Welcome to “Chinese Martial Arts in the News.” I recently finished the heavy lifting on my draft chapter, so I am now returning to a normal posting schedule. Thanks for your collective patience! A (long overdue) news update seems like the perfect way to ease back into things.
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
A number of this month’s news items highlight the varied intersections between the martial arts and politics. As such, it seems appropriate to lead off with recent developments at the Shaolin temple. The venerable Buddhist monastery (and spiritual home of the Chinese martial arts) has once again found itself at the center of controversy. Seeking to get ahead of new government policy directives designed to limit the independence of Chinese religious movements from the state and Communist Party, the temple’s leadership have decided to take a much more visible and proactive role in promoting “patriotism” (rather than simply Buddhism) in the monks’ public performance. This is actually a somewhat nuanced topic as Chinese Buddhist monasteries have never been truly independent of the state and Shaolin, in particular, already carries a patriotic reputation. Still, the move has inspired some controversy and much discussion. A good overview of all this can be found in the South China Morning Post article titled: “Red flag for Buddhists? Shaolin Temple ‘takes the lead’ in Chinese patriotism push.”
Here is a sample of the sort of pushback that has been encountered:
Tsui Chung-hui, of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre of Buddhist Studies, said Buddhist scripture already required its followers to respect the state.
“The government does not need to take pains to promote [this] and monasteries also do not need to pander to politics,” Tsui said on Tuesday. “They should let monks dedicate themselves to Buddhism and not waste their time performing various political propaganda activities.”
China has recently come under the spotlight for its efforts to clamp down on minority religions including Islam and Christianity, which it associates with foreign influence or ethnic separatism. Mosques and churches flying the national flag have become an increasingly common sight in China amid the crackdown.
Interested readers may also want to check out this follow-up article critically examining the state of Buddhism in China, including multiple discussions of the compromised situation of the Shaolin Temple.
From questions of patriotism and political interference, we now turn to controversies over animal welfare. Certain martial artists in Jiaxing, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, have recently been making waves with their own brand of “bull fighting.” While various types of bull sacrifices and worship can be found across the ancient world, this particular practice seems to be a mix of the old and new. Discursively attributed to the Hui Muslim minority, the practice (which actually resembles steer wrestling minus the horses) was first demonstrated nationally in the 1984 Ethnic Minority Games, and was recognized as a martial art only in 2008. As with so many other “rediscovered” martial arts, the hope seems to be that the practice will increase tourism in the region.
While a seemingly odd story, the more I think about this one the more important it becomes. On a purely theoretical level, it raises questions about the boundaries of what we might consider the “martial arts,” and how they are constructed and negotiated. I suspect that in the West common sense would dictate that the martial arts are a social activity between humans, rather than humans and animals. And yet this story also reminds me that countless Chinese language books and articles on the martial arts (even scholarly one’s) start off with a straight faced assertion that the Chinese martial arts were created in the distant past so that people could defend themselves from wild animals. I always dismissed these lines as boilerplate, but now I am starting to wonder what their relationship to the Chinese cultural vision of the martial arts actually is.
Of course, no one is actually being called upon to defend themselves from these bulls. The animals seem to be very tame and have been trained to tolerate humans throwing them to the ground without putting up much of a fight. While no bulls are killed in the practice of this “martial art,” it would seem to be open to all of the same ethical questions as North American rodeos. And yet Western readers are assured that any appearance of cruelty is simply a result of their inability to grasp the “deep cultural significance” of the activity.
Our next article, from the English language version of a Chinese tabloid, is more mainstream. It provides an account of all the ways that a Wushu performance has managed to “Wow US Audiences.” Being a press release by a provincial government’s information office, the most interesting aspect of this article is its total transparency about the organization and purpose of shows like this.
“We hope that our show will serve as a bridge for martial arts lovers overseas to learn more about Chinese culture and appreciate the beauty of China,” said Huang Jing, director of the international communication department of China Intercontinental Communication Center.
The center presented the event, together with the Chinese Wushu Association and the Information Office of Henan Provincial People’s Government.
From Virginia we jump back across the Pacific to Tianjin. While Huo Yuanjia (the titular founder of the Jingwu Association) is often remembered for the phase of his career that occurred in Shanghai, his hometown roots have also made him a popular figure in Tianjin. The city just marked his 150th birthday with a major event.
Established on June 30, 1990, the Tianjin Chin Woo Athletic Federation has over 70 branches worldwide. The event aims to leverage the global influence of Huo Yuanjia and the club to strengthen local town’s leading role as the birthplace of the Chin Woo culture. It will help display the city’s profound history and culture as well as carrying forward the Chin Woo spirit to promote solidarity.
“Kung fu helps build road to success, strength.” So claims an article in the English language edition of the China Daily. The story provides an overview of a network of Shaolin associated schools in the United States. It tends to focus on adolescent students and the benefits that they derive from dedicated martial arts training. As always, its all about the discipline.
What happens when Brazilian capoeira meets Chinese Kung Fu? This is the fascinating premise behind a new documentary which I need to locate a copy of.
What would happen when Chinese kung fu meets Brazilian martial art capoeira?
As a part of the Open Digital Library on Traditional Games, the documentary Capoeira meets Chinese Martial Arts was screened on Monday in Beijing and showed the sparks between the two traditional cultures.
The 10-minute film, co-produced by the embassy of Brazil and Flow Creative Content, in partnership with UNESCO and Tencent, presents the meeting of Brazilian capoeira masters with Chinese martial arts masters in Beijing and Hangzhou.
One part “interesting,” one part “cringeworthy,” all heuristically useful. Vice magazine decided to let its readers ask a Kung Fu master ten questions. Find out what they came up with here.
Are you looking for your next Bruce Lee fix? If so, check out this interview with on Radio West.
Through his legendary films, Bruce Lee bridged cultural barriers, upended stereotypes and made martial arts a global phenomenon. Biographer Matthew Polly joins us to explore the life of this ambitious actor who grew obsessed with martial arts.
Its been a while since we discussed a martial arts film, but there is a new project on the horizon that looks interesting. I like Ip Man films, and I like Michelle Yeah, so its good to hear that she is going to star in an Ip Man spinoff. In addition to the typical movie Wing Chun, this also looks like its going to be a sword/gun-fu movie. I don’t see any butterfly swords in the trailer, but I think I spotted a couple of kukri. I have no idea how those knives show up in the storyline, but as a long time kukri collector, I approve.
Finally, an update from the lightsaber combat community. Ludosport (originally an Italian group which has since expanded globally) recently held their first US National Championship in Elmira NY, not far from Cornell. They were kind enough to let me hang out and do some fieldwork with them for couple days. And there was even some nice press coverage of the event by the local news. Check it out. Hopefully I will be blogging about this event in the near future.
Martial Arts Studies
Summer is typically a slow time for academic news, but a lot has been happening in the Martial Arts Studies community. We have conferences, journals and even facebook discussions to talk about. But I am afraid that we aren’t going to get to any of that in this update as we have to deal with a deluge of new books.
The first item of business is Prof. Janet O’Shea’s new publication Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training (Oxford UP, 2018). Wondering what it is all about? Check out this interview in which she discusses her latest project.
Or, if you have decided to order a copy, you can do so here.
Janet O’Shea. 2018. Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training. Oxford UP. 284 pages. $35 USD. Release Date: Nov. 1
Risk, Failure, Play illuminates the many ways in which competitive martial arts differentiate themselves from violence. Presented from the perspective of a dancer and writer, this book takes readers through the politics of everyday life as experienced through training in a range of martial arts practices such as jeet kune do, Brazilian jiu jitsu, kickboxing, Filipino martial arts, and empowerment self-defense. Author Janet OâShea shows how play gives us the ability to manage difficult realities with intelligence and demonstrates that physical play, with its immediacy and heightened risk, is particularly effective at accomplishing this task. Risk, Failure, Play also demonstrates the many ways in which physical recreation allows us to manage the complexities of our current social reality. Risk, Failure, Playintertwines personal experience with phenomenology, social psychology, dance studies, performance studies, as well as theories of play and competition in order to produce insights on pleasure, mastery, vulnerability, pain, agency, individual identity, and society. Ultimately, this book suggests that play allows us to rehearse other ways to live than the ones we see before us and challenges us to reimagine our social reality.
Fuhua Huang and Fan Hong (Eds). 2018. A History of Chinese Martial Arts. Routledge. 256 pages. $133 HC. Release Date: October 3.
Chinese martial arts have a long, meaningful history and deep cultural roots. They blend the physical components of combat with strategy, philosophy and tradition, distinguishing them from Western sports.
A History of Chinese Martial Arts is the most authoritative study ever written on this topic, featuring contributions from leading Chinese scholars and practitioners. The book provides a comprehensive overview of all types of Chinese martial arts, from the Pre-Qin Period (before 222 BC) right up to the present day in the People’s Republic of China, with each chapter covering a different period in Chinese history. Including numerous illustrations of artefacts, weaponry and historical drawings and documents, this book offers unparalleled insight into the origins, development and contemporary significance of martial arts in China.
Tim Trash. 2018. Chinese Martial Arts and Media Culture: Global Perspectives (Martial Arts Studies). Rowman & Littlefield. 306 pages. $128 Hard Cover. Release Date: October 16
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.
Paul Bowman (ed). 2018. The Martial Arts Studies Reader. Rowman & Littlefield. 244 Pages. $44 Paper Back. Release Date: Nov. 15
Today we are witnessing the global emergence and rapid proliferation of Martial Arts Studies – an exciting and dynamic new field that studies all aspects of martial arts in culture, history, and society. In recent years there have been a proliferation of studies of martial arts and race, gender, class, nation, ethnicity, identity, culture, politics, history, economics, film, media, art, philosophy, gaming, education, embodiment, performance, technology and many other matters. Given the diversity of topics and approaches, the question for new students and researchers is one of how to orientate oneself and gain awareness of the richness and diversity of the field, make sense of different styles of academic approach, and organise one’s own study, research and writing.
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.
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.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We watched vintage guoshu performances from the 1930s, read about new exhibits in Hong Kong, and discussed the problem of extremist political groups in the martial arts! 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!