Author archives

  • Heroes like Foam on the Waves

    Guan Yu

    Guan Yu

    “The waters of the Yangtze roll to the east, heroes come and go like foam on the waves.”

    This line is from an old chant that starts off one of China’s great classic novels, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The novel describes the complicated struggle of three small kingdoms and their heroes in the aftermath of the fall of the Han Dynasty. The most famous of the heroes are the three brothers of Shu who swore an oath of loyalty under the peach tree: Zhang Fei, Guan Yu, and Liu Bei; their advisor the Merlin-esque Zhuge Liang; and their primary adversary, Cao Cao king of Wei.

    Many different hero archetypes take the stage during the struggles for primacy over ancient China. There is Zhang Fei, the fiery warrior who rages fearlessly across the battlefield, taking on great odds and “facing the north wind with a wine cup in his hand.” In most depictions of Zhang Fei, he has a huge beard and a red face, bulbous features and wild eyes. He only knows how to fight; he was betrayed and murdered by his subordinates, who saw defeat written on the wall.

    His Western counterpart would be Ares the God of War, Achilles, or maybe Thor the Thunder God, none of whom can stand to walk away from a fight or think their way out of one. These are the heroes who represent the wild passions of combat, the reckless love of the challenge and the corresponding disdain of anything not related to battle, blood, and glory. Zhang Fei reminds me of Conan the Barbarian, and his famous quote about lamenting women.

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    December 12, 2015 • Kung Fu History, Kung Fu Lore • Views: 4778

  • Cyborg on Female Fighters

    October 7, 2015 • MMA, Video • Views: 4695

  • UFC Fighter Donald Cerrone on Fear

    Gleaned from Reddit …

    September 12, 2015 • MMA, Video • Views: 3733

  • Community Power and Cage Power

    Kung fu

    Photo via Flickr user Matt Paish

    I wrote a story on the fly that in and of itself is a bit short and shallow, but might point at a very interesting aspect of martial arts in China. The story, “Making the List: Traditional Martial Arts and Community Power,” came about as many of my posts do, during a conversation with Ben Judkins of Kungfu Tea. The idea is basically that Chinese martial artists are more interested in the power of community through recognition (often from the authorities) than in the power of heroic glory through hand to hand combat.

    And really this should make a lot of sense to anyone who takes a step back to look at it. If a community is codified, and has its stories and legends enshrined as “history” as opposed to “myth,” then longevity and survival into the future are pretty much assured. To destroy a culture, you must first burn their books. To create a culture, you must first write your story and have it read. Once a martial art is recognized as a community, it becomes something so much more than the masters or students who developed the style and for the masters today in China who see their arts withering before their eyes, nothing is more precious than “making the list.”

    In my mind I picture an ark leaving port. Martial arts right now seem to be an ark on the move, with mixed martial arts driving a need for all styles to prove themselves in some way or be left behind. In the West, this discussion revolves around efficacy in one-on-one combat, but in the East that is not necessarily the case.

    This is one aspect of the disconnect between modern mixed martial arts’ rise in popularity and the slow demise of traditional martial arts—which I honestly am less inclined to subscribe to when the world is taken into account, and not just Mainland China. But that is a different discussion … the point I am trying to understand is this:

    If we measure the strength of traditional martial arts by the number of combatants we can name active in the many MMA etc promotion, then things seem dismal. But if we change the metric to the strength of a community, to the power of the myths, to the enduring nature of “kung fu” the brand and symbol of a certain culture, are things still as dismal?

    September 2, 2015 • MMA, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 5120

  • Articles on Shaolin

    Zhuangzi-Butterfly-DreamI read Meir Shahar’s book cover to cover. Every ten to fifteen pages I stopped to write an essay for Fightland outlining what I thought Shahar was saying. In some instances, I summarized his findings outright. I believe Fightland’s audience may not have had a chance to read a real in depth history of the Shaolin Temple, and maybe didn’t know they cared until they did read one.

    I for one had my mind blown. There is so much in Shahar’s book that led to other threads within the martial arts phenomenon. The essays I wrote for Fightland were something of an exercise in reading comprehension for me, and also helped to clarify a few areas of my own research I felt had clouded up in the past few months. As has happened many times in the last two years, my ideas changed, morphed, seemed insignificant, took on new meaning, were amplified and enhanced, and eventually crystallized into a new edifice from which to work forward from.

    Now I am slogging through “Thrown,” a solid book so far, but not as fascinating to me as Shahar’s book. Yet.

    Here are the essays for Fightland:

    Wild Monks: Origins of the Shaolin Martial Arts

    From Staff to Fist: Origins of Shaolin Martial Arts

    Kungfu and the Cult of Immortality

    Kung Fu and the China Dream


    May 26, 2015 • Kung Fu History, Kung Fu Lore, Kung Fu People, Kung Fu Places • Views: 4809