• Globalizing Kung Fu Part 2: Wushu and the Olympics

    One way to globalize an art is to simplify it, give it rules that anyone can understand, and then submit it for an international review to the association most likely to be interested in the art. For martial arts, this process is known as sportification: Making the art of warfare and spiritual enlightenment into a game that anyone can play.

    Sportification naturally divides the practitioners of any martial art into two opposing camps: purists who believe that simplification ruins and eventually mutates the art into something else; and pragmatists (for lack of a better word), who believe that without simplification and marketing, martial arts will die a slow, but inevitable death.

    Both Judo and Taekwondo have gone through the process and were awarded with spots in the Summer Olympics, the former in 1968 at the Tokyo Games and the latter in 1988 at the Seoul Games. Given that the 2008 Summer Olympics were in Beijing, it would have stood to reason that the heavy lobbying by the Chinese government and the International Wushu Federation would have had a similar result. But wushu was denied. As consolation, the IWUF was allowed to stage a parallell event in Beijing, and continue fostering hopes that wushu will become an official Olympic Sport in 2020 at the Macao Games.

    But the odds are slim. Seven sports are competing for one open spot in the 2020 Games, and wushu is competing against some tough customers, including the “united sport” of baseball and softball, squash, karate, and roller sports.

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    November 12, 2012 • Modern Kung Fu • Views: 11422

  • A Meeting with Liu Sui Bin

    The other day I met Liu Sui Bin at a teahouse in west Chengdu, The Green Well, opposite the Shiren Park main gate. The district around Shiren Park looks like the rest of Chengdu looked 10 years ago: fly in the wall eateries sandwiched between crimson lit barber shops and lotto dispensaries; families wandering around chewing on sunflower seeds; men in dirty clothes and badly combed hair sitting on motorbikes eyeing the girls and smoking Baisha brand smokes.

    It’s not the district I would imagine to find Liu Sui Bin in. And the Green Well is just a mahjong parlor above an old style KTV/brothel joint, not the venue I would expect to be discussing Taoist philosophy in either.

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    October 15, 2012 • Kung Fu People • Views: 12430

  • Kung Fu Kids

    Students at a Hanyuan Daishimen Gongfu School (photo by Andreas Muller)

    September 26, 2012 • Kung Fu People • Views: 16711

  • Glossary of Terms

    I recently came across a very fascinating analysis of the difference between 工夫茶 (gōngfū chá) and 功夫茶 (gōngfuchá) on LanguageLog. Both refer to the art of brewing tea in a clay pot and serving the tea in small cups.

    The discussion was fascinating to me in general, because I brew my tea in a clay pot “gong fu style,” but also because the characters that are used most often to describe this method of brewing tea are 功夫茶 – and 功夫 is of course Kung Fu, the martial art and way of life I am researching on this blog.

    There are a few phrases used for Kung Fu and all of them have a slightly different meaning and usage. The following are some terms I will use on this blog and the way in which I will use them. I encourage anyone to disagree or augment any of the descriptions I have below:

    1) Kung Fu: This is the most common usage outside of China for Chinese martial arts. This is the anglicized version of 功夫, which in modern Mainland pinyin, “the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into Latin script in the People’s Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore,” is actually written “gōngfu”. In my own personal communications or blogs, I use gong fu. Here on this blog I will use Kung Fu as much as possible, in order to appeal to a more general audience. I may switch to gong fu because it feels right to me.

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    September 25, 2012 • Kung Fu History • Views: 15673

  • The scholar and the businessman

    There are two masters who have inspired me to do this thing and do it right.

    The first lives nearby. His home is a drafty farmhouse that sweats in the sun and shivers in the cold grey rain of winter. Most days he sits alone at a table and sips tea. Sun bleached photos of him, his master, and friends and family hang on wooden poles wrapped in rope around the farmhouse. A few kids wander in and out of a room with the TV running. They are unwanted kids from the mountains with little in the way of education or opportunity. Shifu trains them in kungfu, but they are not real students. Just kids in need of a place to be and a father figure to watch over them.

    Every now and then he attacks the iron circle, beats up the wooden dummy, dances in and out of reach of swinging bamboo poles. When someone shows up, the energy level rises and he takes off his shirt and starts training. Horse stances, blocks and strikes. Running and stretching. Kicking the bag. When the farmhouse stands empty, he texts his friends and dreams of a school in the mountains, where dozens of dedicated disciples rise before the sun and train till night falls. At night he eats rice and vegetables and slaps mosquitos in his sleep. When I watch him at his table, I think of a warrior-scholar, like many others I have seen in China over the years.

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    September 23, 2012 • Kung Fu People • Views: 5928