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
If you are married to an American woman and have children, can you still be considered a “Shaolin Warrior monk?” That is one of the questions that comes up in an article titled “A Warrior Monk Makes Houston Home,” published in the Houston Chronicle. The entire piece is full of fascinating description and detail. It even contains a frank discussion of the visa problems that Chinese martial arts teachers face, and a look back on the early origins of the touring Shaolin shows which are now relatively common. There is lots of good stuff to think about in this article (particularly if you are part of the overseas Shaolin community) though, as always, I think that the most interesting thing is how the press chooses to talk about Chinese martial artists. All in all this is a very nice description of an important aspect of the modern Kung Fu community.
Of course Houston might not be the exotic destination of which you have been dreaming. Perhaps you are looking for some of that spectacular Shaolin photography that we have all come to know and love? No problem. The Global Times has you covered!
Or perhaps you are looking for a uniquely urban Shaolin experience. In that case be sure to check out the Londonists profile of a Shaolin school that is housed in an abandoned railway station. As I have mentioned before, I don’t normally post school profiles unless they include some additional item of interest. There are just too many of them to sort through. But this location certainly caught my eye. It is also a fun read. If there are readers in London with a camera, I would love to get a some pictures of this place!
Unless you have been living under a rock you are probably aware that Donald Trump has recently been sworn in as the President of the United States. Controversy surrounding that fact inspired one of the larger conversations about the martial arts to take place in the public sphere over of the last few weeks.
This odd confluence of events all began when Meryl Streep, speaking at the Golden Globes, attempted to throw mixed martial arts (and apparently professional sports more generally) under the proverbial bus in an attempt to defend the cultural value of Hollywood films. In case you missed it, her exact quote was as follows: ““Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”
This same quote can be found at the top of an editorial in the Washington Post titled “The Martial Arts are Arts.” It set out to restore the honor and reputation of the Asian martial arts, while arguing that these practices are “arts” in the true sense of the word. Unfortunately the editorial (which apparently drew rather heavily from a 2007 law review article) quickly degenerated in to rehash of pretty much every myth about the martial arts imaginable. The author started with Bodhidharma creating Shaolin kung fu, proceeded to disarmed Okinawans inventing karate to defeat the Samurai and then took an extended detour through Zen and Japanese archery.
One would hope that the general caliber of our discussion of martial arts history had improved since 2007. If nothing else the editorial is a nice illustration of the fact that what is said about the martial arts generally tells us vastly more about our own Western values and fantasies than anything about their actual origins. Streep’s off-hand comment probably deserved some push-back from the larger martial arts community, but we would have been better served by something a bit more grounded.
A shorter and more focused rebuttal was published in the Northwest Asian Weekly. It pointed out that some of those immigrants and outsiders that Streep was attempting to defend were in fact central to the creation and the promotion of MMA and other martial arts. Bruce Lee as the “godfather of MMA” was a central aspect their argument.
“The Last Stand of the Southern Praying Mantis: Preserving Hong Kong’s Vanishing Martial Arts.” This somewhat dire headline can be found at the top of an extensive article in Time magazine that all students of southern Chinese martial arts will want to check out.
As one might expect, it discusses Hing Chao’s efforts to digitally record various types of Hakka Kung Fu in an attempt to preserve them for posterity. But there is a lot more going on in this article. Readers will find interesting local history, a discussion of immigration’s adverse impact on some of the region’s martial arts, and clear evidence of how the “intangible cultural heritage” discourse is shaping the way that masters think about their art. There were even some rumblings about a possible “Chinese martial studies center” in Hong Kong at some point in the future (which would be awesome)! I was even surprised to find a link in the article that led me back to an early essay that I posted right here at Kung Fu Tea. This piece is certainly worth checking out, and makes a fascinating counterpoint to the relatively low information discussion published in the Washington Post.
Readers should also note that there is a link to a short video on the lives of MMA fighters in Beijing embedded in this page that is also worth watching. Finally, a shorter article focused only on the motion capture technology being used by the International Guoshu Association can be found here.
The Shanghai Daily recently ran a brief feature on Taijiquan. It discusses the health benefits of the art, but also spends a bit more time than one might expect on its history (while reviewing a couple of theories it ultimately favors the Chen Wangting school). This is clearly an introductory piece for the paper’s English speaking audience, but its nicely executed.
We have looked at a number of public and cultural diplomacy articles profiling the promotion of the Chinese martial arts in Africa. There is certainly some of that in the current piece, titled “Africans take on China’s entertainment market.” But what I really liked about this article (published in African Business) was that it illustrated a bilateral exchange of art, culture and dance and noted the impact that Africans are having on Chinese markets. Theoretically this is important as there is a debate in the public diplomacy literature as to who the relevant player are in these sorts of exchanges. Should we only be looking at more or less official government attempts to sway public perception, or is “public diplomacy” something that happens much more effectively when it is carried about by NGOs and private citizens? What is the value of cultural exchange directly between “the people?” This article is interesting as it begins to move into some of that territory.
Our next article provides a glimpse into the different ways that MMA might be evolving in China (and Asia more generally) than what we have previously seen with the UFC in the West. According to Victor Cui it is all a matter of “cultural values.” One suspects that there quite a bit more to the UFC’s failure to penetrate the Chinese media markets than that. But it is a valuable reminder of the power of social expectations to shape any newly emerging hand combat institutions.
Ask One Championship chief executive officer Victor Cui how his mixed martial arts (MMA) organization maintains its superiority in Asia over rivals Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
His answer is simple: Just look at the fighters’ post-match conduct.
Last month, after beating Ronda Rousey, UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes infamously said: “F*** Ronda Rousey. Now she is going to retire and go do movies.”
In contrast, Cui pointed to how Mei Yamaguchi responded after losing to Angela Lee in the atomweight title bout last May as the way One Championships sets itself apart.
“First thing they do after going to war with each other over five rounds – they hug. Mei walked up to Angela and said, ‘You’re going to be a great champion’,” said Cui in a conference call with local and international media.
“Respect, loyalty, humility and dedication – these are values Asian fans want to see in their heroes.
“In the west, the sport is about blood, guts, machismo and disrespecting your opponent. In Asia, we are completely opposite.
China’s elite bodyguards are struggling to find enough rich people to protect. Many Wushu academies have, for years, produced students who go on to become soldiers, police officers and, more recently, private security personal. But, as this article in Time magazine notes, a slowing economy and the accelerating “anti-corruption campaigns” is putting the breaks on this once fast growing industry. This may be a potentially important observation for anyone interested in China’s broader “martial culture.”
Have you been wondering how Donnie Yen’s performance in Rogue One was received in China? This is, after all, one of the few markets in which the Star Wars franchise has faced substantial headwinds in recent years. When The Force Awakens came out Chinese viewers were notably underwhelmed, but that film still managed to take in $53 million USD on its opening weekend.
Ticket sales number are in (free of the inflation that has plagued these measures in past years), and things are looking ok. According to the LA Times:
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” topped the charts last week, raking in $30.6 million in its first three days, according to consulting firm Artisan Gateway.
Lucasfilm’s epic adventure film, which stars Felicity Jones and Diego Luna alongside Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, received high praise from Chinese moviegoers: It garnered 7.5 out of 10 on the fan rating site Douban.
Reviewers applauded the performances and depictions of their fellow countrymen.”
Of course, there are different ways of reading those same numbers. While Rogue One topped the box-office, overall it was still a slow weekend. Other news outlets looked at the same numbers and came to the conclusion that 1) the movie fell well short of Hollywood’s expectations and 2) favorable reviews notwithstanding, Chinese viewers could not really connect with Donnie Yen’s character, and they certainly didn’t care about the rest of the ill-fated crew. So maybe Star Wars is still in for a bumpy ride in China. Then again, China’s entire movie industry seems to be entering a period of contraction and readjustment. In some ways its hard to evaluate exactly what these numbers mean in the current environment.
Martial Arts Studies
Issue 3 of Martial Arts Studies is now available, including seven original research articles and four reviews of recent books. Read it for free here. Wondering where to start? You can find a quick summary of each of the articles in the opening editorial. Or, if you are fan of the Ip Man movies, why not just skip right to Wayne Wong treatment of “authenticity” and “combativity” in Donnie Yen’s performance? His paper is one of the best things written on the media image of Wing Chun to date. Alternatively, those following the ongoing debate on how best to define the martial arts will probably want to check out Paul Bowman’s paper, “The Definition of Martial Arts Studies.”
Acta Periodica Duellatorum (a journal dedicated to the scholarly study of the Historic European Martial Arts) also has a new issue out, which includes must read articles by Eric Burkart and Sixt Wetzler. They will be of interest to all students of martial arts studies. Be sure to take a look at both!
Conferences and Other Research:
You will need to register soon to qualify for the early bird discount for the 3rd Annual 2017 Martial Arts Studies Conference at Cardiff University. Peter Lorge, Meaghan Morris, and Sixt Wetlzer, among others, have already been confirmed as speakers. If you are interested in presenting your own research please see our Call for Papers.
Readers may also be interested in an upcoming conference sponsored by the International Martial Arts and Combat Sports Scientific Society in Osaka, Japan. There is still some time to plan for this one. The conference is scheduled for September 6th-8th, and abstracts need to be submitted between May 20th and June 20th.
Do you teach a self-defense class? If so Mario Staller and Swen Körner (German Sports University of Cologne) are carrying out research into self-defense coaching and they need your help conducting a scientific survey. The survey does not take long to complete and your cooperation would be very much appreciated. Feel free to pass the link along.
Sara Delamont, Neil Stephens, Claudio Campos book, Embodying Brazil: An ethnography of diasporic capoeira (Routledge. 244 Pages. $147 HC, $57 Kindle) has just been released and is now shipping from the publisher. Obviously students of capoeira will be interested in this volume, but the authors have addressed a number of subjects of much broader concern throughout the martial arts studies literature. Here is the publisher’s abstract:
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.
Paul Bowman’s most recent book Mythologies of Martial Arts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016, $39.95 paperback) is also shipping. This one seems destined to become a standard theoretical guidepost for the field.
What do martial arts signify today? What do they mean for East-West cross cultural exchanges? How does the representation of martial arts in popular culture impact on the wide world? What is authentic practice? What does it all mean?
From Kung Fu to Jiujitsu and from Bruce Lee to The Karate Kid, Mythologies of Martial Arts explores the key myths and ideologies in martial arts in contemporary popular culture. The book combines the author’s practical, professional and academic experience of martial arts to offer new insights into this complex, contradictory world. Inspired by the work of Roland Barthes in Mythologies, the book focusses on the signs, signifiers and practices of martial arts globally. Bringing together cultural studies, film studies, media studies, postcolonial studies with the emerging field of martial arts studies the book explores the broader significance of martial arts in global culture. Using an accessible yet theoretically sophisticated style the book is ideal for students, scholars and anyone interested in any type of martial art.
Lastly, Udo Moenig’s volume Taekwondo: From a Martial Art to a Martial Sport (Routledge, 2016, $54 Paperback) has been released in a new paperback edition. This is great news. I quite enjoyed this work and hopefully it will find a broader audience in paperback.
This book provides a comprehensive overview of the historical, political, and technical evolution of taekwondo. Many of the supposedly ‘traditional’ and ‘ancient’ Korean cultural elements attached to taekwondo are, in fact, remnants of East Asia’s modernization drive, and largely inherited from the Japanese martial arts. The current historical portrayal has created an obstacle to a clear understanding of the history of taekwondo, and presents problems and contradictions in philosophy and training methodology. Using rich empirical data, including interviews with leading figures in the field, this book brings together martial arts philosophy with an analysis of the technical aspects and the development of taekwondo, and provides a detailed comparison of karate and taekwondo techniques. It debunks nationalistic mythology surrounding taekwondo to provide a reinterpretation of taekwondo’s evolution.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We have talked about Hong Kong Cinema, the Southern Long Pole and pedagogy in Krav Maga training. 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.