Chinese Martial Arts in the News: August 28th, 2017: Dragon Girls, New Books and the Rebirth of the Long Spear

 

 

Introduction

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.

 

 

 

News from All Over

Our round-up starts with one of the more interesting stories that I have come across in the last few months.   A rather extensive article in the Torontoist discusses the (re)creation of a Ming-era school of spear practice by a local martial arts teacher and aficionado, as well as his attempts to spread the system by creating a combat sport based on the knowledge that he reconstructed.  Of particular interest to me, as a Wing Chun student, are the training spears that he designed.  They sound like exactly the sort of thing that we need for contact pole training as well.  But setting that personal interest aside for the moment, his system sounds fascinating, and the next time I am in Toronto I will be making a point of trying to check this out!

 

While he has taught his own students, Guo wants the sport to spread wider, with players setting up teams and tournaments independently. Participating in the da qiang community requires attending an introductory class with Guo to learn about the equipment and scoring system, but after that players are encouraged to connect to each other, form their own clubs, and organize local tournaments on their own initiative…..

As da qiang players such as Wei form teams, Guo eventually hopes to create an online community, where people can post videos of their fights and be ranked by a rotating shift of judges. Guo hopes he can build sponsorships and have the strongest fighters come to Toronto to compete. This competition, Guo believes, is what will bring out the best development for da qiang—forging better techniques and better players.

Be sure to also check out Guo’s Facebook page (linked in the article) for more information about his project.

 

 

Chinese martial arts, lion dance, are well preserved in Macau,” or so reports the Shanghai Daily.  This short article touches on a number of topics including Choy Li Fut and the increasing challenge that real estate development and rising rents places on traditional martial arts organizations throughout China.  The report was inspired by a recent tournament held in the city.

THE 2017 Macau Wushu Master Challenge held late last week attracted hundreds of wushu masters from across the world to join in various competitions and display Chinese martial arts and traditional lion dance.

Indeed, behind all those hustle and bustle of shopping malls, casinos, hotels and must-go tourists spots, the martial arts and lion dance are well protected in China’s Macau Special Administrative Region, with many local residents keeping on with their tradition of playing martial arts for physical exercises and learning about self-challenge and team work.

 

The Voice of America recently ran a profile of the Nepalese nuns whose martial arts practice has put them in the news repeatedly over the last couple of years.  This time they are running a series of martial arts and self defense workshops designed to raise awareness of, and strike back against, the increase in rapes and sexual assaults in India.  The article has a number of interesting quotes and photographs.  And to be totally honest, I do not envy anyone who is practicing Kung Fu at that altitude!

“Most people think nuns just sit and pray, but we do more,” said 19-year-old Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, one of the Kung Fu trainers, as she rested after an intense two-hour session in Hemis village, 40 km (25 miles) from the northern city of Leh.

“We walk the talk. If we act, people will think if: ‘If nuns can act, why can’t we?'”

“Kung Fu will make them stronger and more confident,” she said, adding that they decided to teach self-defense after hearing of cases of rape and molestation.

 

The reviews of Nick Nolfi’s bio-pic “Birth of the Dragon” are in, and the news is not encouraging.  They seem to range between “Meh…” and “I don’t understand how anyone could make Bruce Lee so boring?” The following review from the LA Times was basically middle of the pack.

“The martial arts biopic “Birth of the Dragon” claims to be inspired by Bruce Lee’s rise to fame in San Francisco, but it seems just as beholden to “Ip Man,” the international hit that turned the real life of a kung fu pioneer into an exaggerated action epic.”

I thought that line suggested the evolution  of an interesting discursive circle between the myths that now surround both teacher and student.  If you are interested in more Bruce Lee news you might want to check out the following interview with Wilson Ip where he talks about the forthcoming “Ip Man 4” and the importance of their relationship to the film.

Female student studying Wushu in a scene from Inigo Westmeier’s Dragon Girls.

An empty parade ground fills the foreground. The camera pans upwards to reveal misty hills and fir trees and a thin black line of people.

Suddenly, a shout goes up and the black line rushes forward, revealing its great depth. Thousands of figures are charging now, roaring in cacophonous unison all the way as an orchestra crescendos them into proximity.

This is the opening sequence to “Dragon Girls,” one of the greatest documentaries I have ever seen, which also happens to be free to watch on YouTube.

So begins this Business Insider review of “Dragon Girls.”  Its a nice piece about a great documentary.  This film has been out for long enough that many of you will already be aware of it.  But if you have not seen it yet, be sure to check it out.  Or maybe its time for a second viewing?

 

A couple of English language Chinese tabloids ran the following short photo essay.  It followed a descendant of the famous Huo Yuanjia (of Jingwu fame) who currently teaches his style in physical education classes at the Tianjin University of Commerce.

 

 

The Wudang arts have also been in the news.  The Shanghai Daily (through their new shine.cn website) ran a short feature reporting on a display of Wudang’s “intangible cultural heritage” (heavily weighted towards the martial arts) which was celebrated in the recently reopened Shanghai Great World (or Dashijie).

 

The Straits Times reported that a martial arts school in Singapore had recently been raided and its owner convicted of running a gaming house.  A closer look at the article suggests that rather than some sort of huge gambling operation, he was charging nominal fees for the use of a couple of mahjong tables and applying the money towards the school’s otherwise costly rent.  As I read this I wondered whether the story was more a reflection of the martial arts’ long association with the quasi-legal side of Chinese social life, or if it was another indication of the problems of rising rents and property values.

 

Kung Fu training at the Shaolin Temple. Source: Global Times.

As always, there were a couple of interesting “Kung Fu Diplomacy” stories in the last news cycle.  The first was titled “Chilean kung fu master creates “mini China” in Chile.” It is not so much a news item as a fascinating case study in how Kung Fu Diplomacy unfolds at a granular level in the life of a single instructor. The interaction of government and quasi-government actors with educational institutions and private individuals was particularly interesting, as was the implied commentary on Chinese and Chilean society.  It even features some great “Wax on-Wax off” moments.  Secondly, this local paper in the UK ran a story covering the journey of the one of the area’s martial arts instructors (and a couple of students) to study at the famed Shaolin Temple.  Its an interesting juxtaposition of two very different kung fu pilgrimages.

 

 

Martial Arts Studies

The end of summer is a slow time in the academic world, and I will admit to taking some time off in the last couple of weeks.  But now that we are back, it is time to assemble a reading list and think about some of the books coming out this fall!

 

First off, Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self-Defense Movement (NYU Press) by Wendy L. Rouse, is now shipping and available from amazon.com.  I am looking forward to receiving my copy soon.

The surprising roots of the self-defense movement and the history of women’s empowerment.

At the turn of the twentieth century, women famously organized to demand greater social and political freedoms like gaining the right to vote. However, few realize that the Progressive Era also witnessed the birth of the women’s self-defense movement.

It is nearly impossible in today’s day and age to imagine a world without the concept of women’s self defense. Some women were inspired to take up boxing and jiu-jitsu for very personal reasons that ranged from protecting themselves from attacks by strangers on the street to rejecting gendered notions about feminine weakness and empowering themselves as their own protectors. Women’s training in self defense was both a reflection of and a response to the broader cultural issues of the time, including the women’s rights movement and the campaign for the vote.

Perhaps more importantly, the discussion surrounding women’s self-defense revealed powerful myths about the source of violence against women and opened up conversations about the less visible violence that many women faced in their own homes. Through self-defense training, women debunked patriarchal myths about inherent feminine weakness, creating a new image of women as powerful and self-reliant. Whether or not women consciously pursued self-defense for these reasons, their actions embodied feminist politics. Although their individual motivations may have varied, their collective action echoed through the twentieth century, demanding emancipation from the constrictions that prevented women from exercising their full rights as citizens and human beings. This book is a fascinating and comprehensive introduction to one of the most important women’s issues of all time.

This book will provoke good debate and offer distinct responses and solutions.

 

 

Secondly, the literature surrounding Capoeria continues to grow rapidly and another volume on the subject is expected this September.

Power in Practice: The Pragmatic Anthropology of Afro-Brazilian Capoeira by Sergio González Varela (Berghahn Books; 1 edition (September 30, 2017)

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.

 

 

Finally, students and fans of MMA might be interested in Unlocking the Cage by Mark Tullius (Vincere Press, due out on Oct 10, 2017).  I am not sure what the ratio of personal narrative to sociological theory will be in this book, but it seems to draw on an extensive body of interviews and fieldwork.

The cage door clangs shut. The lock slides into place. The voice in my head drowns out everything else. What the hell is wrong with me?

Follow the journey of Mark Tullius, former cage fighter and boxer turned author and stay-at-home dad as he puts his love of fighting and his sociology degree from prestigious Brown University to use. What began as a personal exploration to unlock his reasons for continuing to train and pursue a fight career evolved into an in-depth sociological study of why competing in mixed martial arts (MMA) appeals to fighters. Why do these men and women subject themselves to the endless hours of grueling training required for the full-contact sport? In MMA a fighter’s goal is to punch, kick, and choke an opponent into submission, and if there is blood and injury along the way, so be it. What compels these individuals to develop the necessary strength, endurance, discipline, and skill despite the risks involved?

Over the course of 3 years, Tullius traveled to 23 states and visited 100 gyms where he interviewed 340 fighters. Although it wasn’t necessary, Tullius trained with the fighters and soon came to realize how valuable that time was, cultivating mental strength by surrounding himself with positive and inspiring individuals. It encouraged him to continue his project when he still had doubts about seeing it to its completion. Finally, Tullius believed that his willingness to get on the mat and demonstrate his trust in the fighters encouraged them to trust him and open up to a stranger about their fears and mistakes, dreams and accomplishments.

MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and the popularity of MMA training facilities is also on the rise. Unlocking the Cage takes readers into the gyms and into the minds of the fighters. It celebrates the unique qualities of each individual while highlighting themes that appear and reappear. It looks past the stigma of violence and embraces the resilience and strength that are the foundation of the fighting culture.

 

 

Kung Fu Tea on Facebook

A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month.  We have discussed China’s Islamic fighting systems, traditional Turkish archery and answered the question “Why 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!

 

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