Welcome to “Chinese Martial Arts in the News.” The nights are getting chilly and the new semester is just getting under way. That means it is time for our “Back to School” news update. While we have been vacationing the world of the Chinese martial arts has been busy, so lets catch up.
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!
There have been a couple of exciting developments in the Wing Chun world. Readers may recall that I recently shared the trailer for an upcoming documentary on the Ho Kam Ming Wing Chun community in Macau (which you can see here). That was excellent and I had high hopes for the project. I am happy to say that the finished documentary did not disappoint. Luckily the film’s creators decided to make it freely addible online, so you can watch all one and half hours at your leisure.
I have already written an extensive review of the documentary, but I would recommend this to any reader who practices Wing Chun or is interested in the Southern Chinese martial arts. Its beautifully produced and has some interesting historical discussions. And its always great to get a detailed look at the relationship between a martial arts community and its urban environment.
Wing Chun also popped up in the headlines a couple of times. This story struck me as particularly interesting. A restaurant chain in the UK named “Leon” is coming to the United States, and part of their publicity focuses on the fact that they offer free Wing Chun training to their employees.
You may have heard that popular UK resultant chain Leon is coming to the United States soon. Known as “The Future of Fast Food,” the restaurant follows a unique model where they offer cuisines from around the world at a more affordable price point, but manages to maintain quality ingredients.
Even though Leon is taking strides to cement themselves in the future, we discovered that the restaurant chain draws tutelage from the past as well: Baristas at Leon are schooled in the ancient martial art of Wing Tsun, also referred to as Wing Chun, as a free elective during off hours.
This is not the first time we have seen this sort of story. Facing a rise in air rage incidents a number of airlines operating in Southern China started to do something similar a few years ago. But as the article makes clear, in this case Wing Chun is being taught to the employees as a life style benefit meant to encourage fitness and healthy stress management.
Also, while not directly about the martial arts, this article in the SCMP is well worth reading, especially if you plan on visiting China. Best of all, they profile a boutique hotel in Foshan that sounds like the perfect place to stay for anyone planning a Kung Fu pilgrimage!
Next we move to the modern descendants of the Republic era Jingwu (Chin woo) Association. Still very popular in South East Asia and Oceana, a major “Chin woo Championship” was recently held, hosting instructors from around the world. This sounds like it would have been a great event.
Attracting more than 600 martial arts lovers from over 30 countries and regions, Tuesday’s event included martial arts competitions, divine liturgy and stage plays.
George Guo, chief Wushu instructor from New Zealand’s Chin Woo athletic association, led five of his students to take part in the event. “I hope they can truly understand the ‘Chin Woo spirit’ in China,” said Guo, who has been practicing martial arts since childhood. Over a period of two decades, he has taught over 1,000 martial arts students in Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
Our next article comes from the digital pages of the English language version of a Chinese tabloid. Its headline proclaims “Kung fu turns Japanese-American into Chinese culture envoy.” Of course in the US it is not at all unusual to encounter Chinese-Americans in a Karate class, or Japanese-Americans taking Wing Chun. But all of that seems to have been a bit of a surprise to authors of this piece who used it as a jumping off point for an extended biographical discussion. The instructor’s story is worth reading, and the Chinese martial arts are socially positioned in an interesting way.
Another Chinese tabloid picked up the “Kung Fu Diplomacy” baton in an article aptly titled “Romanians love, practice, Chinese Martial Arts.” Yes…yes they do.
Petru Grindeanu, secretary-general of the Romanian Martial Arts Federation, told Xinhua that the Chinese martial arts are becoming increasingly popular in Romania. People have a new understanding of Kungfu and more and more Romanians practice Chinese martial arts, especially after the sport was included in the Olympic Games.
Today is the first World Wushu-Kungfu Day and the purpose of the event in Bucharest is to let more people know about the profound Chinese martial arts, he added.
If you are in Seattle and looking for something to do, the Seattle Times has a suggestion. Take “Bruce Lee’s Chinatown” tour, organized by the Wing Lake Museum. Not only do you get to see some really interesting artifacts in the museum, but it sounds like a great way to get to know the history of the area’s Chinese-American community. And apparently their tour guides are top notch…
Don Wong knew Bruce Lee. As young men, they worked at Ruby Chow’s restaurant together. When Wong, leading the Wing Luke Museum’s “Bruce Lee’s Chinatown Tour” describes his connection with the martial-arts star, it’s not the brag you might expect. He speaks with a touch of sadness as he reminisces about attending the judo classes Lee held at the restaurant after hours.
Wing Luke, where the tour starts, is bustling with 140 students on a field trip. But there are just three of us here for the Wednesday tour — Diana and Judd, a couple visiting from Arizona, and me.
Matthew Polly’s recent biography of Bruce Lee also continues to make waves. For instance, the Times of Israel ran a lengthy story examining the evidence and issues surrounding his possible Jewish heritage. I guess we might think of this as yet one more aspect of the “localization” of Bruce Lee as a pop culture figure.
Our next article comes from the pages of the South China Morning Post. Its a great profile of an important kick boxer, as well as a discussion of the sorts of challenges that the city’s martial artist face….prime among them, coming up with a good cover story for your parents when training accidents land you in the hospital. Fun stuff!
“I remember when I was 18, my sparring partner [accidentally] broke my nose. He had already caught me but thought I was ducking so went for the uppercut while I was falling – when I stood up my nose was completely disfigured, it was quite scary,” Ng said.
I just told my family I was staying over at a friend’s house for a few days but in reality, I was lying in hospital. Injuries in Muay Thai are not uncommon but luckily I haven’t had too many nasty ones.”
China is a tale of two sides, book survey reveals
The Telegraph ran an important article which, while not directly about the Chinese martial arts, should be read by students of Martial Arts Studies. While one part of the Chinese government has been busy promoting the TCMA as a source of Chinese “soft-power” in the global marketplace, other officials are increasingly worried that Westerners are only interested in China’s ancient past and thus are failing to understand that China is now a modern, high-tech power. This was confirmed with a recent quantitative survey of the most popular book about China.
A recent survey found that the subject matter of books about Chinese culture in the overseas market falls largely within the realm of the traditional rather than the contemporary – a trend that may not be presenting an accurate reflection of modern-day China…
Yet that is the way that “soft power” works. We don’t get to choose which of our cultural traits and media products citizens in other countries find the most attractive. And that means that the public image of pretty much every country is warped. Heaven only knows that the US government would like to downplay some of Hollywood’s excesses in the Middle East, but we just have to accept that this is not the way that cultural markets work.
Or do we? The individuals behind this study have put together a proposal to resolve the issue by having Chinese editors select the authors and subject that American publishing companies would be able to promote:
As foreign publishers become more familiar with the interests of local readers, and Chinese editors can oversee the selection of Chinese cultural content, their collaboration may be better placed to tell an authentic Chinese story while taking market forces into consideration, the report concludes.
Obviously this is a nightmare scenario from a Western cultural perspective, and the fact that it was even proposed out loud betrays a profound lack of understanding of how American society works. Though it should be noted that these sorts of exercises are common in China’s media markets. But I think that this is also a great example of how government intervention can kill a soft power success story by steering individuals away from traits and products that they genuinely like towards images that they “should” like (but actually don’t find all that interesting). This sort of interventionist logic is something to watch as the government decides how (and whether) to promote the martial arts abroad in the coming years.
Last but not least, August is shaping up to be a very memorable month in the world of Lightsaber Combat. The Saber Legion got lots of publicity by staging a national tournament at CombatCon in Las Vegas that received some coverage on ESPN2. That led to a number of profiles of the group, which promotes itself as a competitive league rather than a specific style or school of saber combat.
“”We’re basically the (mixed martial arts) of custom LED sabers,” Birnbaum said. “We’re a fighting league.”….
“Basically, any martial discipline or sport that either has a stick or a blade, all you have to do is substitute that with an expensive flashlight and you’ve got what we do,” Cummings said.
Such disciplines include Japanese kendo, Filipino eskrima and European Renaissance practices.
But its not just the Saber Legion who is having a good month. Ludosport, one of the largest international lightsaber combat organizations, has recently made the jump from Europe to the United States, where they now have seven schools. They will be hosting their first US National Tournament over Labor Day weekend in Elmira NY. I will be at that event for a little “participant observation.”
And yet another group (the Sport Saber League out of France) has just concluded their first American-based international tournament in Indianapolis. All in all, there seems to have been a very notable uptick in the organizational scale and sophistication of the lightsaber combat community in the last year.
Martial Arts Studies
While most of the students and professors who make up the Martial Arts Studies community have been on vacation, the academic publishers have remained hard at work. As such I have a couple of exiting books to share with you:
Raul Sanchez Garcia. 2018. The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts. Routledge. Out Now. $54 for Kindle!
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.
I should note that Professor Garcia published the first chapter his book as an article in the latest issue of the journal. Read it here for free.
Lu Zhouxiang. 2018. Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts. Routledge. $45 kindle. Out now!
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. Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts 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 over the past two centuries.
This book explores how the development of Chinese martial arts was influenced by the ruling regimes’ political and military policies, as well as the social and economic environment. It also discusses the transformation of Chinese martial arts into its modern form as a competitive sport, a sport for all and a performing art, considering the effect of the rapid transformation of Chinese society in the 20th century and the influence of Western sports. The text concludes by examining the current prominence of Chinese martial arts on a global scale and the bright future of the sport as a unique cultural icon and national symbol of China in an era of globalisation.
Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts is important reading for researchers, students and scholars working in the areas of Chinese studies, Chinese history, political science and sports studies. It is also a valuable read for anyone with a special interest in Chinese martial arts.
Lu Zhouxiang is Lecturer in Chinese Studies within the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland.
Tim Trausch (Editor). 2018. Chinese Martial Arts and Media Culture: Global Perspectives. Rowman and Littlefield. $128 USD (Hardcover pre-order). Due out in August.
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. His research focuses on Chinese media culture and aesthetics. He has published essays on Chinese-language film and television, and a book on the aesthetics of martial arts cinema. His current work focuses on photography and modernity in late imperial and Republican-era China.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We watched a hypnotics film of butterfly knives be made, read some manuals of Chinese fencing, and looked for Wing Chun’s true origins! 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!