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 first story this month has been brought to us by the ever industrious International Guoshu Association and will be of special relevance to anyone who studies Hung Gar. The following article from the South China Morning Post discusses a recent project to combine period photographs of the grandmaster Lam Sai-wing (who was quite interested in photography) with modern motion capture studies of his lineage students in an attempt to reconstruct a vision of his original martial practice. Be sure to check this out:
A realistic animation of Lam’s Iron Wire Boxing is one of the highlights in the exhibition Lingnan Hung Kuen Across the Century: Kung Fu Narratives in Hong Kong Cinema and Community, which opens at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre on September 6.
The team – International Guoshu Association (IGA) working with City University of Hong Kong – built a 3D model of Lam with his photos and captured the core motion data by having master Oscar Lam, the fourth generation carrier of the Lam family hung kuen style, demonstrate in a studio. The data was then mapped onto the model. But the story doesn’t end there….
Global Voices recently published an article titled “The Complicated Morality of a Mixed Martial Arts Fight Club for Impoverished Chinese Boys.” Many readers will remember the controversy that erupted earlier this summer when footage of young children participating in an MMA fight club (complete with cheering gamblers) went viral. It turns out that the children were students, most from impoverished backgrounds, of a local residential martial arts school. The uproar over the unsavory footage (as well as the difficult questions of consent and the participation of minors in combat sports) inspired local officials to begin to pull students out of the school and send them back to their home villages. Still, as this essay from Global Voices notes, the actual ethics of this situation are complex.
We are all familiar with the image of senior citizens gathering in the park for Taijiquan practice. And it seems that every week we get a new study about the health benefits of the practice for older students (increased balance, decreased chronic pain…). But the following news item suggests that we may have to update our mental image of the practice. It notes that Taijiquan is increasingly finding favor with Millennials looking to manage stress.
Xu Xiaodong’s name has been making headlines again over the last week. It seems that the release of some video from a Vice interview has triggered renewed interest in his story. Apparently the interview delves into his motives and desire to expose fraud in the Chinese martial arts. Ironically, it appears to have been done the day before another scheduled fight which ended in a police raid in which Xu was briefly taken into custody. The fact that Xu is still making headlines in September suggests he has a good chance of being named “Chinese martial arts story of the year” come January.
Our next story also discusses the introduction of more “Western” martial arts and combat sports into China. Meet Viking Wong – the jiu-jitsu black belt trying to toughen up the Hong Kong Police Force. Actually, it is still a bit unclear whether the HK police will require Wong’s services, but this fairly detailed article makes for fascinating reading. Any student of Chinese martial arts history will already have a rough idea of the process by which new practices were first introduced to the public sphere, made socially acceptable and then popularized in the first half of the 20th century. Often getting an art taught at a police or military academy was the first step in that process, followed by lobbying to have it included in the school curriculum. Wong’s efforts are interesting in how closely they are adhering to a very old script, despite the “newness” of his actual practice.
Here is a typical quote from his discussion (though its the process of introduction that is the most interesting aspect of this story):
Hong Kong police are still being taught the “pressure points” system to deal with physical conflicts, which focuses on hitting specific parts of the body to cause significant pain.
“Pressure points is super outdated. With jiu-jitsu, you’re in a real-life situation where your opponent is going at you 100 per cent,” said Wong. “The adrenaline rush, the anxiety, it all kicks in.
“When you’re doing that daily, when something does happen, you’ve been there before. There’s no panicking. Nothing will surprise you, it’s just reaction.”
Has China finally found its own Chuck Norris? Those seeking to promote the country’s soft power abroad (as well as the film industry) certainly hope so! For a slightly different take on Wolf Warrior II’s production see this article in Variety. It suggests that the studio’s success in finally producing a “Hollywood quality” action film had a lot to do with the long list of talent that the project hired….directly from Hollywood. That is not a huge surprise on a technical level, but it does seem a bit jarring given the highly nationalist discourse that surrounds this film.
The Huffington Post ran a fascinating piece profiling four Chinese individuals who have decided to move to Africa. Obviously such choices are often employment related. But sometimes an individual’s motives are more interesting. And with close to two million Chinese citizens living in Africa today, you can bet that some of those narratives include the martial arts. That is certainly the case here, but all of the profiles are well worth reading.
The next article is not related to the Chinese martial arts. Still, given the state of global politics it is just too good to pass up. If the last piece hinted at the topic of “Kung Fu diplomacy” between states, this one reeks of it. It seems that the Japanese Prime minister has proposed setting up a challenge match between one of his country’s martial arts champions and….Vladimir Putin, who is an avid judo practitioner. This is not generally the sort of invitation that one extends to visiting heads of state, but I cannot wait to see if some sort of response is forthcoming from the Russian side.
“Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has challenged Russian President and judo enthusiast Vladimir Putin to throw down on the mat with Olympic gold medallist Yasuhiro Yamashita in the homeland of the martial art, Japan.
Speaking to Yamashita at an Asia economic forum in Russia’s far east, Abe said he would love to see the judo master draft Putin and Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga—also a judo enthusiast—in some exhibition grappling.”
Martial Arts Studies
Ironically the start of a new school year is always a relatively quiet time for Martial Arts Studies. People need a chance to get settled into their new classes before the real action starts. Still, I have it on good authority that there are some important developments on the horizon. In the mean time, here are a few things to consider.
Are you looking for a Martial Arts Studies program that is a little out of the ordinary? If so, Mei University in Japan may have just the masters degree you are looking for, in “Ninja Studies.” The program described in the link appears to be very history heavy, which is probably a reasonable way to the approach the subject. I would love to hear more about this from anyone who ends up having contact with scholars working on the subject at Mei University.
If you are looking for something a bit more contemporary you may want to consider picking up a copy of Unleashing Manhood in a Cage (
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We have talked about classic texts of Chen style Taijiquan, Plum Blossom Boxing, and whether the martial arts contribute to the creation of just societies. 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!