kung fu
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  • 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: 2060

  • 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: 26714

  • Kung Fu Kids

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

    September 26, 2012 • Kung Fu People • Views: 13147

  • 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: 13456

  • 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: 4260