Kung Fu History
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  • Jiu Jitsu Lineage, Influence and Branding in the Martial Arts

    The Father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Helio Gracie

    The Father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Helio Gracie

    Why is the Kimura Armbar called the Kimura armbar?

    Well, back in 1951, Helio Gracie challenged Masahiko Kimura to a duel and lost. The Gracie clan then named the armbar used to defeat Helio after the man who used it. Tracing this bit of trivia back to its roots gives us an interesting look at the development of a martial art – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – from its origins in feudal Japan to its current incarnation as the “invincible” mixed martial art of the day.

    The end result also demonstrates the power of branding, which, according to Ben Judkins and Paul Bowman, is what most martial arts have been focused on since the late 19th century.

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    May 27, 2013 • Kung Fu History, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 18710

  • The Birthplace of Chen Style Taiji Quan

    Chinese Martial Arts

    A billboard of Chen Xiao Wang and sons in Chen Jia Gou

    Last month I went to Chen Jia Gou, just outside of Zhengzhou, Henan, to visit the birthplace of Chen Style Taiji Quan. I went with Chen Jia, a young lady who studies under the style’s current, most famous master, Chen Xiao Wang. She also opened her own school in Shanghai.

    Every year in March, Chen Xiao Wang takes time out from his travels around the globe to return home and pay respects to the temple, school, and village where he was born and raised. Students from around the country – and the world – come to Henan during the last week in March to join him, participate in seminars, and train with other taiji enthusiasts.

    My primary interest in traveling out here was to learn more about Chen Jia, more about her master Chen Xiao Wang, and to take a good look at a “birthplace” of a style. I know Chen Jia, and consider her to be a very sincere and talented martial artist, and in conversations we had we often spoken of the level of “realness” in martial arts these days. We talked of the rise of Wushu – the competition style Wushu – and the decline in students of what we both understood to be real kungfu.

    It’s easy to agree on a definition when you agree with the person you speak to. So much can be left unsaid. Hence the trip: I wanted to see what was real in Zhengzhou and what Chen Jia considered to be real kungfu.

    I was, in all, pleasantly surprised.

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    April 18, 2013 • Kung Fu History, Kung Fu People, Kung Fu Places, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 21993

  • Classifying Wushu

    Daishimen KungfuHappy Holidays Everyone, I have been away for a few weeks, so this is not just the first post of 2013, but for me a long-overdue return to writing about kungfu in China.

    A lot of things have happened in the past few weeks: a meeting with the Sichuan Wushu Association Party Secretary, a car ride with a flamboyantly dressed Liu Sui Bin and his wife, and messages with a female bare-knuckle kungfu warrior living in the hills of Chongqing are the highlights. I will go through them one by one. But first a response to a friend’s request:

    A good friend recently asked me to classify wushu into a clear and easily digested system for the layman. Each time I tried to explain how difficult that was, he launched into another monologue on how such a system would help to promote Chinese martial arts and attract students. Eventually, I ended up nodding my head and promising to provide an essay on the classification of Chinese martial arts.

    It has been tried by many a more knowledgable scholar than I and not one of them can claim to have succeeded. When I put the question to Professor Ben Judkins, author of Kungfutea, he replied:

    “I am not sure that I would be brave enough to answer the question.”

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    January 7, 2013 • Kung Fu History, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 26817

  • Dichotomies and Princesses

    The last remaining gate of Hong Yan Temple, which housed the secrets of Emei Kungfu. There were once 48 gates, according to legend, and hundreds of monks.

    I recently traveled to Emei, again, and to Shanghai to meet with a disciple of Chen-style Taijiquan, Chen Jia. There were some highlights that I will try and talk about below, but what these trips also did for me was help crystallize the framework for this story I am writing.

    One thing that has come clear to me over the past few weeks (and years actually) is that 武术 is so deep and so broad that I have literally no hope of understanding a large portion of it unless I dedicated myself to a life of scholarly research – and I actually just imagined finding Ming Dynasty contemporary accounts of the training that mountain-bound monks did in preparation for battle with rebels, and I literally teared up. What a beautiful thing, an old text illuminated again … but I digress.

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    December 12, 2012 • Kung Fu History, Kung Fu People, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 3466

  • A few thoughts on Emei Mountain Kung Fu

    Emei Kungfu

    I am busy transcribing interviews and translating them for a deeper post on Emei Mountain, but I thought I would lay down a few surface thoughts before they escaped into the ether, enjoy:

    I went to Emei Mountain last weekend and visited with some kung fu masters there. Two to be exact. One has been a high school gym coach for the past 25 years and the other teaches wu shu performance classes to small children.

    I met them at the Grand Buddha Temple, a massive, beautiful new temple built by the Emei Buddhist association to promote tourism and the Buddha. The Emei Wu Shu Alliance has a small office in the corner of the temple. Pictures of the officials responsible for the creation of the alliance line a large carpeted room where Zhang Shifu performed some tao lu for us. That was without question the first time anyone practiced any martial arts in that office.

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    November 20, 2012 • Kung Fu History, Kung Fu People, Kung Fu Places, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 16303