John S. S. Long training with his teacher, Wong Lei, in Hong Kong, 1960. Source:


Regular readers of this blog with be no strangers to work of Daniel Amos. He has previously contributed guest posts to Kung Fu Tea discussing topics as such as the Southern Chinese martial arts and ethical considerations in ethnographic practice. Amos’ original doctoral disseration, comparing martial arts community in Hong Kong and Guangzhou during the late 1970s and early 1980s, had an important impact on my own understanding of the regions martial arts subculture in the post-war period. That work has been something of a hidden gem for those of us in the field Martial Arts Studies. The recent publication of his monograph, Hong Kong Martial Artists: Sociocultural Change from World War II to 2020 by Rowman & Littlefield (2021, 228 pages) is sure to bring his unique historical and cultural insights to a wider audience.

Luckily for us Dr. Amos agreed to drop by Kung Fu Tea and stay for a little chat. I am sure that many of our readers will find this interview helpful in further situating his reasearch and understanding of the Southern Chinese martial arts. Enjoy!

1.  Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?  How did you first develop an interest in the martial arts?  And what first brought you to Southern China?

During the 1950s and 60s, I grew up in a relatively liberal, lower-middle class family in politically conservative Orange County, California.  My mother was a high school art and English instructor at a large, working-class high school, where she was active in the teacher’s union. My father was a general building contractor, and from our early teens he employed my elder brother and me as ditch-diggers, carpenters, cement workers, house painters, roofers and a variety of other construction work. 

My parents followed the “spare the rod, spoil the child” school of childrearing. In practical terms this meant that I feared the fists of my strong, athletic father much more than the fists of any of my schoolmates and got into more fights than I should have. 

When I was a kid I watched a lot of boxing on television, including the tragic fight between Emile Griffith vs. Benny “Kid” Paret, shown live on ABC’s Fight of the Week on March 24, 1962, with Paret receiving fatal injuries during the bout. I saw both of Sonny Liston’s terrific bouts with Cleveland Williams.  Beginning in 1964, ABC’s Wide World of Sports would show full-length, major heavyweight title fights such as Ali vs. Liston I & II, and Ali vs. Frazier I. The fights were narrated by Howard Cosell and would appear on TV a week or two after they had originally appeared “closed circuit” at movie theaters.         

My senior year in high school I placed third in one of the California state golf tournaments held for high school boys, and was a fierce competitor in match play, losing just once out of sixteen matches. During my freshman year in college, I was a member of Cal State Fullerton’s intercollegiate golf team and also played basketball on an AAU team. Following my freshman year, a close friend, a UC Berkeley undergraduate and I hitchhiked to Chicago to participate in Vietnam War protests during the 1968 Democratic Party presidential convention. We protested a bit, but left after a few days, managing to leave town without getting our heads smashed in by Chicago Mayor Daley’s aggressive police force. 

Being a student during the turbulent late 1960s, by the time I was a sophomore I had dropped all participation in organized sports, but continued to swim laps, jog, lift weights and do a daily workout.  By my junior year I was considered one of the leaders of the university’s anti-war movement. A friend in the school administration warned that my name had been added to the politically reactionary Dean of Student’s “Enemies List” (which I felt was a great honor).  

While an undergraduate I had become interested in China, and in my senior year wrote a fifty-five-page paper comparing Chinese and Indian agricultural systems (not a work of wonderful scholarship, but perhaps impressive to my professors because of its relative length for an undergraduate essay, those being the days of typewriters, correcting ink, and five to ten-page term papers).

After graduating with a degree in anthropology, I entered the University of Chicago’s divisional social science master’s program, where I studied psychology, became a behaviorist, and was awarded a M.A. degree in 1974.  Chicago invited me to continue my graduate studies but provided no more financial assistance than the opportunity to take out another student loan. 

Having limited means, I looked to continue my studies at a university which would offer financial support. UCLA offered me a generous predoctoral fellowship in anthropology and student membership in the Socio-Behavioral Group of interdisciplinary scholars, which was under the auspices of the Department of Psychiatry.  

While at UCLA I became aware that students with master’s degrees attending one of the universities in the University of California system were eligible to apply for a U.S. State Department Teaching Fellowship at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (香港中文大學). Between the years 1976 and 1980, I served as a State Department Teaching Fellow (equivalent, perhaps, to an adjunct, half-time lecturer position in the U.S.) at the Chinese University and taught courses of my own design in the Anthropology Section of the Department of Sociology, New Asia College.  While at the university I studied Cantonese at Yale’s China Language Centre, in addition studying Chinese politics, sociology and culture.  

Not wanting to live on the then relatively new, sterile, isolated campus of Chinese U, I requested that I be permitted to live off-campus and the university rented me an inexpensive apartment next to an older government housing project in an urban area of Hong Kong. A soccer field, track and basketball courts were located near my apartment, and I regularly played basketball with young men and women who lived in nearby tenements.  

Before arriving in Hong Kong, I had decided that it would be rewarding to learn Chinese kungfu and thought that I would approach the discipline as another means to gain mastery over myself. A neighbor of one of the men I played basketball with ran a busy martial house. My basketball playing partner introduced me to the master in the early days of autumn of 1976. A month earlier I had turned 27 years old and have followed the master for the past forty-five years. 

2. Can you talk about how your current work reflects, and also departs, from your original dissertation.  One of the things that I noticed about your book was that readers were presented with very little anthropological theory or self-conscious descriptions of the ethnographic process.  These are things that I was more aware of in your dissertation. Was that a conscious editorial choice on your part? And if so, why?

The anthropological theory for my dissertation, Marginality and the Hero’s Art: Martial Artists in Hong Kong and Guangzhou (1983), was generated through the process of gathering and analyzing the large amount of data that I was accumulating about martial artists over the five years (1976-1981) I was Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The approach I used, known in social science as Grounded Theory, drove the more senior, conservative members of my dissertation committee crazy. One, then president of the American Anthropological Association, accused me of “following my nose” and “flying by the seat of my pants.” Before I began my research of martial artists or collect any fieldnotes, this esteemed scholar wanted me to spell out how I was using a preexisting theory, testing a clear hypothesis, and employing research methods that were in accordance with my theory and hypothesis. Only then would he approve of me collecting any ethnographic data about martial artists in Hong Kong.  

Lacking a preexisting theory and a hypothesis to test and happily ignoring my professor’s “advice,” I immediately began collecting and analyzing data from the very day I joined my Hong Kong master’s martial house in back 1976. By the time I had passed my doctoral qualifying exams and gained approval for my research proposal in 1979, the data I had collected and analyzed about Hong Kong martial artists had given me a handle on the anthropological theories I would use for my dissertation. 

Like many anthropologists my age, I was under the spell of Victor Turner, especially his writing on comparative symbology in play and ritual. When writing my dissertation, I was influenced by the ideas of Claude Levi-Strauss and Barbara E. Ward on culture and conscious models. The somewhat different takes on social deviancy and marginality by the wonderful Howard S. Becker, and by my dissertation chair, Robert B. Edgerton, strongly affected my work. I was also influenced by the research and writing on social marginality of two U.S. anthropologists, the youngest member of my dissertation committee and last year’s winner of the prestigious Franz Boas Award, Professor Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez; in addition to a paper by Professor Jean DeBernardi, then a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and for the past three decades a faculty member in anthropology at the University of Alberta.   

I conceived of my most recent work, Hong Kong Martial Artists: Sociocultural Change from World War II to 2020 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2021), as a cultural history, as the issues addressed in the book are cultural and historical ones. The book uses forty-five years of data from my ethnographic research in South China, as well as economic and demographic data generated by the Hong Kong government’s statistics and data department.  I also studied historical data regarding changes in the educational attainment of Hong Kong’s population. 

In the book I argue that the post-WWII changes in the practice of martial arts have been primarily driven by political and economic forces, particularly globalization.  The work rests on a particular theory of globalization, that of Greek political philosopher and economist Takis Fotopoulis, whose theory of globalization corresponds closely to the economic and cultural globalization of post-war Hong Kong.

Now we had a new kind of production unit, the multinational corporation, which produces and distributes products all over the world. In other words, it has subsidiaries locating parts of the production process, or even the entire production process, wherever it’s cheaper to produce, and also it has the means to distribute, to secure the distribution of these products (Fotopoulis, 2010, p. 7).

In Hong Kong, some of the earliest foreign subsidiaries and production lines introduced into territory were created by Japanese multinational corporations, especially producers of transistor radios. After Japanese electronics firms began introducing transistor production lines in the mid-1950s, Hong Kong factories rapidly became the world’s leading manufacturer of transistor radios. 

The post-war economic globalization of Hong Kong was accompanied by the same process of cultural globalization that has been seen elsewhere, in that there has also been a steady, worldwide homogenization of cultures across national boundaries. 

In addition to setting up production lines, one path used by multinational corporations to penetrate Hong Kong’s economy, has been to offer franchises, a legal agreement whereby the franchisor licenses its intellectual property, trademarks and systems to franchisees for a fee. The ubiquitous McDonald’s Corporation, for example, sold its first Hong Kong franchise nearly five decades ago, and opened its first local restaurant on January 8, 1975. By January 18, 2018, two hundred and thirty-seven Hong Kong McDonald’s restaurants employed over fifteen thousand people. Currently, thousands of international franchises do business in Hong Kong and cover a vast range of goods and services.  

Globalization and cultural homogenization have presented contemporary Hong Kong youth with an enormous range of food, entertainment, and lifestyles to choose from. Local youth who want to practice martial arts have numerous martial arts styles, many developed in foreign cultures, to select from. One consequence of cultural homogenization has been that cultural forms which are indigenous to Guangdong province and South China, such as Cantonese opera and Chinese martial arts, are no longer as popular as competing cultural forms developed outside of Chinese culture.     


3. Readers will probably notice that throughout your text you obscure the names and identities of your sources.  Not all ethnographers make that same decision today.  Can you discuss why this was necessary?  Do you have a sense of how this policy impacted the type of ethnography you produced?

As far as I am aware, I was the second U.S. graduate student permitted to do ethnographic research in the People’s Republic of China. During two brief visits to Guangzhou in January and May 1978, I first made contact and communicated with the martial arts master who I later studied kungfu with in that city. My initial long-term stay in Guangzhou was from June 1980 to August 1981. 

Months earlier than me, a graduate student from Stanford had gained permission to do ethnographic research in China and entered the country.  After several months he was not permitted to continue his fieldwork. Over the course of his relatively brief stay in Guangdong province, he had discovered that a number of women in the community where he was doing fieldwork had been forced to submit to involuntary abortions. Using a pseudonym, he published an article in a popular Taiwanese magazine detailing how Chinese women had been forced to undergo abortions.

It was difficult to do ethnographic research in China at that time, and his article contained important, newsworthy information. Yet with no consideration for the privacy or safety of the women he worked with, the Stanford student included photographs of the Chinese women described in his article, photos which allowed them to be easily identified. It is likely that these women were punished for sharing their stories with this foreigner from a suspect nation, a country which had been considered an enemy of China’s, an American, who had published his work in Taiwan, a society ruled by a rival, enemy government. Failure to protect the women he wrote about meant that this student had grossly violated the primary ethic of anthropology, to protect and take all precautions to ensure that your research does not harm the research participants you work with. 

Taking a break from fieldwork in Guangzhou, I made a brief visit to Hong Kong. A woman friend, another Stanford anthropology graduate student, told me that the student in question was in Hong Kong and really wanted to speak with me. Reluctantly, I agreed to meet with him. He asked what the Chinese authorities were telling me about him. Naturally, the Chinese authorities had not spoken to me about him. Later, a panel from Stanford University, which was in the process of deciding if this student should be expelled from their graduate program, interviewed me in regard to what I knew about this student’s behavior in China. I knew nothing other than what I had read in newspapers and anthropology journals. 

The circumstance I found myself in while I wrote my dissertation was that a Stanford anthropology student had needlessly and unethically exposed his Chinese research participants to harm. I was determined to protect the identities of my own research participants, some of whom were hostile to the Chinese government.

If I had followed the approach of the Stanford student, I might have also written about how Chinese authorities were acting inhumanely and unethically towards those they had authority over, as at the time professional athletes of both sexes in Guangzhou were required by their coaches to take anabolic steroids. Sharing this information likely would have gained much attention and could have put a spotlight on an important issue in China. Yet, the professional athletes who had shared this information would have easily been identified by their association with me. I was not in a position to be a “foreign savior” who could act as an agent for positive social change in Chinese professional sports. My essential duty was the need to protect those who had generously served as my research participants. I self-censored myself at that time and did not write about the harmful actions of Chinese sports authorities in Guangzhou towards professional martial athletes in regard to mandatory steroid use, realizing that the decisions I had arrived at in order to assume this stance were neither easy nor satisfying.

Similar to some of the concerns that I had about my research in mainland China, in Hong Kong many of the research participants I worked with from the mid-1970s to early 1980s also needed their privacy to be respected. Some had violated the law or acted in ways, if described in a manner which did not protect their privacy, would expose them to shame and social sanction. 

Four decades and many trips to Hong Kong later, I had begun to hope that things had become more relaxed in the territory, although I had closely followed Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement (雨傘運動, September 28-December 15, 2014). When I began my Fulbright funded research of martial artists in Hong Kong in the summer of 2017, I asked my master and kungfu brothers if I could use their real names and identities in my forthcoming publications. Everyone agreed that I could. Yet, Hong Kong had been ruled by Beijing for twenty years at that point, since 1997, and after interviewing just a few martial artists one could feel the background social tensions brewing. It was obvious by the time of my backup visit to Hong Kong during the demonstrations and riots of 2019, that I should not use personal names and would need to continue to disguise the identities of research participants in my published work. It was even more evident that this was the correct decision when the draconian Hong Kong Security law was passed by Beijing in June 2020, a month after I had submitted my manuscript to the publisher. 

4. I think the next questions has got to be one that all of us who have done fieldwork will be really interested in asking. How did you balance note taking and careful observation in the moment with the demands of participating in physically rigorous martial arts training?  What was your method of observation, and has it changed over the years?

By far the best field methods course that I took while a student was taught by UCLA professors Ronald Gallimore, a psychologist, and Thomas Weisner, a psychological anthropologist, both faculty members of the Socio-Behavioral Group, an interdisciplinary academic unit of the university that I belonged to as a graduate student. Ron and Tom taught Naturalistic Observation which presented a variety of observation methods developed by the fields of ethology, ethnography, primatology, psychology and photography. Students participated in a diverse variety of observational tasks, and their responses were collected by the instructors and analyzed. A consistent finding across a broad range of observational tasks was that women students were better observers than men students. 

While in the field I always bring my field notebook with me. In Hong Kong when not training, I used the techniques taught in the naturalistic observation course I attended at UCLA. After returning from practice or an event associated with the martial house, I would immediately begin to write and recreate the events that I had witnessed, spending at least two or three hours of writing, frequently more, for every hour of observation spent in the field.  

When I first lived in Hong Kong during the years 1976 to 1980, my kungfu brothers were poor, and I was the only one in the martial house who possessed a camera or watch. Given my ownership of an inexpensive East German camera, I was designated the kungfu brotherhood’s official photographer. 

In 1977, I convinced the Anthropology Section of the Chinese University to purchase a video camera, which at time, was extremely expensive, and cost around U.S. $10,000.  Large, awkward to carry around, and needing huge recording tapes, I would videorecord some of the events and practices of the martial house and analyze them moment by moment afterwards.

During the Lunar New Year of 2018, when my kungfu brothers did the Qilin dance (麒麟) at the master’s lineage ancestral hall, those observing the event acted differently from those witnessing the same event in 1977.  Most of the audience over the age of eleven were photographers, recording every movement of the dancing Qilin with the video function of their smart phones.  


5. You were one of the first anthropologists to do fieldwork in Southern China after the end of the Cultural Revolution. What was it like to work with martial artists in that environment?

Working with martial artists during the fourteen months I was did fieldwork in Guangzhou in 1980 and 1981 was fascinating, rewarding and a joyous experience. Hardly any of local residents who assisted me and participated in my research had ever spoken to a foreigner before, and we exchanged much information about ourselves and the societies we belonged to. There were only a handful of foreigners living in Guangzhou at the time, and we were extremely visible to the greater mass of Chinese who populated the city. In the evening Chinese friends frequently would tell me that their friends or family members had seen me during the day and could describe where I had been that morning or afternoon.  

Many ordinary people in Guangzhou went out of their way to assist me. Local martial artists were especially helpful and cooperative, generally open and willing to share their life histories, details of their martial arts practice, and their understanding of its place within Guangzhou society and the Chinese nation.    

A Chinese official at the university where I was stationed in Guangzhou was the difficult part.  She had replaced the previous head of the foreign affairs office, who during the first couple of months of my fieldwork had been a reasonable person to work with.  

In 1979, UCLA and the most prominent university in Guangzhou had reached an agreement whereby UCLA would host a handful of students from that university. They would receive free tuition and housing, while in return the Guangzhou university would host a handful of students from UCLA, and they too would receive free tuition and housing.  Graduate students from both sides were encouraged to do research while at their host universities, and one student from each side was selected to receive a graduate research grant.  UCLA awarded the Chinese student chosen for the award with a research grant of several thousand dollars. I was chosen and the Chinese side awarded me a research grant of 150 RMB per month (about $50.00 U.S. in 1980). In 1980, 150 RMB was a good salary in Guangzhou, the same as a university vice president, and I was glad to receive the award.  

After living in Guangzhou and doing research out of the university for a couple of months, the new head of the university’s foreign affairs office had one of her assistants knock on the door of my room. She informed me that I had an appointment with the new head that same morning. The new head asked me to explain my research and why I had come to China. I explained the purposes and plan of my research. She asked why I had come all the way from the U.S. to Guangzhou just to study and talk with martial artists. Wasn’t there something more important that I could be doing in the United States. After conversing with her for an hour, she informed me that she would allow me to continue my research in Guangzhou on the condition that I would travel to Hong Kong and buy her twelve air conditioners. I responded that I was an impoverished graduate student and didn’t have the means to purchase even one air conditioner. She was not pleased with my reply.

A couple months later I visited Hong Kong. The day before my re-entry permit to China was to expire, I severely sprained my ankle while playing basketball with some friends at the Chinese University. Barely able to walk, with difficulty I made it to my master’s martial house. My master, a Chinese bonesetter, treated my injury and while I recuperated invited me to spend the night on the martial house floor. After a couple of days under my master’s care, I was able to walk with a painful limp, and telephoned the foreign affairs office of the university in Guangzhou, explaining that I had injured myself, and requested a new re-entry permit.  The new office head took the phone from her assistant at that point. She triumphantly denied my request, explaining that I would need to return to the United States and reapply for a re-entry permit. I telephoned the UCLA office which handled the exchange program, but they were unable to assist me.    

Desperate to continue my research in Guangzhou, lacking a valid re-entry permit, but still possessing a valid visa, I took the train from Hong Kong to the Shenzhen border crossing. As I limped towards the mainland Chinese side of the border, I was met by two young male, uniformed and armed customs officers. In Cantonese I explained that I was exchange student in Guangzhou, had injured myself playing basketball, and thus had been unable to return to China before my re-entry permit expired. I also mentioned that I was Deng Xiaoping’s nephew, and they would both be in really big trouble if they didn’t let me back into China. Both custom officers laughed for a good while on hearing of my relationship to Uncle Deng. They took me upstairs to a more senior customs officer and asked that I repeat the same statement to him.  More laughter followed. They stamped my passport, and I returned to the university in Guangzhou.      

It was pleasant to view the expression on the face of the foreign affairs head when she saw that I had returned to the university, but she continued to cause me more misery over the next couple of months. Eventually, a UCLA professor, a well-known scholar of Chinese studies, who had encountered the same difficult official during his summer research project in Guangzhou in 1980, demanded that she cease causing so many problems and putting so many obstacles before visiting students and scholars, and begin to follow the contract their university had signed with UCLA. Afterwards, the head of the foreign affairs office settled down a bit, and I was able to continue my research with less interference from her. 

A couple of months after I had finished my research in Guangzhou and returned to the United States, the Party leaders of Guangdong province, which included Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋, 1913-2002), father of the current Chinese leader Xi Jinping, publicly criticized the difficult head of the foreign affairs office that I had encountered.  She was accused of corruption, removed from her posts and expelled from the Party. 

6. Can you summarize how globalization and modernization have fundamentally changed traditional Chinese martial arts in Hong Kong?

In academic work I usually avoid the term “traditional” in reference to culture, as the term implies stasis, equilibrium, and lack of change.  Culture evolves and Chinese martial arts have moved and changed with the evolving socioeconomic and political contexts that they are found in.   

I have been privileged to directly witness forty-five years of changes in the practice of Chinese martial arts in Hong Kong; perhaps even eighty-five years of change, if one counts an earlier time, seen and heard by my eyes and ears through the words, movements and scars of my senior kungfu uncle, who while approaching his one hundredth year, passed into another plane of existence. 

Globalization has proved to be a powerful driver of change in Hong Kong. The four hundred some martial houses that existed in 1976 when I first began my long-term stay in Hong Kong were nurtured by the colony’s large working class, a social class which was poor and only lightly touched by formal education.  The number of members in most martial houses had lately increased because of the persona of Bruce Lee, the worldwide fame and excitement surrounding his life and recent death, and the corresponding Kungfu Heat (功夫熱) which had been generated among youth in Hong Kong (and Guangzhou too). During this time criminal Triads were very strong in the British Crown Colony, while the Hong Kong police force, public service workers and government employees tended to have high rates of corruption. Working class youth, the dominant population which made up martial houses in 1976, felt unsafe on the streets, and wanted to learn how to fight. In most martial houses during this time there was active sparring between kungfu brothers. 

Little sparing was occurring at Hong Kong martial houses in 2019, not only among those who practiced kungfu, but also in martial houses which taught martial arts styles developed in non-Chinese cultures. Students of western Muay Thai, for example, now probably the most popular martial arts practiced in Hong Kong, estimate that only ten percent of fellow learners do contact sparring.  The motivation of most is to get exercise, lose fat and stay in shape. 

During fieldwork between 2017-2019 among martial houses where kungfu was practiced, I witnessed only light, geriatric sparring, that performed by my kungfu brothers and me, all of us in our sixties and seventies, the eldest members of our brotherhood then still practicing.  Members of one of our brother martial houses were reported to be doing some limited sparring, but I did not witness it. In interviews with a variety of kungfu learners many complained that they’d like to do sparring, but it rarely or never happened in their martial house.       

Forty-five years earlier, if someone in Hong Kong wanted to learn one of the various kungfu fighting systems one usually needed to become a devout follower of a master, join his martial house, and enter into a complex socio-cultural system of loyalties and obligations. If one was loyal to the master, respected and followed the commands of more senior kungfu brothers and studied hard, one gained the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills associated with the specific variety of Chinese martial arts taught by the master. To belong meant not only showing up at the martial house five or six times a week for intense practice, but also participating in the brotherhood’s ritual practices and religious observations.  

By 2021, economic globalization and cultural homogenization in Hong Kong has a meant that the corpus of complex Chinese kungfu knowledge and practices of many styles of kungfu have frequently been fractured into separate parts, turned into individual commodities, and sold on the open marketplace.  This has placed the consumer, the potential learner of kungfu skills, in the driver’s seat.  

For example, these days learning the “Lion Dance” (舞獅)is popular in Hong Kong and one can see advertisements offering lessons in this skill. In these settings, students of Lion dancing simply pay a fee and their instructor may or may not be a martial arts master. Kungfu masters observe that compared to learning kungfu, acquiring Lion Dance skills is comparatively less complex. They feel that the Lion Dance should be learned within a martial house and not begun until after one has acquired kungfu skills.    

In contemporary Hong Kong, even if a student of kungfu practices within a martial house, because many kungfu masters are anxious to retain kungfu learners, they will allow a student to determine when he or she wants to learn a particular skill, such as stick, sword or spear.  In the past, a teaching assistant or senior brother would guide a neophyte learner through the relatively slow acquisition of elementary skills, with the master determining when a disciple was ready to begin learning a new, more advanced skill. 

Practices such as shen da (神打), a form of martial spirit possession, formerly disparaged and looked down upon by the middle-classes of Hong Kong, is now commercially packaged and marketed to people from the same social classes who decades earlier vilified and despised the practice. In the process of commercialization and being sold as a commodity, shen da is less bound by its former sociocultural context and structured by past meaning. Foreigners living in Hong Kong, most with little knowledge of Chinese language and culture, now also take courses in shen da.  

An analogous situation would be tourists walking across hot coals in Hawaii, a religious act imbued with meaning for indigenous people of Polynesia; culturally expropriated by hotel chains to thrill tourists. Hot coal walking is now also used by charismatic con men in the United States who identify themselves as “life coaches.” They use this practice to convince clients participating in expensive “personal growth seminars” that when they stroll across hot embers they have successfully “unleashed their personal power within.”    

7. What did you see during your most recent stay in Hong Kong that gave you the greatest hope for the future of these fighting systems in that territory?

Chinese martial arts fighting systems are not in danger of disappearing. In spite of the considerable decline in the number of learners over recent decades, there are still large numbers of people in Hong Kong learning kungfu. However, the fighting effectiveness of the people learning kungfu has certainly been compromised by the lack of opportunity for learners to spar and gain the ability to unconsciously respond to a variety of situations that require an aggressive response with controlled force.  

As noted above, decades earlier in Hong Kong learning kungfu meant more than just practicing a Chinese fighting system.  Mastery of kungfu also meant learning and successfully fitting into a complex sociocultural system involving relationships with one’s master and kungfu brothers and sisters, as well as learning and practicing rituals, religion, dance, music and also acquiring at least some elementary knowledge of the bonesetter’s art (跌打), the most popular form of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong.  

During recent decades, the much fuller sociocultural package formerly associated with Hong Kong kungfu has greatly declined in significance, although one can still find young or middle-aged people, often the children of kungfu masters, who have mastered all of this knowledge.  Because this reservoir of knowledge still exists in younger practitioners of Chinese martial arts, it is theoretically possible that a cultural revival of kungfu in Hong Kong even decades from now would cause this knowledge to be more widely disseminated.

Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and discussing your work here today! And I think its always good to end things on an upbeat note. I hope that this interview helps to put a spotlight on the invaluable contributions that your work has made to our collective understanding of the development of the Southern Chinese martial arts in the 20th (and now 21st) century.

Dr. Amos, wife Yukari and daughter Himiko, at the 10,000 Buddhas Temple in Hong Kong, standing in front of Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), one of the gods worshipped by our martial house. Source: Amos’ personal collection.