• Reading: The Shaolin Monastery and Thrown

    Shaolin Thrown

    Where the Twain Shall Meet

    I sent for “The Shaolin Monastery” and “Thrown” a couple of weeks ago and have already made it to the end of the former. I wrote a small essay for Fightland that basically elaborates slightly on the first few chapters of Meir Shahar’s work on the Shaolin Monastery, and I might squeeze out another article on the transition from staff to fist. I found that to be pretty interesting, the fact that the staff came from the lore of proto-Buddhism, became the weapon of choice for the fighting monk, but then sometime around the Ming dynasty gave way to fists and hand to hand combat techniques.

    It shouldn’t be surprising really. From the Yuan to the Qing there is a “civilizing” wave that swept through China (and the world?) that transformed the hard, short, and brutal lives of medieval people into the stratified, maybe even fulfilling lives of the pre-modern eras. The literary record changes, the types of writings we see change, and the topics people wrote of changed. Did the Mongols have anything to do with it? Or was it just a continuance of the Song dynasty’s regal splendor, broken up for a century by interlopers? I don’t know … just musing.

    Also Meir Shahar needs to be commended for pulling so much out of the Chinese sources he has. I read through some of them and it requires a incredible amount of cross referencing and lateral studies to understand what exactly is being discussed. The Chinese seem to enjoy vagaries when being scholarly. It’s as if the old historians can’t suppress those original dreams of being a wandering poet-warrior-minstrel. Instead, they record the wanderings and exploits of others and add as much poetry as they can. I guess any classical/medieval/pre-modern writing will seem so old to young eyes. I for one find classical Greek descriptions of minor king and Song era musings on temples and peaks and the clouds to be absolutely entrancing.

    I have looked into the classical curriculum here at the University of Minnesota.


    As for Thrown, it hits much closer to home. Kerry Howley shadowed two fighters while she was at the University of Iowa’s famed Creative Writing program, and pretty much dropped the mic on the MMA story for now. It was never my intention  to write a book like Kerry’s, in the sense of following around MMA fighters and recording their actions while placing them into a heady phenomenological framework, but then again it kinds was, except I trade Iowa for Sichuan and MMA for kung fu.

    It will be hard at first, to read something written as I feel I might be able to write, but then again it reminds me of stretching. It hurts at first, but as soon as you get into the right breathing sequence, it’s positively divine. I expect to learn so much from her book, be inspired by her findings, and be able to find new and interesting nooks in my own experience and readings as I flip through hers.

    I do not, however, expect people to muse out loud about whether or not I slept with my subjects.




    April 23, 2015 • MMA, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 3421

  • The New Masters Documentary on the BBC

    Director Chris Cherry was on the BBC recently discussing MMA in China, the documentary we are working on, and the routes out of poverty for poor fighters. Check out the video and full audio interview below.

    April 7, 2015 • MMA, Modern Kung Fu, Video • Views: 4811

  • It’s Spring Again

    Qing troops

    I have been busy, forgive me for once again wandering from this blog. I recently moved back to the US and although I have found that being away from China has definitely impacted my ability to write about certain aspects of martial arts – personalities and real time events and trends for example – being away allows me to explore other parts.

    I am still writing for Fightland, and I recently “completed” a series on kung fu history and culture. BY completed I mean to say I have reached a climax and can now move on to other elements within the same thread, with perhaps a bit more nuance. That’s how it feels with writing sometimes, you put together a string of essays and suddenly a long form opus pops out and it suddenly gives you a chance to breathe and re-group. Here are those essays, from most recent to the first one:

    To Topple a Dynasty: Kung Fu Rebels and the Cycle of History

    Razing the Temple: Shaolin Versus the State

    Shuai Jiao: China’s Indigenous Wrestling Style

    Shaolin Warrior Monks and the Japanese “Wokou” Pirates

    “The Practical Isn’t Pretty”: General Qi Jiguang on Martial Arts for Soldiers

    Flying Kicks: The Roots of Taekwondo and the Future of Martial Arts

    Meridians, Death Strikes, and Secrets of the Shaolin Fist

    Karate’s Sacred Tome: The Bubishi and the Evolution of Martial Arts

    The New Masters Documentary is trucking along as well. I am in the US, so I am a bit removed from the day to day operations. But the crew is digging deeper into the MMA scene and establishing a strong relationship to the fighters and the community. It’s a long road, and 2015 is a grinding year.

    I am very interested in the UFC’s upcoming Aldo vs. McGregor fight … I have been watching the embedded series they have going on, and it is really hard to maintain respect for Conor’s skill set as a martial artist when he so routinely disrespects both his opponent and the sport on a constant basis. I truly hope Also destroys him. In my experience the team I root for usually goes down, but I did have the satisfaction of watching the Mavs beat the Heat back in 2010 … so perhaps the Lord will smile down upon me and grant the better man (in my opinion) the victory. It’s worth a look if you are into the showmanship and the brash personalities behind some of the fights.

    I for one dislike Conor more and more with each episode. And I think that’s the point right?

    March 28, 2015 • Kung Fu History, Kung Fu Lore • Views: 4202

  • Support the New Masters Kickstarter!

    New Masters Kickstarter

    After a long long time (two years has it been, since this first post?) I can finally say that the first larger work to come out of this endeavor is emerging out of the primordial soup:

    The documentary film I have been working on with a crew of filmmakers and producers, The New Masters, is coming to life. We just launched a Kickstarter Campaign to keep the project rolling, and when you visit the page, you’ll see our trailer, several photos from the project, and the story we mean to tell.

    Here is the New Masters Kickstarter

    Please, Share it on your social media. Donate to the cause. We put together some great rewards packages as a token of our our gratitude for your support. Also, leave some feedback either here, or in the Kickstarter if you do end up backing us (thank you!!) and let us know what you think of the story we are trying to tell.
    Here some excerpts:

    “Over the past couple decades, Kungfu has taken a back seat to a new combat phenomenon, mixed martial arts, or MMA. MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and the new proving ground for anyone who considers themselves “the greatest warrior on the planet”.

    Our documentary, The New Masters, explores the meeting of these two martial styles in Mainland China. We follow MMA fighters and Kungfu masters as they navigate new landscapes, feed their families, seek out the Tao, and fight for the pride of a nation. The film will also explain how the martial arts in China are a metaphor for China’s own emergence onto the world stage. Traditional culture, in this case Kungfu, is being diluted and transformed by commercial considerations and the sweeping power of globalization, represented by MMA and the general mixing of martial arts worldwide.”

    “The New Masters is also a poignant look at one critical aspect of China’s rise: How can China’s most treasured cultural traditions contribute to the modern world? Is there more to modern China than just cheap exports and the breakneck commercialization of a once-Communist hermit?

    This is a question that grips many Chinese today, and although discourse in China is dynamic, much of it is overlooked in favor of economic and (mostly negative) political news. The martial arts are one forum for this conversation.

    We want to to bring this larger story to the screen, and we need your help to do it.”

    Once again, here is that link to the New Masters Kickstarter

    Thank you so very much!

    The New Masters Crew

    November 3, 2014 • MMA, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 10349

  • Tibetans and MMA

    I had a very fascinating encounter yesterday. Vaughn Anderson came back to Chengdu after a couple months on the road working for OneFC, and he had a meeting with a man who wanted to hire him as a coach for his gym. I asked if I could tag along and Vaughn said sure. We were picked up in a G.Patton SUV, built by Allegheny Ford Isuzu Truck Sales, and taken way out to the western outskirts of the city, just south of Pixian.

    Our driver was a pudgy Tibetan decked out in Versace. He didn’t say much to us on the way to the gym, and Vaughn and I just yapped about MMA and every so often glanced out at the people watching our Panzer-SUV roll by. The driver switched from Chinese to Tibetan and back again, keeping up a constant string of phone calls for the duration of the trip. I felt like a drug dealer, bumping up and down on the unfinished roads between the expanding urban center and the awaiting countryside. Tibetan trinkets hung from the dashboard mirror, lay stacked on the console in front of us, along with a remote for the TV screen/portal that removed us from more than connected us to the driver.

    Continue Reading

    October 14, 2014 • Kung Fu People, MMA, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 7820