It has been too long since our last news update. 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 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.
News from All Over
Our leading story is a sad one for Jeet Kune Do (and I suspect many Wing Chun) practitioners. Taky Kimura, Bruce Lee’s long time friend and one of his original students, has passed away. Taky Kimura was a talented and much loved instructor in his own right and it is truly amazing how many people’s lives he touched. As a Japanese-American who was interned during the Second World War, Kimura’s own experience with the martial arts is a fascinating topic worthy of detailed study. Yet he will likely always be remembered as one of the most important guardians of Bruce Lee’s memory.
The always reliable South China Morning Post reports that “Tai chi [has been] added to Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list after years of not making the cut.” This outcome has been more than a decade in the making with the art being passed over by both officials at the UN and in China itself. Still, I always thought that it was strange that Taijiquan was not selected sooner given that no physical activity is more connected with Chinese culture in the global imagination.
As a variety of scholars have sought to remind us, ICH status is not without its own dark-side. Public recognition of a practice doesn’t just come with increased advertising or funding opportunities. Often it heralds a new wave of regulation and politicization as elites eager to promote their own agendas seek to assert their control over these once marginal practices. Such calls are clearly illustrated in an separate article titled “Time to reclaim authenticity of tai chi” published in a Mainland Chinese tabloid.
Speaking of marginality, perhaps no skill better captures the zeitgeist of the current era than “Iron Crotch.” Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Unsurprisingly, in 2020 it seems to have had a moment.
“As long as you push yourself, you will feel great,” said Wang, who has been practicing iron crotch kung fu for around 50 years. He teaches the ball-busting exercise at the Juntun Martial Arts Academy in Luoyang, Henan Province.
Despite seeming like an excruciating form of contraception, Wang maintains that the fighting form has no adverse effects if executed correctly.”
Are you ready to explore traditional Chinese cultural values through a series of three minute videos on various aspects of Chinese martial arts? If so the China Daily is here to help! All of the videos are introduced by a Beijing opera performer which I am sure will delight some practitioners and enrage others. It also goes without saying that this is a classic public diplomacy/soft power advertising campaign.
Chinese kung fu, an authentic part of Chinese culture, portrays a healthy lifestyle nurturing both body and mind. The documentary film and short-video series Searching for Kung Fu – 12 Traditional Chinese Values, produced by China Daily website, offers a fresh perspective on understanding some of the concepts which are profoundly Chinese.
Directed by US director Laurence Brahm, the series includes a documentary film Searching for Kung Fu, short-video series Searching for Kung Fu – Thirty-Six Strategies and Searching for Kung Fu –12 Traditional Chinese Values.
“Shaolin kung fu is different from Kalaripayat.” So proclaims the headline of our next article. I doubt that the statement will raise many objections in the MAS community, though the fact that this needs to be repeated is a testament to the power of the Bodhidharma mythos. What is really interesting about this piece is who wrote it. Phillip Zarrilli’s work on the Indian martial arts helped to lay the foundations for the modern field of Martial Arts Studies. This must have been one of the last things that he wrote before his passing last year.
Do you know who else is getting into the martial arts studies game? The Shaolin Temple, apparently. They have entered into a partnership with Henan University to offer degree programs at the undergraduate, MA and doctoral level. Like most announcements coming out of Shaolin, this move became a subject of debate on Chinese social media with many critics wondering whether this is really the best use of Central China’s scarce educational resources.
Shaolin Temple in Central China’s Henan Province and Henan University on Monday reached an agreement to jointly open a new major on Chinese Kung Fu, with a focus on overseas students, but the cooperation brought controversy on social media.
The major will recruit martial arts lovers from around the world and be delivered in Chinese. The course work will be delivered to degree (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and PhD) and non-degree students, Henan University announced Sunday.
Does Bruce Lee’s outsized cultural legacy have a dark side? Sure, he paved the way for figures like Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen to succeed in the West, but did his violent films typecast Asian action stars forever? The question is a great premise for an article. Unfortunately the author never explores these issues in the depth that they deserve. What is more interesting is that he seems to have been inspired to think about topic after having encountered one of Paul Bowman’s chapters on Bruce Lee. Once again, martial arts studies is going mainstream!
Our next article also comes from the pages of the SCMP. It ran a retrospective on Wong Kar-wai’s 2013 masterpiece, The Grandmaster. On a purely artistic level, I think that this was the best of the Ip Man bio-pics. If you haven’t watched it you should go out and do so now! You should also remember that this is an entirely fictional story even though Wong claims to have been inspired by real life events.
Ever wonder what it takes to make a great martial arts film? It turns out that not everyone agrees, but the SCMP has a collection of interesting answers from some of the luminaries in the field. This is a fun piece for anyone who loves classic Kung Fu films.
Martial Arts Studies
I am not sure what 2021 will hold in terms of politics, the economy or public health. But all of the early signs suggest that it should be another fantasitic year for martial arts studies. Things are starting out strong with a new Oxford University Press book release from Paul Bowman (my copy just arrived yesterday). A number of other exciting titles are due out later his spring, so stay tuned! I will discuss them once their covers have been released by the publishers.
Paul Bowman. 2020. The Invention of Martial Arts: Popular Culture Between Asia and America. Oxford University Press. 280 pages. $39 PB.
Through popular movies starring Bruce Lee and songs like the disco hit “Kung Fu Fighting,” martial arts have found a central place in the Western cultural imagination. But what would ‘martial arts’ be without the explosion of media texts and images that brought it to a wide audience in the late 1960s and early 1970s? In this examination of the media history of what we now call martial arts, author Paul Bowman makes the bold case that the phenomenon of martial arts is chiefly an invention of media representations. Rather than passively taking up a preexisting history of martial arts practices–some of which, of course, predated the martial arts boom in popular culture–media images and narratives actively constructed martial arts.
Grounded in a historical survey of the British media history of martial arts such as Bartitsu, jujutsu, judo, karate, tai chi, and MMA across a range of media, this book thoroughly recasts our understanding of the history of martial arts. By interweaving theories of key thinkers on historiography, such as Foucault and Hobsbawm, and Said’s ideas on Orientalism with analyses of both mainstream and marginal media texts, Bowman arrives at the surprising insight that media representations created martial arts rather than the other way around. In this way, he not only deepens our understanding of martial arts but also demonstrates the productive power of media discourses.
If you have not already done so, be sure to check out the recordings (most of which have English translations) from The 3rd International Martial Studies Conference: Sword Culture Across the Eurasian Continent (11-12 Dec 2020). There is definitely some good stuff in here and its a promising example of the growing engagement between Chinese and Western scholars (including Daniel Jaquet, a long time friend of Kung Fu Tea).
So long as you are on youtube, have you been keeping with the Martial Arts Studies Podcast? If not, check out Professor Andrea Molle talking about Krav Maga and the dark side of martial arts.
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