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
The always reliable South China Morning Post once again opens our martial arts coverage this month. However, the subjects of their stories over the last few weeks have been a little different from what we often see. They kicked things off with lots of coverage of the current MMA situation in China. Their first article of note was titled: “Enter the Dragons: UFC on guard as it prepares for wave of Chinese fighters at elite level.” Unsurprisingly, Bruce Lee occupies a special place in Hong Kong’s martial imagination, so it wasn’t really a surprise to see an allusion to him in this title. Still, it is interesting to note that none of these articles draw a strong contrast between traditional kung fu and MMA. Rather, they seem to be treated as silent continuations of one another.
This first article seems to be more of a pre-fight “hype” piece than a serious exploration of the Chinese MMA scene:
Song “The Terminator” Yadong is one of the rising stars of mixed martial arts in China and it’s from that vantage point that he declares it is now not so much a matter of “if” fighters from the mainland will shake up the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) but “when.”
“It won’t be long now,” says Song. “It takes time to have the ability to be a UFC champion but for a Chinese fighter I think this is now mission possible.”
More interesting has been the coverage of Xion Jingnan, a rapidly rising star in the ONE Championship league. The coverage of her career has shed a bit of light on the development of different aspects of the sport (and its fighters) in China. Check out this piece in Forbes for a nice discussion:
The culture of martial arts in China is rich. It dates back more than 4,000 years. Courage, patience, endurance, will, and perseverance are concepts associated with the culture’s “martial morality.” ONE Championship strawweight champion Xiong “The Panda” Jingnan has demonstrated these traits during her ascent to the level of champion martial artist.
On the current landscape, Xiong has become the most successful active martial artist from China. She is scheduled to battle Brazil’s Laura Ballin at ONE: Pinnacle of Power on June 23 at Studio City Event Center in Macau where there should be an enthusiastic crowd on hand to cheer on the champion.
Our next big story also hails from the pages of the SCMP. At first the premise seems pretty unlikely. Yet as a student of Martial Arts Studies, I found this article to be a very interesting read. It really touches on all sorts of problems that are commonly discussed in the literature.
The article profiles the rise of a local Chinese professional (e.g., fake) wrestling company which draws its talent almost exclusively from the ranks of wushu students produced by the schools surrounding the Shaolin Temple. Obviously that is quite a story in itself, but things really get interesting when the discussion turns to the role of the government in regulating this relatively new practice, and the sorts of accommodations that the company has been forced to make. I suspect that this case has all sorts of implications for the regulation of “martial speech” more generally.
But all the money in the world means nothing for any entertainment or sporting promotion in the mainland without government backing.
“Typical wrestling can be a little too violent. If we try to copy the Japanese way and put that into the Chinese market, our product will be killed by the government,” Nee said.
“We talked to government people, they gave us direction. We will use this to spread Chinese martial arts culture to the world, to make our young Chinese generation go for martial arts, become stronger and healthier.”
As long as we are on the topic of Shaolin, I just saw an update on their much delayed attempt to build a daughter temple/tourist attraction on Australia’s Gold Coast. Long story short, it looks like the project is still alive and moving forward, but in a less ostentatious form.
The recent death of Anthony Bourdain has received wide coverage in the global media. Interestingly, in Hong Kong a couple of these stories focused on his dedication to BJJ as a means of coping with his history of substance abuse and other personal demons. A few stories on this subject appeared just before his death (“Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown hits Hong Kong as celebrity chef feeds his jiu-jitsu addiction“), and others were released after the news of his suicide spread. Taken as a set they create an interesting case study in the various narratives that have arisen around the martial arts and topics such as drug addition and mental health. Those are issues which have a rich history in the Chinese martial arts, and I should probably try to explore them over the coming weeks on the blog.
Bourdain is a confessed jiu-jitsu addict. Every day he is home in New York, he takes an hour long class with his principal instructor Igor Gracie, before another hour of working on techniques and drilling, and then sparring, at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Manhattan.
“I used to hang around cold stairwells first thing in the morning waiting for dope. Now I hang around cold stairwells waiting for jiu-jitsu,” Bourdain wrote in a 2015 blog post.
“When I’m not in New York, when I’m on the road shooting Parts Unknown, I go to whatever local gym, yoga studio, garage, cellar claims to teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – places where the term ‘parts unknown’ can really apply. Until I walk in the door, I have no idea what I’ m going to face.”
While we are on the subject of substance abuse, we should probably also mention an article in the Shanghai Daily titled “Martial arts training offered to addicts in Shanghai.” I don’t think this piece has any relationship with the broader press coverage of Bourdain’s death. Rather, it is another reminder that martial practice has long been connected to addition recovery in the popular consciousness. As such the practice of arts like Taijiquan and Qigong are making their way into a wide variety of new environments including recovery clinics, homeless shelters and even prisons (note this recent BBC report).
The city’s drug rehabilitation authority has introduced traditional Chinese martial arts like tai chi, as well as other sports, into the treatment regimes of local addicts.
Recent research findings showed that those who participated in this sort of exercise therapy were half as likely to relapse as those participating in traditional drug rehabilitation education alone.
Of course there were also stories about Taijiquan’s growing popularity in more mundane environments. One Chinese tabloid ran an English language feature titled: “Tai Chi gets popular in fast-paced New York.” It contained a more detailed than expected profile of a Taijiquan group in the city and a look at some of their recent activities.
More and more people have been joining, not only Chinese or Asians, but also people from various races and cultural backgrounds,” said Sitan Chen, founder and chairman of Tai Chi Qigong Association of America (TCQAA), in an interview with Xinhua, on the sidelines of the 2018 Tai Chi & Health Qigong Festival held in Westbury, New York, in early June.
Now in its seventh year, the Tai Chi festival featured various presentations, demonstrations and mini-classes joined by dozens of teams from the New York City metropolitan area.
Yet for all this, Bruce Lee has once again been the biggest story. The release of Matthew Polly’s new biography has been timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the Little Dragon’s death and the book is generating some healthy buzz. It seems to have inspired dozens of reviews, comments and think pieces in the last few weeks, all of which have been launched by Polly’s extensive research and enjoyable prose.
The general atmosphere of this moment has been taken up by one of these pieces titled (appropriately enough) “Bruce Lee’s life still fascinates 45 years after his death.” Or for readers who want to skip right to the good stuff, be sure to check out this account of Lee’s now mythic fight with Wong in the San Francisco Weekly. Finally, in a piece that uses Polly’s discussion of Lee’s complex ethnic heritage as a point of departure, the South China Morning Post has characterized Lee as “an everyman hero for the globalized age.”
Lee was a cultural mutt ahead of his time. He would have been perfectly at home in today’s globalised world, with all its cross-cultural conflicts but also multicultural tolerance and mutual copying.
If you haven’t already ordered a copy of this important new biography it is currently shipping from Amazon.
No one does a mass choreographed event quite like China’s large Wushu vocational schools. It seems that they, along with China’s other elementary schools, have been quite busy over the last few months. The visuals of this particular demonstration are well worth checking out, but you have to watch the video to get the full effect of what is going on.
Nearly a thousand children from 17 kindergartens and elementary schools from five Chinese cities and provinces attended the display. They were divided into two phalanxes, with the kindergarten group performing a set titled “Chinese Martial Arts Gymnastics,” and the elementary school students performing “The Red Sun Rises from the East.”
“The purpose of this activity is to enable kids to get to know traditional Chinese culture, to learn the values of our ancestors which weighted both intelligence and physical courage. The process of martial arts training can also increase their health and physical strength and let more children learn the charm and spirit of martial arts,” said Wang Tianming, the event’s organizer and choreographer.
Martial Arts Studies
Prepare yourselves. The first “special issue” of the interdisciplinary journal Martial Arts Studies is on the horizon. Produced by our Guest Editor, Mike Molasky, this issue will focus exclusively on the development and global spread of the Japanese martial arts. We have all been working on last minute editing and I can attest that this is an impressive batch of papers. Right now our tentative layout for the completed issue is as follows:
Table of Contents
Bowman and Judkins: Editorial
Molasky: Guest Editor’s Introduction
Yasuhiro Sakaue, ‘The Historical Creation of Kendo’s Self-Image from 1895 to 1942: A Critical Analysis of an Invented Tradition’
Bok-kyu Choi, ‘The Dissemination of Japanese Swordsmanship to Korea’
Kotaro Yabu, ‘The Acculturation of Judo in the United States during the Russo-Japanese War: Beyond the ‘match-based’ historical point of view’
Andreas Niehaus, ‘Narrating history in the manga ‘Jūdō no rekishi – Kanō Jigorō no shōgai’ (1987)’
Tetsuya Nakajima, ‘Japanese martial arts and the sublimation of violence: An ethnographic study of Shinkage-ryu’
Raúl Sánchez García, ‘An Introduction to The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts’
William Little, ‘Putting the Harm Back into Harmony: Aikido, Violence and ‘Truth in the Martial Arts’’
Book Review: Ben Judkins in Memory of Denis Gainty. 2013. Martial Arts and the Body Politic in Meiji Japan. London and New York: Routledge.
We also have a number of exciting conferences coming up. The first of these is right around the corner. On July 11-12 the Fourth Annual Martial Arts Studies Conference in Cardiff will be examining the “Cultural Legacies of Bruce Lee.” That is always a great event. Then on October 17-19 there is another conference (which I believe is still accepting submissions) at the University of Rzeszow in Poland. There will be more news on other conferences (including upcoming events in Germany and China) as the summer progresses, so stay tuned.
Lu Zhouxiang’s 2018 volume, Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts is now shipping from Amazon (Routledge, $137 Hardcover, 244 page). This one is kind of pricey so bug your local university library to buy a copy. The publishers’ blurb sounds fascinating:
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 Lecturer in Chinese Studies within the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland.
We also now have a firm release date for Tim Trausch’s forthcoming (Oct. 2018) edited volume, Martial Arts and Media Culture: Global Perspectives (Rowman&Littlefield, 304 Pages, 128USD Hard Cover). Needless to say I can’t wait to get my review copy of this one!
Signs and images of Chinese martial arts increasingly circulate through global media cultures. As tropes of martial arts are not restricted to what is considered one medium, one region, or one (sub)genre, the essays in this collection are looking across and beyond these alleged borders. From 1920s wuxia cinema to the computer game cultures of the information age, they trace the continuities and transformations of martial arts and media culture across time, space, and multiple media platforms.
Tim Trausch is a research associate in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Cologne, Germany.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We saw a hilarious video on knife defense, examined an antique Chinese spear head, and found out what Jet Li would have looked like as a Jedi! 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!