• MMA in China: The RUFF Superfight in Hohhot

    Meixuan RUFF Superfight

    I am in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia this weekend to watch the RUFF Superfight. RUFF is the number one mixed martial arts organization in China and this is their big bang: five champions will emerge out of tomorrow’s fights, the first belts given out by RUFF in their two year-history in China.

    It’s a big deal for MMA in China and a big deal period. No other MMA organization has national champions and no other organization is so firmly entrenched in one country the way RUFF is in China. You could say that the only way MMA could thrive in China is by awarding national championship belts, but RUFF is by all accounts a serious MMA outfit with excellent quality control when it comes to fighters, safety, judging, and venues. So it doesn’t really matter whether or not RUFF’s deal with the Wushu Association (and by extension the government) stipulated national champs: tomorrows winners are bona fide MMA champs.

    And that is the first step toward a bona fide MMA following in China, where martial arts has a long and storied tradition.

    For me, the chance to watch an MMA fight live is great; I also have an inside track to the fighters, promoters and other people involved, and in terms of The Last Masters project … the rise of MMA and its relationship with Wushu and Kungfu is part of the story. Being here and talking with people and soaking up the atmosphere may help me get closer to answering questions like: What is the future of Chinese Martial Arts? What will survive and what will not?

    What is the CMA scene like now? Where is it headed? How will MMA, Wushu and Kungfu develop (together? apart? or in competition with each other?) … Can a belief system co-exist with a sport? Are they mutually incompatible? Will we ever see kungfu as part of an MMA fighter’s repertoire? Is Sanda Kungfu?

    I’ll keep you posted with what I see and hear, but it would be great if some readers posted a few questions or thoughts concerning the relationship between Mixed Martial Arts and Traditional Martial Arts …

    February 1, 2013 • Modern Kung Fu • Views: 14622

  • 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: 28154

  • 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: 4407

  • China Needs a Hero

    The Tao of Jeet Kun Do

    Last Wednesday two men, father and son, defended their home from bandits trying to break the door down and force-evict their family. All we saw in the video that went viral over the weekend were several men lying in the foyer of a concrete shell – your typical Chinese home in the countryside – and some thugs outside of the home making calls to their boss. The person with the camera, most likely the man’s wife, also added text to the video letting viewers know the situation and calling for help.

    Later the Telegraph interviewed the man, Shen Jianzhong, who told a familiar story for Chinese in this era of relentless urbanization:

    “They called it a remodelling project, to turn our village into a town,” he said. “They wanted to tear down the whole street, and promised we would get a new house of the same size in two years, as well as rent to cover the interim. But I heard of people in a neighbouring village getting a much better deal, so we refused to sign.”

    “This mob of thugs would block the street most days. They would pick on the women, threatening to kill their kids. Then people started tossing bricks through windows and letting off fireworks at night. Some people got beaten on the street.”

    On October 29, as Mr Shen went to work and his wife popped out for a packet of instant noodles, a mob of “30 to 50 men” materialised at their front door.

    “My wife tried to close the door, but they pushed it back and she tripped over. That is how the fight started,” said Mr Shen.

    Shen then took off for Beijing with his family, only to have his son arrested by the same authorities that couldn’t protect him when thugs tried to force him and his family to leave their home. The Telegraph story ends with a cliffhanger: a supposedly sympathetic official contacting Shen and telling him to wait to get picked up by a car.

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    December 1, 2012 • Modern Kung Fu • Views: 3413

  • 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: 23284