Its That Time of Year Again!
Welcome to Kung Fu Tea’s sixth annual holiday shopping list! These are some of my favorite posts to pull together. They also serve as a great reminder to continue to make time for martial arts practice and study during the festive seasons. In fact, training can be a great way to deal with the various sorts of stress that the holidays unintentionally bring. And Christmas is a great excuse to stock up on that gear that you have been needing all year.
This year’s shopping list is split into four categories: books, training equipment, weapons (some sharp), and entertainment. I have tried to select items at a variety of price points for each category. Some of the gift ideas are quite reasonable while others are admittedly aspirational. After all, Christmas is a time for dreams, so why not dream big!
Given the emphasis of this blog, most of these ideas pertain to the Chinese martial arts, but I do try to branch out in places. I have also put at least one Wing Chun related item in each category. Nevertheless, with a little work many of these ideas could be adapted to fit the interests of just about any martial artist.
As a disclaimer I should point out that I have no financial relationship with any of the firms listed below (except for the part where I plug my own book). This is simply a list of gift ideas that I thought were interesting. It is not an endorsement or a formal product review. Lastly, I would like to thank my friend Bernard the “Kung Fu Elf” (see above) for helping me to brainstorm this list.
Books to Feed Your Head
Do you know why books are the perfect Christmas gift? They are never the wrong size, and if they have anything to do with the martial arts, you can be pretty sure that they will be read. Books have always been among my favorite gifts, and that’s probably why they are starting off this year’s list.
Our first title is a classic. Printed during the Ming dynasty (though collected from story cycles that are probably even older), Water Margin has been called the “Old Testament of the Chinese martial arts.” In many ways that is an apt metaphor. It is hard to understate the impact that these stories have had on the subsequent development of Chinese martial culture. Yet at the same time the vision of the martial arts that they portray is very different from what you get in later Wuxia novels or kung fu films. If you, or a martial artist in your life, has never read Water Margin, it is a must. And most modern translations of the book can be had for about $20.
Wendy L. Rouse’s recent book, Her Own Hero (NYU Press), is sure to appeal to wide range of readers. Those who are interested in women’s involvement in the martial arts will find this book to be required reading. But anyone who has thought about the global transmission of the Asian fighting systems in the 19th and early 20th centuries is likely to find something of interest. The kindle edition can be yours for $19!
Within the Martial Arts Studies community there is a growing awareness that these fighting systems are not exclusively Asian in nature. Systematized approaches to fighting appear on every continent and in every time period. Those seeking to explore the offerings of the Americas might want to consider Lauren Miller’s recent volume, In Search of Legitimacy: How Outsiders Become Part of the Afro-Brazilian Capoeira Tradition. Not only is this a great short introduction to the anthropological literature on capoeira, this book can also be thought of as an extended conversation on the nuances of fieldwork and the process by which the ethnographer strives to become an accepted member of a community. For that reason alone it makes my Christmas list. While the hardcover edition of the book is quite pricey, the ebook can be yours for a much more reasonable $17.
Are you a fan of the southern Chinese martial arts? Have you ever wondered about the Bubishi and its connections to both modern kung fu and Okinawan karate? Or, if you have looked at another translation of the Bubishi, have you wondered how to make sense of its extensive medical discussions? If you answered yes to any of these questions you must check out The General Tian Wubeizhi from Lion Books. It is clearly a work of love. Rather than presenting yet another translation of this iconic textual tradition, the authors seek to situate it in its historical and cultural environment as well as advancing their own theory of its origins. At close to $50 this volume is more expensive than the others, but when you see the book’s production values you will understand why. You can order your copy here.
Given that this blog so often focuses on the development and practice of Wing Chun, it seems only appropriate to offer something for the reader who may be wondering about the origin and nature of this art. My own volume (published by SUNY Press and co-authored with Jon Nielson) is available in paperback for $25. It begins by providing an overview of the development of the southern Chinese martial arts within the Pearl River Delta region before going on to explore the emergence of Wing Chun in greater depth. The volume also provides an extended biography of Ip Man during the Hong Kong period. Check it out here.
Training Gear to Keep you Active
One of the reasons why I love Wing Chun is that you don’t need a lot of gear to practice. But one of the pieces of equipment that everyone needs eventually is a good, durable, set of training knives. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharp steel as much as the next guy. But I have also seen what happens when those get dropped in the middle of a class. These swords are comfortable to hold, very tough and the rounded point (while not terribly historically accurate) makes them safe in pretty much any training environment. And at $40 you cannot go wrong!
One of the few other truely essential pieces of equipment for Wing Chun is a decent wall bag. Filled with rice, bean or sand, these are critical tools for both developing your punch and training iron hand skills. This bag from Everything Wing Chun should last for years. What is the most valuable training tool? The one you use every day. Cost of a decent wall bag? $15-$30.
Do you want to look like a well dressed Shaolin Monk? Then the right shoes are important, and that means getting a pair of Feiyue’s. Long favored by Chinese martial artists looking for inexpensive sneakers, these shoes have erupted as something of an underground fashion icon in the last few years. Its gotten to the point that bootleg Chinese sneakers are now being made in….France. But that is a post for another day. If you are looking for a pair of training shoes and don’t want to spend a fortune, these may be for you. The pricing (and build quality) of these shoes varies by manufacturer (this brand gets licensed to lots of unrelated factories in China, hence their sometimes uneven quality). But you can get into a decent pair for under $25.
All of our sections have, up until this point, been very practical. But what is Christmas if not a time for wild-eyed dreams? Mine comes in the form of hand made, one of a kind, wooden dummies. While my current laminated dummy serves me well, I am sure that somehow my form would improve if performed on this wonderful piece. Constructed from reclaimed architectural timber this exquisite dummy could be yours for a mere $1,400 (and shipping is free in the continental United States!)
YouTube tells me that stone locks have become the hot new thing in retro kung fu training. Sure they are expensive, and some of the throwing and catching exercises look pretty dangerous. But just imagine the expression on people’s faces when you set a pair of these down next to the kettle bells in the gym. As one would expect, the prices and shipping on these varies quite a bit. But you can order some nice, smoothly finished, locks here. The pricing starts at 100 Euros for a small set.
Weapons – The Cutting Edge
I know what you have been thinking as you read through this list. “Sure, books and wall bags are great. But what I really need are Filipino knives and swords made to German tolerances and quality standards.” It turns out that my friend Sixt Wetzler has you covered. When not acting as a curator for the German Blade Museum, or hosting incredible martial arts studies conference, Sixt is a serious practitioner of the Filipino arts. In short, he is someone who knows his blades. His company carries various types of swords and knives made to his own specifications. If you are looking for some very nice Filipino training weapons he is someone to check out. The Ginunting shown above could be yours for 265 Euros.
Long time readers will be aware of my interest in staff and pole weapons. Custom made Wing Chun poles from Hong Kong can be quite expensive, but you shouldn’t have to spend a fortune to come up with decent training tools. Practitioners from a variety of styles might be able to find something very reasonable from Purpleheart Armories. They sell both solid and laminated poles in a variety of lengths and diameters. Japanese stylists can even find octagonal and yari poles. Best of all, their prices and shipping are very reasonable! This six foot solid hickory pole is $35, and I have ordered eight foot poles from them in the past.
My recent flirtation with Wudang sword training has renewed my interest in the Jian. It is certainly possible to find antique swords for forms practice. And I occasionally collect antique weapons. Still, for daily use or study something of a more modern vintage would be a wise investment. This “cutting jian” produced by Scott Rodell looks like it would fill that role quite nicely! And at $325 this blade is very reasonably priced considering the specifications that it has been made to.
For desert we have “a weapon of a more civilized age.” The world of lightsaber combat has continued to expand, and I am happy to announce that I will have a book chapter discussing some of my ethnographic research in the lightsaber combat community coming out in the first half of 2018. If you are a martial artist who is interested in weapons, the lightsaber is a fascinating training tool because it allows us to reach across the sorts of stylistic and national boundaries that so often separate us. Custom made sabers with top of the line sound effects can cost $500 or more. But if you want a solid training tool that can be here in time for Christmas, I suggest the Ultrasaber “Sentinel” as my preferred entry point for those who are new to the community. As always when buying from Ultrasaber, I would suggest a simple stunt (meaning no sound effects) model. A bare bones Sentinel (in any color) will cost you $75. But if you are more serious about swinging these around, getting involved in a class or trying your hand at sparring (with the proper safety equipment), I would suggest upgrading to the “heavy grade” blade, the “anti-vandal” ignition switch, and the brighter tri-cree LED. Adding these options will raise the price of the saber about $40, but in my opinion they are well worth it. These are simple, tough sabers that are easily fixed if anything goes wrong. The length of this model makes it perfect for two handed fencing styles. If you are looking for a one handed grip, consider the “Prophecy” or the “Liberator.” Ultrasabers generally ship within three days, meaning that there is plenty of time to pick one up before Christmas!
Media for the Long Cold Nights
Lets face it, movies and TV programs are the reason why most of us became martial artists in the first place. And no topic seems to be more popular in training halls around the globe than “hey, did you see…..” A movie or documentary might be the perfect gift for the martial artist on your list.
Given the historical interests that many of us share, my top pick for this list has got to be God of War. Basically a bio-pic of the famed Chinese general Qi Jiguang, this film is a must see for history buffs. And with DVD’s shipping for only $13, its very reasonably priced.
Are you looking for a different type of costume drama? Something a little more kinetic, yet well dressed? Might I suggest John Wick: Chapter 2. If you have seen the first film you will be familiar with the unique brand of “gun-fu” that this promising franchise is bringing to the screen. I had a chance to watch the sequel while flying across the Atlantic and decided that it had a bit more philosophical depth than its predecessor. Both are a lot of fun, but this is the one that makes my list! You can get John Wick for much less than the $7 million that everyone else seems to be willing to pay for him.
Is there a difficult to shop for martial artist on your list? Have you considered giving the gift of Bruce Lee? Obviously he has generated more memorabilia than any other martial artist in world history, and there is no end to the special “collector editions” of his films trying to find their way under your tree. But I have always enjoyed this documentary as it really tackles the the question of Lee’s impact, and why he continues to effect the word today. Best of all, some familiar faces from the martial arts studies community even make an appearance in this project.
Truth be told, I like martial arts documentaries even more than martial arts films. Empty Mind Films has been producing some of the most beautiful small documentaries around for years now. They have a deep catalog on the Chinese and Japanese arts but, for a change of pace, why not check out their most recent film, “The Island of Silat.” It is being released in November of 2017.
As I looked over my list it occurred to me that the Japanese arts have been somewhat under-represented. To rectify that my last gift recommendation is a box-set of Bamboo Blade. This animated series is basically a coming of age story following a group a five girls as they attempt to navigate the exciting, and at times intimidating, world of Japan’s high school kendo clubs. I had a chance to watch the entire series earlier this year and recommend it to anyone who likes anime or is interested in the sociology of the modern Asian martial arts. Its a very well done series that will appeal to a broad audience, including younger martial artists. For $20 it can be under a tree in time for Christmas.
That is it for this year’s Christmas shopping list. If you have other suggestions for items that might be of interest to the Kung Fu Tea community tell us in the comments!
Need more gift recommendations? Why not check out some of the previous lists?