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
Goeff Ho, a professional journalist, may now be the best known Chinese martial artist living in London. A number of newspapers have printed stories about his heroic actions during the recent terrorist attack. Geoff happened to be at the Borough Market when he saw a “fight” break out and jumped into action:
“Sunday Express business journalist and kung fu aficionado Geoff Ho was stabbed in the throat when he intervened as the pair attacked a bouncer at a pub in Borough Market, in what he thought was a fight – but turned out to be a terrorist attack later claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
Ho wrote on Facebook: “Don’t know whether it was stupid or noble to jump in and break up the fight outside the Southwark Tavern, but two a***s trying to do over the lone bouncer on the door isn’t happening on my watch.”
As you can see from the photos, Geoff ended up being stabbed in the throat but was still able to walk away from the scene of the attack.
If the terror attack in London gave us our biggest story, then surely the following is the most substantive. The South China Morning Post Magazine ran a long multi-section piece that profiled six different martial arts masters in Hong Kong. Each of the individuals was asked to think about the meaning of “Kung Fu” in their practice and lives. And each had come to the martial arts from a different perspective. Rather than a single statement on the meaning of the Chinese martial arts, what emerges is a complex conversation about all of the many things that these systems have been and still are in the lives of their students. It is certainly a “must read” article for anyone interested in questions of sociology, history or the southern Chinese martial arts.
“Englishman falls in love with Chinese martial arts.” That is the title of a short article that ran in the columns of the Shanghai Daily. It profiled Daniel Nichols, who came to China for business, stayed for (mantis) Kung Fu and has now changed careers and upended his life to live in Chen Village. Stories like this seem to have become a distinct genre in the last few years, and they frequently grace the pages of the English language editions of Chinese newspapers and tabloids.
Shaolin Temple has announced that it will host the “Eastern Olympics” Martial Arts Contest. Their press release has been widely circulated and news of the event is appearing in all sorts of places. Yet oddly enough, it doesn’t appear that the events will include much in the way of actual martial arts performance. It will instead focus on things like brick breaking and push-up contests. One suspects that “The Shaolin Fitness Challenge” may have been a better name, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Yup, the viral fight pitting Taijiquan against MMA is still making news. Most of the references that I ran across in the last few weeks were using the encounter as a metaphor of other, non-martial arts related, events. Still, the clash has proved to have staying power in the popular imagination and seems to have taken on symbolic dimensions. Which, as the following article in the Economist points out, is probably why the government decided to squash the controversy.
“Ye Yincong of Lingnan University in Hong Kong wrote that the reaction demonstrated a common tendency in China to view the world in terms of a struggle between Chinese tradition and Western influence…
The authorities appear eager to put an end to the debate. China’s president Xi Jinping is a fan of traditional Chinese culture, and says he wants to use it to promote the country’s “soft power” abroad. The recent criticism of kung fu may have triggered too much questioning of it for his taste. On May 7th Mr Xu’s Weibo account was deleted, as was some of the online reporting and commentary about his fight with Mr Wei. Mr Xu told the BBC that he would keep quiet from now on, and study traditional Chinese martial arts.”
Wuxia fans take note, the China Daily has announced the release of a much anticipated book.
The Legend of Snow Wolf: Legacy Edition – an English-language martial arts epic – was launched on May 31 at the Book Expo held at the Javits Convention Center in New York.
Written by Chinese-American writer F. Lit Yu, the work was first published in 2012 and 2013 in two volumes. As one reviewer described it, “The Legend of Snow Wolf is to martial arts what Harry Potter is to sorcery.”
Yu’s volume sounds fantastic. Still, his most interesting observation on the genre was probably this:
“I love the world of martial arts,” he said. “It is balanced in terms of men and women, rich and poor, officials and common people. If your kung fu is good, you climb higher. It is another world, one we don’t have now.”
Last week I wrote a post noting that increasingly young people are gaining their first exposure to the martial arts not through the movies, but are instead finding them in video games, anime and various sort of comics. It seems that publishers in China have noted the same trend and are responding accordingly. The Telegraph recently reported on efforts to republish the classic novels of Louis Cha as an extended series of web comics (it will probably take them five years to get through all of the material that they have decided to work on).
Cha’s books have gained him millions of fans. Zou Zhengyu, general manager of Tencent Comics & Animation, said Cha’s novels, written from 1955 to 1972, are known to the post-1990 generation in adaptations of movies, TV dramas and games.
“But the original books have probably been read by a small number,” Zou said at a recent promotional event in Beijing. “We hope the comic series will attract more youngsters to read the novels.”
While not directly related to the Chinese martial arts, I thought that Kung Fu Tea’s readers would probably be interested in the following article as well. Titled “Martial Arts for Women,” it discusses the discovery and translation of a 100 year old jujitsu manual written by a woman and expressly dedicated to the topic of female self defense. This book also appears to touch on a lot of interesting social content, including a trend towards increased violence against women in Japan at the time, and the creation of a Women’s Self-Defense League in response.
Chinese Martial Arts on the Big and Small Screens
I am happy to announce that my friend Gene Ching (the hard working editor of Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine) is now a reality TV star! Better yet, he gets to wield traditional weapons while on screen. Gene will be appearing in most of the first season episodes of the EL REY network’s new show, Man at Arms: Art of War.
On June 8, 2017, I’m appearing in a new original series, MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR, on the EL REY Network. The first season runs eight episodes and I serve as a weapons expert in five of them. The show is a television version of a very popular web show, MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED, available through DEFY Media’s AWE me YouTube channel. The web show centers on weapons builds by Baltimore Knife & Sword, the leading makers of stage combat and custom weaponry in America. Most of the weapons featured in the webisodes are from fiction – movies, comics, TV shows and videogames – weapons like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s Green Destiny, Elecktra’s Sai, and the Sword of Altair from Assassin’s Creed. EL REY Network’s MAN AT ARMS: ART OF WAR expands on the web series with hour-long episodes featuring builds of historic weapons from different cultures.
The series follows Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy who immigrates from China to San Francisco for unknown reasons. He becomes a hatchet man for one of Chinatown’s most powerful tongs (a Chinese organized crime family). The show takes place during the Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the second half of the 19th century.
Its hard to predict how projects like this will turn out, but the show’s premise has potential. I have always been interested in history of the Chinatowns in NYC and San Francisco, but not a lot of historical work has been done on either community. Maybe this show will help to inspire more of an interest in local history? That is almost always a good thing for students of martial arts studies.
Donnie Yen attended a panel at the MCM Comic Con and addressed a number of fascinating topics. You can read a partial transcript of the discussion here. Topics of conversation included his mother and childhood in Boston, Ip Man, and the various ways that he tried to push the development of his character in the Star Wars film, Rogue One. All of which was great. But the big thing that I learned was that Sammo Hung has created a school in an attempt to save and advance the making of martial arts films.
Martial Arts Studies
As always, there is a lot happening the Martial Arts Studies community. The countdown is on for our third annual Martial Arts Studies conference which will be convening in just over a month at Cardiff University. If you have not yet registered now is the time! There will be a great line-up of speakers this year including (among others) Sixt Wetzler, Meaghan Morris and Peter Lorge, the author of Chinese Martial Arts: from Antiquity to the Twenty-first Century (Cambridge UP). There will also be some new events at this year’s conference, and I look forward to seeing everyone soon.
The Literature on Brazilian Capoeira is hot. In addition to new ethnographies just released by Lauren Miller Griffith and Sara Delamont (both of which were fascinating), we can look forward to a study by Sergio González Varela (now available for pre-order).
Power in Practice: The Pragmatic Anthropology of Afro-Brazilian Capoeira by Sergio González Varela (expected release on September 30, 2017). Berghahn Books, 178 pages. Kindle price $24.40
Considering the concept of power in capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian ritual art form, Varela describes ethnographically the importance that capoeira leaders (mestres) have in the social configuration of a style called Angola in Bahia, Brazil. He analyzes how individual power is essential for an understanding of the modern history of capoeira, and for the themes of embodiment, play, cosmology, and ritual action. The book also emphasizes the great significance that creativity and aesthetic expression have for capoeira’s practice and performance.
Sergio González Varela is Professor of Anthropology at Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, Mexico. He is currently working on a book about the anthropologist Paul Stoller.
Man-Fung Yip. 2017. Martial Arts Cinema and Hong Kong Modernity: Aesthetics, Representation, Circulation. Hong Kong University Press (July 11, 2017). 272 pages. $65 USD.
At the core of Martial Arts Cinema and Hong Kong Modernity: Aesthetics, Representation, Circulation is a fascinating paradox: the martial arts film, long regarded as a vehicle of Chinese cultural nationalism, can also be understood as a mass cultural expression of Hong Kong’s modern urban-industrial society. This important and popular genre, Man-Fung Yip argues, articulates the experiential qualities, the competing social subjectivities and gender discourses, as well as the heightened circulation of capital, people, goods, information, and technologies in Hong Kong of the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to providing a novel conceptual framework for the study of Hong Kong martial arts cinema and shedding light on the nexus between social change and cultural/aesthetic form, this book offers perceptive analyses of individual films, including not only the canonical works of King Hu, Chang Cheh, and Bruce Lee, but also many lesser-known ones by Lau Kar-leung and Chor Yuen, among others, that have not been adequately discussed before. Thoroughly researched and lucidly written, Yip’s stimulating study will ignite debates in new directions for both scholars and fans of Chinese-language martial arts cinema.
Papers of Interest
This first article was published back in 2015, but Daniel has just uploaded a copy of it to his Academia.edu account, making it more widely available to both scholars and martial artists. I heard him present on some of this research before and its well worth checking out. The basic problems that he discusses will also be of interest to Chinese martial artists involved in the reconstruction of historical sources.
Abstract – Historical European martial arts (HEMA) have to be considered an important part of our common European cultural heritage. Studies within this field of research have the potential to enlighten the puzzle posed by past societies, for example in the field of history, history of science and technology, or fields related to material culture.
The military aspects of history are still to be considered among the most popular themes of modern times, generating huge public interest. In the last few decades, serious HEMA study groups have started appearing all over the world – focusing on re-creating a lost martial art. The terminology “Historical European Martial Arts” therefore also refers to modern-day practices of ancient martial arts. Many of these groups focus on a “hands-on” approach, thus bringing practical experience and observation to enlighten their interpretation of the source material. However, most of the time, they do not establish inquiries based on scientific research, nor do they follow methodologies that allow for a critical analysis of the findings or observations.
This paper will therefore propose and discuss, ideas on how to bridge the gap between enthusiasts and scholars; since their embodied knowledge, acquired by practice, is of tremendous value for scientific inquiries and scientific experimentation. It will also address HEMA practices in the context of modern day acceptance of experimental (or experiential) processes and their value for research purposes and restoration of an historical praxis. The goal is therefore to sketch relevant methodological and theoretical elements, suitable for a multidisciplinary approach, to HEMA, where the “H” for “historical” matters.
Paul Bowman has also been kind enough to upload a forthcoming chapter titled “Embodiment as Embodiment of.” His reflections on ’embodiment’, in academia and the martial arts, suggests much that needs to be consider before our conference in July!
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We have talked about martial arts themed anime, Japanese editions of Chinese Ming era fight books, and the fate of the Southern Chinese martial arts. 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!