• The Ya’an Fight Night Extravaganza

    Moses and Juan

    (A condensed version of this story went up on Fightland)

    When the Apocalypse goes down, I want guys like Moses Baca and Juan Quesada on my team. They’re both MMA fighters out of the renowned Cesar Gracie Academy in California, one of the sport’s legendary gyms, and both have years of training and fights behind them. Moses in particular is old school, having grown up and trained with the legendary Diaz brothers, Jake Shields and Gil Melendez during that team’s decade of dominance. That’s enough to give them a special place at the table. They make a great tandem: hard as nails Juan reborn again in martial arts, and soft spoken Moses, a BJJ black belt who loves to play with the kids.

    Unfortunately, most of that was lost on their Chinese host. For Sichuan-based C3, the tiny provincial promotion that paid to bring them over, Juan and Moses were just warm foreign bodies, part of a big show for the people of Ya’an, a city at the foot of the Himalayas famous for good fish, pretty girls, and lots of rain.

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    April 30, 2014 • Kung Fu People, Modern Kung Fu • Views: 6468

  • 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: 8352

  • 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: 21648

  • Wushu out of the Olympics

    There may still be hope …

    There may still be hope …

    I wrote about Wushu and the Olympics here before. The consensus then, as it is now, is that the International Wushu Federation has failed to identify itself clearly on the international stage like other sports have. Not only that, but in trying to do so, organized Wushu associations have done a disservice to the art and the practitioners, by diluting and distorting what wushu really is.

    Well, the verdict is in, and wushu was scrubbed from the short list of sports that could be in the Olympics come 2020. Wrestling, squash, and baseball/softball made it past the first round, while wushu, karate, wakeboarding, roller sports, and sports climbing failed to get in.

    I would say that wakeboarding, roller sports and sports climbing are real long shots, but its hard to say with the Olympics. They dropped world famous sports like wrestling and baseball, and took on golf, which appeals to a rather small audience. There are 39 criteria that the Olympics look at in order to evaluate whether or not a sport should be in or out.

    Reading reports about the selection process are instructive. Most refer to Wushu as something akin to gymnastics, with ceremonial sword and staff movements. Many reports also posit that Wushu’s bid suffered from not using the more well-known term “kung fu” …

    When I read things like this, I am just further convinced that the Chinese push to include Wushu is another misguided attempt at soft power without really realizing what sport, Olympics, Wushu, or soft power are really all about.

    June 1, 2013 • Modern Kung Fu • Views: 4726

  • 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: 29136