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The Modern Roots of ‘Ancient’ Martial Arts

Nov 26th, 2018 by XIUART | 0

I have just arrived back in Ithaca after spending Sunday driving rather than typing.  Still, I have two items that I want to share. The first is a short interview I did with the Rochester Review after The Creation of Wing Chun was released by SUNY Press.  I thought it came out rather well, so enjoy!

Second, have you submitted your proposal for the upcoming Martial Arts Studies meetings in California?  If not, time is running out fast.  Lets get those proposals sent in before Friday.  Abstracts are easy to write, all you need is 200 words and a dream!

Click here for all of the details

 

 

Click here for a link to the web version (hopefully easier to read).

 

Bruce Lee: Memory, Philosophy and the Tao of Gung Fu

Nov 23rd, 2018 by XIUART | 0

Bruce Lee with his favorite onscreen weapon.
Bruce Lee with his favorite onscreen weapon.

 

***I am off visiting family over the holiday weekend, so we are headed back to the archives. Since our (American) readers have just celebrated Thanksgiving, I though it would be appropriate to revisit an essay that asks what we should be grateful for as martial artists and students of martial arts studies.  Spoiler alert, the answer is Bruce Lee.***


Introduction: Bruce Lee at 75

Yesterday I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family. As is customary on this day of remembrance I took a few moments to think about the last year and review the many things that I had to be grateful for. The year has been an eventful one.

In the professional realm I had a book published on the social history of the southern Chinese martial arts. I also delivered a keynote address at the first annual martial arts studies conference in the UK and, just recently, saw the publication of the first issue of our new journal on that same topic. I have had opportunities to meet and share my interests with all sorts of fascinating people from all over the world, and have started a number of other projects that should be bearing fruit months and years down the road. As the old Chinese saying goes, a wise man thinks of the source of the water that he drinks, and as I did so it occurred to me that I owe a profound debt of gratitude to Bruce Lee.

Today is the 75th anniversary of Lee’s birth in San Francisco. Born in California and raised in Hong Kong before returning to the West Coast at the end of the 1950s, Lee had a profound effect on the worlds of film, popular culture and the martial arts. While many claims about his career are exaggerated (one should treat with a certain degree of suspicion any assertion that someone was the “first” to do anything) there can be no doubt as to his ultimate impact on the public perception of the martial arts in America, as well as their rapid spread and popularization in the post-1970 era.

For anyone wondering what the point of Kung Fu was, Lee had a very specific answer. It combined a laser like focus on the problems of practical self-defense with a need to find personal and philosophical meaning in practice.

Like others who came before him, Lee argued that the martial arts were ultimately a means of self-creation. Yet drawing on the counter-cultural currents of the time he freed this discourse from the ideological chains that had linked such quests with ethno-nationalist projects for much of the 20th century. He instead placed the individual student at the center of the process. For Lee the martial arts went beyond the normal paradigms of personal security and self improvement and became a means of self actualization.

His own image on the silver screen promised that through these disciplines and their philosophies one could craft a “new self,” one that was fully fit for the challenges of an age of global competition and strife. It was promised that this “new self” would grow out of the process of self expression which the martial arts facilitated. Of course one had to first understand the true nature of these systems to free oneself from their stultifying structures. Individuals might agree or disagree (sometimes violently) with Lee’s assertions, but its hard to underestimate the impact that he had on the ways in which the martial arts are discussed in the West today.

Does this mean that in the absence of Bruce Lee I would not have written my book, or that we would not currently be reading a blog about martial arts studies? Ultimately those sorts of counterfactuals are impossible to answer, and they may cause more confusion than light. Japanese teachers had been promoting their arts in the West since the dawn of the 20th century. Sophia Delza knew nothing of Bruce Lee when she introduced Wu style Taijiquan to New York City. And the Korean government’s heavy support and promotion of Taekwondo had more to do with their own post-colonial struggles with the memory of the Japanese occupation than anything that came out of China.

I suspect that even in a world in which Lee had never existed the martial arts would still have found a respectable foothold in the West. A demand for these systems existed as part of larger cultural trends following WWII, Korea and the Vietnam War. Lee’s genius lay in his ability to understand and speak powerfully to the historical moment that existed.

Following his own advice he bent with the flow of history rather than fighting against it. Certainly some things would remain the same. That seems to follow from the structural nature of 20th century modernization and globalization. Ultimately our theories about the history of the martial arts are very much stories about these two forces (among others).

Yet would I be a student of Wing Chun, a somewhat obscure fighting system from the Pearl River delta region, without Bruce Lee’s rise to fame? Would I have had an opportunity to convince a university press to publish a book whose central historical case was built around a detailed, multi-chapter, biography of Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s teacher? And what of those individuals who study the martial arts? Would this body be as diverse (and sometimes radical) in the absence of Lee’s striking ability to speak to African and Latin-American martial artists (as well as many women and Asians) in the volatile 1970s?

Anthropological studies of the martial arts and social marginality remind us that people who are the most attracted to messages of resistance and individual empowerment are precisely those who have also been disempowered by the dominant social systems of the day. While the globalization of the East Asian martial arts would have come in one guise or another, its clear that I do have a lot to be grateful for when thinking about Lee’s contributions as a film maker, teacher and popularizer of the Chinese martial arts.

Birthdays are also important times for looking to the future. There can be no doubt that Lee’s image has retained a remarkable grip on the public imagination. Decades after his death he still frequently appears on magazine covers and in video games. Books bearing his name (either as an author or in their title) are found in every bookstore with a martial arts section. And Lee’s impact on the realm of martial art films can still be detected with ease. Countless allusions to his more iconic fight sequences can be seen on both the big and small screen. Ninjas may come and go, but even in the age of MMA it seems that Bruce will always have a home on the cover of Black Beltmagazine.

Still, one wonders if we are not starting to see changes in some aspects of how Lee is remembered and discussed. AMC recently aired a new series titled “Into the Badlands.” I have been following the advertising efforts around this project with great interest. The show’s creators have prided themselves in their extensive use of the martial arts. In fact, much of their advertising copy focuses on the fact that they are bringing “real” martial arts to the American small screen for the first time. Of course to make this claim with a straight face it is first necessary to seriously downplay, explain away or “forget” quite a bit of equally revolutionary TV that has come before, from Bruce Lee in the Green Hornet to Chuck Norris in Walker Texas Ranger.

A lot of discussion has also focused on Daniel Wu, the lead actor of this project. The show’s promoters have discussed the supposedly revolutionary nature of his role and the many ways in which he is changing the portrayal of Asian males in the entertainment industry. Yet if one drills down into this rhetoric very far what quickly becomes apparent is that Wu is seen as revolutionary in many of the exact same ways that Lee was seen as exceptional in his own era. The one real difference that stands out is that Wu’s character has the potential to develop a truly romantic story-line, where as this was something that was usually not seen with Lee’s films.

While the blame for this is often put on Hollywood (and there is no doubt that much of that is justified) one must also remember that Lee’s heroes came out of a genera of Cantonese storytelling and filmmaking in which romantic and martial leads tended to be somewhat segregated for important cultural reasons (see Avron Bortez for an extensive discussion of the construction of masculinity in the world of Kung Fu). While I applaud Wu for being able to pursue the sorts of roles that he finds interesting, I worry that his revolution is simultaneously erasing some of the traditional conventions of Chinese film and literature rather than challenging Western audiences with something unfamiliar. This is essentially the same discussion of hybrid borrowing vs. hegemony that seems to emerge in so many discussions of the globalization of popular culture. But whatever the ultimate resolution to this debate, it seems that there is an effort on the part of certain advertisers to retool and downplay Bruce Lee’s achievements in an effort to create a new moment of “revolution” in the current era.

Readers interested in looking at this specific discussion can see a number of the links that were included both in the most recent news update and on the Facebook group (in particular the Slate article titled “Daniel Wu is the Asian Action Hero that Bruce Lee Should have Been.”) Actually resolving the specific questions raised by all of this might take some time and far exceeds the space available in this post. Yet reviewing it led me to ask whether Bruce Lee is still the revolutionary figure that he once was. In our current moment do we still need Bruce Lee and his message of radical self-creation through the martial arts? Can he still act as a force for the popularization and spread of these fighting systems? Or is he becoming too culturally remote from modern students, readers and audiences? Is it likely that the public will remember his 100th birthday with the same enthusiasm that is greeting his 75th?

 

Ip Man and his best known student, Bruce Lee.
Ip Man and his best known student, Bruce Lee.

 

Bruce Lee and the Tao of Gung Fu

As I thought about these questions over the last couple of days I found myself turning to Lee’s unpublished “manuscript” The Tao of Gung Fu. In some respects this may seem like an odd choice. This book was never published in Lee’s lifetime, and as such most of this material had a rather limited impact on the way that people discussed either him or the martial arts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nor is it always clear to me the degree to which this collection of chapters can be considered a true “book.” From the editor’s (John Little) description it appears that Lee abandoned the project before a complete manuscript was pulled together. A number of the early chapters were in place (they even make internal references to each other) but after that there may only have been an outline. This has been flushed out with notes, drawings and other pieces that Lee wrote over the years. Some pieces are in a more finished state than others, but none of it was ever intended to be made public during Lee’s life. In fact, it must be remembered that he made the rather conscious decision to walk away from the project. As such we can only speculate as to what would have made it into the final version had Bruce decided to actually pursue publication.

One of the things that bothers me about this particular book, as it was posthumously published by Tuttle and the Lee estate, is that it attempts to seamlessly weave this mass of material together into a coherent whole rather than letting the individual pieces, written over a range of years, stand on their own. Nor does it attempt to label what the original documentary sources of the various “chapters” actually were and how they fit into the larger body of Lee’s papers.

Obviously this is an annoyance for other historians working on Lee. And it is especially problematic when one realizes that a number of these essays were originally composed as papers for Lee’s classes at the University of Washington. While clearly bright and interested in philosophy (as well as its application to the martial arts) Lee is the sort of student who likely gave his teachers heart burn. As multiple other scholars (including John Little and James Bishop) have pointed out, Lee was guilty of plagiarizing a number of passages and key ideas throughout these essays.

In a few cases he simply borrowed text while dropping the quotes and footnotes, while in others he followed his sources much too closely (a problem known as “patchwriting”). In a number of other cases he appropriates ideas or insights without proper citation, or plays fast and loose with his sources. For a student of philosophy a surprising number of very detailed arguments are simply attributed to “Taoism” with no further support.

Worst of all, some of Lee’s best known personal stories, such as his exchange with his teacher Ip Man about the problem of relaxation, turn out to have been lifted from other sources (in that particular case the important popularizer of Zen, Allen Watts who had a striking similar exchange with his Judo teacher). James Bishop seems to be the best source currently available on the extent of Lee’s plagiarism and the sources that he was actually drawing on. Of course Lee never intended that these essays be published, let alone to be printed on t-shirts.

Given this list of problems and cautions, one might wonder why I would even discuss such a book. Simply put, the Tao of Gung Fu is a critical work not because the material in it is in any way original, but because it does a great job of clarifying the issues that were being discussed among a certain type of Chinese martial artist at a specific moment in time, and the sorts of sources that they had available to them (both in terms of technical manuals, but also cultural and philosophical resources) to make sense of all of it. While fans might be crushed by some of the instances of Lee’s patchwriting and plagiarism (which varied from unintentional to egregious) the transparent nature of these problems is actually a great blessing to cultural historians and students of martial arts studies.

Lee often starts by outlining questions that a wide variety of readers in his era would have found interesting, and with only a few minutes of googling you can figure out exactly what resources a young, somewhat educated martial artist would have had access to in both the Chinese and English language literatures. In short, for anyone interested in the specific steps by which the Chinese martial arts were culturally appropriated by the West, this book is a remarkable resource.

If you want to better acquaint yourself with the sources of Lee’s philosophy on the martial arts, this is the book that I would recommend. And for Wing Chun students it has the additional bonus of providing critical insight into how (at least some) individuals were discussing that system during the late 1950s and 1960s.

What then is the ultimate root of Lee’s philosophy of the martial arts? What ideas did he turn to in order to both make sense of these fighting traditions and to provide them with increased social meaning (and status) against the backdrop of Chinese culture and thought?

The Tao of Gung Fu provides an embarrassment of riches on these sorts of questions. Students of Wing Chun will likely find Lee’s discussions of Chi Sao (some of which is quite philosophical) to be the most interesting. And readers of history will no doubt want to pay close attention to Lee’s understanding of the subject as discussed in the book’s closing chapters.

Yet perhaps one of the most important themes in Lee’s thinking is set down in the very first chapter before being expanded upon throughout the rest of the manuscript. Here we see Lee outlining a three step process (one that he attributes to Daoism) in which something progresses from 1) the “primitive” stage 2) the stage of “art” 3) the stage of “artlessness.”

Most often this progression is applied to the martial arts themselves. Lee sees in this pattern the meta-history of the Chinese martial arts as a whole. They progressed from a simple, but natural, system to a more sophisticated but stultifying understanding. Finally, after years of hard work Chinese martial artists practiced, experimented and realized what non-essential material could be stripped away, leaving a set of systems what was both sophisticated but once again natural in its execution.

In other places Lee appears to apply this same process to the life history of individual styles. It can also be viewed as the stages that any given martial artist must progress through. In fact, Lee’s iconic “Liberate Yourself from Classical Karate” article is premised on this idea, as well as Lee’s contention that most Western martial artists at the time were stuck in stage two.

Yet Lee’s use of this basic framework extended far beyond the martial arts. At times he seems to have seen it as a more general lens by which we could examine the struggle of humans with both the natural and social worlds. Note for instance that Lee attempts to explain this teleology to his readers by using it as an explanation of the evolution of Chinese grammar between the classical and modern periods. And grasping its logic seems to be a precondition for the introduction of his later discussion of the nature of Yin and Yang in both the martial arts and Asian philosophy.

Given the centrality of this idea to Lee’s thought, it might be useful to ask where it originates. Lee himself claims that the idea is indigenous to Daoism and, at other points, Zen. This later claim may be bolstered by the observation of some Japanese stylists that their own systems suggest a similar progressive understanding of katas (or forms) in three progressive stages.

At the same time it must be remembered that Lee was a philosophy student when much of this material was written, and the resonances with some of the western thinkers he would have been introduced to is noteworthy. The system Lee is proposing seems to be somewhat in debt to Hegel and his progression from “thesis,” to “anti-thesis” and ultimately “synthesis.” We have already seen that Lee was very familiar with the works of Allen Watts, and its possible that this idea may have found its genesis in his writings. Indeed, this might be why Lee sometimes claims that he was outlining a “Zen” theory of progress.

While I suspect that this element of Lee’s thought reflects his study of Western writers and sources, once established it is the sort of thing that you can begin to see everywhere. We know, for instance, that Lee was influenced by the ideas of the mystic and writer Krishnamurti. While I have yet to find an exact statement of this idea in his writings, once it has been established in your mind it’s the sort of thing that will find easy parallels and support in some of Krishnamurti’s statements. Much the same goes for the Dao De Jing. I suspect that this theory of “becoming” struck Lee with such force, and became a cornerstone of his thought in this period, precisely because it seemed to find support in so many sources. The ease with which both Eastern and Western (and possibly even Marxist) sources could be used to illustrate aspects of this theory must have made it seem both universal and self-evident.

I suspect that this idea was also critical to Lee because while it facilitated a rejection of stultifying forms, it also argued that these things could only be overcome through study, experimentation and exhaustive practice. When we look at Lee’s workouts in this period (also provided by John Little) we see that Lee was drilling himself in basic techniques at the same time that he was advocating empirical verification and freedom from pointless tradition. There has always appeared to be a fundamental tension here, between what is necessary to learn a technique, and the desire to transcend it in the search of something more natural or personal. This three step teleology spoke directly to that dilemma, and claimed that the way forward was not a return to a primitive state that rejected scientific advances, but rather through a long and arduous process of additional practice, refinement and (most importantly) experimentation.

Bruce Lee sketching on the set for Game of Death. Photograph: Bruce Lee Estate. Source: The Guardian.
Bruce Lee sketching on the set for Game of Death. Photograph: Bruce Lee Estate. Source: The Guardian.

 

Conclusion: Walking On

While interesting on a technical level, its also important to think about the social implications of all of this. The claim that the only true knowledge which is possible is self-knowledge, gained through extensive practice and experimentation, is most likely to be attractive to individuals who feel themselves to be alienated from other sources of social power or meaning. Indeed, the basic ideas about self-actualization that Lee draws on have their origins in China’s martial arts sub-cultures which often acted as an alternate means of self-creation for marginal individuals within Chinese society.

As I have argued at length elsewhere, this would have been the context in which Lee first saw the martial arts being taught in Ip Man’s school to a generation of often angry, surprisingly alienated, young men in the Hong Kong of the 1950s. Lee’s contribution was to take this basic pattern and to combine it with the philosophical and counterculture currents of his own day in such a way that westerners could access this same technology of self-creation.

The 1970s, when the Chinese martial arts first exploded into popular consciousness, was a volatile decade. Globalization in trade markets was causing economic pain and increased income inequality at home at the same time that some western nations faced both security challenges and open conflict abroad. Nor did the gains of the civil rights movement in the US ensure the spread of racial harmony. Everywhere one looked traditional social institutions seemed to be under attack and society was struggling to produce new ways of understanding and coping with these challenges. Given these structural factors, it is not surprising that Lee’s onscreen presence and martial arts philosophy (to the extent that it was known at the time) had a profound effect on a generation of seekers looking for a new set of tools in their quest for self-production.

In many respects we seem to be entering a similar era. Clearly the situation today is not identical. The Cold War is gone, and an information and service based economy has replaced the manufacturing one (at least in the West). Yet many of the more fundamental concerns remain the same. Economic insecurity, militarism abroad and social conflict at home are once again challenging basic notions of what our nations stand for. Levels of public trust in a wide range of institutions has reached an all time low, and social organizations that once supported vibrant communities in past eras are struggling to survive.

Indeed, many of these factors are directly challenging the economic health and social relevance of the traditional martial arts today. Yet where large schools might falter one wonder’s if we are not seeing a renewed opportunity for the expansion of Lee’s ethos of individual struggle, experimentation and practice. If nothing else the recent discussion of Daniel Wu by the advertisers at AMC could be seen as evidence that there is a hunger for the renewal (and expansion) of the sort of revolution that Lee originally introduced to the West in the 1970s.

As the needs of students and audiences change I fully expect that the ways in which we see Bruce Lee will continue to evolve. That is the sign of a healthy discourse, and it suggests that Lee might be just as important for understanding the current situation within the martial arts community as its mid-twentieth century history. Given the cultural moment that we now find ourselves in, Lee’s promise of self-creation and his basic philosophy seem more important than ever. And as long as his achievements continue to be the yardstick by which each new “revolution” in the martial arts is measured, it seems likely that the memory of the Little Dragon will indeed live to see its 100th Birthday.

 

oOo

If you enjoyed this post you might also want to read: Two Encounters with Bruce Lee: Finding Reality in the Life of the Little Dragon

oOo

Research Notes: Judo’s Triple Transformation in The China Press (1932)

Nov 19th, 2018 by XIUART | 0
“London Sees Thrills Of Japanese Sport.” A self-defense demonstration by a female martial artist, choreographed to as to be humorous for the audience. Vintage Newsreel. 1932.

 

Doing the Homework

Students of Martial Arts Studies are the fortunate few.  As research areas go, ours is pretty interesting. Yet as I review the literature (even recent publications from big name academic presses), it is clear that many of us are not making the most of our good fortune.  There seems to be a tendency to approach the literature in narrow slices and not to look for the sorts of insights that are frequently turned up in broader, more comparative, explorations.  The pie can be sliced in a variety of ways. Students of Japanese martial studies rarely deal with concepts and theories laid out in works on the Chinese styles. The literatures on combat sports and traditional arts often seem to run on parallel tracks.  And there is always room for a more substantive engagement between the theoretical and historical wings of the literature.

So here is my pre-Thanksgiving public service announcement: When offered pie, always eat more than one slice. Bringing multiple lens to an investigation leads to more insightful conclusions.  Beyond that, it makes the process of doing research richer and more intellectually fulfilling.

Still, we all have blind spots. As I was reviewing folders of research materials, it occurred to me that I may have created the mistaken impression that the English language treaty port newspapers in cities like Shanghai or Beijing only discussed Chinese fighting systems.  Over the last few years we have examined dozens of articles in which Chinese hand combat systems were presented to a global audience during the 1920s and 1930s. Doing so is helpful as it problematizes the often-heard trope that the Chinese martial arts were unknown to Westerners prior to the 1960s, or that everything about these arts has been shrouded in impenetrable secrecy. In fact, both KMT officers and private instructors worked (with mixed success) to publicize China’s reformed and modernized physical culture as a way of demonstrating to the world the reformed and modernized nature of the Chinese state.

Focusing on these conversations has been valuable.  Yet it must be remembered that all of this was only one aspect of a much larger exploration of the martial arts and combat sports which one could find in these same newspapers. While it is easy to focus only on the guoshu or taijiquan articles, in truth these pieces need to be read in conjunction with the frequent discussions of the Japanese martial arts, accounts of vaudeville style strongmen acts, and articles on western style boxing events which also appeared in the same pages.  It is all too easy to inadvertently create a siloed vision of cultural history in which boxing, kung fu and judo all existed in their own isolated spheres.  In truth they all competed for exposure within the pages of China’s treaty port press.

In an effort to correct this bias I would like to introduce one of the more interesting Republic era articles on the Japanese martial arts that I have come across. Judo is frequently mentioned in these pieces.  We can even find several glowing accounts of judo exhibitions in Shanghai in this era. Likewise, Chinese martial arts reformers often turned to judo as a symbolic foil for their rivalry with Japan. The following article, on the other hand, is interesting as the Japanese origins of judo have been almost totally erased.  Indeed, the Western appropriation of judo as a means of self-defense is so complete that the Japanese are barely mentioned, while cities like New York and Paris are looked to as centers of martial excellence.

Nor is this the only transformation which readers will detect.  While Kano Jigoro opened his practice to women fairly early, the vast majority of Japanese judo students in the 1930s were men.  Indeed, these were men often bound for service in the Japanese military. They had well developed ideas about cultivating a certain sort of masculinity which would be placed in the service of the state.  In contrast, the current article goes to great lengths to present judo as an exclusively female practice. More specifically, it was framed as a tool of urban self-defense and a bulwark against a new “masher” panic. The dojo as a training space, white uniforms, colored belts and other aspects of Kano’s now globally famous practice are totally missing from this discussion. Instead we find a slightly updated take on the pre-war American usage of “jiu-jitsu” to basically signify “dirty fighting.”

All of this is even more interesting as one suspects that these were not errors emerging from ignorance. By the early 1930s judo was a well-established practice in the West.  It had been featured in newsreels, books and extensively debated in the sporting press. Just to give us the proper perspective, the current article “introducing” judo was written more than 30 years after Theodore Roosevelt had famously promoted the same practice from his residence in the White House. Well educated Chinese and Western readers living in Shanghai (The China Press’core audience) had ample opportunities to see Japanese demonstration teams as they visited the city on a regular basis. Indeed, the Japanese invasions of Manchuria (1931) and Shanghai (1932) had sparked renewed public debate as to the role of physical education in a state’s battlefield success.

I suspect that this article never dropped Kano’s name, or mentioned black belts, as there was simply no need. All of that was already part of the public consciousness during the 1930s.  It instead focused on the topic of women’s self-defense as that was both timely (note the repeated references to Vivian Gordon’s murder in New York City), and front-page images of petite women throwing men around like rag dolls was sure to sell papers.

It is important to take note of a few other topics that are missing from this article as well.  To begin with, The China Presswas a pro-KMT newspaper with a liberal editorial line.  It ran more (glowing) stories about the guoshu, and China’s martial practices more generally, than any other Republican era paper that I have studied.  Its editors never missed an opportunity to note that China was the true home of jiu jitsu, or to publicize the latest Jingwu demonstration.  It is thus remarkable that there is no mention of the Chinese martial arts anywhere in this piece.

While the photographs and writing style suggests that this may have originally been a newswire article intended for an American audience, I doubt that this is the entire story.  Given the levels of outrage directed at the Japanese in 1931 and 1932, it probably would have been impossible to run an article that lauded any practice with Japanese roots in such a “patriotic” paper. Yet by completely erasing Japanese culture and martial values from the discussion of judo, effectively transforming the art into a primarily female, and Western practice, the editors may have gotten the best of all possible worlds.  On the one hand they could run a sensational front-page article that would sell lots of papers.  At the same time, they could appropriate an important marker of Japanese masculinity and militarism, presenting it as a cosmopolitan and almost exclusively feminine practice. One can only guess how thrilled the Japanese military officers and government staff in Shanghai were to see this treatment of their national art.

Still, this was by no means a negative portrayal of the art.  One of the things that struck me as I read this piece was the extensive “how to” section at the end.  Such discussions are so common in Western martial arts conversations that they are easy to dismiss. Yet they were quite rare in the pages of China’s English language treaty port press.

While these papers ran hundreds of articles on the Chinese martial arts, I don’t think I have once seen them undertake a detailed discussion about a specific Chinese technique. Instead demonstrations or systems were discussed in general terms for the edification of the reader, but not their education. While there was some training of foreign students in martial arts classes in China in the 1930s, buy in large this didn’t seem to be something that many people (either Western or Chinese) were interested in. Yet this article clearly suggests that judo is something Western women can (and should) learn.  That seems to be a frank admission that while Chu Minyi and other reformers had hoped to make the Chinese martial arts a modern and cosmopolitan practice, it was Japan that had actually succeeded. Nevertheless, we as readers are left to ask if the following vision of judo remains in any way Japanese?

 

 

Here’s “Judo”, the Newest Art of Self-Defense Against Mashers

The China Press, Feb, 3 1932. Page A1

 

Curious Details of the Smashing Surpise Receptions American and English Girls are Planning for “Catch-as-Catch-Can” Masculine Admirers.

 

“Wreck the necker!”

This warlike cry has gone up on both sides of the Atlantic since judo, an improved version of Jiu Jitsu, was perfected recently. Jiu Jitsu has always been primarily a man’s sport but judo is for women only. It enables the frailest flower of femininity to throw and knock out a burly assailant with ease and dispatch.

Women’s judo clubs are being formed in New York and other American cities.  In England enthusiastic feminine exponents of the method of self-defense against the Mashers have formed a team that is touring France, Germany and other European countries, giving exhibitions of this tricky and fascinating new art of self-defense.

Slight pressure of the fingers applied at the right moment, combined with sudden twists of the body by a judo expert, often results in broken limbs for the assailant.  There is no question that if judo’s popularity continues to increase at its present rate the obnoxious masher species may soon entirely disappear. Certainly nothing yet devised discourages the male flirt so quickly as a dislocated arm, or a broken head followed by several months in a jail or hospital.

Any close student of the subject will tell you how easily not only serious injury, but death, may come to the unwary roughneck who chooses to inflict his unwanted attentions upon a girl schooled in the far from gentle craft of judo.  A single lightening quick arm thrust from a girl who “knows her stuff” is sufficient in most cases to discourage any masher.  The young lady trained in Judo tactics may be outweighed by a hundred pounds and look as defenseless as a fawn but when she goes into action Mt. Necker had better run.

A famous Japanese wrestling champion once said that homicide committed by jiu jitsu provides “a lovely death, no pains from bullets, knives or violence, You just fade out in a pleasant dream—and don’t know that perhaps you will never wake again.”  The newly-perfected science of judo is equally effective in producing lethal effects although the physical instructors who teach it are careful to exclude the death dealing holds from their curriculum.

Unlike most forms of combat, judo’s effectiveness depends ironically enough on the strength and intensity of attack of one’s opponent.  The more powerful he is and or furiously he falls upon his intended victim, the more serious his injuries are going to be.

Certainly no more astonishing surprise could be imagined. Instead of screaming and shrieking the young woman who knows judo outdoes the masher at his own game.  With a minimum of effort, she can throw the strongest “he-man,” laugh at his efforts to embrace her and continue on her way, unmolested and at her leisure.

The underlying principal of this science is balance.  In judo it is vastly more important to control perfectly one’s posture than to have building muscles and enormous energy.  Japanese physical culturalists tell us that a “man without balance has no strength.”  This is particularly true in jiu jitsu and judo.  The very first thing the beginner learns is to change an opponent’s posture while maintaining her own. This is done by maneuvering him to his heels and toes, which enables one to throw him with little exertion.

As a typical example of the judo science, let us take a girl weighing about 110 pounds and say a husky 190 pound man has seized her throat in both hands. Now the ordinary young woman, unschooled in judo, would naturally concentrate her efforts on attempts to tear his hands from her throat.  The judo adept, however, would waste no time and strength on such a futile task.

Her technique, though simple, would be amazingly effective. Her first move would be to take a short step backwards with her left foot.  This will bring the attacker’s balance to his toes, naturally weakening his equilibrium.

Next, she would quickly swing her right arm sharply across his left arm, pivoting her right toe and bringing her right shoulder forward.  Her arm would pass close to her face until her right shoulder touches her chin.  In that position she would exert irresistible leverage on the man’s wrist with her shoulder.  This will break any grip, no matter how powerful, with the result that her assailant must fall slightly forward with face unguarded, leaving him a ready target for an elbow jolt to the face or a paralyzing cut on the back of the head.

If Vivian Gordon, the New York girl who was strangled to death in a taxi cab some time ago, had known such elementary judo moves she might have outwitted her slayer and escaped a gruesome fate.

The larger picture in the upper right half of the page shows a young woman swinging a husky male over her hip.  The uninformed may well ask how this slight girl could carry a powerful man off his feet and throw him to the ground.

The answer is judo and a perfect sense of timing and balance.  You will notice that the girl in the photograph is bending forward.  The man had come up behind her and seized her by the throat.  But she shot her head and shoulders sharply forward, throwing his weight on his toes and off balance.  Seizing his shoulders, she adroitly rolled him over her hips.  The picture was snapped just as she was about to throw him to the ground.

Perhaps you have seen one acrobat on the stage holding three or four partners on his shoulders.  Ordinary men cannot do this, of course, because they have not studied the science of balance and timing.  The acrobat has learned to distribute the weight of his companions evenly, to assume a posture that enables him to lift and hold an enormous number of pounds and to time his efforts so that his powers are never overtaxed. Strength is vital, but alone it is not enough.  Until he has mastered these twin sciences his efforts at great weight-lifting will fail.

The same holds true of the judo students.  The two photographs in the half center of this page demonstrate the ease with which a judo expert can disarm and knock down a stick-wielding assailant.  In one picture you see her catching his arm just above the elbow.  Her judo instructors have taught her that holding an arm above the shoulder greatly weakens the arm’s powers of resistance.  Placing her knee behind his right leg she pushes his arm backwards until he is off balance.  With this accomplished, she finds sending him backwards over her extended knee is child’s play.

Another photo on this page illustrates another effective judo maneuver that can be used when the assailant comes up behind his intended victim and seizes her by the throat.  Instead of trying to wriggle from his strong grip, the girl merely grasps his elbows and bends quickly forward, catapulting him over her head and shoulders.  This is called the shoulder throw.

Brutal attackers often use the chancery hold, which consists of encircling the victim’s neck with one arm and battering her face with the other fist.  Judo teaches girls how to break easily this painful hold.  If the assailant has gripped her neck in his left arm and strikes her face with his right fist, she reaches quickly up his back and over his right shoulder with her right hand and places the inner edge of her finger under his nose, where there is an extraordinarily sensitive nerve center.  Pressing on this diagonally towards the back of the head will quickly cause the fellow to release his grip.

The next move is to extend the pressure backwards and downwards.  If at the same time the girl grips him under the knee, raising him upward and forward, the gentleman will soon be spilled upon the ground with much violence.

The photograph depicting the young woman jamming the heel of her hand against the man’s chin demonstrates the perfect counter offensive against the mashers who sieze women about the waist.  You can be sure when the roughneck caress is returned in this manner the likelihood of a repetition of the Casanova tactics is very small.

Possibly the most spectacular of the group of extraordinary photographs is the one which portrays the young woman lying on the ground and kicking her surprised assailant in the stomach.  In this case the girl has fallen backwards to the ground, pulling the man into a flying fall.  As she fell, she drew up her foot and, on reaching the ground, she sent him sprawling over her head with a powerful and well-directed kick to his abdomen.

This startling defense should only be employed by experts who have been adequately instructed in the science of relaxing. Like football coaches, the teachers of this new art and fascinating study teach their students to go limp when falling.  A limp body does not strike the ground with half the violence that a stiff one does.

When Benny Leonard was the world’s Lightweight Boxing Champion he often attributed much of his extraordinary punching powers to his knowledge of anatomy.  He exactly knew what spot to hit and consequently opponents crumpled up before what seemed likely fairly light punches.  A knowledge of anatomy is even more necessary to girl judo experts than it is to boxers.

The new judo vogue began by a woman who saw in it a chance to reduce the ever-growing number of fatalities and injuries suffered by girls attacked in lonely sections of towns and cities.  Certainly it equips young women with an excellent defense against the cave-man tactics of roughneck admirers.

 

oOo

If you enjoyed this article you might also want to read: Addiction, Wellness and Martial Arts

oOo

Swords, Visuality and the Construction of China

Nov 16th, 2018 by XIUART | 0
Chinese soldier photographed by Harrison Forman. While part of a series of issues distributed in 1938 captions indicate that these images were probably taken in the early 1930s. Source: The Forman Collection in the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Digital Archives.

 

Deciphering an Icon

Recently I came across a few of Harrison Forman’s wartime photos, probably taken in the early 1930s, but circulated to newspapers and (re)published in 1938.  While his photos of militia groups following the 8th Route Army (discussed here) remain less well known, these particular images have gained a quasi-iconic status. I suspect that they, and other similar images, helped to define popular Western notions of China’s struggle during the late 1930s. This also makes them of interest to students of Martial Arts Studies as they prominently feature swords and what appears to be a display of China’s traditional military culture.

Still, as I reviewed these photos I found myself wondering what was really going.  Were these images actually taken in the field?  Or were they composed by Forman himself?  And if latter, how were such images of martial masculinity meant to be read?  Why do so many of Forman’s photographs, as well as other images from the period, go to such great lengths juxtaposing the coexistence of “modern” military weapons with “traditional” martial culture, squeezing both elements into ever more complex symbolic frames?  Lastly, what does this suggest about the ways in which the Republic era revival of the martial arts was used to shape China’s image on the global stage?

To fully answer these questions, we may need to compare Forman’s photos to some less well-known images of Chinese soliders collected and distributed in the late Qing and early Republic period.  Doing so suggests the existence of certain key symbols which quickly gained a remarkable degree of stability in the popular imagination. Yet while the image of a Chinese soldier or martial artists holding an oversized blade has been stable, its social meaning has varied greatly. Many players, both within and outside of China, have deconstructed and contested these images. Controlling the visuality of the martial arts has been a key tool in a series of debates about the nature of the Chinese state and nation. A few of the ideas of the theorist Rey Chow may help to launch this investigation.

 

The Eternal Swordsman

Few images within the Chinese martial arts have proved more durable than the traditionally trained swordsman openly practicing his trade in the age of the gun. He can be seen everywhere, from Japanese postcards to Hong Kong kung fu films. But what sort of “person” is this individual?

Thomas Taylor Meadows, a British officer stationed in China during the Taiping Rebellion, was among the first to reflect on this question as he observed numerous skirmishes and battles.  In one section of his best-known work, The Chinese and Their Rebellions, he sought to rebut the commonly held Western beliefs that 1) all Chinese individuals have similar personalities 2) that as a group they are more cowardly than Europeans and shied away from combat.

In an attempt to negate both views he relates to his readers a curious incident of “War Dancing” (what we would term the performance of a solo martial arts set) in the middle of a fire fight which he observed as both rebel troops (who held the city) and imperial soldiers contested control of a graveyard outside of Shanghai. Meadows set the scene by describing the artillery and armaments of both sides. By this point in the war both parties were armed primarily with Western cannons, state of the art European made muskets and a surprising number of revolvers.  He described the order of battle as being similar to that seen in the Crimean War with heavy volleys of fire being exchanged between groups of soldiers who were either sheltered behind the city’s walls, or moving between “rifle pits” and the sorts of cover that the graveyard landscape afforded.  All of this was very similar to what one might have observed in a European conflict of the time.

Yet similar should never be confused with identical. While playing no part in the actual siege, Meadows notes that “cold weapons” were evident on the battlefield.  One Imperial spearman, having nothing to contribute to an exchange of gun fire, took shelter behind a building with Meadows and other Chinese onlookers.  Another soldier, armed with a sword and rattan shield, approached the battle differently.  He walked out into an open area (where a companion was firing a musket at rebel forces) and proceeded to demonstrate his sword set, all while shouting insults at the enemy, slashing at imaginary opponents and tumbling over his shield.

On a substantive level he contributed little to the battle.  Indeed, one suspects that most such skirmishes were actually decided by the artillery. Nor was this individual the lone exception.  Meadows told his story because he believed it would convey something about the nature of the conflict to his readers back in the UK.  Very similar reports were also lodged by British soldiers involved in the First and Second Opium Wars in Southern China, and much later by units participating in the costly march on Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. It is an often overlooked fact that by 1900 the Imperial Chinese troops had weapons just as advanced as any of the Western nations that came to save the Legation.  Yet battlefield martial arts displays, usually attributed to “possessed Boxers,” remained fairly common. All of this seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to Forman’s much later photograph.

Accounts such as these are why so many Westerners became obsessed with the image of the sword wielding Chinese boxer, soldier or pirate. The basic image might be labeled in a variety of ways. Yet in each case it seems to have invoked the same combination of fascination and disgust. It would be more difficult to think of a better example of Rey Chow’s critique of “visualism,” in which modernity functions by reducing people or ideas into two dimensional depictions, than the early 20th century explosion of photographs of Chinese men wielding swords.

Such images facilitated the mental, and then political, classification of China, justifying its imperial occupation. A close reading suggests that many of these classifications rest on seeming contradictions. While focusing on men, their subjects are emasculated through an association with obsolete technology, poverty or backwards superstitions.  Chinese territory is potentially dangerous, yet in need of Western protection and guidance.  And when modern weapons occur in an image, rather than focusing our attention on the breakneck speed of social change, the existence of traditional tools subconsciously reinforces the notion that China is somehow eternal. A land without history can never change.  It is a country without a future.

 

Late Qing portrait of the Changtu Prefect and his personal guard. Photographer unknown (at least by me).

 

Such notions would likely have been projected onto this image by early 20thcentury Western viewers as well.  Once again, notice the prominent juxtaposition of modern (Western) weapons with their traditional (Chinese) counterparts.  Judging from the legible inscriptions in this photograph, Douglas Wile has concluded that it is a portrait of the Prefect of Changtu (now part of Liaoning Province) and his personal guard. Obviously, such an image would have been taken prior to the 1911 revolution.

At that time the long Mauser rifles with WWI era “roller-coaster” sights seen in this photo would have been state of the art.  And having a couple of guys with halberds standing at a door or gate would also have made a lot of sense. Yet one suspects that rather than a well-armed bodyguard, post-Boxer Rebellion viewers would likely have seen one more piece of evidence of a nation incapable of change.  In certain quarters such images (invoking fears of beheadings for minor offenses) were taken as powerful justifications for the preservation of Western legal privileges (such as extra-territoriality) and even colonial “guardianship.” The observation and dissemination of images of the “traditional” martial arts was often coopted by the forces of imperial discourse.  That is vital to remember as it strongly suggests that there was nothing inevitable about the reemergence of similar images in the post-WWII era as anchors of the post-colonial discourse. Bruce Lee probably would have played quite different to audiences in 1901.

The production and widespread dissemination of such images in the early 20thcentury opened Chinese society to conflicting social pressures. On the one hand there was immense pressure to “modernize,” making the nation equal to the Western powers. This would mean discarding much or all of China’s traditional culture.  Yet Chow has also warned her readers of another danger in these situations. As “ethnic” individuals in colonial situations grapple with the meaning of their identity, perhaps by trying to find domestic sources of pride or strength necessary to resist imperialism in their own autobiographies, they risk internalizing the dominant critique of their culture and performing an increasingly two dimensional act of what was once an authentic culture as they respond to a set of critiques that were likely based on (malicious) misunderstandings.

 

A vintage Japanese postcard showing images (likely taken in the late teens or twenties) of “Big Sword Units training their bravery.”

 

Perspective matters. And it is interesting to think about the role of both bodily experience and cultural expectations in shaping one’s perspective. Meadows wrote in an era when it was increasingly evident swords had little utility on the battlefield, but they were still very much part of Western 19thcentury military life. By the Republican era that had changed. The Japanese situation was more complicated.

Our next image was taken from a Japanese postcard, probably produced during the 1920s, which shows Chinese soldiers, dressed in smart civilian clothing, demonstrating their sword forms.  We have already read numerous accounts of demonstrations such as these (particularly those staged by General Ma), but it is interesting to see that Japanese publishers decided that there was an market for such an image at home.

The Japanese discourse towards China in the 1920s and 1930s was much more belligerent than anything seen in the West. One need not carefully analyze their literature or trade practices for hints of imperialist discourses. You only needed to watch where their armies marched or read their formal diplomatic declarations.  This is not to say that their popular culture was not of immense interest.  Japanese youth literature of the period tended to portray China as a land of adventure where adventurous boys could not just serve the nation, but prove their worth. And the increasing militancy of government mandated martial arts practice in Japanese schools helped to ensure that the nation’s youth would be prepared to do just that.

It goes without saying that within this internal nationalist discourse the sword (or more properly, the katana) meant something entirely different from what it signaled on the pages of the North China Herald or New York Times.  While a traditional symbol, it did not denote national backwardness.  Rather, it was a symbol of national identity.  And it became the vessel for much more positive cultural content.  It represented the notions of sacrifice, spiritual determination and individual physical strength placed in the service of the nation.  It represented that aspect of primoradial Japanese identity that both made it distinct, but also well suited for global competition among its national peers.

One byproduct of mandating years of state sponsored kendo or judo training was the creation of a large number of individuals who were bound to be at least somewhat curious about Chinese martial practice.  One suspects that the young men who collected these postcards may have been intrigued by images of solo-forms practice (rare in modern kendo), and the different sabers favored by the Chinese. Yet it is highly unlikely that such an image would have struck them as a symbol of national backwardness.  Indeed, the Chinese soldiers in this image were dressed much more “progressively,” and in a more Western manner, than Japanese Kendo students.

Such an image, while highlighting differences in national martial practices, likely would have suggested the existence of the sort of cultural affinities that supported the logic of Japan’s desired “co-prosperity” sphere.  Once again, images of the Chinese martial arts might be used to undermine notions of China’s national independence, but now for very different reasons. Rather than pointing to the backwardness of these practices, the Japanese could instead claim to be best positioned to promote their future development.

 

A second angle of Forman’s iconic photo, this time with an improved and more dynamic composition. Source: The Forman Collection at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee library.

 

All of this may be part of the answer to our initial question.  Yet we still have not considered the evolving Chinese interpretation of this key image, or what they might gain from cooperating in its reproduction and global distribution.  The Japanese postcard is important as it suggests that such images did not actually undermine one’s claim to modernity, or legitimacy within the nation state system, in an absolute sense.  Even more important than the production of these images was how their interpretation was negotiated, destabilized, contested and claimed on the world stage. This was a project that an increasing number of Chinese reformers would turn their attention to in the 1920s and 30s, re-entering a space that had been largely dominated by outside voices since the Boxer Uprising.

Much like the Japanese architects of Budo, Chinese social reformers carefully searched their history and culture for the tools to resist imperialism.  Part salvage project, and part nation building exercise, such impulses had given rise to the “self-strengthen” movement in the late 19thcentury which saw in the martial arts strategies for resisting the West through “Yin power.” Later (in the 1920s and 30s) similar impulses would be promoted by the “national essence” and guoshu reformers.

Yet just as Chow warned, the harnessing of Yin power was first premised on the acceptance of often skewed externally inspired narratives of national weakness.  It is well worth remembering that it was Chinese journalists and intellectuals who harped on the image of “the sick man of Asia”, not their counterparts in New York or London. The promotion of China’s “traditional” martial arts seemed a ready-made cure for this self-imposed cultural syndrome.

Many of China’s more liberal reformers disagreed with these prescriptions.  Accepting that superstition and backwardness were at the root of China’s weakened state, the May 4th Reformers favored a much more enthusiastic embrace of Western social, economic and cultural institution.  They were inherently suspicious of attempts to save China’s future by reimagining what its past practices had been. The disastrous events of the Boxer Uprising were still too fresh in their minds to embrace Jingwu’s (or later guoshu’s) promises of a modernized and reformed martial art placed at the disposal of the nation. Chow’s work on the various strategies involved in the construction of “ethnic images” would seem to be a fruitful place to begin to untangle the debate between these two factions as to what role (if any) the martial arts should play in the creation of New China.

All of this suggests a new perspective from which to view Forman’s original photograph.  KMT officials and the guoshu reformers embraced the traditional martial arts because they saw in them a chance to disrupt Western expectations about Chinese society. Yes, domestic unity and nation building were their primary goals.  Yet the KMT constructed a public diplomacy campaign around guoshu (foreshadowing in significant ways the PRC’s current wushu strategy) because they perceived an opening to demonstrate-through staged spectacle and newspaper story-that China was in fact strong, courageous, and modern.  Better yet, it possessed a unique culture capable of making important contributions to global discussions.

It is interesting to read Forman’s photograph within the framework of that ongoing contest of ideas. The old and new are contrasted not just within the right and left side of the frame, but even within the two halves of the swordsman’s body.  In one hand he holds a dadao, China’s now iconic sword.  In the other we see Mauser 88 rifle (either a Chinese produced copy or an imported German model).  While it is often claimed that the dadao was issued only because the Chinese were too poor to produce modern rifles, this photo problematizes such statements.

While genetically descendent from the Mauser rifles carried by the private bodyguards seen above, it should be noted that these examples have been altered in significant ways.  The barrels are shorter, carbine length, conversions and the complex WWI era sights have been replaced with something simpler and lower profile.  In short, the Chinese small arms seen in this photo are more or less identical to the modified bolt action rifles then being issued by countries like Japan, Germany, the USSR and the UK.  Clearly this soldier does not cling to his dadao out of sheer necessity. In this photograph it serves another purpose.

The fact that this image exists in two forms (one with two soldiers, the other with three) confirms our initial suspicions that the composition is an artificial one arranged by Forman, rather than a spontaneous display of Chinese martial culture.  As such we must begin to consider how its creator meant for this image to be read by the public.

The University of Wisconsin Milwaukie archives (which holds the original version of this image) have also preserved three of the original captions that it was distributed with. Editors who bought the image through a newswire service were free to choose any of these when they ran the photo. Interestingly, each of captions reads slightly differently.  The first view is the most negative, placing the sword within the symbolic realm of backwardness and superstition.  In many ways it is a continuation of press traditions from the turn of the century.

Caption 1: “The ‘big sword man’ as the symbol of the warrior of traditional China.  He was brave, agile, and fought his enemy hand-to-hand. He lasted into the twentieth century, gradually accepting the rifle as a weapon for modern warfare.  The Japanese invasion of China in 1931 finally convinced the Chinese to discard the outmoded ‘big sword,’ even as a secondary weapon as here shown in the invasion of Manchuria.”

These observations notwithstanding, the dadao remained common throughout WWII. Produced in large numbers by innumerable small shops, they were issued both to second line militia units as well as to fully equipped professional troops who carried them as the Chinese answer to the Japanese Katana or the British/Indian/Nepalese Kukri (a topic near and dear to my own heart).  Given that American newspapers were full of headlines about China’s “big sword troops” in 1938, I am not sure how many editors would have decided to run this caption.

The second possibility reads as follows: “’The Spirit of Ancient China.’ Big Swordmen -great hand-to-hand fighters, in the old traditional manner – with a modernly equipped trooper of Chiang Kai-shek’s famed 88thDivision. (Photographed in North Station).”

This caption is interesting as it begins the process of presenting the dadao to the Western reader in a “spiritualized” fashion.  Yet it is still fit within the Western motif of romanticism for “vanishing China.” Regardless, it is difficult to accept that this individual is fully representative of that past as he too carries a rifle identical to that possessed by the “modernly equipped trooper.”

Finally, the third and most interesting caption reads: “The Spirit of Ancient China! – The fellow with the big sword.  In the crook of his arm is modern China – the trooper with the steel helmet and modern rifle. Together they oppose Japan.”

Here we begin to see what Forman may have intended with the curious composition of this photograph. Rather than invoking the historical memory of accounts like that by Meadows, his meaning was more symbolic.  One soldier, representing the national essence, spread a protective arm (holding a highly symbolic weapon) over the head of his comrade busily taking aim at an (imaginary) opponent.  This photography was never intended to be a historical, let alone an ethnographic, document.  Rather it was a symbolic argument about the relationship between the Chinese nation and the state.  In the great debate over the shape of “New China,” Forman was making clear his sympathies with the national essence position.

 

Soldiers demonstrating a dada set before a crowd celebrating the donation swords and helmets to the war effort.

 

Conclusion

This global rehabilitation of the Chinese sword in the Republic era suggest that the government’s “Kung Fu diplomacy” efforts paid off. Once a symbol of backwardness within an imperialist discourse, by 1938 it was at least possible to see a sword wielding soldier as a symbol of national strength. Of course Westerners were also fascinated with the Japanese katana, and that seems to have provided a mental map for bringing the dadao back into the political lexicon.

The fact that three possible captions were circulated with this iconic image is an important reminder that symbols are never self-interpreting.  Each image holds many possible meanings, some of which overlap, while others may even contradict.  While the Chinese swordsman has proved to be surprisingly resilient, his meaning has been far from stable.  Various political and social reformers (not to mention martial artists) have attempted to destabilize, contest and renegotiate this figure.  While the reproduction of “ethnic images” was conserved, the political implications that they have carried over the 20th century has varied drastically.

Likewise, the meaning, values and goals of the martial arts are not set in stone. While certain bodily techniques may be stable over a period of 100 years or more, their social function and meaning has changed.  They too have been subject to successive rounds of destabilization, negotiation and interpretation.  If surveyed over a period of one or two centuries, a wide variety of period practitioners would likely agree on the appearance of the Chinese martial arts, but would hotly debate their meaning or purpose.  Chow’s theories of ethnicity and visuality suggest some of the reasons why that would likely be the case.

 

oOo

If you enjoyed this essay you might also want to read: Yim Wing Chun and the “Primitive Passions” of Southern Kung Fu

oOo

 

The Last Shall be First: Finding Meaning in the Martial Arts

Nov 12th, 2018 by XIUART | 0
A foreign martial arts teacher practices at Wudang. Source:

 

 

Barnum’s Daughter

 

I was recently watching the news when I saw a brief segment on “the last” Japanese swordsmith.  The whole things is a little overwrought as there are lots of individuals making swords in Japan today, and (multiple) government offices in place to make sure that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While alarmist, I am no longer surprised by this sort of rhetoric. For better or worse, it has become a defining feature of the modern martial arts and all of the other cultural practices that are associated with them. I usually just brush it off. Yet it can be jarring to those who have less experience with it.

By any metric Heather* is a pretty worldly individual.  A Hollywood veteran and longtime producer of reality TV shows (touching on everything from home improvement to dating contests), she could only be described as a modern daughter of P. T. Barnum. She can regale one with tales of writing room misbehavior or the wholesale fabrication of budget numbers on those home renovation shows that dominate the American dream.  She had recently “retired” and moved to Ithaca to take up a teaching position, and at the time of this conversation we lived in the same apartment complex.

Heather approached me on her bike as I was working through a new jian (double edged straight sword) set. “Hey, I didn’t know you were a martial artist!” she proclaimed. “That is what finally chased me out of TV.”  Asking for clarification it turned out that it was not actually Wudang Jian that had done her in.  Rather, she had been working on the project titled “The Last Samurai”* when she finally decided to retire.  I asked her to explain, which she did at length, finally concluding

“Look, I don’t know anything about the martial arts, but I know a racket when I see one. That guy wasn’t “the last Samurai.” What does it even mean to be a “Samurai” in Japan today? And God only knows how any of this could have been significant to the poor kids we dragged over there to meet him.”

After pausing to ruminate she continued, “That was how I knew it was time to get out.  Sure, the dating shows are all staged, and no one has yet pulled a dish out of the oven that actually looks like it does on the Food Network.  I could do all of that. But when it came to martial arts documentaries, it was a sign. I just knew I couldn’t do this anymore.  That’s when I knew it was time to do something real, and finally put my MFA to good use.”

I had never heard this part of Heather’s story before and stood there at an actual loss for words.  After a career spent fabricating the budgets of home improvement shows, it was martial arts mythmaking that finally brought down a jaded Hollywood producer.

 

A trip to any public park in China would seem to indicate that the average of traditional martial artists is increasing. At the same time these individuals may have a greater need for strong social networks and more resources to devote to finding them.

 

The Last Masters

 

As I reflected on the recent story of the “last” Japanese swordsmith (who, I suppose, is responsible for outfitting the aforementioned “last” Samurai) it occurred to me that that these were not just any random lineage myths or poorly researched newspaper articles.  Rather, they were widely shared stories that lamented or prophesized the end of the martial arts altogether.  Indeed, they have acquired the status of cultural touchstones. Both practicing martial artists and the mainstream media seem to relish stories promoting some teacher, or school, as either the first or (more commonly) the last of their kind.

All sorts of practices and institutions come to an end, and yet the media rarely remarks on their passing.  The martial arts are, if nothing else, survivors. While the end of the Chinese martial arts has been regularly prophesized since the end of the Ming Dynasty in the 17thcentury, they are still going strong. Given their frequently predicted demise, on some level I think it would be appropriate to conceptualize the Asian martial arts as a community that exists in a state of perpetual revival (understood in the Religious Studies sense of the word). Yet what makes the image of the end of Kung Fu, the last Viking or the final Samurai so appealing?  Where do these images get their emotional appeal, and why are they embraced with seemingly equal enthusiasm by those both within the traditional martial arts community and those who only know these practices through their mediatized image? As we unravel the puzzle of the perpetual demise of the martial arts, we may gain additional insight into the modern social functions which these practices perform.

 

Yang Style Taiji in Shanghai, 2005. The traditional Chinese martial arts are always forced to create a sheltered space within the larger community. Source: Wikimedia.

 

 

“Tradition” as Fetish in the Martial Arts

 

As we review the various historical essays within Kung Fu Tea’s archive, one might be forgiven for concluding that the Chinese martial arts are not so much a smoothly transmitted system as an assortment of stochastic discontinuities held together by the fervent belief that they ought to be (or at one point in the distant past were) a cohesive whole.  I find it useful to sit back and consider how much (or rather, how little) my Wing Chun training (a product of the 1950s) has in common with either the Dadao clubs of the 1930s, or the Red Spear village militias of the 1920s. These two distinct visions of the Chinese martial arts were among the largest social movements of their day. Collectively they trained and organized many millions of people.  And yet the Red Spear militias that once rules China’s northern plains seem to have had little impact on the surviving martial arts.  If this is true for huge social movements that existed less than 100 years ago, how much further removed is my understanding of the Chinese martial arts from one of Qi Jiguang’s Ming era soldiers, or an ancient scholar-warrior welding a bronze sword?

Nevertheless, the threads of culture provide continuity that bridges our personal, localized or purely internal, experience of reality. It is here, rather than in embodied practice, that scholars might start their search for a more stable understanding of the Chinese martial arts.  More specifically, it is within their long tradition of shared stories, literary references, venerated figures, imagined geographies and even values (though these do tend to shift from era to era) that Chinese martial culture finds (and contests) its central coherence.  It is within this most basic stratum that our search must begin.  And it is here that we first encounter the uniting fear of the “end” of martial practice.

Within a Confucian lineage system intergenerational transmission, whether genetic or social, is the great responsibility. Fathers must have sons to inherit the land, and in turn they must provide sacrifices to the ancestors. Knowledge, which existed in perfect clarity in the past, must be faithfully transmitted. The martial arts, understood as systems of military defense at both the local and imperial levels, was no exception.  Driven by the importance of the military examination system, archery manuals became one of the most successful genres of popular literature in the late imperial period. Likewise, the act of boxing is irreducibly social.  Neither teacher nor student can exist without the other.

It is thus interesting to note that within the very first stratum of existing Chinese martial arts manuals (16thcentury) we find authors like Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou already concerned that the nation’s hand combat practices are in decline and in need of revival.  Cheng Zhongyou likewise undertook his important study of the Shaolin pole method both because he wanted to make it available to other members of the gentry seeking to train village militias, but also because he was worried that their “original” method would be lost in a deluge of second-rate imitators.  Already within the oldest stratum of printed (sometimes commercially distributed) works on the Chinese martial arts, we see a concern with their end.  This is truly remarkable as these same authors (and many other nameless instructors within their generation) were responsible for laying the foundation of the martial arts that we now enjoy today.

This basic complex of social values largely survived the transition to ideological nationalism, and market-based methods of transmission, during the late Qing and early Republic period.  In the period of “self-strengthening” (1860s-1890s) the entire nation was seen as under threat, and the martial arts came to be understood by some individuals as a way of preserving what was essential within Chinese society to resist the West. Thus fears about the disappearance of boxing could be mapped directly onto a larger historical dilemma. Likewise, Republic era reformers sought to place the traditional martial arts at the disposal of the nation building project, and (drawing on the Japanese example) saw within them the tools necessary to forge China into a single, modern, people.  When individuals foresaw or debated the end of boxing, they were at the same time ruminating on the nature of the modern Chinese state, its values, and relationship with society.

Yet such discussions still emerge with some frequency in the Western media and martial arts circles. And it goes without saying that the cultural values that underlay these discussions are quite different from traditional Confucianism’s concerns with faithful transmission on the one hand, or the sorts of all-encompassing nationalisms that characterized the 1930s on the other. Is there a single theoretical lens which we might apply to the narrative of the vanishing Kung Fu master which both explains the popularity of the story today, while still (within reason) shedding some light on its previous manifestations?

Martial arts historians and social theorists alike would probably begin by pointing out that it is quite significant that the West encountered these hand combat systems during the great period of imperial expansion in the late 19thcentury, and then again during the era of the consolidation of the global financial order in the immediate aftermath of WWII.  This suggests that we cannot separate the social function of the martial arts from the emergence of late capitalism and modern consumer culture.

Indeed, modern capitalism plays the pivotal role in the post-WWII dissemination of the Asian martial arts.  It gave rise to a set of economic, social and personal insecurities which came to define Western culture, and then promised the delivery of goods, ideas and practices that could solve these same issues.  The first two of these issues are perhaps the easiest to understand. The rapid opening of markets to global trade flows always creates sets of winners and losers as the increased flows of new types of goods eliminate some jobs and threaten the fabric of traditional communities. While most individuals will be better off (in the long run) as the national economy expands, they will now be forced to deal with the basic existential questions of life (who am I, what is my purpose) without the support of the types of traditional communities and institutions that sought to provide those answers in the past.

The surplus of goods which modern capitalism facilitates seems to always be accompanied with a deficit in social meaning.  Increasingly individuals are left to their own devices to determine what makes them unique, which groups (if any) they are part of, and what larger purpose they are meant to fill. Unsurprisingly individuals seek to find meaning within the sorts of goods and experiences that they consume.  For instance, I might signal, and develop, a certain type of identity through the clothing that I wear, the type of car that I drive (or don’t drive), and the hobbies that I fill my free time with.

Yet in a world where everything can be purchased, and any individual with the same set of means might purchase a similar set of goods, how secure is such an identity? The perfectly interchangeable and anonymous nature of markets threatens the ability of these institutions to provide answers for the terrible existential questions of human existence that are always looming in the darkness.  One logical response to this is to remove certain goods from the universal marketplace, thus preserving their cultural power by providing a non-economic gateway to their use.  This strategy has been seen many times in history, but in the current era it seems to most closely approximate our current anxiety over cultural appropriation.

Several theorists have noted that we respond to the anxieties and threats of the modern consumer society by seeking something that exists beyond mere economic exchange with which to anchor identity.  Given their importance to the counter-culture movement of the 1950s-1970s, Asian philosophies, religions and modes of aesthetic expression were often adopted as strategies for resisting the commercialization and hollowing-out of Western life.  Chinese Daoism, Japanese film and, of course, the martial arts all exploded into the popular consciousness as a new generation sought to find a better set of values to anchor their lives in a rapidly changing post-War West.  Strictly speaking, none of these things were actually “new.” Most of these images and ideas had been available to Westerners since the 1920s.  The supply was already present.  It was the post-war reevaluation of modern life that provided an explosion of demand.

Nevertheless, one must think carefully about how individuals, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, actually encountered these ideas and practices.  The old standby is to assert that Judo or Karate was popularized by vets returning from the occupation of Japan (or perhaps a stint in Taiwan). There is certainly some truth in this statement.  And yet most of the vets who took up martial arts in the 1960s had never been stationed in Okinawa, Japan or Taiwan.  Some key individuals and future tastemakers had.  Don Draeger and R. W. Smith are both important examples of how a certain vision of the Asian martial arts was exported to the West.

Yet the vast majority of individuals who followed in their virtual footsteps had neither the life experience or financial means to travel East and South East Asia, documenting the martial arts.  Some may have encountered aspects of these systems as “dirty fighting” in boot camp. Yet for the most part they came to Judo, Karate and later the Chinese martial arts through newspaper and magazine articles, TV specials and commercial transactions carried out in strip mall dojos dotting the American post-war landscape.

The central paradox of consumer culture is now laid bare.  It promises to sell us goods, ideas and practices that can substitute for the loss of older types of community.  Yet the very fact that such goods can be purchased by anyone leads us to question their authenticity and efficaciousness. If personal-transformation and escape from the woes of late capitalism can really be purchased for $60 a month, and I hand over my $60, what exactly have I escaped?

Once we have reached this point a variety of thinkers, from Slavoj Zizek to Jean Baurdrillard, could be invoked to help. Zizek’s work on “Western Buddhism” is in many ways particularly relevant here.  But I would like to turn to a different source as it brings the discussion back to the frequent appearance of the words “last” and “first” in our discussions of the martial arts.  Specifically, Amanda Fernbach’s 2002 Fantasies of Fetishism: From Decadence to the Post-Human (Rutgers UP) deserves consideration.

Specifically, the logic of Fernbach’s argument suggests that procumers (consumers who simultaneously produce Western martial arts culture through their participation in these systems) seek to solve the essential dilemma of counter-culture consumerism by reformulating their practice as a type of fetish.  While the martial arts will continue to be distributed through a competitive marketplace this move relieves the latent anxiety about the authenticity of these goods. Specifically, discourses focusing on the origins or ending of an art serve to form a relationship between the practice and its students in which the now fetishized art becomes a powerful tool of its own marketing as well as a symbol of its own legitimacy.

Fernbach notes that the origins of the notion of “fetish” seems to lie in the colonial trade that occurred between Portugal and West Africa.  Fetish goods were spiritually powerful, culturally defined, objects which could not be traded.  Their exchange lay outside of normal economic channels, and they were believed to have a transformative effect on individuals or communities.  Given our attempt to apply all of this to a discussion of the martial arts in the early and mid-twentieth century, it is important to note that the core concept of the fetish really derives from imperialist discourse and denotes an area that is somehow insulated from socially corrosive market forces.

This notion (focusing on the object which resisted exchange) would go on to inform the basic anthropological definition of the fetish which saw them as otherwise mundane objects thought to be endowed with tremendous spiritual powers (often used in worship). More specifically, they could grant great strength or ability to someone with the proper knowledge of their use. Freud took this basic notion and instead focused on the absence, or the fear, that might cause one to seek out a fetish in the first place.  Fernbach finds his treatment of the concept wanting in a number of respects.

Karl Marx, on the other hand, found modern fetish goods within the Western economic marketplace. Here the good most certainly exchanges hands through trade.  Yet some aspect of its value (perhaps its prestige, or ability to act as a status symbol) might outstrip its actual utilitarian worth.  The fetish is thus a second good, encoded in the value of the first, which we might purchase within a marketplace.

Each of these definitions of the fetish are related to the others. Yet the original notion of an area (seemingly) protected from the corrosive effects of trade seems most relevant to what we see-or seek-in modern martial arts.  Still, Freud’s very different take on the problem reminds us that what is often most important in understanding human behavior is the fear of the thing that is lacking.

Nor is the Marxist interpretation without some merit. As with any good in the marketplace, one must increase the demand for your product through advertising. Creating discourses that fetishize aspects of the martial arts communicates to consumers that they will receive value that goes above and beyond the simple instruction that we are outwardly paying for. For instance, when I put my child in a Taekwondo class she doesn’t just learn the basic kicks and punches that I am paying for.  Undoubtably there will be a brochure in the school’s lobby informing me that she will also gain “self-confidence,” “discipline” and the ability to “work with others.” These are all core social values and a good example of the Marxist theory in action.

Still, I suspect that there is a more primal layer of myth creation that underlies all of this, one better explored through the older anthropological understanding of the fetish. As adult consumers look for a tool of self-actualization, guided perhaps by latent Orientalist notions about a “purer” East, they build a belt of protective fetish fantasies around the martial arts precisely to “save them” from the taint of the mundane. Perhaps the easiest of these fantasies to construct (and hence the most widespread) is that of origins and endings.

Such stories effectively sperate the martial arts from the world of endlessly repeatable consumer consumption by positing the existence of temporal discontinuity.  It is time itself (or what Eliade might have called “sacred time”) that places the martial arts beyond the reach of “mere consumerism,” but not actual consumers. That which has vanished from the world can no longer be sold, even if I feel that I can access some aspect of this shared sacred past in my weekly Kung Fu classes.  To be on the verge of disappearance is to also to be on the verge of having the sort of cultural surplus that we always bequeath of the long lost masters.  To be the “last master” is to be remembered. At least in our more romantic imagination. One suspects that in real life practices vanish precisely because no one cares to remember them at all.

Likewise, something on the verge of extinction is also a candidate for revival. Ip Man became the “grandmaster” not because he was the first, or the best, Wing Chun practitioner. Rather, he was venerated by generations of students in Hong Kong and the West for “saving the art” from extinction. Whether that was actually the case is a topic for another day. But I don’t think that anyone doubts that Ip Man has come to be seen as an epochal figure in the Southern Chinese martial arts that the “generation” of most modern Wing Chun students is now counted from.  His career is interesting precisely because it illustrates how closely linked the death and rebirth of an embodied identity can be, not just in historical practice but also in the stories that we come to tell.

 

 

Taijiquan teacher and students in a park. Source: http://english.cntv.cn

 

 

Conclusion

 

To be a member of the last (or first) generation of an art is find a place in history that appears to be beyond the whim of market forces. As witness to historical events it is hoped that one gains a sense of identity and purpose.  Indeed, one may even wish for a bit of immortality.  Given the universal appeal of these outcomes it is perhaps not surprising that media markets, in both the China, Japan and the West, have fetishized the imminent death of the martial arts. This often functions as a democratizing move. Lamenting their passing, or attempting to spark their revival, have become critical modes by which countless students experience these practices.  And many more media consumers are exposed to the same feelings (often in a more nationalistic or cultural guise) as they consume news stories about the disappearance of these once great cultural artifacts. When these fetishes are exposed (throwing us back into the “desert of the real”), the result can be the sort of destructive feeling of disillusionment that Heather experienced upon actually coming face to face with Japan’s “last Samurai.”

Any student of martial arts history can illustrate, in great detail, that we are not the first generation to read premature obituaries of Kung Fu’s passing.  Nor, through the simple process of extrapolation, are we likely to be the last. Yet when examined through the lens of Fernbach’s theory of the fetish it quickly, becomes apparent that the sorts of popular narratives that we tell about the death and rebirth of the martial arts are very important. The process of fetishization which she outlines (and is particularly amenable to the study of physical or embodied practices) suggests not just a mechanism by which these practices yield real transformative influence on the individual level, but also suggests much about the social ills that they seek to respond to. A theoretically informed examination of the martial arts suggests much about the terrain that lays behind us, and what we might yet become.

 

*All names and program titles have been changed to protect the innocents.

 

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If you enjoyed this discussion you might also want to read: Bruce Lee: Memory, Philosophy and the Tao of Gung Fu

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Performance Ethnography and the Martial Arts Studies Reader

Nov 9th, 2018 by XIUART | 0

 

As the indomitable Professor Farnsworth would say, good news everyone! The long anticipated Martial Arts Studies Reader (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) is now shipping.  Weighing in at 244 pages, and featuring articles by over a dozen of the most respected names in the field, this volume is sure to be referenced for years to come. Its timely chapters can easily be integrated into a wide variety of course reading lists. And if you look closely, you may even find my latest paper on the lightsaber combat community. This book will be of interest to both scholars and practitioners seeking to understand the evolution and social meaning of the modern martial arts.  Featuring articles by Peter Lorge, Douglas Wile, Meaghan Morris and D. S. Farrer, it is sure to find a place on all of our holiday gift lists.

 

Speaking of which, D. S. Farrer has been kind enough to post the text of his chapter on performance ethnography. His paper opens a window onto the sorts of content that one will find in the Martial Arts Studies Reader. It also provides students with a great discussion of one of the most important research methodologies being employed in the field today.  Take a look at the volume’s table of contents, read Farrer’s chapter, and order your copy today!

 

Table of Contents
Introduction: “What, Where and Why is Martial Arts Studies?” Paul Bowman
2. “Early Chinese Works on Martial Arts” Peter Lorge
3. “The Battlefield and the Bedroom: Chinese Martial Arts and Art of the Bedchamber” Douglas Wile
4. “Martial Arts by the Book: Historical European Martial Arts” Daniel Jaquet
5. “The Phone Book Project: Tracing the Diffusion of Asian Martial Arts in America Through the Yellow Pages” Michael Molasky
6. “Martial Arts, Media, and (Material) Religion” Esther Berg-Chan
7. “Liminoid Longings and Liminal Belonging: Hyper-reality, History and the Search for Meaning in the Modern Martial Arts” Benjamin N. Judkins
8. “‘He’s an Animal’: Naturalizing the Hyperreal in Modern Combat Sport” Janet O’Shea
9. “Martial Arts as a Coping Strategy for Violence” Sixt Wetzler
10. “Performance Ethnography” D. S. Farrer
11. “Martial Arts Studies and the Sociology of Gender: Theory, Research and Pedagogical Application” Alex Channon
12. “Masculinities, Bodies, and Martial Arts” Dale C. Spencer
13. “Martial Arts as Embodied, Discursive, and Aesthetic Practice” Tim Trausch
14. “Carnival of the Drunken Master: The Politics of the Kung Fu Comedic Body” Luke White
15. “Learning from Martial Arts”  Meaghan Morris and Paul Bowman

 

Chapter 10: Performance Ethnography
DS Farrer
The human mind is apt to perceive many things, and more so according as its body can be disposed in more ways. —Spinoza, Ethics IIP14 (1977: 52)

 

Performance ethnography, where the researcher sets out to learn a martial art, or other skill, is a somatic extension of participant observation where the body may become both subject and object of research.  This chapter traverses essential features of ‘how to do’ performance ethnography in martial arts research, thereby introducing a methodological toolkit to a new generation of ‘fighting scholars’ (García and Spencer 2013). Perfor-mance ethnography itself, however, is an open quarry for further research. Hence, in addition to a discussion of practical, methodological concerns, this chapter aims towards a fresh theoretical understanding of performance ethnography in terms of ‘immanence’ and ‘emergence’, where the method facilitates creative outcomes, knowledge or theory to surface from within a community of martial artists, dancers or other skilled practitioners (Deleuze 1988, 76).

 

 

 

Of Pens and Swords: Jin Yong’s Journey

Nov 5th, 2018 by XIUART | 0
In recent years Louis Cha’s novels have become subjects for comic book artists.

 

 

The Loss of Heroes

The Chinese martial arts community has lost two giants.  The death of Rey Chow (who was instrumental in jumpstarting Bruce Lee’s martial arts films) and Louis Cha (who wrote under the name Jin Yong) comes as a double blow. Granted, neither man is remembered primarily as a practitioner of the martial arts.  Yet as story tellers they had a huge impact on the development of the shared web of signs, meanings and desires that would shape the development of the Chinese martial art community from roughly the 1950s until the present. As scholars we need to pay close attention to this cultural web as it is the software that structures the human experience.  While not strictly determinative, none of us will strive to accomplish that which we cannot imagine.

Both of these figures are deserving of an essay. Yet at the moment I find myself drawn to reflect on Cha. His stature as a literary figure, and frequent forays into modern Chinese politics (both from the editorial page and his service on various governmental committees) are fascinating in their own right. Yet I will admit to having some ambivalence regarding the cultural impact of his novels. To put the question simply, I find myself wondering what Hong Kong’s martial culture would look like today had “Jin Yong” accepted a newspaper job in Taipie in 1947 rather than Hong Kong.

Simply asking such a question smacks of heresy. In many ways Loius Cha is synonymous with Hong Kong, his adopted home. He was the co-founder, and long-time editor, of the Ming Pao daily, a major publication. While Cha is still remembered for his blistering anti-Beijing editorials during the Cultural Revolution, he became the first (non-Communist) Hong Kong resident to meet with Deng Xioping as he sought to steer China on a more open path.  And with over 100 million copies sold (not counting untold pirate editions), as well as derivative films, TV programs, radio dramas, comic books and video games too numerous to count, Cha’s novels are quite possibly Hong Kong’s most important cultural export within the Chinese cultural zone. Yet his impact on the Southern Chinese martial arts has been complex.

Perhaps the best way forward would be to review the contours of a remarkable career as we ask how it was that Cha, and a generation of immigrants like him, came to call Hong Kong home.  This may suggest something about Cha’s impact on the development of Southern Chinese martial culture in the post-1949 era, as well as the continuing echoes and reverberations of his legacy today.

I should state for the record that I do not claim to be an expert in the analysis, or criticism, of Cha’s work, and have only read a few of his in novels in translation. I am sure that there are others who are better qualified to write an essay such as this.  Nor is that admission an artifact of false modesty.  The immense popularity of Cha’s novels have actually sparked the creation of an entire academic subfield (some of which even appears in English) dedicated to the study of his legacy. Still, his influence on the world of actual Chinese martial arts practitioners has been so great that I cannot leave his passing in silence. The complexity of his relationship with this community seems to stretch far beyond the platitudes that we encounter in his many newspaper obituaries.

 

 

Jin Fong reviewing a copy of his own work. Source: BBC

 

 

Making a Hero

Like so many others, Cha first arrived in Hong Kong as a way station as he was headed somewhere else. He was born as Zha Liangyong in 1924 in Zhejiang province.  His family had deep, multigenerational, scholarly credentials and it was only natural that Liang would also find a career in literature. But his pathway was far from straight. He exhibited his trademark penchant for fiery political rhetoric as a youth and was expelled from high school in 1941 after publicly denouncing the KMT’s government as “aristocratic”.  Indeed, he would continue to identify himself as “anti-feudal” and “liberal” throughout his life.

After graduating from (a different) high school in 1943, Cha was accepted at the Department of Foreign Languages at the Central University of Chongqing.  His initial plan was to become a foreign service officer or diplomat.  However, he quickly dropped out of this program, and applied to study international law at Soochow University.

To help finance his studies Cha took a job in journalism with a major British owned paper. Fortuitously his company transferred him to the Hong Kong office in 1947. Things did not go well for all of Cha’s family who stayed behind after the Communist takeover in 1949.  His father was arrested as a counterrevolutionary and executed in the early 1950s. Critics, like John Christopher Hamm (who has written one of the best English language studies of Cha’s work), note that his early novels are marked with a profound awareness of the plight of exile, alienation and loss.  Like so many others who had come to Hong Kong for business or work, it quickly became apparent that there was no going home. Cha would be forced to build a new life in a largely Cantonese city under British colonial rule.

In the early 1950s Cha befriended Chen Wentong, a fellow journalist, who worked at the same paper.  He encouraged Cha’s interest in writing and in 1955 (writing under the pseudonym Jin Yong) he began to produce the first of the serialized wuxia novels that would make him famous.  In English this story’s title is typically rendered The Book and the Sword.

In 1959 Cha and his high school classmate, Shen Baoxin, established the Ming Pao daily newspaper with Cha serving as editor. The small paper started off as a home for “Jin Yong’s” increasingly popular novels, but it has since grown to be on the largest Chinese daily papers.  In its first two decades Cha was responsible for writing not just the serialized novels but also the daily editorials and many small features.  It is reported that at times he was publishing more than 10,000 characters a day.

In total Cha produced 14 novels and a single short story under the Jin Yong pseudonym. Then, in 1972, he retired and announced that he would concentrate on consolidating and editing his already extensive literary legacy.  This was a complex undertaking as these novels had first appeared as serialized newspaper columns, which operated under their own set of literary conventions. In 1979 Cha released the first “complete and definitive” set of novels, many of which had been streamlined or slightly reworked in the editorial process.

The 1970s-1990s were a period of increased political activity in Cha’s life. He had always maintained an interest in politics (often understood through a more traditional Chinese cultural lens focusing on “the national interest”). Initially this led Cha to make many enemies on the left when he forcefully denounced the Cultural Revolution. Still, his reputation as someone capable of bringing together complex competing perspectives led to an invitation to meet with Deng Xiaoping and his subsequent appointment to the committee drafting Hong Kong’s Basic Law.  Cha resigned that position in 1989 in protest over the Tiananmen Square Incident. Yet in 1996 he was once again working on the important Preparatory Committee, prior to the 1997 handover.

Not content to rest on his literary or political laurels, Cha pursued his lifelong fascination with Chinese history by pursuing a Doctorate in Oriental Studies at Cambridge University.  His degree was awarded in 2010 when he deposited his dissertation focusing on imperial succession in the early Tang dynasty.  Cha remained an important public figure throughout his life and his works have remained popular. A highly publicized English language version of his Condor Heroes series released its first installment in 2018. Cha died on October 30th2018, at 94, after a long period of illness.

 

A recent English language translation of one of Louis Cha’s classic Wuxia novels.

 

 

Contextualizing a Life

John Christopher Hamm has argued that it is impossible to understand Jin Yong’s meaning or social significance without thinking very carefully about the environment that this literary phenomenon emerged in.  Hong Kong’s newspapers were already well acquainted with the notion of serialized martial arts novels well before Cha’s arrival in the city.  Indeed, the region had a rich, well-established, tradition of Kung Fu novels stretching back through the 19th century.  Many of these were firmly rooted in Cantonese colloquialisms and local heroic figures.  While one must be careful not to draw what were always shifting social borders too strictly, these stories typically appealed to the transient workers and merchants who came to Hong Kong to do business before returning (either at the end of a season or a career) to some other location in the Pearl River delta.

With the national upheavals of the late 1930s and 1940s, the city’s complexion began to change quite rapidly. Increasing numbers of displaced persons made their way to Hong Kong in an effort to escape the turmoil elsewhere in China. Since these Northern immigrants had the means to travel, they were often better off financially and more educated than much of the local population. Following the 1949 liberation of China by the Communist Party, they streamed in, effectively overwhelming the Guangdong culture that had dominated Hong Kong since its inceptions. It is interesting to note, parenthetically, that Ip Man and Louis Cha arrived in the city within a year and a half of each other, though they represented different cultural currents.

Like Cha these individuals slowly came to the realization that the 1949 crisis was not a limited event like the others that had marked China’s tumultuous 20thcentury. Rather than a temporary haven, Hong Kong had become their home for the imaginable future.  Cultural clashes were common.  Local Cantonese residents referred to these newcomers as “outlanders.”  For their part the Northern refugees tended to see Hong Kong as a cultural wasteland. Cantonese culture was dismissed as backwards and new radio stations, theater groups and even newspapers quickly sprang up to cater to these northern “outlanders” who brought their own ideas about what modern Chinese life should be.

The Ming Pao daily was one of these institutions. And as Hamm notes, Jin Yong’s novels were a clear departure from the local kung fu tales that had previously dominated Hong Kong story telling. Acutely self-aware, his stories focused not on local heroes, but epic tales of contests for control of the Central Plains during periods of foreign occupation. When the heroes suffered their inevitable defeats, they retreated to the fringes of the empires and went into exile, just as Jin Yong’s readers had.

This is not to say that Jin Yong’s work didn’t have immense appeal, or that it was incapable of reaching a cross-over audience. As so many writers have recently noted, his novels have proved to be culturally enduring precisely because they speak to individuals across the geographic, ideological and economic lines that have traditionally divided the Chinese cultural area. They have managed to do so in large part by advancing an appealing, nuanced, vision of Chinese nationalism.  Self-determination and cultural identity seem to rest at the heart of Cha’s understanding of patriotism.  And in his later works he goes to lengths to praise China’s many ethnic minorities (particularly the ones that have contributed to its martial arts traditions) advancing a more open and liberal vision of what Chinese nationalism might be.

All of this is combined with a reverence for traditional Confucian values, particularly when they order the relationship between teachers and students, family members or leaders and followers.  Yet the feudal past, in which all of his stories are set, is not accepted uncritically.  Cha remained deeply suspicious of the feudal and aristocratic, and so his characters can be seen to wrestle with, and critically examine, practices that no longer work in the “modern” world of the 14thor 15thcenturies.

A lack of Cantonese colloquialisms notwithstanding, these themes were likely to have a broad appeal within Hong Kong society. Cha made sophisticated discussions about identity, belonging and the nation available to those with a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds.  Yet these stories always originated from a specific place, or point of view. Nor can one help but wonder what other vision of martial arts culture they displaced, or pushed to the margins, as Jin Yong attained a sort of hegemonic dominance within the Wuxia genre.  In my own research I frequently run across accounts of martial arts students in the 1960s and 1970s who, while enthusiastic to learn the southern martial arts, carried with them different visions about the values or identities that motivated these systems.  Generational conflict over such matters is not unique to this case. Though as I read one testimonial after another as to how critical Cha was to defining the world view of a generation of Southern martial artists, I cannot help but wonder what he displaced, and to what degree he helped to shape the disjointed expectations of the period.  Indeed, in my own account of Wing Chun’s history during the post-war era, Jing Yong’s novels are more likely to play the role of “loyal opposition” than protagonist.

 

Cha, second from left, in 1960, with the cast of the film “Return of the Condor Heroes.” Source: The New Yorker

 

The Journey North

The burgeoning hostility of local Hong Kong residents towards Northern visitors or residents is nothing new. It is easy to find recent newspaper articles and editorials referring to Northerners as “locusts” who sweep in to consume not just cheap goods, but increasingly the best real estate and jobs, pushing long-time residents ever further from the center. In the wake of his death some individuals openly wondered whether a figure like Cha could succeed today given the open hostility to immigrants.  The great irony, of course, is that the majority of Hong Kong’s “legitimate” residents today were once northern transplants themselves, and Cha’s stories helped their parents to negotiate an environment that was not always friendly, familiar or welcoming.

By becoming the quintessential Hong Kong storyteller (a lack of Cantonese roots notwithstanding) Cha is once again acting as a cultural bridge. Amidst all of the anxiety about the death of the Hong Kong film industry, and the future of the Southern Chinese martial arts (which are being priced out of the city by skyrocketing rents), it is easy to forget that in some ways the Cantonese martial arts heroes are now more popular than ever throughout the PRC.  Ip Man has become a household figure (and his art has exploded in popularity) not just because of his association with Bruce Lee. Rather, Wilson Ip’s 2008 film and its many successors have been key in spreading this bit of Southern culture throughout the mainland.

It has been noted (by myself and others) that the vision of Ip Man that these films conjure does not bear a close resemblance to the real life (and rather well documented) figure. In the place of the undeniably mercurial and modernist Ip Man, what do these films present?  A figure that in many ways splits the difference between the traditional Kung Fu genre and one of Cha’s stories.  Yes, the action is still gritty and “realistic” with minimal wire work.  But we now have a hero who exemplifies martial virtue, who demonstrates Confucian values in his relationships, who is a patriot who fights for China, and in defeat he retreats in exile to the edge of the empire. Does that sound familiar?

The flavor of these films is undeniably influenced by the Hong Kong tradition. Yet the mold that shapes the stories bears an uncanny resemblance to the ideal hero (a patriot who endures rather than wins) as laid out in Cha’s many novels.  Where as Ip Man and Louis Cha had once existed as contemporary historical figures, whose lives ran on parallel tracks, their legacies now interact in complex ways.  Rather than simply displacing the Pearl River Delta’s traditional Kung Fu narrative, Cha seems to have provided a pattern by which its heroes can travel North, testing their own fortunes in the Central Plains.

 

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If you enjoyed this essay you might also want to read:  Lives of Chinese Martial Artists (14): Ark Yuey Wong—Envisioning the Future of the Chinese Martial Arts

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Through a Lens Darkly (56): New York City’s Kung Fu and the Roaring 1920s

Nov 2nd, 2018 by XIUART | 0

 

 

Introduction

While I have a few connections in New York City’s TCMA community, it has always been my experience that one turns up different sorts of insights by getting out and exploring the terrain on one’s own.  It was with that notion in mind that my wife and I set out to reconnoiter the older Manhattan Chinatown, which now seems almost quaint when compared in scale to its larger and more vibrant neighbor in Queens. The weather was great, and we got some memorable photos of tourists from China stopping to take photos of Chinese-American businesses and families.  The gods of globalization move in mysterious ways.

The afternoon was not a total bust.  We briefly made contact with two people working on Xingyi in a local park, though it was abundantly clear that no manner of martial art was going to distract the local residents from the many card games that dominated the district.  After purchasing a book (by my friend Mark Wiley) from a local martial arts business, we were able to learn a little more about the neighborhood’s martial arts scene.  Things sounded quiet, but we found out about two other instructors (Taijiquan and Wing Chun) who occasionally taught in the same park.

Still, there was very little evidence of the vibrant martial arts scene that had been so prominent during the late 1970s and 1980s. While the gentrification that has reshaped so much of the island was less evident south of Canal Street, Chinatown evolves and changes, like everything else.  It seems that the warehouse schools which I read about in memoirs and doctoral dissertations have suffered the same fate as many of the more colorful elements of New York life.

In search of some historical perspective my wife and I next visited a local non-profit dedicated to preserving as much of Chinatown’s local and oral history as possible. The young employees (all in their 20s) thought that our subject sounded fascinating. Yet as they searched their databases and various key-word indexes they didn’t hold out much hope of finding anything useful. While they approached their job with infectious enthusiasm, they freely admitted that most of the neighborhood’s older residents didn’t share their zeal for preserving the past.

In fact, convincing older Chinese-Americans to sit down for oral history interviews was proving to be every bit as difficult as one might suspect.  While there was some interesting history available on various musical and opera societies, once the tape recorders were turned on no one seemed willing to admit to knowing anything about martial arts instruction or Lion Dancing. In fact, the young researchers who staffed the office were hopeful that as a “total outsider” I would have better luck than them when it came to interviewing individuals and ferreting out this chapter of the historical record.

The situation was even bleaker when looking for resources that might discuss martial arts training in the pre-war period.  Outside of a few stories and names, not much of substance seems to have survived. Giving me a mournful look, my ever-earnest historical guide explained that with so few surviving sources much of the texture of the community had been irrevocably lost. So ended my hopes of unearthing a rich trove of New York’s early Chinese martial arts history.

Or so I thought. Research is a funny thing.  All of our sources are oddly specific, and even the most comprehensive database catches only a fraction of what is already sitting in some archive or library. While conducting a search for Chinese newsreel footage of martial arts practice during the Guoshu decade (1928-1938), I stumbled across something much more valuable. I found perhaps the best preserved and oldest footage of North American Southern Kung Fu practice that I had yet seen.  Even better, it was shot on the same New York City streets that my wife and I had recently explored.

 

 

The Footage

Anyone interested in viewing this film can do so by clicking this link. This priceless visual record has been preserved on a reel of out-takes and raw newsreel footage that is held by the Historic Film archive.  The entire reel is quite important as it helps to contextualize how images of the Chinese martial arts were classified and framed at the time of their production and cataloging.  All of the clips on the reel were produced during the 1920s and most of them focus on scenes of entertainment. The period’s jazz tradition is well represented, and scenes of Chinese-American life find themselves juxtaposed with visual records of the African-American community.  It should be noted that there are multiple recordings of Chinese New Year Festivals on the reel, suggesting a persistent interest in the subject.

At minute 19:42 viewers will encounter footage of a New Year celebration which happened on January 10th, 1929. In addition to the more common scenes of enthusiastic crowds, fireworks and Lion Dancing, two minutes of footage was also shot of the sorts of martial arts exhibitions that accompanied these festivals. While such exhibitions are occasionally noted in period newspaper reports, this is the most complete visual record of such a performance (in North America), that I have yet encountered.

This material rewards a close examination. None of this footage has been narrated, nor are there scene cards. As such I suspect that most of this material was probably treated as “out takes.” Still, it’s a rich source.  While we might lament that we only have two minutes of material, by the standards of a 1920s newsreel, two minutes is an eternity.

This footage is composed of a series of much briefer clips (most ranging in length from 10 to 30 seconds) which focus on the performance of individual martial artists, all performing on a single day in what appears to be the same crowded outdoor venue.  In total 11 sequences are shown, each focusing on some sort of forms performance. Both unarmed and weapons sets are represented in the sample, as well as a few two-person weapons sets. (For the sake of clarity this post is discussing only the martial arts demonstration, and not the excellent Lion Dance footage found on the same newsreel which probably deserves specialized treatment of its own).

If we assume that most of these sets could be introduced, set up and performed in about two minutes, it seems that the original demonstration was at least 22 minutes long. Even more remarkable is that very few individuals (maybe one or two) made any repeat performances in this show. Thus it took at least a dozen martial artists to stage this demonstration.

Most of the individuals in the show were wearing regalia suggesting that they had just come from (or were headed to) Lion Dancing.  The standard uniform appears to have been a white shirt, black bowtie and Kung Fu pants, but a number of individuals can also be seen to wear the typical street clothing of the period. All of the performers in this film are male (though I have seen newsreel footage of female martial artists in NYC in the 1930s).  Some are dressed as common laborers, while other have the air of shopkeepers or clerks.

 

 

A detailed breakdown of the film is as follows:

19:49-19:53     Unarmed Solo Set 1 (conclusion)

19:54-20:05     Unarmed Solo Set 2 (opening)

20:06-20:29     Unarmed Solo Set 3 (opening)

20:30-20:36     Solo Weapon, Eyebrow Staff

20:37-20:40     Solo Weapon, Southern Style Long Pole

20:41-21:08     Solo Weapon, Pudao

21:08-21:22     Solo Weapon, Hudiedao (Butterfly Swords)

21:23-21:32     Two Man, Long Poles

21:33-21:52     Solo Weapon, Rattan Shield and short saber

21:53-21:55     Two Man, Spear vs. Shield and Sword

21:56-22:00     Two Man, Spear vs. Shield and Sword

 

 

 

Analysis

So what sort of demonstration are we looking at? To begin with, one of remarkable sophistication.  The conventional narratives suggest that modern Chinese martial arts schools, as we know them today, did not begin to appear in Chinatowns in cities like New York, San Francisco and Toronto until the 1950s.  Prior to that it is not the case that the martial arts were never taught. Rather, their instruction tended to be sponsored by the various fraternal societies, theater groups and criminal organizations that dominated much of these neighborhoods’ associational life. Indeed, as Charlie Russo has demonstrated in his book on the Bay Area martial arts community, the first generation of public instructors often opened their school after having first established a reputation in community these group. For their part, the various Tongs are generally thought to have been more interested in training “street soldiers” capable of collecting gambling debts, acting as bouncers in a variety of establishments and dealing with belligerent tourists.

Still, the existence of this film problematizes any attempt to bifurcate early 20th century Chinese-American martial arts into a “practical” pre-war phase and a post-war era that might be more recognizable.  While it seems unlikely that any of the individuals received their instruction in public commercial martial arts schools in New York City during the 1920s (to the best of our knowledge there simply weren’t any), it is now clear that there were a large number of individuals who were regularly gathering to train in the traditional martial arts.  Further, staging a Lion Dance and demonstration with as many individuals as we see on this film suggests a fair degree of organizational sophistication.  While they may not have been organized as a public school, it would appear that their institutional Kung Fu must have been pretty good.

What about their physical practice?  All of this film was shot from a single elevated camera angle, so the various martial artists move in and out of the frame.  This combined with the repetitive nature of many Southern sets, and the short duration of most of the clips, makes it very difficult to positively identify the various forms being displayed. After sharing this film with Hung Gar instructors on various continents, and a couple of Choy Li Fut students, we were not able to identify any of the sets with 100% certainty.  Most of the unarmed and weapons work bears a resemblance to pre-Wong Fei Hung style Hung Gar. Alternatively, the one set in which we see the rattan shield and sword combined with tumbling is highly suggestive of some sets that are still practiced in Choy Li Fut.

Identifying these sets has proved to be somewhat frustrating. The film suggests that the general movement culture (or possibly “habitus”) of the Southern Chinese folk arts have remained remarkably consistent over the last century. It was genuinely interesting to see how the seventh performer moved with the hudiedao. Figuring out just what these guys were doing might be an important clue in reconstructing the early TCMA community as it existed in New York city during the 1920s. If anyone has any insights into the identities of these sets (or better yet, the martial artists) please leave a comment below.

 

oOo

If you enjoyed this essay you might also want to read: Lion Dancing, Youth Violence and the Need for Theory in Chinese Martial Studies

oOo

 

Through a Lens Darkly (56): New York City’s Kung Fu and the Roaring 1920s

Nov 2nd, 2018 by XIUART | 0

 

 

Introduction

While I have a few connections in New York City’s TCMA community, it has always been my experience that one turns up different sorts of insights by getting out and exploring the terrain on one’s own.  It was with that notion in mind that my wife and I set out to reconnoiter the older Manhattan Chinatown, which now seems almost quaint when compared in scale to its larger and more vibrant neighbor in Queens. The weather was great, and we got some memorable photos of tourists from China stopping to take photos of Chinese-American businesses and families.  The gods of globalization move in mysterious ways.

The afternoon was not a total bust.  We briefly made contact with two people working on Xingyi in a local park, though it was abundantly clear that no manner of martial art was going to distract the local residents from the many card games that dominated the district.  After purchasing a book (by my friend Mark Wiley) from a local martial arts business, we were able to learn a little more about the neighborhood’s martial arts scene.  Things sounded quiet, but we found out about two other instructors (Taijiquan and Wing Chun) who occasionally taught in the same park.

Still, there was very little evidence of the vibrant martial arts scene that had been so prominent during the late 1970s and 1980s. While the gentrification that has reshaped so much of the island was less evident south of Canal Street, Chinatown evolves and changes, like everything else.  It seems that the warehouse schools which I read about in memoirs and doctoral dissertations have suffered the same fate as many of the more colorful elements of New York life.

In search of some historical perspective my wife and I next visited a local non-profit dedicated to preserving as much of Chinatown’s local and oral history as possible. The young employees (all in their 20s) thought that our subject sounded fascinating. Yet as they searched their databases and various key-word indexes they didn’t hold out much hope of finding anything useful. While they approached their job with infectious enthusiasm, they freely admitted that most of the neighborhood’s older residents didn’t share their zeal for preserving the past.

In fact, convincing older Chinese-Americans to sit down for oral history interviews was proving to be every bit as difficult as one might suspect.  While there was some interesting history available on various musical and opera societies, once the tape recorders were turned on no one seemed willing to admit to knowing anything about martial arts instruction or Lion Dancing. In fact, the young researchers who staffed the office were hopeful that as a “total outsider” I would have better luck than them when it came to interviewing individuals and ferreting out this chapter of the historical record.

The situation was even bleaker when looking for resources that might discuss martial arts training in the pre-war period.  Outside of a few stories and names, not much of substance seems to have survived. Giving me a mournful look, my ever-earnest historical guide explained that with so few surviving sources much of the texture of the community had been irrevocably lost. So ended my hopes of unearthing a rich trove of New York’s early Chinese martial arts history.

Or so I thought. Research is a funny thing.  All of our sources are oddly specific, and even the most comprehensive database catches only a fraction of what is already sitting in some archive or library. While conducting a search for Chinese newsreel footage of martial arts practice during the Guoshu decade (1928-1938), I stumbled across something much more valuable. I found perhaps the best preserved and oldest footage of North American Southern Kung Fu practice that I had yet seen.  Even better, it was shot on the same New York City streets that my wife and I had recently explored.

 

 

The Footage

Anyone interested in viewing this film can do so by clicking this link. This priceless visual record has been preserved on a reel of out-takes and raw newsreel footage that is held by the Historic Film archive.  The entire reel is quite important as it helps to contextualize how images of the Chinese martial arts were classified and framed at the time of their production and cataloging.  All of the clips on the reel were produced during the 1920s and most of them focus on scenes of entertainment. The period’s jazz tradition is well represented, and scenes of Chinese-American life find themselves juxtaposed with visual records of the African-American community.  It should be noted that there are multiple recordings of Chinese New Year Festivals on the reel, suggesting a persistent interest in the subject.

At minute 19:42 viewers will encounter footage of a New Year celebration which happened on January 10th, 1929. In addition to the more common scenes of enthusiastic crowds, fireworks and Lion Dancing, two minutes of footage was also shot of the sorts of martial arts exhibitions that accompanied these festivals. While such exhibitions are occasionally noted in period newspaper reports, this is the most complete visual record of such a performance (in North America), that I have yet encountered.

This material rewards a close examination. None of this footage has been narrated, nor are there scene cards. As such I suspect that most of this material was probably treated as “out takes.” Still, it’s a rich source.  While we might lament that we only have two minutes of material, by the standards of a 1920s newsreel, two minutes is an eternity.

This footage is composed of a series of much briefer clips (most ranging in length from 10 to 30 seconds) which focus on the performance of individual martial artists, all performing on a single day in what appears to be the same crowded outdoor venue.  In total 11 sequences are shown, each focusing on some sort of forms performance. Both unarmed and weapons sets are represented in the sample, as well as a few two-person weapons sets. (For the sake of clarity this post is discussing only the martial arts demonstration, and not the excellent Lion Dance footage found on the same newsreel which probably deserves specialized treatment of its own).

If we assume that most of these sets could be introduced, set up and performed in about two minutes, it seems that the original demonstration was at least 22 minutes long. Even more remarkable is that very few individuals (maybe one or two) made any repeat performances in this show. Thus it took at least a dozen martial artists to stage this demonstration.

Most of the individuals in the show were wearing regalia suggesting that they had just come from (or were headed to) Lion Dancing.  The standard uniform appears to have been a white shirt, black bowtie and Kung Fu pants, but a number of individuals can also be seen to wear the typical street clothing of the period. All of the performers in this film are male (though I have seen newsreel footage of female martial artists in NYC in the 1930s).  Some are dressed as common laborers, while other have the air of shopkeepers or clerks.

 

 

A detailed breakdown of the film is as follows:

19:49-19:53     Unarmed Solo Set 1 (conclusion)

19:54-20:05     Unarmed Solo Set 2 (opening)

20:06-20:29     Unarmed Solo Set 3 (opening)

20:30-20:36     Solo Weapon, Eyebrow Staff

20:37-20:40     Solo Weapon, Southern Style Long Pole

20:41-21:08     Solo Weapon, Pudao

21:08-21:22     Solo Weapon, Hudiedao (Butterfly Swords)

21:23-21:32     Two Man, Long Poles

21:33-21:52     Solo Weapon, Rattan Shield and short saber

21:53-21:55     Two Man, Spear vs. Shield and Sword

21:56-22:00     Two Man, Spear vs. Shield and Sword

 

 

 

Analysis

So what sort of demonstration are we looking at? To begin with, one of remarkable sophistication.  The conventional narratives suggest that modern Chinese martial arts schools, as we know them today, did not begin to appear in Chinatowns in cities like New York, San Francisco and Toronto until the 1950s.  Prior to that it is not the case that the martial arts were never taught. Rather, their instruction tended to be sponsored by the various fraternal societies, theater groups and criminal organizations that dominated much of these neighborhoods’ associational life. Indeed, as Charlie Russo has demonstrated in his book on the Bay Area martial arts community, the first generation of public instructors often opened their school after having first established a reputation in community these group. For their part, the various Tongs are generally thought to have been more interested in training “street soldiers” capable of collecting gambling debts, acting as bouncers in a variety of establishments and dealing with belligerent tourists.

Still, the existence of this film problematizes any attempt to bifurcate early 20th century Chinese-American martial arts into a “practical” pre-war phase and a post-war era that might be more recognizable.  While it seems unlikely that any of the individuals received their instruction in public commercial martial arts schools in New York City during the 1920s (to the best of our knowledge there simply weren’t any), it is now clear that there were a large number of individuals who were regularly gathering to train in the traditional martial arts.  Further, staging a Lion Dance and demonstration with as many individuals as we see on this film suggests a fair degree of organizational sophistication.  While they may not have been organized as a public school, it would appear that their institutional Kung Fu must have been pretty good.

What about their physical practice?  All of this film was shot from a single elevated camera angle, so the various martial artists move in and out of the frame.  This combined with the repetitive nature of many Southern sets, and the short duration of most of the clips, makes it very difficult to positively identify the various forms being displayed. After sharing this film with Hung Gar instructors on various continents, and a couple of Choy Li Fut students, we were not able to identify any of the sets with 100% certainty.  Most of the unarmed and weapons work bears a resemblance to pre-Wong Fei Hung style Hung Gar. Alternatively, the one set in which we see the rattan shield and sword combined with tumbling is highly suggestive of some sets that are still practiced in Choy Li Fut.

Identifying these sets has proved to be somewhat frustrating. The film suggests that the general movement culture (or possibly “habitus”) of the Southern Chinese folk arts have remained remarkably consistent over the last century. It was genuinely interesting to see how the seventh performer moved with the hudiedao. Figuring out just what these guys were doing might be an important clue in reconstructing the early TCMA community as it existed in New York city during the 1920s. If anyone has any insights into the identities of these sets (or better yet, the martial artists) please leave a comment below.

 

oOo

If you enjoyed this essay you might also want to read: Lion Dancing, Youth Violence and the Need for Theory in Chinese Martial Studies

oOo

 

Martial Classics: The Complete Fist Cannon in Verse

Ott 26th, 2018 by XIUART | 0
A period depiction of Ming Soldiers involved in the Piracy Crisis which inspired Qi Jiguang’s now famous discussion of military training. Source: Ming Qiu Shizhou Taiwan Zoukai Tu (Victory in Taiwan by Qiu Ying [pseudonym Shizhou] of the Ming, 1494 – 1552).  Click here to learn more about this important source.

Translator’s Note

Here is the full translation of the Qi Jiguang’s Fist Method as it appears in the Wubei Zhi, offered as a follow-up to my initial discussion of the challenges of translating this text into English verse. If you are coming to this discussion for the first time, you may want to read that initial essay before proceeding on. I want to make this available to everyone who expressed interest and to anyone else who might find it helpful. I do not intend this to be authoritative or even unchanging. Input and discussion is always wanted and appreciated. I hope you find it enjoyable to read. 

 

Historical context

“拳經捷要篇 -The Essential Chapters of the Fist Cannon” was first published in Qi Jiguang’s seminal training manual “JiXiaoXinShu”. It was later republished in the Wubei Zhi in it’s complete form. Understanding the content of this work is dependent upon understanding its historical contexts both in the military and broader social or societal arena. 

 

Social 

There are several social factors of this period in the Ming Dynasty that one must take into account when trying to place this treatise in its proper context. The traditional hereditary military system was breaking down. There were simply not enough officers or soldier being produced from those families to keep the Ming military at its former glory. The breakdown of Ming forces contributed to a rise in social violence including, rebellions, highway men and banditry, organized cannibalism, and other fairly horrific behaviors that occur when populations become desperate and have nowhere to turn.

While violence and crime were important factors in daily Ming life, there were also more positive influences. Printing and publishing saw an enormous rise during the Ming as did literacy. With a more literate populace, the demand for books of all types grew. Printed books became big business. The publishing boom of the 16th century produced thousands of texts to be consumed by a growing lettered class. It is in this environment that we find the rise of the martial arts/military treatise purchased by non-military readers. 

As the Literati grew in numbers, more and more books on every subject were produced. Those with an interest in military or martial affairs now had the ability to study these topics even if not born into the military class. People like Mao Yuanyi who wrote and compiled the largest written document on military affairs in the Chinese language, the Wubei Zhi, were able to access this information without being a member  of a hereditary Military family. This brought an entirely new perspectives to discussions of the martial arts. 

It is difficult to say when the Martial arts manual that we know today truly came about, but we have little evidence of these texts prior to the Ming dynasty. Surviving martial art texts from before the Ming are often vague and general, offering more strategic and tactical insight and philosophy than step by step instruction of technique. The true illustrated martial arts text was, more than likely, a product of the Ming publishing boom as the audience for such texts grew. 

Qi’s first book “JiXiaoXinShu” was published in this environment and one can make a convincing case that this is the oldest example of a martial arts manual for the training of individual skills. Where as prior, this information was most  likely held by the military families as “trade secrets,” Qi decided to include examinations of various martial arts for the battlefield and focus on the individual training of troops. 

 

Military

Qi Jiguang wrote “JixiaoxinShu” in the late 1500’s near the end of the Ming Dynasty. The circumstances of his writing this book and subsequently re-editing it later, concern the Woku Coastal pirate crisis. The Woku, more commonly referred to as ‘Japanese Pirates’, were an enormous problem for the Ming at the end of the 1500’s. These bands of raiders, which consisted of mostly local Chinese citizens (often former fishermen or merchant sailors), were  bankrolled or under the command of self appointed Japanese Sea Lords. They operated under the nose of the Ming government, effectively undermining their trade war with Japan. 

Not only were the raids themselves a security problem for the region, but due to rampant corruption, many local authorities were actually collaborating with the Woku. This allowed them to bring their raids far inland and away from the coast. They were able to reach and pillage communities that were previously considered safe. 

Assigned to the region was another famous and influential writer of the Ming dynasty, General Yu Dayou, author of “Jian Jing”. General Yu was frustrated with the lack of support he received from the Capitol, who in turn withheld funds and equipment due to lack of real progress in the crisis. General Yu insisted that he needed more fire arms and ships to adequately meet the threat. The government refused. 

When General Qi arrived on the scene, he knew that asking for material support would be a fools errand. Instead, he came up with progressive if not novel approaches to the lack of technology and men available to them. He formed a mercenary army, consisting of volunteers from the affected farming communities. He specially chose these people as they were used to hard work, they were defending their homes, and they would be paid for their trouble. The problem was, that in the past, soldiers and military personnel came primarily from the hereditary military families and had some experience in the act of warfare. This system had begun to break down in the mid-Ming, which also contributed to the public’s general lack of faith in the imperial forces. 

Because these recruits were not from traditional military back grounds, there was a need to train them from the ground up. It is this method that Qi later detailed in his treatise “JiXianXinShu”- the New Methods of Military Effectiveness. One of the unique features of this book is that it is one of the first military treatises to cover the training of individual martial arts by soldiers. Since the men he was using a the time did not have formal training in military exercise or fighting on the battlefield, Qi included the training regimens for several weapons and one chapter devoted to empty handed technique. 

The martial arts that Qi choose to represent in his writing is linked to the strategies that he devised for the crisis. The spear takes the lead followed by the shield and dao, sported by archers with both conventional and fire/explosive arrows.At the end of the section is talk of the staff and finally is the bare handed section. Qi’s reason for including unarmed martial art is, as he states, mainly for conditioning and keeping the troops occupied and focused. While these techniques may have found some direct application in friendly wrestling bouts of the sorts that soldiers have while encamped, even Qi states in his introduction that there is little use for such things in the theater of war. 

 

 

The Art Represented 

Much of our discussion of Qi’s unarmed method must remain conjecture. The names of each technique are familiar to modern practitioners of Chinese martial arts. Many of these names appear in several separate martial traditions. Taijiquan, for instance, shares a fair number of these names within the various lineages of the art. Some historians have taken this to mean that this document is the direct antecedent to the art of Taijiquan. While it is difficult to say if there is a direct connection, or if Qi’s writing indicate the survival of an art that has been practiced since the Ming, it should be remembered that the names and techniques described here are actually shared by several styles including Baji, Fanzi, Pigua, Cha Quan, Tang Lang (mantis), and many others. Qi says that he has taken these techniques from various sources. It could be that the origins for the names are to be found in them, and thus may indicate an unbroken “lineage” into modern times. 

However, if one looks at the situation of new conscripts learning new skills and bringing them back to their home villages, a migration of common names through a wide variety of people and communities does not seem so far fetched. Let’s remember that Qi’s book was published and sold to non military readers as well and that it did gain a following among the literati. If these techniques were used in the training of provincial troops from surrounding areas, these men would take these technique, names, and sequences home with them and repurpose them for the needs of the community. It is in my opinion easy to assume that this is at least one factor in the creation of styles that share technique nomenclature yet no apparent technical base or common lineage. 

The techniques themselves seem to be centered around what could be deemed “fast wrestling” today. Fast wrestling is a sport in which wrestling moves are performed as quickly as possible and points are scored with successful throws without the use of extended ground fighting. Essentially, pin them as fast as you can. Battlefield techniques do not usually include lots of wrestling. But grappling and wrestling are far more useful than hitting in this context. Qi admits that this is included for exercise and conditioning only and has little direct relevance to war. 

Qi also makes the claim to have extracted these techniques as the best examples from the famous styles being practiced during the day. He then lists many of them with the impression being given that this is very much like a hybrid style made up of techniques from others. Some may be tempted to call this “mixed martial arts.” However, I believe it is an error to equate the purpose of Qi’s fist method with the modern sport of MMA. Martial arts have always borrowed and taken from other arts to add and expand their own. It does not follow that the mixing of techniques from different traditions was particularly rare or frowned upon. The sport of MMA is a mix of martial art for a single purpose of getting the most effective techniques for submitting your opponent. The use of fighting in the armed forces is much broader and, in Qi’s method, the unarmed exercises serve health and fitness purpose almost exclusively. In that sense at least, it is not that different from many modern practitioners of taijiquan practice today. 

 

Translation notes

Qi Jiguangs’s Empty-handed method is perhaps one of the best known Ming era martial arts texts. This is in large part due to the fact the many of the names of techniques used in this text are still found in martial arts today. Many traditions (most notably Taijiquan) cite this document as an early predecessor to the modern arts they practice. These arts often refer back to this document without much in the way of analysis. As the names are often popular, they have over the years acquired some conventional glosses. I have made a directed effort not to simply use these familiar translations but rather to render the name in as clear language as I can to describe the action taking place or to give a clearer context with the language. No doubt this might cause some initial confusion amongst readers who are looking at this through the lens of their own art. But, I am approaching the text as a separate practice, however influential it might have been. 

One specific note that should be pointed out is the translation of the word “Quan” 拳. While the word is a familiar suffix denoting a martial art, it is used in a few different ways in this text. In the past the word has ben translated as “boxing”. I have stayed away from that gloss for the most part as its is imprecise within the discussion we are currently having. I will at times translate it as “fist” to stay within the idiom, but when discussed in general terms, I have used the rather wordy “unarmed techniques/combat”. By using both approaches I hope that it reads more naturally without forcing the reader to code switch as much. 

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Ting from the Great Ming Military blog, Clifford Lao, and Ma Xianfeng for their invaluable help and input in the subtleties of Literary Chinese and Ming history. Thanks also go to Ben Judkins for allowing me the platform to present my work. It is my sincerest wish that practitioners of martial arts will find these at the very least interesting if not illuminating to past practices. I also hope that it encourages more people to make their own translation attempts of these texts. Multiple perspectives are always needed.

 Any errors are my own and I accept any and all criticism or correction.

 

 

拳經捷要篇

Essential Chapters of the Fist Cannon

〔此藝不甚預於兵,能有餘力,則亦武門所當習。但眾之不能強者,亦聽其所便耳。於是以此為諸篇之末。第十四。〕

[While this art is not very useful for preparing troops (for war), it can help with excess energy, or as an initial practice of martial arts. However, most people cannot become strong this way. They only listen to their own ears (only do movements with which they are familiar). Therefore, this section is placed at the end of the other sections as per it’s significance. Chapter 14]

拳法似無預於大戰之技,然活動手足,慣勤肢體,此為初學入藝之門也。故存于後,以備一家。學拳要身法活便,手法便利,腳法輕固,進退得宜,腿可飛騰,而其妙也,顛起倒插 ; 而其猛也,披劈橫拳;而其快也,活捉朝天;而其柔也,知當斜閃。故擇其拳之善者三十二勢,勢勢相承,遇敵制勝,變化無窮,微妙莫測。窈焉冥焉,人不得而窺者,謂之神。俗 云:「拳打不知」,是迅雷不及掩耳。所謂不招不架,只是一下;犯了招架,就有十下。博記廣學,多算而勝。

Unarmed combat seems to offer nothing in the way of the preparation for large scale war, but the exercising of the hands and feet forms habits for moving the limbs as a unit, making this practice a doorway to learning the art (of war).  This chapter is provided last to complete the preparation of skills.  To learn the fist (unarmed techniques) it is necessary to have the body mechanics lively yet simple, the hand work simple yet keen,  footwork is light, giving the ability to advance and retreat at will and legs that can leap and jump. How wonderful it is; To rise high and fall low, and how fierce; the chopping across with the fists, how quick; lively grasping for the sky, and how soft; to know how to endure and evade. For this reason I have chosen 32 of the best unarmed techniques, each one follows from the previous, with applications to an opponent, it can be adapted in unpredictable ways. How refined, how deep! The uninitiated will watch you and claim you are a supernatural master. A common saying; “The fist hits without knowing”, surely it is like trying to cover your ears before the thunder.  They say no provocation, no resistance, just one action will bring them down; attack will provoke resistance, then ten attacks of their own will follow. Play the game but remember the larger lesson, Those that strategize and plan will be victorious. 

古今拳家,宋太祖有三十二勢長拳,又有六步拳、猴拳、囮拳,名勢各有所稱,而實大同小異。至今之溫家七十二行拳、三十六合鎖、二十四棄探馬、八閃番、十二短,此亦善之善者也。呂紅八下雖剛,未及綿張短打,山東李半天之腿,鷹爪王之拿,千跌張之跌,張伯敬之打。少林寺之棍,與青田棍法相兼;楊氏 鎗法與巴子拳棍,皆今之有名者,雖各有所取。然傳有上而無下,有下而無上,就可取勝於人,此不過偏於一隅。若以各家拳法兼而習之,正如常山蛇陣法,擊首則尾應,擊尾則首應,擊其身而首尾相應,此謂上下周 全,無有不勝。

The Ancient Schools of the Fist; Taizu has 32 stances of long fist, also six step fist, monkey fist, decoy fist, the names of the stances each have their own qualities, but in reality they have a great amount of similarities and only small differences. Today the styles of note are Wen Family 72 step Fist, 36 locks, 24 throws of Testing Horse, 8 dodging turns, and 20 short (hits). Lu hong’s 8 take downs, although it is strong, it does not match the “cotton fist” or “Short Hit”. ShanDong’s Li BanTian’s kicks, Eagle Claw King’s grappling, 1,000 throws of Zhang’s throwing (method). Zhang BaiJing’s striking. The staff methods of Shaolin Temple and QingTian compliment each other, Yang Family Spear and Baozi style staff, this is all we have today, although they have their own strengths. Some systems may have the upper and not the lower, or have the lower and not the upper, victory may be possible for one man, but this is not a comprehensive approach. If each Family Fighting method is combined and practiced, the principle of the Mountain Snake Formation, strike the head and the tail must follow, strike the tail and the head must follow, strike at their body and both head and tail must react. This is what is meant by upper and lower are together, and victory is certain. 

大抵拳、棍、刀、鎗、叉、鈀、劍、戟、弓矢、鈎鐮、挨牌之類,莫不先有拳法活動身手。其拳也,為武藝之源。今繪之以勢,註之以訣,以啟後學。既得藝,必試敵,切不可以勝負為愧、為奇,當思何以勝之,何以敗之 !勉而久試,怯敵還是藝淺,善戰必定藝精。古云:「藝高人胆(膽)大」,信不誣矣!

Overall, the practice of the fist, saber, spear, fork, trident, sword, halberd, archery, hook, scythe,  and others in this class, first have the fist method to train the movement of body and hands.  And therefore, this method of unarmed combat is the wellspring of martial arts. Here the movements are transmitted by illustrations of the stances, explanation of the secrets, introducing the student to the method. Those that have learned this will surely test the enemy, do not be ashamed of the outcome, instead, ponder why you were victorious or how you were defeated. Make a concerted effort and experiment for a long time, if you lack courage your skill will be shallow, good fighting surely decides the essence of the art. The ancients have said; “The exulted artist is a man with great bravery”, trust this without reservation. 

余在舟山公署,得參戎劉草堂打拳,所謂「犯了招架,便是十下」之謂也。此最妙,即棍中之連打。

When I was in ZhouShan, I was able to train with Liu Cao-Tong in boxing at the public hall, they say “If one commits only to blocking, ten more blows will come”,  just as with the very clever staff attack of chaining strikes together. 

1.

懶扎衣出門架子

變下勢霎步單鞭

對敵若無膽向先

空自眼明手便

Lǎn zhā yī chūmén jiàzi

biàn xià shì shà bù dān biān

duì dí ruò wú dǎn xiàng xiān

kōngzì yǎn míng shǒu biàn

Tie Your Coat and come outside,

Single Whip with sudden stride,

Without the courage to advance,

Sharp eyes fast hands will have no chance. 

 

2.

金雞獨立顚(顛)起

裝腿橫拳相兼

槍背卧牛雙倒

遭着叫苦連天

Jīnjīdúlì diān (diān) qǐ

zhuāng tuǐ héng quán xiāng jiān

qiāng bèi wò niú shuāng

zāozhe jiàokǔliántiān

Golden Rooster stands on top,

Present your leg then sideways chop, 

Rush in low and Trip the Bull, 

They cry to heaven loud and full. 

 

3.

探馬傳自太祖

諸勢可降可變

進攻退閃蒻生強

接短拳之至善

Tànmǎ chuán zì tài zǔ

zhū shì kě jiàng kě biàn

jìngōng tuì shǎn ruò shēng qiáng

jiē duǎn quán zhī zhì shàn

Testing Horse was Song TaiZu’s,

Stances all can drop and move, 

Attacking and dodging will give you strength,* 

Receive their punches in short range

 

4. 

拗單鞭黃花緊進

披挑腿左右難防

槍步上拳連劈揭

沉香勢推倒太山

Ǎo dān biān huánghuā jǐn jìn

pī tiāo tuǐ zuǒyòu nán fáng

qiāng bù shàng quán lián pī jiē

chénxiāng shì tuīdǎo tài shān

Crossed Single Whip firmly pries it’s way in,

When finding it hard from their kick to defend,

Rush in with continuous, liftings and chops,

Knock down Tai Mountain into low stances drop. 

 

5.

七星拳手足相顧

挨步逼上下隄籠

饒君手快腳如風

我自有攪衝劈重

Qīxīng quán shǒuzú xiānggù

āi bù bī shàngxià dī lóng

ráo jūn shǒukuài jiǎo rú fēng

wǒ zì yǒu jiǎo chōng pī zhòng

In The Seven Star Fist, the hand follows the feet,

Stepping in close, upper lower to beat, 

The enemy limbs are fast like the wind, 

My own heavy chops will disturb them to win.  

 

6.

倒騎龍詐輸佯走

誘追入遂我回衝

恁伊力猛硬來攻

怎當我連珠砲動

Dào qí lóng zhà shū yáng zǒu

yòu zhuīrù suì wǒ huí chōng

nèn yī lì měng yìng lái gōng

zěn dāng wǒ liánzhū pào dòng

Ride the Dragon Inverted to feign a defeat, 

As they enter I turn and reveal my deceit. 

His attack it is fierce his hits they are strong,

But my beating continues, he can’t last for long! 

 

 

7. 

懸腳 虛餌彼輕進

二換腿決不饒輕

趕上一掌滿天星

誰敢再來比亚

Xuán jiǎo xū ěr bǐ qīng jìn

èr huàn tuǐ jué bù ráo qīng

gǎn shàng yī zhǎng mǎn tiān xīng

shuí gǎn zài lái bǐ yǎ

Hang up the Leg as bait for a trick, 

It’s not easy to follow when I switch it to kick,

My Palm makes him see the heaven and stars,

To fight me again, afraid all of them are. 

 

8.

丘劉左搬右掌

劈來腳入步連心

挪更拳法探馬均

打人一著命盡

Qiū liú zuǒ bānyòu zhǎng

pī lái jiǎo rù bù lián xīn

nuó gèng quánfǎ tànmǎ jūn

dǎ rén yīzhe mìng jǐn

Hill Attack changes left with a palm to the right,

They chop, I come in with a heart level strike,

Further I go with Testing the Horse, 

With one hit I end them with just the right force.

 

9.

下插勢專降快腿

得進步攪靠無別

鉤腳鎖臂不容離

上驚下取一跌

Xià chā shì zhuān jiàng kuài tuǐ

dé jìnbù jiǎo kào wú bié

gōu jiǎo suǒ pī bùróng lí

shàng jīng xià qǔ yī diē

Hidden Below drops down fast with the legs, 

Step in and knock them down  off a few pegs,

Hooking the foot and locking the arm,

Feint high, go low, trip and do harm. 

 

10.

埋伏勢窩弓待虎

犯圈套寸步難移

就機連發幾腿

他受打必定昏危

Máifú shì wō gōng dài hǔ

fàn quāntào cùnbù nán yí

jiù jī lián fā jǐ tuǐ

tā shòu dǎ bìdìng hūn wēi

Lying in Wait for the beast in it’s den,

The inch step corrals them like they’re in a pen,

Continuously kick with the legs and the thighs,

Receiving a hit means they surely will die. 

 

11.

拋架子槍步披掛

補上腿那怕他識

右橫左採快如飛

架一掌不知天地

Pāo jiàzi qiāng bù pīguà

bǔ shàng tuǐ nà pà tā shí

yòu héng zuǒ cǎi kuài rú fēi

jià yī zhǎng bùzhī tiāndì

Throwing Technique enters, splits and then hangs,

Take advantage with kicks fearing them seeing your plans,

Fly to the left across from the right,

Fend off with one palm and out go the lights!  

 

12. 

拈肘勢防他弄腿

我截短須認高低

劈打推壓要皆依

切勿手腳忙急

Niān zhǒu shì fáng tā nòng tuǐ

wǒ jié duǎn xū rèn gāodī

pī dǎ tuī yā yào jiē yī

qiè wù shǒujiǎo máng jí

Defend from their legs with Pluck the Elbow,

I intercept close watching high and then low,

Chopping and pushing and pressing you need,

To hit them not rushing your hands or your feet.

 

 

13.

一霎步隨機應變

左右腿衝敵連珠

恁伊勢固手風雷

怎當我閃驚巧取

Yīshà bù suíjīyìngbiàn

zuǒyòu tuǐ chōng dí liánzhū

nèn yīshì gù shǒu fēngléi

zěn dāng wǒ shǎn jīng qiǎo qǔ

Instant Step waits for the time it can change,

Kick with both legs when you come into range,

Their stances are solid, their hands like the wind,

Why accept the attack when I can dodge it to win?

 

14.

擒拿勢封腳套子

左右壓一如四平

直來拳逢我投活

恁快腿拳不得通融

Qínná shì fēng jiǎo tàozi

zuǒyòu yā yī rú sì píng

zhí lái quán féng wǒ tóu huó

nèn kuài tuǐ quán bùdé tōngróng

Grabbing and Seizing envelopes the foot, 

Left and Right press Si Ping standing with root,

A straight punch comes in, lively I throw, 

So that his kicks and his punches, they all are too slow. 

 

15. 

井欄四平直進

剪鐮踢膝當頭

滾穿劈靠抹一鈎

鐵樣將軍也走

Jǐng lán sìpíng zhíjìn

jiǎn lián tī xī dāngtóu

gǔn chuān pī kào mǒ yī gōu

tiě yàng jiāngjūn yě zǒ

Blocking the Well stance goes directly ahead,

Scissor their knee while blocking the head,

Roll, pierce, chop, lean, wipe off, and hook,

Armored Generals themselves to their cores will be shook.

 

16.

鬼蹴腳槍人先著

補前掃轉上紅拳

背弓顛披揭起

穿心肘靠妙難傳

Guǐ cù jiǎo qiāng rén xiānzhe

bǔ qián sǎo zhuǎn shàng hóng quán

bèi gōng diān pī jiē qǐ

chuān xīn zhǒu kào miào nán chuán

The Ghost Kick begins and shoots out toward them first,

Rush in, turn and hit them, their heart will then burst,

Stand with them on your back like a coat,

An elbow to the heart is no playful joke. 

 

17.

指當勢是箇丁法

他難進我好向前

踢膝滾躦上面

急回步顛短紅拳

Zhǐ dāng shì shì gè dīng fǎ

tā nán jìn wǒ hǎo xiàng qián

tī xī gǔn cuó shàngmiàn

jí huí bù diān duǎn hóng quán

Directed Defense Stance has feet like a “T”,

My defenses make it hard to attack me freely,

Kick the knee, turn, and jump up to their face.

Fast Red Fist short range to show them their place.

 

18. 

獸頭勢如牌挨進

恁快腳遇我慌忙

低驚高取他難防

接短披紅衝上

Shòu tóu shì rú pái āi jìn

nèn kuài jiǎo yù wǒ huāngmáng

dī jīng gāoqǔ tā nán fáng

jiē duǎn pīhóng chōng shàng

The Beast Head comes in if the opponent is near.

When we meet, my quick footwork will grip him with fear.

Feint low, go high, they cannot defend,

Receive his short chops and charge into them.

 

19.

中四平勢 實推固

硬攻進快腿難來

雙手逼他單手

短打以熟為乖

Zhōng sìpíng shì shí tuī gù

yìng gōng jìn kuài tuǐ nán lái

shuāng shǒu bī tā dān shǒu

duǎn dǎ yǐ shú wèi guāi

Middle Siping is pushing with root,

Hard attacks and quick footwork are both rendered moot, 

With two hands their one hand is quickly subdued,

A short hit from here is skillfully shrewd. 

 

20.

伏虎勢側身弄腿

但來奏我前撐

看他立站不穩

後掃一跌分明

Fú hǔ shi cèshēn nòng tuǐ

dàn lái zòu wǒ qián chēng

kàn tā lì zhàn bù wěn

hòu sǎo yī diē fēnmíng

Subduing the Tiger leans back for a kick,

But, he returns my attack I must brace forward and quick. 

I look and see that his stance is not steady,

I sweep him behind before he is ready. 

 

 

 

21.

高四平身法活變

左右短出入如飛

逼敵人手足無措

恁我便腳踢拳捶

Gāo sìpíng shēn fǎ huó biàn

zuǒyòu duǎn chūrù rú fēi

bī dírén shǒuzúwúcuò

nèn wǒ biàn jiǎo tī quán chuí

High Siping method is agile and changes, 

Like flying zig zag in and out of short ranges 

Block the enemy limbs so they cannot attack. 

My foot it may kick and the fist can beat back. 

 

22.

倒插勢不與招架

靠腿快討他之贏

背弓進步莫遲停

打如谷聲相應

Dào chā shì bù yǔ zhāojià

kào tuǐ kuài tǎo tā zhī yíng

bèi gōng jìnbù mò chí tíng

dǎ rú gǔ shēng xiāngyìng

Inverting Thrust does not provoke with a guard,

With quick tripping legs their foundation bombard,

Stretch the back like a bow, step in with a dash,

The valley will echo with the hit’s sudden crash. 

 

23. 

神拳當面插下

進步火焰攢心

遇巧就拿就跌

舉手不得留情

Shén quán dāngmiàn chā xià

jìnbù huǒyàn cuán xīn

yù qiǎo jiù ná jiù diē

jǔ shǒu bùdé liúqíng

Spirit Fist blocks in front to invade down below,

Step in, gather fire, use your chest as bellows, 

Meeting skill, simply seize them and make them fall down,

Raise your hand to prevent them from gaining new ground. 

 

24.

一條鞭橫直披砍

兩進腿當面傷人

不怕他力粗膽大

我巧好打通神

Yītiáo biān héngzhí pī kǎn

liǎng jìn tuǐ dāngmiàn shāng rén

bùpà tā lì cū dǎn dà

wǒ qiǎo hǎo dǎtōng shén

One Lash hacks across and down,

Block their legs and face them down,

Fear not men who’s strength is crude,

They’ll talk with gods through my hits true.

 

25.

雀地龍下盤腿法

前揭起後進紅拳

他退我雖顛補

衝來短當休延

Què de lóng xià pántuǐ fǎ

qián jiē qǐ hòujìn hóng quán

tā tuì wǒ suī diān bǔ

chōng lái duǎn dāng xiū yán

Ground Dragon trains the legs to go low,

Lift them then enter with a heavy red blow,

They run from me, fine, I will still take the day,

Rushing in close to block, stop or delay.

 

26.

朝陽手偏身防腿

無縫鎖逼退豪英

倒陣勢彈他一腳

好教他師也喪身

Zhāoyáng shǒu piān shēn fāng tuǐ

wú fèng suǒ bī tuì háo yīng

dào zhènshì dàn tā yī jiǎo

hǎo jiào tā shī yě sāng shēn

The Hand of Dawn’s body slants defending from feet,

Seamlessly lock them to compel a retreat.

Knock Down the Pillar by quickly kicking their thigh, 

Teach them so well, their own master will die. 

 

27.

鷹翅側身挨進

快腿走不留停

追上穿莊一腿

要加剪劈推紅

Yīng chì cèshēn āi jìn

kuài tuǐ zǒu bù liú tíng

zhuī shàng chuān zhuāng yī tuǐ

yào jiā jiǎn pī tuī hóng

The Eagle’s Wing inclines in close,

Footwork fast and continuous,

Chase them down and kick through their base,

Chop, shear, and push you must keep the pace. 

 

28.

跨虎勢那移發腳

要腿去不使他知

左右跟掃一連施

失手剪刀分易

Kuà hǔ shi nà yí fā jiǎo

yào tuǐ qù bù shǐ tā zhī

zuǒyòu gēn sǎo yīlián shī

shīshǒu jiǎndāo fēn yì

Ride the Tiger moves and kicks,

Hide your legs with subtle tricks,

Sweep your heel both left and right,

The hand can slice them like a knife.

 

29.

拗鸞肘出步顛剁

搬下掌摘打其心

拿鷹捉兔硬開弓

手腳必須相應

Ǎo luán zhǒu chū bù diān duò

bān xià zhǎng zhāi dǎ qí xīn

ná yīng zhuō tù yìng kāi gōng

shǒujiǎo bìxū xiāngyìng

The Crossed Phoenix Elbow steps out pounding  to start,

Then fast going under to palm strike their heart,

Like an eagle with talons grab and tear them asunder,

Surely hand must unite with foot that is under. 

 

30.

當頭炮勢衝入怕

進步虎直攛兩拳

他退閃我又顛踹

不跌倒他他忙然

Dāngtóu pào shì chōng rù pà

jìnbù hǔ zhí cuān liǎng quán

tā tuì shǎn wǒ yòu diān chuài

bù diédǎo tā tā máng rán

Block the Head Canon charges in with out fear, 

Step in like a tiger, throw both fists like a spear,

When they dodge I will trip them and stomp them again,

Even if they don’t fall they must start again.  

 

31.

順鸞肘靠身

搬打滾快他難遮攔

復外絞刷回拴

肚搭一跌誰敢爭先

Shùn luán zhǒu kào shēn

bān dǎgǔn kuài tā nán zhēlán

fù wài jiǎo shuā huí shuān

dù dā yī diē shuí gǎn zhēngxiān

Tame the Phoenix by leaning and use the elbow.

Move, strike, and roll, they have no where to go,

Return to the outside and twist them to bind,

Throw them down, to fight back they’d be out of their mind.

 

32.

旗鼓勢左右壓進

近他手橫劈雙行

絞靠跌人人識得

虎抱頭要躲無門

Qí gǔ shì zuǒyòu yā jìn

jìn tā shǒu héng pī shuāng xíng

jiǎo kào diē rén rén shí dé

hǔ bàotóu yào duǒ wú mén

Banners and Drums comes in to suppress,

Approaching them chopping like crossing the chest. 

Everyone sees the throw with the twist,

Embracing the Tiger no way to resist.

End

 

A contemporary depiction of Qi Jiguang’s troops from the recent film, “God of War.”

 

Notes

* Readers may note that this is alternate translation of this passage and differs from the one discussed in the previous post. As previously noted, this is an evolving work and I am open to ideas and suggestions:

Testing Horse was Song TaiZu’s,
Stances all can drop and move,
Advance attack, retreat to dodge,
Come in close with a fist barrage.

 

oOo

About the Author: Chad Eisner is a martial arts practitioner and instructor in Ann Arbor Michigan, teaching Ma She Tongbei and Taiji Quan. His experience in Chinese martial arts  and as a professional interpreter have naturally lead to a fascination with the translation of Ming dynasty martial arts texts. He is also the co-founder of Terra Prime Light Armory which uses historical based weapon arts to create lightsaber and fantasy martial arts for use in competition, performance, and learning.

oOo

 

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Swope, Kenneth. Campaigns and Commanders. Vol. 20, A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, ©2009.

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