the country’s call,” said Sun, a former martial arts champion who took a football coach training course last year. What we want to do … is combine Shaolin martial arts with football and create an original concept,” he added.”
…..Or it could just be that a bunch of people really, really, liked that movie.
The Global Times has had a couple of martial arts features. Both are reprints, but they might be worth checking out if you missed them the first time. First is an interview with Paul Bowman titled “How Bruce Lee helped change the world.” Alternatively you might want to check out “The Ancient Tradition of Chinese Kung Fu.”
As is often the case, there were a number of news stories over the last week discussing the growing presence of the Chinese martial arts in Africa. The first of these was a photo-essay titled “Kung Fu is Popular among Kenya’s young.” Meanwhile, in Rwanda no fewer than 20 Kung Fu schools (from a number of regions) headed to the national Championship.
Of slightly more interest was an article in the Asia Times titled “Chinese cage fighters to be showcased in Africa TV deal.” This piece went on to note:
“ONE Championship, a major Asian promoter of mixed martial arts (MMA), has signed a partnership deal with StarTimes, a Beijing-based media group dedicated to broadcasting Chinese culture in Africa. There is huge potential for growth in Africa and obviously in China where we have focused our efforts,” said ONE Championship chief executive Victor Cui at a press conference in Beijing on Friday.”
A number of recent headlines have noted that Taijiquan may have benefits for veterans suffering from PTSD. The source of this finding is an article published by Boston University Medical Center and the journal BMJ Open. It should be noted that this study relies on qualitative and self-reported data.
“Veterans with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who participated in Tai Chi not only would recommend it to a friend, but also found the ancient Chinese tradition helped with their symptoms including managing intrusive thoughts, difficulties with concentration and physiological arousal.”
Chinese Martial Arts on Film
The big movie news at the moment is the much anticipated release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While a science fiction film, it is still managing to generate a fair amount of martial arts news. Unsurprisingly much of this has focused on Donnie Yen and his “Force sensitive” (though apparently not “Force wielding”) character Chirrut Imwe. Yen has been interviewed in a number of places recently. Many of the subsequent articles, such as this one by Variety, focus on his attempts to transcend his image as “just” a martial arts star and to gain greater recognition for his acting abilities. While he is playing a martial artist and blind warrior in the upcoming Star Wars film, the hope appears to be that a prominent role in this iconic film series will help him to do that.
Meanwhile the publicity surrounding Felicity Jones’ appearance in the same film appear to be headed in the opposite direction. It has tended to emphasize the amount of (Chinese) martial arts training that was necessary to take on this role. See for instance the following clips of her recent appearance with Jimmy Fallon (who really, really, did not want to get hit in the head). Incidentally, this will be of special interest to Craig Page and anyone else who has been waiting to see the Tonfa make a repeat appearance in the Star Wars universe.
CCTV has been reporting on the various controversies surrounding the Bruce Le bio-pic, Birth of the Dragon. We have discussed the fan reaction to the seeming minimization of Lee’s role in what is ostensibly his own life story in previous news updates. But given CCTV’s (Chinese public TV) role in promoting, and attempting to shape, western perceptions of the Chinese martial arts, it is interesting to note the source where this story is now appearing.
Martial Arts Studies
There are a number of announcements for students of martial arts studies. Lets start with recently released books. First, Paul Bowman’s Mythologies of Martial Arts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) is now shipping and ready for your Christmas stocking. The advance copies of the book look great. You can read more about this release here.
Next, Sara Delamont, Neil Stephens and Claudio Campos’ ethnographic study Embodying Brazil: An ethnography of diasporic capoeira (Routledge) is due to ship in early January. So get your preorder in now, or bug your library to order a copy.
The practice of capoeira, the Brazilian dance-fight-game, has grown rapidly in recent years. It has become a popular leisure activity in many cultures, as well as a career for Brazilians in countries across the world including the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. This original ethnographic study draws on the latest research conducted on capoeira in the UK to understand this global phenomenon. It not only presents an in-depth investigation of the martial art, but also provides a wealth of data on masculinities, performativity, embodiment, globalisation and rites of passage.
Centred in cultural sociology, while drawing on anthropology and the sociology of sport and dance, the book explores the experiences of those learning and teaching capoeira at a variety of levels. From beginners’ first encounters with this martial art to the perspectives of more advanced students, it also sheds light on how teachers experience their own re-enculturation as they embody the exotic ‘other’.
Embodying Brazil: An Ethnography of Diasporic Capoeira is fascinating reading for all capoeira enthusiasts, as well as for anyone interested in the sociology of sport, sport and social theory, sport, race and ethnicity, or Latin-American Studies.
Colin McGuire has just posted a recent article on Academia.edu titled “The Rhythm of Combat: Understanding the Role of Music in Performances of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts and Lion Dance.” Its abstract sounds fascinating:
Toronto’s Hong Luck Kung Fu Club has promulgated martial arts, lion dance and percussion music since 1961. Drawing on my Fieldwork there, this paper argues that these practices structure—and are structured by—a combative approach to rhythm. Students begin with martial arts and train without music, but percussion accompanies public demonstrations, creating an unfamiliar situation that I position as a distinct phase of the transmission process. Martial arts performances are both fuelled by musical energy and challenged by the requirement of remaining asynchronous to it. Lion dancers, however, treat drum patterns like signals coordinating manoeuvres on the performance battlefield.
On a lighter note, I was recently interviewed by Itamar Zadoff, an up and coming graduate student who works with Meir Shahar, for the “No Wax Needed” podcast. I was really happy with the way that this interview turned out, and we had a chance to discuss a number of current and upcoming projects. Click here for a wide ranging conversation on a number of topics related to martial arts studies.
Those more interested in primary texts will want to head over to the Brennan Translation Blog to see the newly released edition of Xu Taihe’s 1926 Fundamentals of the Southern Boxing Arts. As always, the front matter of these Republic Era texts are full of fascinating information. These translations are free to read or download.
The videos from the October 2016 “Martial Arts and Society” conference, held at the German Sports University of Cologne, are now up on Youtube. As one would expect most of these are in German, but a number of English language papers were also presented at this years event. Head on over and check it out!
Last, but by no means least, my friend Alex Channon and Christopher R. Matthews are getting their new project, “Love Fighting, Hate Violence” under way. I know that they have been laying the groundwork for this for a while. Their new blog is now up and running and it has a number of fresh posts by names you might recognize. Be sure to check it out and learn more about this important campaign.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We have talked about lightsabers, the end of civilization and our favorite kung fu training montages. 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.