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 way too long 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 lead article this week comes from the New York Times. It asks, “Tai Chi Encourages Calm. So why are its Chinese fans stressing out?” If your answer had anything to do with the UN and “intangible cultural heritage,” you are probably correct.
“Last year, Indian yoga made Unesco’s list. In 2011, South Korea’s taekkyeon became the first martial art so honoured.
So why does Chinese taiji not win similar international recognition?
That is the question on Mr Yan Shuangjun’s mind as the annual deadline approaches for nominations to Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, established by the United Nations agency to celebrate and protect the world’s cultural diversity.”
As we have seen in recent blog posts and news updates, questions of “intangible cultural heritage” have become a major focal point for the public discussion (if not the actual practice) of the Chinese martial arts. Our first article is a fascinating case study in the lobbying efforts (so far unsuccessful) to earn this status for Taijiquan. It also includes some background discussions of the sorts of headwinds (mostly competition from within China) that Taijiquan faces.
How have taijiquan’s advocates responded to recent setbacks? By pointing to taijiquan’s “soft power” potential on the global stage and warning ominously that without immediate government action it might be “stolen” by the Japanese or Koreans. Then they take some parting shots at Shaolin for good measure. Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up.
The Straits Times has had some decent martial arts coverage this last month including one piece that attempted to do a lot of things. First, it introduced Li Junfeng (best known as Jet Li’s coach) and discussed his background. Next it plugs a new English language book on Bagua that he co-authored with a student. Then it rather abruptly cuts to an interview with Li. All in all, an informative read and worth taking a look at.
Readers more interested in the modern combat sports will want to check out the following article in the Asian Times. It profiles the RUFF champion Wang Guan, who is now the second Chinese fighter to sign with the UFC. After discussing Wang’s prospects the article goes on to profile the UFC’s strategy and challenges when it comes to cracking the Chinese media market, a victory that has so far eluded them. We have heard this basic story quite a few times in the last year, but it looks like the UFC has some mainland events scheduled for this summer.
Do you suffer from back pain? If so Consumer Reports has a few suggestions. Specifically, they think you should take up Taijiquan. They spell out why in a longer than expected article which you can find here. None of this is terribly surprising as a number of studies in the last year have found that Taijiquan can be effective in the management of different types of chronic pain.
With my background I am more interested in the social aspects of Taijiquan practice than its medical applications. As such I was intrigued to run across the same story in both the Salt Lake Tribune and SF Gate. It profiles a current program being run in Salt Lake that uses free Taijiquan classes to help homeless individuals develop a sense of life stability. Salt Lake has a large homeless population and these classes are currently being hosted in the basement of the downtown library (which is a great building.) We hear a lot of about Taijiquan being used to treat physical problems in the West, but much less about its application to other social issues. If I were still living in Salt Lake I would be heading to library to check this program out tomorrow.
For our next story we head to the Shaolin Temple and another visit to the “you could not make this stuff if you tried” file. It seems that a new structure has been built that is modestly titled the “Shaolin Flying Monks Temple.” Designed by an architect from Latvia the new “temple” is basically a huge vertical wind tunnel in the middle of an outdoor amphitheater. The force generated by the turbines allow various martial monks to float and fight while flying through the air. And supposedly all of this has been designed with the “beauty of the local environment” in mind. You can see some nice architectural photography of the structure here.
No news update would be complete without a feat of Kung Fu prowess. For this we can turn to The Daily Mail which profiles a student of “Iron Palm” skills. There is some video footage of his demonstration. None of that is particularly new, but I thought it was interesting that the article went to lengths to emphasize the degree to which he showed no emotion, and apparently felt no pain, while engaging in breaking, rather than recounting in graphic detail all of the stuff that got smashed.
Chinese Martial Arts on the Screen
Do you remember all of the discussion during the run-up to Ip Man 3 that this would be Donnie Yen’s last Kung Fu Film? He was done, retiring, and committing himself to more dramatic roles. Yeah, not so much.
A couple of months ago it was announced that Donnie Yen was set to reprise his role as Ip Man. Recently a teaser poster was released and fans were informed by Yen himself that filming is set to begin next year. It looks like this project is now set to become a reality. No one has any clue what the story will be about, but (as usual) the fans are demanding that Bruce Lee make more than a cursory appearance. I guess we will see what the Lee estate thinks about that idea.
Have you been following Into the Badlands? I will admit that I gave up after the first couple of episodes. But it looks like the show is now back for season 2, and a lot of the advertising once again focuses on Daniel Wu’s notable martial arts chops. This discussion includes dropping pop culture references to everything from “Ip Man” to “36 Chambers” along the way. The show continues to try and stake a claim as being the definitive small screen treatment of the Chinese martial arts. Maybe I will check out a couple of episodes and see how the show has evolved. Also see here.
The Observer recently ran an article titled “The Highs and Lows of ‘Iron Fist,’ Marvel’s Great Kung-Fu Failure.” In this case, the title says it all. The political controversies that surround the project notwithstanding, this critic knows Iron Fist’s true weakness. In a landscape already saturated with superheroes, he was saddled with a boring story.
This last story touches on my work with the Lightsaber Combat community. I heard some people talking about it at class this last week, so when I got home I looked it up. It seems that a man in South Carolina used a lightsaber replica of some type to fend off an attack by a step-daughter who was attempting to slash him with a pair of knives. Despite my best efforts I have not been able to find out what color lightsaber he used. Once again, if you tried to make this up no one would believe you.
Martial Arts Studies
As always, there is a lot going on in the realm of martial arts studies. Lets start with upcoming conferences.
The first Annual St. Martin Conference, held at the German Blade Museum, has just released its formal call for papers. The topic of this years gathering will be the comparative study of both traditional and modern fight books. Sessions will be held in English. This sounds like a fascinating event for anyone interested in the scholarly study of historic weapons and combat.
Also, we have an initial list of confirmed speakers for the 3rd Annual Martial Arts Studies conference slated to be held this July at the University of Cardiff. Make sure to send in your proposals and registrations soon!
Next we have a couple of papers that have recently been released. The first is the draft of a public talk to be delivered by Paul Bowman at a Philosophy Festival in Europe. It is titled “Trust in me: Mindfulness and Madness in Martial Arts Philosophy,” and is accessible to a fairly broad audience.
Next, Alex Channon, Ally Quinney, Anastasiya Khomutova and Christopher R. Mathews have released a draft of their forthcoming article “Sexualisation of the Fighter’s Body: Some Reflections on Women’s Mixed Martial Arts.” Anyone interested in gender issues in martial arts studies will want to check out this paper which can be read for free at academia.edu.
As far as primary sources go, Paul Brennan has just released a new translation of The Taiji Art by Song Shuming . This is fairly early as modern Taijiquan manuals go, and this piece has gotten a fair amount of discussion. Check it out.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We have discussed recent posts at the Zhongguo Wuxue blog, studied the Legend of the Zhanmadao and watched some great vintage savate films (thanks to Rodney Bennett). 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.