• Full Circle


    This project began as a search into the “last masters” of traditional kungfu. That has always been the core during this process. Every time I went to visit someone, read something, wrote something, or attended an event of some kind, I had the “last masters” in mind.

    I went off on a tangent. I became embroiled in MMA, and left behind the evolution – or sundering as I am calling it –¬†of Chinese traditional martial arts from its fundamentals, known by most as traditional kungfu (see this post for more on the malleable terms in wushu), into its component parts: Combat Sports, Wushu Performances, Taiji Health Practices, and Medicine.

    To that end, I wrote a series of stories starting with this one in the Economist a while back, “Ain’t that a Kick in the Head,” and continuing with the more recent “Hard Knock Life of a Foreign Fighter in China,” and “The Shady Business of Promoting MMA in China” for Fightland.com, a part of Vice.

    I was worried that I may have gone completely off course. I was worried that I may have built a site and proclaimed it part of a “project” that I would never end up completing.

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    March 23, 2014 • Modern Kung Fu • Views: 5775

  • The Man in Charge of Sichuan Wushu

    The top of Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province

    The top of Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province

    It’s been a while, again, so I will get right to it.

    I want to talk about a man named Ren Gang, the Party Secretary of the Sichuan Provincial Wushu Association. As such, he holds sway over all things martial in Sichuan. Wushu performances and training, allocation of belts, degrees and titles, approval of new schools and temples, any martial events – including fights – and, in general, the direction of wushu itself in this province.

    The first time I spoke to him, I made a trip out to Dujiangyan by high speed rail specifically to talk to him. He was busy coaching the Sichuan Provincial Wushu Team in a closed door session, and came out for dinner. He was waiting for me by the back gate of the gym, besides his eggshell white BMW. We walked across the street, gauging each other and small-talking about Sichuan food.

    Ren Gang holds himself like a martial artist. He stands up straight, swaggers slightly, and has a reserve of energy dozing beneath a pressed white polo shirt and pressed black pants. His hair is thinning, but his eyes are sharp and I felt them analyze my movements, my speech, the way I held myself and, after he demanded a demonstration, the weakness in my horse stance.

    Ren speaks his mind without fear, because not only does he sit atop the Sichuan martial arts world, but he is also somewhat of a legend. Most people who know him speak of him with a mixture of envy, reverence, and fear. My own master, Li Quan, was shocked to know that I had dinner with THE Ren Gang, the man whose 1983 film, Little Heroes, influenced an entire generation of martial artists. A member of the very first group of official wushu practitioners to emerge out of the Cultural Revolution with the mandate to re-introduce, re-discover and revive the ancient art.

    The MAN in Sichuan, when it comes to wushu, gongfu and sanda.

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    September 10, 2013 • Kung Fu People, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 20055

  • MMA and Kungfu

    After the trip to Hohhot, I pitched a story on the rise of MMA and corresponding decline (discussions of decline?) of kungfu to the Economist. They took the pitch and the result is this 400 word blurb on what happened.

    There is really too much to write about this topic, and the story in the Economist, for me, is just a note of what was seen and spoken during that weekend in Inner Mongolia. I personally think that kungfu will inevitably demonstrate its usefulness in the ring, and that will be a big day for kungfu’s revival. Apropos usefulness, many people don’t realize that jiujitsu’s origins are in Mainland China and traditional Chinese martial arts … locks and submissions are a big part of the kungfu arsenal and it would be interesting to trace jiujitsu back and see what remains of the “mother styles” here in China.

    February 8, 2013 • Modern Kung Fu • Views: 5493