I am not going to lie. The annual Christmas list is my favorite post of the year. So welcome to Kung Fu Tea’s seventh annual holiday shopping list! Not only are we going to find some cool gift ideas, but hopefully this post will inspire you to make time for martial arts practice during the festive season. Training is a great way to deal with the various stresses that holidays always bring. And Christmas is the perfect 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, and (for the first time) “gifts for the martial artist who has everything”. This last category will focus on experiences rather than objects. 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, many 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 You Head
This has been a good year for books. Nowhere is the growth of martial arts studies more evident than in the explosion of new publications. Things have been so busy this year that I have been forced to restrict myself to new releases. Still, the first item on this list is both reasonably priced and outstanding reading….
Martial Arts Studies Reader. Edited by Paul Bowman ($38 USD)
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.
Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts by Lu Zhouxiang ($78 USD HC Routledge)
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.
You can find my review of this book here. While I am a bit disappointed that the author failed to engage with the recent English language scholarship on the Chinese martial arts, this book is sure to show up in many future bibliographies.
Now for something a little lighter (err, easier to read…at 500 pages this book is actually quite heavy…)
Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly (paperback $18 USD)
The most authoritative biography—featuring dozens of rarely seen photographs—of film legend Bruce Lee, who made martial arts a global phenomenon, bridged the divide between Eastern and Western cultures, and smashed long-held stereotypes of Asians and Asian-Americans.
Forty-five years after Bruce Lee’s sudden death at age thirty-two, journalist and bestselling author Matthew Polly has written the definitive account of Lee’s life. It’s also one of the only accounts; incredibly, there has never been an authoritative biography of Lee. Following a decade of research that included conducting more than one hundred interviews with Lee’s family, friends, business associates, and even the actress in whose bed Lee died, Polly has constructed a complex, humane portrait of the icon.
Polly explores Lee’s early years as a child star in Hong Kong cinema; his actor father’s struggles with opium addiction and how that turned Bruce into a troublemaking teenager who was kicked out of high school and eventually sent to America to shape up; his beginnings as a martial arts teacher, eventually becoming personal instructor to movie stars like James Coburn and Steve McQueen; his struggles as an Asian-American actor in Hollywood and frustration seeing role after role he auditioned for go to a white actors in eye makeup; his eventual triumph as a leading man; his challenges juggling a sky-rocketing career with his duties as a father and husband; and his shocking end that to this day is still shrouded in mystery.
Polly breaks down the myths surrounding Bruce Lee and argues that, contrary to popular belief, he was an ambitious actor who was obsessed with the martial arts—not a kung-fu guru who just so happened to make a couple of movies. This is an honest, revealing look at an impressive yet imperfect man whose personal story was even more entertaining and inspiring than any fictional role he played onscreen.
The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts by Raul Sanchez Garcia ($43 USD Kindle)
This is the first long-term analysis of the development of Japanese martial arts, connecting ancient martial traditions with the martial arts practised today. The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts captures the complexity of the emergence and development of martial traditions within the broader Japanese Civilising Process.
The book traces the structured process in which warriors’ practices became systematised and expanded to the Japanese population and the world. Using the theoretical framework of Norbert Elias’s process-sociology and drawing on rich empirical data, the book also compares the development of combat practices in Japan, England, France and Germany, making a new contribution to our understanding of the socio-cultural dynamics of state formation. Throughout this analysis light is shed onto a gender blind spot, taking into account the neglected role of women in martial arts.
The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts is important reading for students of Socio-Cultural Perspectives in Sport, Sociology of Physical Activity, Historical Development of Sport in Society, Asian Studies, Sociology and Philosophy of Sport, and Sports History and Culture. It is also a fascinating resource for scholars, researchers and practitioners interested in the historical and socio-cultural aspects of combat sport and martial arts.
Sound interesting? You can read the first chapter of this book here.
Embodying Brazil: An ethnography of diasporic capoeira ($ 49.95 USD Paperback) by Sara Delamont, Neil Stephens, Claudio Campos.
The practice of capoeira, the Brazilian dance-fight-game, has grown rapidly in recent years. It has become a popular leisure activity in many cultures, as well as a career for Brazilians in countries across the world including the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. This original ethnographic study draws on the latest research conducted on capoeira in the UK to understand this global phenomenon. It not only presents an in-depth investigation of the martial art, but also provides a wealth of data on masculinities, performativity, embodiment, globalisation and rites of passage.
Centred in cultural sociology, while drawing on anthropology and the sociology of sport and dance, the book explores the experiences of those learning and teaching capoeira at a variety of levels. From beginners’ first encounters with this martial art to the perspectives of more advanced students, it also sheds light on how teachers experience their own re-enculturation as they embody the exotic ‘other’.
Embodying Brazil: An Ethnography of Diasporic Capoeira is fascinating reading for all capoeira enthusiasts, as well as for anyone interested in the sociology of sport, sport and social theory, sport, race and ethnicity, or Latin-American Studies.
Still don’t see what you are looking for? I have heard about this great book on the history of Wing Chun and the Southern Chinese martial arts (now out in paperback, $25 USD)….
Five Photos Brand Dit Da Jow ($20 for 7.5 ounces)
You don’t need very much gear to practice the Chinese martial arts. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have a couple of things on hand, particularly when you start to get bruised up from partner work or dummy drills. While researching the history of a prominent family of martial arts practicing pharmacists in Foshan I came across the story of this particular brand of Dit Da Jow. I should probably dig some of that research out of my notes and turn it into an essay. But ever since then, I have kept a bottle of it around. You can usually find this brand at your local Chinese pharmacy, or even a good sized grocery story. Barring that, you can always just order it from Amazon.
Flexzion Kicking Strike Shield ($18 USD)
This style of striking pad that was popularized in Muay Thai training, but I use it all the time in my Wing Chun practice. Honestly, I can’t think of the (striking) school that couldn’t use a few more pairs of these. Best of all, the size is always right! The perfect inexpensive gift for the Sifu in your life.
Having the right gear is good. But having the perfect bag to haul it all around in is (as they say) priceless. That is particularly true if the gear you are hauling is heavy, awkwardly shaped, or likely to freak people out if you were just walk down the sidewalk with it on your shoulder. These bags can be pricey at $150. But after having destroyed a few lower quality, non-purpose built bags over the last year, I am gaining a renewed appreciation for how easy a good gear bag can make life. Particularly when swords and lightsabers are involved.
Everyone seems to be talking about bringing more competitive style sparring into traditional Chinese martial arts training. And that means thinking about the right gear. I like my Hayabusa boxing gloves, but something like this might be great for those who want a little more dexterity for grabs, laups and paks.
And now for some “affordable” luxury. In the last couple of years a number of my kung fu brothers have bought (or switched to) iron body training dummies. These are a lot cheaper than nicely made wooden dummies, and they can easily be stuck in the corner of room that might not otherwise accommodate a hanging dummy (which I still think is the way to go if you have a chance). But while the quality of the Jong’s body and base is often great, I have noticed several (and I mean lots) of complaints about broken legs and rough workmanship on the arms. Lets face it, these are the parts of the dummy that we actually come into contact with the most frequently. So why not upgrade that part of your Jong to something a little more reliable and nicer to the touch?
At $120, is this the perfect jian for basic skills training and forms work? I have had a couple of longtime practitioners make that argument recently, based not just on the price point but the weight of this sword. Given my continuing exploration of Wudang Jian, I have a feeling that this is one item that might be making its way onto my personal shopping list.
Purpleheart Armory Dadao Trainer ($45.99 USD)
There is no denying that the dadao is hot. I am seeing lots of interest in this weapon. The social scientist in me thinks that we need to take a step back and ponder what this all means. But my more practical side just wants to grab one of these trainers and work on some sword vs. bayonet drills. This particular trainer is available with either a disk or “S” guard. Also check out Purpleheart’s nylon jian trainers.
Kris Cutlery Wood Training Knives ($25 USD)
Yeah, rubber is always a safer option for partner drills, but these trainers, made of ebony are really beautiful. At $25 I just can’t say no.
If you would prefer a sharper (and more historically/ethnographically significant) knife at a decent price point, why not consider an antique Nepalese military kukri. I have been collecting these for years, and have always found it ironic that the originals are so cheap compared to the latter British and Indian copies that were mass produced during the World Wars. Once you get your kukri be sure to check out this guide and discover your knife’s history.
There are lots of high quality butterfly swords out there, but I have been partial to these as their slim construction is much closer to most of the antiques that have survived than the sorts of “chopping” swords which became more popular after the early 20th century. And lets be honest, nothing say’s “Christmas” to the Wing Chun student/instructor in your life more than discovering a set of these in their stocking.
For the Martial Artist Who Has Everything….
I have long believed that many people are attracted to the martial arts as a type of virtual tourism. By practicing these arts we find a way to visit, contemplate and experience aspects of a time or place that we might not otherwise be able to visit. That is an important point to stress as survey data suggest that increasingly consumers value unique experiences more than the acquisition of objects. As such, the last section of our holiday list provides a different take on what the martial arts have to offer.
Lets begin with a destination that one can only visit through martial arts training. Have you (or the Star Wars fan in your life) ever wanted to learn to wield an elegant weapon from a more civilized age? If so, consider joining the Terra Prime Light Armory. Its a free, open-source, lightsaber academy run by experienced martial artists (mostly Kung Fu/Taijiaqan guys, but you will find some other stuff in there as well). If there is a brick and mortar club in your area they will be more than happy to point you in the right direction, and if not they offer an extensive database of on-line learning tools with individualized feedback mechanisms. Best of all, a voyage with the “Learners in Exile Corps” will not cost you a thing as these guys are in it for the love of the game. Sometimes the best things in life really are free!
No matter what aspect of the martial arts, and their interaction with popular culture, you are interested in, you are likely to find it at Combat Con. Held annually in Las Vegas (August 1-4, 2019), this event is unique in that it brings together a wide range of armed and unarmed martial arts instructors, while also hosting a variety of tournaments, performances, workshops for writers and game developers, cosplay contests and yes, even a full contact lightsaber tournament ($15 entrance feee). So if you are a social scientist who studies the martial arts in the modern world, the only question you have to ask yourself is why aren’t you already planning on going?
Its hard to estimate the cost of this one. Obviously you will need to fly to Vegas in August (which, in all honesty, is not the best time of year to visit this desert oasis). The public can visit the event for free, but if you want to do all of the workshops, tournaments and events you will probably end up paying in the $200-$300 range.
For the more academically inclined, why not give the gift of a conference registration to the inaugural North American session of the annual Martial Arts Studies meetings? These will be held May 23-24, 2019, at Chapman University in sunny California. Best of all, the registration is free if you email the conference organizers in advance and ask for tickets (click the link for details).
Its not hard to find cheap plane tickets to LA, and this is the premier event of the Martial Arts Studies community. I can’t say enough about how much I have enjoyed these meetings over the years. The sense of community is really unlike anything I have ever seen at a conference before. An advanced registration would make the perfect gift for either yourself or the erudite warrior/scholar in your life.
How about visiting a martial arts film festival in a destination city in 2019? Most major cities host one or more Asian film festivals a year. These are often a great place to see new and classic martial arts films, and if you are lucky you might find a festival dedicated just to classic Kung Fu films. We are still a little early in the year to have confirmed dates (these events are generally announced a month or two in advance), but New York City is a great destination for these sorts of festivals. And if you are going to be in Manhattan in June or July, there is an excellent chance you will find something you are interested in at the 2019 Asian Film Festival hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. But keep an eye out as you can often find smaller film festivals in a city near you!
This is the part of the list where we dream big. It goes without saying that China is full of places where you can spend a few months studying the martial art of your choice (including Wing Chun). I selected this school as Chengdu is on my bucket list of places to stay for a few months, and one of my friends studied with Master Li for years when he lived in the area as a journalist. This would be a very authentic/rustic experience, rather than the sort of school catering to the “glampers” out there. And Chengdu has a great martial arts history that needs more exploration in the English language literature.
Prices for extended live-in training start at just under $1000 USD (not including airfare). Of course the real cost of this this sort of “Kung Fu Pilgrimage” is taking a few months off from work. But this is the stuff that dreams are made of!
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?