Welcome to “Chinese Martial Arts in the News!” Lots has been happening in the Chinese martial arts community, so its time to see what people have been saying.
For new readers, 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 let’s get to the news!
News From All Over
“Is this the same Jet Li we all know? Martial arts legend battles illness and injuries as fans express shock.” So declares our leading article from the South China Morning Post. Some of the images that accompany the article are surprising enough that you might be tempted to dismiss them as tabloid journalism. But the SCMP’s martial arts reporting has always been pretty reliable. Apparently Li’s hyperthyroidism condition (which he publicly announced a few years ago) has not been responding to pharmaceutical treatments. Evidently the disease, and some other spinal problems, are taking a toll on one of best known actors in the martial arts world. Here is hoping for a speedy recovery!
Our next article also comes from the pages of the South China Morning Post. Given the paper’s location in Hong Kong, its no surprise that it carries a fair number of articles on Wing Chun. This one was interesting to me as it avoided the frequent dichotomy between “Western” and “Eastern” physical practices. Rather than seeing athletics and the martial arts as opposing practices, it explored the way the two had worked together in the life of one of the region’s Olympic swimmers.
“Practising wushu has helped me in different stages of my life,” said Kong. “When I was young, it was like a form of expression for any active teenager and as I grew up and started serious training in swimming, it helped my back muscles.
“When I was more mature, it helped not only on the physical side but also the mental side, as wing chun focuses on close range movement and every step must be well-controlled and performed with great power.”
As long as we are on the topic of the Olympics, we need to discuss the latest scandal to hit the Taekwondo community. An important coach and his brother (a well known and successful competitor) now stand accused of multiple acts of sexual abuse.
Two brothers who were towering figures in the world of taekwondo — one an Olympian gold medalist, the other his longtime coach — were accused of sexually assaulting female athletes, including minors, for years in a lawsuit filed in federal court on Friday.
The lawsuit also accused the United States Olympic Committee and the national sports organization U.S.A. Taekwondo of turning a blind eye to the abuse and allowing coaches and athletes who had shown a pattern of predatory behavior to take international trips with young women and girls.
In many respects the basic outlines of the story are familiar ones. It is disheartening to see prominent martial artists acting in such predatory ways towards their own students, but its also a valuable reminder that no community is immune. This is something that will only be dealt with through the creation of new institutions and a real emphasis on putting the welfare of young athletes (rather than competitive wins) first.
We are now going to shift gears a bit. The next set of articles all touch on the cultural value of the martial arts, as well as the sorts of social “work” that they can do. First off is a really interesting piece from the San Francisco Chronicle reporting on Cheng Pei-Pei (probably the first female martial arts star) being honored at CAAMFest. It has a number of good quotes on the golden age of Hong Kong film as well as the development of Cheng’s career. And it all started with her epic first film, “Come Drink With Me.”
From the moment she entered that inn and took a table in the middle of the room with steely confidence amid dozens of leering men — then dispatched them in an epic fight with a fury unseen in cinema up to that point, 19-year-old Cheng Pei-Pei was a star.
The year was 1966, and “Come Drink With Me,” directed by the great King Hu, was the first major martial arts movie to have a woman as the central action star, paving the way for Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi and many others. And this was 13 years before Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in “Alien” broke ground in Hollywood as an action heroine.
From the world of film we transition to the bustling pathways of cultural diplomacy. First off we have an article titled “Afghan Women Visit China to Learn Martial Art.” This particular group of women actually spent quite a bit of time studying wushu prior to their arrival in China, but its an engaging read. As one might expect, it touches on the question of gender within the martial arts.
In a country where women’s sport is severely restricted, the Shaolin Wushu club in a part of Kabul that is home to the capital’s Hazara ethnic community, is a rare exception.
Sima Azimi, 20, an Afghan girl led a practice session in her country, says Wushu teaches self-defence, but just as important, “it’s really effective for body and soul”.
She learned the sport in Iran, where she won a gold and bronze medal in competition, and she has been teaching in Kabul for about a year, encouraged by her father, with whom she trains at the club’s gym.
Our next article profiles a group of American students who went on their own “Kung Fu Pilgrimage,” accompanied by their Chinese instructor. This is probably my favorite article in the entire update as it does a really nice job of describing the personal impact of this sort of travel. By the end of the trip lots of these kids had great stories to tell. This one is definitely worth checking out.
Our last Kung Fu Diplomacy article takes us to Africa, which is where so much of this activity is currently happening. The Global Times reported on a fairly lengthy Kung Fu festival that has been going on in Nigeria. In terms of cultural studies, it is telling that the prizes which individuals were competing for on the event’s final day were opportunities to appear in locally produced movies and Chinese TV programs. The Chinese government and corporations are pouring lots of money into these ventures, but it is still the cultural attraction of a good old fashioned Kung Fu films that seems to be driving a lot of this interest in Africa.
Heavy rains did not deter huge crowds from gathering in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub for the maiden edition of [a] Chinese Kung Fu Festival on Saturday.
The festival was organized by StarTimes, a Chinese firm which offers a direct-to-home pay-TV service, in conjunction with United Bank for Africa (UBA) between April 14 and May 5, 2018.
Despite the heavy rain, fans of Kung fu had fun. It was a spectacle during the grand finale of the three week-long festival as Lagosians in their thousands, thronged the sprawling National Stadium in the Surulere area of Lagos to watch the next Kung fu super star.
Another trend to think about is what one might call the progressive “medicalization” of the Chinese martial arts. This is something that we have seen in both China and the West, though it takes different forms. Still, in both cases it seems to be an important pathway by which these practices can be made “modern” and socially respectable. This trend can be seen in lots of areas, though nowhere is it more prevalent than in the popular discussion of Taijiquan. For instance, NBC has been promoting a story linking Taijiquan to improved sleep and stress management. But the actual article goes far beyond those studies in pointing out all of the health benefits of the practice.
Matthew Polly’s long awaited (and painstakingly researched) biography of Bruce Lee is just about ready for release. Amazon says that they will start shipping the book on June 5th, but you can pre-order your copy now. I was just emailing with Polly and it looks like we will most likely be able to do an interview with him here at Kung Fu Tea. I really liked both American Shaolin and Tapped Out, and I am looking forward to seeing what he has to say on Bruce Lee’s life and career. In the mean time, you can find some advance discussions of his finding in this wide ranging interview. Or, if you would prefer a sensationalized and slightly slimy look at his findings, the Daily Mail will not disappoint!
Finally, the local CBS station in Miami ran a fun piece titled “Capoeira Is an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art That Gets People Moving.” The article is accompanied by a short video that provides some nice ethnographic images of a local class as well as an interview with the instructor. It is a good piece and worth checking out if you are interested in the art or just looking for something a little different.
Martial Arts Studies
Summer is here, and that means conference season is upon us! There is still time to register to attend the 2018 Martial Arts Studies meetings in Cardiff. The theme of this years conference will be “Bruce Lee’s Cultural Legacies.” This event is always the highlight of my martial arts studies calendar.
If you are going to be in New York during the next week and you want to hang out with a bunch of martial arts studies scholars, you are welcome to drop by a social gathering that I will be hosting on the 27th (Sunday) in Ithaca NY. This will mainly be a chance for people to hang out and network, and hopefully start some conversations about regional conferences or more cooperative research projects. If that sounds interesting you can find the details here.
Speaking of conferences and events in North America….it has just been announced that the 2019 Martial Arts Studies meetings will be held at Chapman University and are tentatively scheduled for the end of July. I will be posting more information as the situation develops. Special thanks go to Paul Bowman and Andrea Molle Montanari for making this happen!
A number of interesting books are due out this summer. The first of these will probably be released before our next news update. Lu Zhouxing’s latest volume, Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts will be released by Routledge on June 14th. The price is an eye watering $144, so you will probably want to head to your local university library to find a copy. But the publisher’s blurb sounds interesting. Then again, I am a political scientist.
Chinese martial arts is considered by many to symbolise the strength of the Chinese and their pride in their history, and has long been regarded as an important element of Chinese culture and national identity. This book comprehensively examines the development of Chinese martial arts in the context of history and politics, and highlights its role in nation building and identity construction in the past two centuries. It points out that the development of Chinese martial arts was heavily influenced by the ruling regime’s political and military policies, as well as the social and economic environment. From the early 20th century on, together with the rapid transformation of Chinese society and influenced by Western sports, Chinese martial arts began to develop into its modern form – a performing art, a competitive sport and a sport for all. It has been widely practiced for health and fitness, self-cultivation, self-defense and entertainment. After a century of development, it has grown into an important part of the international sports world and attracts a global audience. It will continue to evolve in an era of globalisation, and will remain a unique cultural icon and national symbol of China.
Lu Zhouxiang is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies within the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland.
Raul Sanchez Garcia’s volume, Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts (also from Routledge) will ship on August 15th. It is a comparative bargain at a mere $133.
This is the first long-term analysis of the development of Japanese martial arts, connecting ancient martial traditions with the martial arts practised today. The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts captures the complexity of the emergence and development of martial traditions within the broader Japanese Civilising Process.
The book traces the structured process in which warriors’ practices became systematised and expanded to the Japanese population and the world. Using the theoretical framework of Norbert Elias’s process-sociology and drawing on rich empirical data, the book also compares the development of combat practices in Japan, England, France and Germany, making a new contribution to our understanding of the socio-cultural dynamics of state formation. Throughout this analysis light is shed onto a gender blind spot, taking into account the neglected role of women in martial arts.
The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts is important reading for students of Socio-Cultural Perspectives in Sport, Sociology of Physical Activity, Historical Development of Sport in Society, Asian Studies, Sociology and Philosophy of Sport, and Sports History and Culture. It is also a fascinating resource for scholars, researchers and practitioners interested in the historical and socio-cultural aspects of combat sport and martial arts.
Raúl Sánchez García is Lecturer in sociology of sport at the School of Sports Science, Universidad Europea Madrid, Spain and President of the Sociology of Sport working group within the Spanish Federation of Sociology (FES). He has practiced diverse combat sports and martial arts and holds a shōdan in Aikikai aikidō.
Lastly, we now have a release date (Nov. 15th) for Paul Bowman’s Martial Arts Studies Reader (Rowman & Littlefield), $34. This one is not coming out until the fall, but I have seen a number of the contributions and am really quite excited about it.
The Martial Arts Studies Reader answers this need, by bringing together pioneers of the field and scholars at its cutting edges to offer authoritative and accessible insights into its key concerns and areas. Each chapter introduces and sets out an approach to and a route through a key issue in a specific area of martial arts studies. Taken together or in isolation, the chapters offer stimulating and exciting insights into this fascinating research area. In this way, The Martial Arts Studies Reader offers the first authoritative field-defining overview of the global and multidisciplinary phenomena of martial arts and martial arts studies.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We listened to a lecture on African martial arts, contemplated Taijiquan during the Cultural Revolution, and studied Japanese martial arts based on the use of matchlock firearms! 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!