Its That Time of Year Again!
Welcome to Kung Fu Tea’s eighth annual holiday shopping list! These are some of my favorite posts to pull together. They also serve as a reminder to make time for martial arts practice and study during the festive seasons. In fact, training can be a great way to deal with the various stresses that the holidays bring. And Christmas is a great 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 (some sharp), and fun stuff that encourages creativity. 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! Generally the least expensive items are listed first.
Given the emphasis of this blog, most 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 shamelessly plug my own book, spoilers). 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” for helping me to brainstorm this list.
Books to Feed Your Head
Do you know why books are the perfect Christmas gift? They are never the wrong size, and if they have anything to do with the martial arts, you can be pretty sure that they will be read. Books have always been among my favorite gifts, and that’s probably why they are starting off this year’s list.
They say that the most important things about the holidays can’t be purchased. It’s really true. Christmas is the time for free downloadable e-books from up and coming University Presses. So why not kick off your new year by getting a free copy of Deconstructing Martial Arts by Paul Bowman (Cardiff University Press 2019). Its a great way to get caught up on critical debates within the field of martial arts studies. And did I mention that it was free? I certainly hope that we see more University Press publishers begin to shift to this sort of distribution models in the next couple of years. That would be very helpful for a field like ours.
This next book came out earlier in the spring of 2019 and I consider it is a “must read” book for anyone who teachers martial arts or combat sport class, whether empty hand or with weapons. Within the pages of Fear is the Mind Killer, Sadowski takes a deep dive into the psychology of learning and offers some very grounded advice on lesson planning, creating engaging spaces and running educational programs. If you are interested in teaching and pedagogy, or even if you want to know how to get more out of your private training, this book should be in your stocking. Check it out!
Are you looking for the best single-volume scholarly treatment of the history and development of the Southern Chinese martial arts? Or maybe the only English language book on the history and development of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts? If so, look no further as Judkins and Nielson have you covered. As an added bonus, much of the discussion about Cantonese identity and social conflict in Hong Kong in the second half of the book seems more timely than ever. And the extended biographical discussion of Ip Man in the second half of the book will help you deal with all of your friends who, after the release of Ip Man 4, will want to ask you questions about that time he traveled to America to fight the entire U.S. Marine Corps….Pick up your copy now!
Are you looking for a comparative case? Then check out this discussion of the globalization and popularization of the Brazilian art Capoeira. It always helps to take a step back from our own area of focus and see how similar issues are playing themselves out on the other side of the world. Additionally, there has been a lot of good stuff published on Capoeira in the last few years, so this winter might be the perfect time to get up to date with the literature.
Finally, for the HEMA fan or readers who loves swords as much as I do, you simply must take a look at this recent publication from the German Blade Museum. I had a chance to do a bit of editorial work on a few sections of the manuscript a couple of years ago and was really impressed with the project. If you, or someone in your life, loves swords, be sure to check this out. Its not just a coffee table book, there is a lot going on in this one.
Training Gear to Keep you Active
One of the reasons why I love Wing Chun is that you don’t need a lot of gear to practice. Better yet, the gear you do need is typically cheap and simple. But don’t underestimate the value of basic skills development. Every year I start this is list off with a wall bag as its something we should all be using multiple times a week. Never neglect the basics just because you have “moved on.” And at $30 you cannot go wrong! It’s the perfect stocking stuffer for the Kung Fu student in your life.
YouTube tells me that stone locks have become the hot new thing in retro kung fu training. Sure they are expensive, and some of the throwing and catching exercises look pretty dangerous. But just imagine the expression on people’s faces when you set a pair of these down next to the kettle bells in the gym. As one would expect, the prices and shipping on these varies quite a bit. But you can order some nice, smoothly finished, locks here. The pricing starts at 100 Euros for a small set.
We typically didn’t do a lot of breaking in my lineage of Wing Chun, but these are still very useful to have around a school. While boards “don’t fight back,” they are still a decent way to conceptualize and work on core concepts like power generation. You can order different levels of resistance (they are color coded), or outfit your school with a complete set.
Students of the sword, or even the spear, need their own, more specialized, equipment for practice. Perhaps the two most commonly encountered training devices in their arts are the planted pell (a vertical post partially buried in the ground), and a free swinging target. The second type of device can be suspended from the ceiling of a garage or empty room and are a great way to work on the accuracy and timing for your thrusts and various other techniques during those long snowy (or wet) winter months when even the most diligent among us are a bit hesitant to expose our precious metal training swords to the elements. This particular model is made out of soft brass which is nice when working with sharp training swords. Be sure of check out the video with the ad.
Winter is a time for indoor workouts, and we don’t always have a training partner to hold the pads or spar. Luckily, seven or eight rounds on a standing heavy bag is a great way to pack a lot of training into a small space (apartment, garage, spare room). These things can come apart with enough abuse, so its worth getting something decent which also has replacement parts available. Every heavy bag fails eventually, so its worth thinking ahead.
Weapons – The Cutting Edge
I know what you have been thinking as you read through this list. “Sure, books and wall bags are great. But what I really need are high quality practice weapons to take to the club, and interesting examples of sharp steel for personal practice.” The next section of the list is for you.
I have a number of butterfly swords, including antique weapons from the mid 19th century. But when I am headed to a workshop or training with friends, these humble polypropylene swords are what goes in my training bag. They are tough weapons that stand-up to class room abuse. And while my personal preference is for more pointed thrusting weapons (of the sort that were actually used in China’s tumultuous 19th century) I think the blunt tips of these blades are much safer in a training situation. For what ever reason, Wing Chun people tend not to wear fencing masks, or even goggles, when working with weapons. Honestly, we are behind the times a bit in that regard. So something like this makes a lot of sense from a classroom management perspective. Plus they are tough and cheap!
Speaking of synthetic training weapons that do not require full HEMA style padding to use, anyone looking to level up their practical jian skills might want to consider picking up a pair of these nylon blades from Purple Heart Armory. I had a chance to use a number of them earlier this summer, and I was pleasantly surprised by the weight and balance of these blades as well as their behavior in the bind (which was better than wood). The metal guards can be a bit sharp, but anyone fencing with these needs at bare minimum heavy gloves (I like Red Dragon), a decent fencing mask and joint protection for the elbows and knees. Again, steel training blades will always have their place, but these are great for individuals who want to do some non-cooperative work without having to fully commit to the HEMA lifestyle. Note that these blades are available in a couple of different lengths and hilt configurations.
Nunchucks have been in the news this year. They were recently legalized in New York and few other states where they had previously been banned since the 1970s. And I just published a post on the flail and nunchuck in the Chinese martial arts. So maybe this is the year to get everyone chucks as stocking stuffers? If so, might I suggest this octagonal cut model, made in Japan. Exotic woods are available, though the manufacturer warns that they don’t stand up to abuse as well as white or red oak. The manufacturer also sells three sectional staffs.
Or maybe you are interested in ancient and truly elegant weapons. If so, you must check out the line of replica Han dynasty swords being offered by LK Chen. Don’t mistake these for the lesser quality Han dynasty replicas that have over run eBay in recent years. Each of these blades draws on specific archeological models and is much more accurate in its geometry, construction and decoration than most other offerings on the market. Additionally, the build quality on these swords consistently exceeds reviewers expectations. I haven’t gotten around to ordering one of these yet, but I think that Santa will find that the Flying Phoenix and the Royal Arsenal Dao are both on my wish list!
Traditional butterfly swords seem to be a topic of perennial interest here at Kung Fu Tea. Of course, finding a nice set of antique hudiedao can be difficult and expensive. Nor would I be really comfortable using vintage blades for cutting practice or experimentation. But these knives, made in the Philippines, might fill that niche nicely. Their blades are more similar in shape and profile to some of the 19th century pieces while still being accessible to modern martial artists. They are currently priced at $325 for the set.
Lastly, here are a few items that don’t fit into the other categories. Or maybe we should think of these as the treats for the martial artist who has everything. In this category you will find items that underscore the meeting of martial arts and creativity!
First up, we have the perfect white elephant gift for your school or office’s holiday party. Its just not Christmas without Ninja Bread Men! Or cover them in white frosting and you now have Cobra Kai Guys. With a little holiday creativity there is no end to what you can do (as long as it involves high kicks and horse stances). You can pick these up at Walmart pretty cheap.
One gift is always appreciated is a gift certificate for some great martial arts documentaries. I admire the work of the crew at Empty Mind Films, and if you check out their catalog you will see that they have something for pretty much everyone interested in the traditional arts of China, Japan or South East Asia. They have also worked on a couple of Wing Chun projects over the years. I haven’t seen “The Island Art of Silat” yet, but that might be next on my list. And downloadable documentaries always arrive in time for the holidays!
Many of us are counting the days until the release of Star Wars Episode IX and the conclusion of the Skywalker saga. That means there is no better time to invest in a saber and figure out exactly how lightsaber combat would really work for yourself! Luckily there are couple of companies that specialize in making simple hilts properly balanced for the discerning martial artist. One of my favorites in “Ing Chao Sabers,” a small manufacturer located in New York state. You can get an Persuader stunt saber (no sound) delivered by Christmas with a blade and rechargeable battery for about $125. This is a great saber for the money and it has some very nice upgraded features, like a full chassis mounting system for the internal electronics. Of course that is even more important if you opt for a saber with sound (starting at $270). Check them out!
The last two items on our 2019 holiday list continue the theme of creativity, but they take it in a more visual direction. The martial arts are, if nothing else, an adventure. So we should probably all think about investing in an adventure ready camera. These small devices (just a few inches on each side) are great to take with you when traveling or set them up in a corner to capture your sparring and practice sessions for later study. I have been thinking about adding one of these to my research gear to handle longer or more dynamic recording sessions than I can typically manage on my phone. Plus the image stabilization features are great when you are walking around a school or event. And in the social media age, who doesn’t want to be YouTube famous?
The higher end adventure cameras can be pretty expensive, which is ironic when one considers the sort of abuse that these little devices are routinely subjected to. So are there any decent cameras that you can pick up for about $100?
The answer is yes! Check out the Akaso V50 Pro. This camera can shoot in 4K resolution at 30 frames per second (and that goes up to 60 if you order their V50 Pro Special Edition). The image quality and stabalization on this camera are surprisingly good considering the price, and its internal mics are much better than most camera’s in its price range. I don’t think anyone will be shooting an Oscar winner on this, but if you are looking for a small, cheap, tough camera to record your personal martial arts adventures, you could do a lot worse than starting here. While these currently retail for $120, if you search around you can find them for $110-100.
Still, if image sharpness, color saturation and a long list of special features is critical, then the GoPro Hero 8 is still the reigning champion (sorry DJI Osmo Action). Obviously all of the cameras in this class have relatively small sensors, but the image and video quality that the latest GoPro can produce is pretty impressive, as is its ability to record 4K video at 60 frames per second (which means that you can do really sharp slow motion shots, among other things). Best of all, increased competition in the action camera segment has forced GoPro to drop their prices a bit. At the moment the top of the line Hero 8 Black model retails for $399, but it can often be found on sale for closer to $350. That is a substantial savings over the $500 that a new model used to cost. Obviously specialized (and expensive) DSLR and video rigs will continue to offer even better image quality, but if you are looking for a surprisingly versatile tiny camera that can handle anything from tropical snorkeling to ethnography to vlogging, this might be exactly what you need.
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?