It is so hot outside that it is almost impossible to think about training, which means that there is no better time to get caught up on news – particularly if some of these stories give you something to do while hunkered down in an air conditioned cave! For new readers, this is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention 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!
Speaking of the Chinese Martial Arts
As everyone is well aware, Hong Kong has been rocked with sustained massive protests demanding the total withdrawal of a (for now only suspended) extradition bill which would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial, outside of Hong Kong’s unique judicial institutions. The specific details of this controversy are not so much our concern as the way that the rhetoric around this conflict is touching on the city’s rich martial arts heritage. While the actual practice of the TCMA has declined in HK in recent years, the idea and memory of these fighting systems have (somewhat paradoxically) become ever more important as markers of local identity and sometimes resistance.
One place where this trend can be seen is in the recent appropriation of Bruce Lee’s image, memory and philosophy by a number of protesters. Given the strong anti-colonial themes within his films, its not that surprising that Lee’s memory would be making frequent appearances in this conflict. The SCMP even notes that new and updated protest tactics (quickly repositioning mobile swarms of protesters as opposed to more static methods of conducting “sit ins”) are being attributed to, and explained through, Lee’s famous “be like water” discussion.
Not all local martial artists are equally popular with the crowd. Jackie Chan, perhaps the city’s second most famous martial arts figure, has courted controversy among Hong Kong residents for some time with his numerous pro-Beijing statements and stances. His current publicity tours, and claims to be unaware of the situation in the streets, do not appear to be endearing him to local residents.
It seems that no discussion of the news would be complete without an update on Xu Xiaodong’s exploits and controversies. A Canadian Wing Chun exponent named Pierre Flores is publicly renewing his challenge against Xu Xiaodong. Interestingly enough, when it comes to punching out individuals whose claim super-human abilities, both of these gentlemen seem to be in the same line of work. However, Flores, who previously defeated a Vietnamese “Kung Fu master” named Huynh Tan Kiet, notes that Xu is going about it all wrong. “The way he does it is wrong. It is not right to assume all martial arts are fake.”
Our final Wing Chun story for this update comes in the form a school profile titled “Carrying on the Ip Man Legacy.” It presents a brief discussion with Penang Ip Man Wing Chun Sifu Aaron Boey. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Boey and myself are both part of the same lineage (Ip Man via Ip Ching) which is probably why I noticed this particular article in the first place. After all, school profiles are pretty common. But what was really interesting upon closer reading was the role of the 2008 Ip Man bio-pic in Sifu Boey decision to take up Wing Chun in the first place. Obviously this film inspired many new students and I remember seeing a distinct surge of interest in the art while studying with my own teacher in Salt Lake. But as we think about the number of years that have past, it may be important to note that many of that generation of students will now have schools of their own. I think its safe to say that we are firmly living in the “post-Donnie Yen” era of global Wing Chun.
“Bruce Lee’s fitness regime and diet made him a pioneer among athletes and martial artists alike.” So proclaims a second, less political, article in the South China Morning Post. In other news, protein shakes have come along way. I guess we should all be grateful that no one has to drink raw hamburger slurries anymore. I am sure that FDA and CDC are…
Is Taijiquan more your speed? If so, you may want to check out the discussion with this “Milwaukee Tai Chi Instructor on why this martial art is so good for you.” The article doesn’t break any new ground in terms of medical or sports science. Rather it offers a brief profile of a program run by a former Judo player which servers a largely female and senior citizen student base. Of course these are two groups that are often left out of discussions of the Chinese martial arts.
Chinese Martial Arts in Media
Given the heat, maybe you want to stay inside an air conditioned room (or possibly theater) and watch other people do the work? While waiting for the release of Ip Man 4, why not review some of Yuen Woo-ping’s incredible body of work. He was recently honored at the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival, which was the occasion of this rather extensive piece in the South China Morning Post (which is clearly gunning for this year’s KFT award for “best martial arts news coverage by a major news paper.”) You can check it out here. So what is my favorite “classic” Yuen Woo-ping film? I would probably have to go with Drunken Master. I have always had a weakness for the Kung Fu comedies.
If you are at all interested in the connection between Hip Hop and the traditional Chinese martial arts, you need to check out this article at Vice.com. It is an interview with Lupe Fiasco (aka ‘Beat N’Path’) discussing his life long involvement with the martial arts and the new documentary series taking him from Chicago to Shaolin. Its a very nice narrative that touches on many critical points in the spread of the Chinese martial arts to America with a special emphasis on the Hip Hop connection.
Or if you feel like you are desperately in need of a second opinion of Fiasco’s Japanese Sword work (which is apparently decent but not brilliant), Vice.com has you covered.
Finally, in a move that will surprise no one, the Shaolin Temple in Henan is getting out ahead of the competition (other Buddhist temples?) by having itself wired for 5G cell service. In all seriousness the local government is supporting the move given the ever growing volume of visitor that the local infrastructure must service. And yes, the Pagoda Forest was one of the prime tourist spots to get connected first.
News From All Over
Now for a couple of “martial arts adjacent” stories. Have you ever wondered about the development and spread of the Long-spout tea pouring techniques which we have been seeing more and more of in the last few years? If so, check out this article, and be sure to watch the video. Its nicely done and impressive. [Editorial note: Seriously, watch the video with this].
[Now that] The threat of death during tea is gone, and the long spout is instead used as a centerpiece for the enthralling ceremonies. To prepare for them, tea masters practice for years before they have their first successful performance. Liu Xumin, a long spout tea performer in Ya’an, said that he practiced seven to eight hours a day in order to perfect the required moves, pricking and scalding himself in the process. “The performance I do is called ‘Mending Mountain 18 Forms of Drago-Flying Postures,’” he says. “It has 18 tea pouring postures.” As he moves, he thinks of the teapot as an extension of his body. “I hope to achieve the integration of teapot and human, of heaven and human, and of tea and human.”
Originally I was going to include this article as the videos are fun and I thought it tied in nicely with the title of this blog. Later it occurred to me that there are some really interesting parallels going on here with the development and creation of martial arts in general, and the notion of invented traditions (complete with mythological origin stories) in general. This may also be a subject that is worth thinking about from a more theoretical perspective.
Its been a while since we have posted anything on Lion Dancing. So I was very happy to see this article in a local paper profiling a national two-day competition.
“We see lion dancing as sort of an outreach to the community, where we help them celebrate martial arts culture,” says Nelson Ferreira, president of the United States Dragon & Lion Dance Federation and founder of the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association. “With a big competition like this, we get to share that experience with people from all over the U.S.”
This final story is really a note of personal interest. The French Fencing Federation (FFE), which recently recognized the LED Saber as the fourth official competition weapon, has just announced that they have selected the Terra Prime Light Armory (an organization which I am doing ethnographic research with) as an official partner is spreading their new competition structure internationally. In some respects this is not a surprise as the FFE worked closely with the TPLA’s representative in France in crafting their program. And, in any case, there are already a number of saber leagues that function internationally. I can think of three off of the top of my head. Yet this is the first time we have seen quasi-official government backing for the establishment of a global lightsaber combat system.
This news has been met largely with silence (and in some places a degree of hostility) within the American lightsaber community, much of which is already invested in other competitive international structures including Lusosport (based in Italy), the Sport Saber League (also based in France), or the Saber Legion (based in the United States). I guess now is our big opportunity to test all of those theories on “standards setting” that have emerged in Economics and Political Economy. See, Martial Arts Studies does draw from all disciplines!
Martial Arts Studies
If not films or music, maybe you prefer your martial arts media in book form? If so, may I suggest something from the non-fiction (and scholarly) category. Paul Bowman’s latest book Deconstructing Martial Arts has just been released by Cardiff University Press. And in an interesting development (sure to disrupt the often pricey academic publishing industry) they have decided to make the entire text free to download or read online. You can also order a print copy, but you will need to pay for those. I hope that this is a trend that catches on in the academic publishing space. While theoretical in orientation this is definitely one of Paul’s most accessible works. I hope to post a review of this book soon. I have only read selections so far, but watch this space. In the mean time, check out the blurb from the publisher.
What is the essence of martial arts? What is their place in or relationship with culture and society?
Deconstructing Martial Arts analyses familiar issues and debates that arise in scholarly, practitioner and popular cultural discussions and treatments of martial arts and argues that martial arts are dynamic and variable constructs whose meanings and values regularly shift, mutate and transform, depending on the context.
It argues that deconstructing martial arts is an invaluable approach to both the scholarly study of martial arts in culture and society and also to wider understandings of what and why martial arts are. Placing martial arts in relation to core questions and concerns of media and cultural studies around identity, value, orientalism, and embodiment,
Deconstructing Martial Arts introduces and elaborates deconstruction as a rewarding method of cultural studies.
We are just a couple of days away from the release of the latest issue of the Martial Arts Studies journal. This special issue will be dedicated to the discussion and legacy of Bruce Lee, and grew out of the recent conference on his various contributions to the martial arts landscape. Again, watch this space for an announcement. And as always, Martial Arts Studies is free for anyone to read or download.
Its hard to believe, but its already time to start thinking about the Autumn Conferences! I am really looking forward to “Fighting – Knowledge – Bodies. Historical Perspectives on Fighting Practices” at Trier University, 11-13 September 2019. Hosted by Dr. Eva Bischoff & Dr. Eric Burkart, this looks like it will be a fantastic event and I think some really important papers will come out of it.
Fighting as a social practice and as a mode of interpersonal interaction is omnipresent in historical tradition. In addition to various forms of violent confrontation, normed forms of fighting as well as friendly fighting competitions can be observed throughout the ages. They were (and still are) part of a recreational and sports culture, have contributed to the creation of communities and are part of the articulation of gendered identities and the representation of social status. Nevertheless, fighting has yet to be examined in an overarching, systematic and historical perspective. So far, scholarly discourse has treated fighting practices in a compartmentalized way: as a means to resolve conflicts (political history), as an expression of violence (research in the history of violence and crime, sociology of violence), as an object of military history or sports science, and as a specialized topic examining concrete historical contexts (e.g. medieval judicial duels, tournaments, and fencing schools, early modern duels). This sectoral separation, usually associated with a categorical differentiation between violent and normative / playful forms of fighting, prohibits a systematic reconstruction of the entangled history of the transfer of knowledge and bodily practices.
This conference, by contrast, focuses on the structural similarities, knowledge systems and discourses as well as the material foundations of fighting practices. “Fighting”, in this context, is understood literally, without any metaphorical connotation, as a tangible confrontation between human actors. As such, fighting permeates all strata of society as a historically and culturally variable practice and experience. It is a polysemic phenomenon and takes various forms. The conference’s objective is to explore its dimensions in a historical perspective, to test different methodological approaches across epochs and to define common areas of interest for future research.
To achieve this goal, three analytical perspectives will be linked: Firstly, the praxeological perspective, which aims at reconstructing fighting practices in terms of their framework (persons involved, modalities, contemporary norms and sanctions), investigating how these practices were symbolically charged and reconstructing their significance in processes of social stratification. Secondly, the conference will question the topic from the perspective of the history of knowledge, tracing the resources and reservoirs of knowledges on combat. Thirdly, it will adopt a perspective developed to investigate the history of the body, asking what kind of physicalities were created by fighting practices (embodiment of knowledge).
The human body stands at the nexus of all three perspectives. It represents the conditio sine qua non of combative interaction. Its materiality determines the vulnerability of every body as well as its potential to mete out pain and violence onto others (Sofsky 2005). This materiality of human existence renders struggle and violence into a resource, which in principle is available to every individual. Yet the productivity of fighting (knowledge and practices) can only be understood fully by going beyond a narrow conception of fighting as a phenomenon of violence or violentia. Instead, the productivity of this corporeal practice has to be taken into account as well. To capture this characteristic, we employ a conceptual framework developed in feminist theory, gender and queer studies (Braidotti 2002, Ahmed 2008, Netzwerk Körper in den Kulturwissenschaften 2012) and consider the human body as a cultural artifact, articulated through the complex interaction of physical structure (heredity, abilities), social practices, and corporeal knowledge. In line with current sociological accounts coming from the field of theatre and performance studies, techniques are understood as “transmissible and repeatable
knowledge of relatively reliable possibilities afforded by human embodiment” (Spatz 2015) and thus conceived as a form of knowledge which affects and structures individual bodies, but also spreads from one body to another.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last few months. We have seen some great vintage weapons, checked in with the martial arts high schools of Chen Village, and discussed the comparative regulation of the martial arts in different countries. 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!
July 8, 2019 at 1:56 pm
Ben I always enjoy your newsletter, and the scholarly articles you include. But you’re missing the biggest news story to happen to Chinese martial arts – and Tai Chi in particular – in… well ever. Tai Chi is now a fully covered health benefit for qualified Veterans under a new program called the Community Care Network. Free Tai Chi for Vets – and instructors are paid by the VA. This is the first time in history that any martial art has been covered by insurance – and the first time that Tai Chi teachers can make a full-time income out of teaching.
July 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm
Wow, that is a great story. Do you have any headlines to press coverage of this? That seems like the sort of thing that should have made the papers.