Chinese Martial Arts in the News: February 16th, 2019: All the World’s a Stage

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    Introduction I hope that everyone enjoyed their Lunar New Year.  Its always a time of many public exhibitions and celebrations.  They, in turn, generate an uptick in news coverage of local martial arts practices and well as Lion… Continue Reading →

Chinese Martial Arts in the News: Dec 10, 2018: Young Masters, Colorful History, Chinese Swords

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Its official, holiday madness is upon us. Still, I wanted to comment on some of the more interesting stories that have been floating around. For new readers, this is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention or affect the traditional fighting arts.  In addition to discussing important events, this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.

While we try to summarize the major stories over the last month, there is always a chance that we may have missed something.  If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA, drop a link in the comments section below.  If you know of a developing story that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.

Its been way too long since our last update so let’s get to the news!


Keeping kung fu relevant. Source: South China Morning Post.


News From All Over

The South China Morning Post  is a pretty reliable source for news on the Chinese martial arts.  But what I really love is the number of Wing Chun stories they publish! Nor did they disappoint during the last news cycle.  Click this link for a profile of a young instructor battling to “Keep Kung Fu Relevant” in the modern world. Or, if you prefer your profiles in written form, you can find a short article on the same instructor in Yahoo news.  Both are worth checking out.



English language tabloids continue to discover the newly “rediscovered” tradition of Chinese “bull fighting.” This is basically the latest attempt to parlay martial arts exhibitions into a local tourist attraction.

It seems that every year has that one story that just won’t die. If you had asked me at the beginning of the year whether that would be the “ancient art” of kung fu bull fighting, I would blinked in disbelief and asked if you were thinking of Mas Oyama.  But here we are!

Calling this an art, or somehow more “real” than Spanish bull fighting, seems like a stretch.  But the sudden appearance of this practice (unknown to the international press just last year), suggests that it would make a great case study on the “invention of tradition” in the Chinese martial arts.  Or perhaps you could use it to delve into the evolving construction of masculinity within the martial arts. Calling all graduate students…


Shalini Singh’s skill with a broadsword earned her a gold medal last month
at the Pan American Wushu Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The San
Jose teen is an eighth-grader at Stratford School Raynor in Sunnyvale.


The Mercury News recently ran a story titled “San Jose teen shines in international martial arts competition.”  It profiles a young Wushu champion and reinforces some of the standard notions about why serious martial arts practice is good for children.

Shalini Singh’s skill with a broadsword earned her a gold medal last month at the Pan American Wushu Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The San Jose teen is an eighth-grader at Stratford School Raynor in Sunnyvale. (Photo courtesy of the Singh family)

She was 7 years old when started at Wushu Central on Coleman Avenue in San Jose and loved it immediately. In 2016, after four years of intense study, she earned a first-degree black belt. Now, she has been practicing Wushu for almost seven years, and currently trains about 18-20 hours per week at Elite Kung Fu Academy in Fremont.

“I really like the focus and discipline that Wushu has instilled in me,” Shalini said. “Wushu has taught me that failures are an opportunity to learn and improve yourself. I used to lose in all of my initial tournaments, and at first, it made me upset and dejected. But the advice of my coaches helped me identify where I was weak, and helped me improve my performance.”


For whatever reason, quite a few authors decided to delve into the history (or supposed history) of the Asian martial arts over the last month.  Without a doubt the most sensational of these pieces was provided by the Fox Sports network.  Its offering was modestly titled “4 Asian Martial Arts that teach you to end the fight with one strike.”  This one is too funny (by which I mean bad) not to delve into.

Martial arts have become a means to deliver discipline, commitment and fitness into the practitioner’s life in the modern day scenario. Yes, one does learn how to defend oneself effectively also but they have largely turned into sport. But as recently as in the first half of the 20th century – the whole focus of martial arts was different. It wasn’t just used to imbue good values and equip someone for self-defence, but in those war-torn times, martial arts was an active engagement strategy against the enemy.

In that time, the focus of learning martial arts was to grievously maim or even kill your enemy in the battlefield.

In case you were wondering what these four deadly venoms are, we begin with Dim Mak (which is apparently now a single martial art invented by Bodhidharma, rather than a set of techniques), Silat (enough said), Ikken Hissatsu (which, judging by the provided video, is basically point karate highlight reel), and Varna Kali.  All in all, the article is a font of joyful misunderstanding and myth-making.  But in an era when everyone seems intent on tearing down the utility of the traditional martial arts, it stuck me as almost quaint.  As I read it I couldn’t helping thinking, “So was this what 1968 felt like?”

A similar article, though better done, can be found here. Or why not try this one (“The Guru of Kung Fu”).  Bodhidharma looks to be making a serious comeback!


Xu Xiaodong Strikes again!


The Abbot of the Shaolin Temple chimed in on Xu Xiaodong, the Chinese MMA fighter who has gained notoriety through his challenge matches with various traditional “masters.”  Apparently Shi has his back.

“He’s a good guy, even though he’s a totally amateur MMA fighter,” said Shi, adding that “a hundred people in Henan province alone” could defeat Xu.

But Shi concluded: “Xu is doing the right thing by fighting fake kung fu.”


Ok, maybe that wasn’t a ringing endorsement. Still, I didn’t expect that level of engagement with Xu’s quest.  Given his reputation with the Wushu establishment (not to mention the Chinese government) there doesn’t seem to be a lot of political upside for abbot Shi Yong Xinin here.



Speaking of the development of the MMA in China, Forbes ran an article on the new training facility that the UFC is planning to build in Shanghai.  Clearly this is intended to help the UFC overcome its troubles developing a more extensive network of Chinese athletes.

If you’ve ever been to the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, chances are you’ve been wowed by the facility. Well, there is a new PI being constructed in Shanghai that will be three times the size of the one in Sin City.


Cultural Exchange Will Strengthen Bonds Between China & Africa.’ So proclaims a “Kung Fu Diplomacy” article in the Liberian Observer.  This one discusses the close cooperation between local diplomatic staff and branches of the (ostensibly academic) Confucius Institute in using traditional Chinese culture to further the state’s public diplomacy objectives.

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China near Monrovia in collaboration with the Confucius Institute at the University of Liberia (UL) on Saturday, November 10, hosted the traditional Chinese Arts performance, with some of the main performers coming from the Hunan University of Chinese Medicine in China.

The event, which was hosted at the Monrovia City Hall, was intended to strengthen China-Liberia relationship, highlighting culture exchanges between the two countries. Some of the performances comprised a series of China’s traditional sport-oriented health maintenance practices, including Martial Arts, Tai Chi, Qigong (a popular Chinese song) about unity, and some Chinese folk dances.


There have been a couple of interesting photo essays in the last couple of weeks.  The first follows the career of Huo Jinghong, a 5th generation descendent of Huo Yunjia and an inheritor of his system.  That article hits all of the notes that one might expect. 



Even more interesting is this story, profiling a swordsmith who has devoted himself to reviving certain steel-making techniques.  Prepare yourself for sword pics!

Li Zhujun makes a decorative sword at his studio in Tiejiangzhuang Village of Xingtang County, Shijiazhuang, north China’s Hebei Province, Nov. 14, 2018. For centuries, Tiejiangzhuang Village has been famed for its skillful blacksmiths and prosperous steel making industry. Li Zhujun is one of the village’s top steel makers. Based on the skills inherited from his father, Li gained an expertise in the steel-making technique “refined pattern welding”, which adds complicated patterns to the swords and knives during forging. The technique has been listed as an intangible cultural heritage by the city of Shijiazhuang. In recent years, the 47-year-old blacksmith has devoted himself to the renewal of this technique. His decorative swords, thus forged with more alternative patterns, show the enhanced aesthetics and exquisite product quality. (Xinhua/Chen Qibao)

The Chief Actors in the ‘Pageant of the Dragon’, Performed By The Chinese Labour Corps, Dannes (Art.IWM ART 837) image: five Chinese men stand dressed in elaborate, traditional costumes for the purposes of a pageant. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Interested in Five Ancestor First, or the Southern Martial Arts Diaspora?  Then check out this announcement from the Philipines.

Filipinos’ fascination for martial arts comes alive as more than 200 martial arts experts across the globe converge in Manila on Nov. 24 to celebrate the 80th founding anniversary of the Kong Han Athletic Club, the country’s premier martial arts school.

Abbot Chang Ding of Quanzhou City’s Shaolin Temple, and some 30 monks and members of the International South Shaolin Wuzuquan Federation, will lead participants on the occasion.


Did you hear about Marvel’s ambitious new superhero film project featuring Shang-Chi, a son of Fu Manchu.  As you might have guessed, that last plot point is not going over well in China (where Marvel films are decently popular).  Why? Fu Manchu, the villain of many ‘yellow peril’ novels is still widely remembered as an offensive symbol of Western anti-Chinese discrimination.



Anyone out there interested in martial arts and politics?  If so, Malaysian Silat has been in the news quite a bit over the last few weeks.  This article, titled “Silat alliance submits memo on ICERD, Malay issues at Istana Negara,” is a good place to get your orientation.

KUALA LUMPUR: Members of a silat coalition, known as Gabungan Silat Pertahan Perlembagaan, submitted a memorandum to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong today, expressing their protest over International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and other issues….Apart from the ICERD issue, Shahruddin said the note also highlighted the group’s other demands which included calling for the protection and upholding of Malay rights, Federal Constitution and the royal institution.

More pictures and video are available here. Nor is this the only time that Silat groups have been in the news for their political activism.  Here is another article touching on the involvement of Silat practitioners in violent clashes surrounding a Hindu temple in Selangor.



Now that we have all read the hot new tell all biography of Bruce Lee, we can turn our attention to Jackie Chan’s deeply confessional autobiography.  Lets just say that Chan does not bend over backwards attempting to paint himself in a positive light.  Whether this should be accepted as a mea culpa has become a topic of conversation in the Hong Kong press.  You can find one reviewer who is relatively sympathetic to Chan here.  But not everyone is as willing to accept his apology.



Martial Arts Studies


Typically I structure the MAS section of these news-updates around conference announcements and book updates.  This time we are going to look at some new articles and papers instead.  The first is a piece that I really  enjoyed by Colin P. McGuire.  You have all heard the song. Now its time to delve into what it really tells us about Cantonese martial culture!

Colin P. McGuire. 2018. “Unisonance in kung fu film music, or the Wong Fei-hung theme song as a Cantonese transnationalanthem.” Ethnomusicology Forum.


Wong Fei-hung was a Cantonese martial arts master from southernChina who became associated with a melody called ‘General’s Ode’. Since the 1950s, over 100 Hong Kong movies and television showshave forged the link by using this melody as Master Wong’s theme.During fieldwork in a Chinese Canadian kung fu club, I observed several consultants claiming this piece as a Cantonese nationalanthem—a hymn for a nation without a sovereign state. Virtualethnography conducted online showed that this opinion is heldmore widely, but that the piece also inspires broader Chinesenationalist sentiment. My analysis of speech-tone relationships tomelodic contour in Cantonese and Mandarin versions of the song,however, has revealed a tight integration with the former that thelatter lacked. By sharpening Anderson’s concept of unisonance, I explore how this song has become an unofficial transnationalanthem for Cantonese people, arguing that Master Wong’s themeauralises an abstract sense of imagined community.


I chose the next paper as a representative of the rapidly growing literature on the South East Asian martial arts.  And it seemed to offset some of the previous discussion of Silat.

Lian Sutton. 2018. “Embodying the Elements within Nature through the traditional Malay art of Silat Tua.” eTropic17.2 Special Issue: Tropical Imaginaries in Living Cities.


The paper introduces Silat Tua, a traditional Malay martial art, and its relationship to the tropics of the Malaysian Peninsula and Singapore through the imagery work of the four Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind. In a world of increasing disconnect between Humans and Nature, the Silat Tua practice is a traditional martial art for bringing harmony and healing, as well as an understanding of how the building blocks of Nature can harmonise, complement and resonate with the natural resources of the human mind, body and spirit. Through recounting the legend of the art’s origin, the first proponent of Silat Tua is shown to have gained inspiration and lessons from the inhabited environment. Examples of how a Silat exponent may explore and come to understand the Elements are discussed before venturing into the practical application of the Elements in cultivating mindfulness and influencing behaviour. The physical environment thus, is not only a source of inspiration for movement but indeed an impetus for leading a harmonious and virtuous life. The paper concludes with the connection and implications of the Elements training in Singapore and its potential in navigating oneself through the constant changes inevitable in life.


I have not yet had a chance to read the following paper by George Jennings.  But it looks fascinating and brings the conversation around to the martial practices of Latin America (a topic that deserves more discussion).

George Jennings. 2018. “From the Calendar to the Flesh: Movement, Space and Identity in a Mexican Body Culture.”


There are numerous ways to theorise about elements of civilisations and societies known as ‘body’, ‘movement’, or ‘physical’ cultures. Inspired by the late Henning Eichberg’s notions of multiple and continually shifting body cultures, this article explores his constant comparative (trialectic)approach via the Mexican martial art, exercise, and human development philosophy—

Xilam. Situating Xilam within its historical and political context and within a triad of Mesoamerican, native, and modern martial arts, combat sports, and other physical cultures, I map this complexity through Eichberg’s triadic model of achievement, fitness, and experience sports. I then focus my analysis on the aspects of movement in space as seen in my ethnographic fieldwork in one branch of the Xilam school. Using a bare studio as the setting and my body as principle instrument, I provide an impressionist portrait of what it is like to train in Xilam within a communal dance hall (space) and typical class session of two hours (time) and to form and express warrior identity from it. This articledisplays the techniques; gestures and bodily symbols that encapsulate the essence of the Xilam bodyculture, calling for a way to theorise from not just from and on the body but also across body cultures.


Finally, Paul Bowman has circulated a draft of this paper for comment and discussion.  Looks fascinating!

Paul Bowman. ‘Kiss me with your fist, it’s alright’: Deconstructing the Pleasures of Martial Arts Violence.”


this paper seeks to broach the complex relations of pleasure and violence in martial arts, in relation to their practice, performance and forms of consumption. It does so first by setting out the broad contours of the discursive status of both violence and pleasure in current debates about martial arts, before going on to deconstruct the implications of two short media texts: a controversial 2006 French Connection TV advert known as ‘Fashion versus  Style’, and an uncontroversial music video for the 2015 song ‘Be Your Shadow’ by The Wombats.


An assortment of Chinese teas. Source: Wikimedia.


Kung Fu Tea on Facebook

A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month.  We looked at antique weapons, reviewed some Republic era TCMA manuals, and learned how to defend ourselves with nothing but a bicycle! (Yeah, apparently that was actually a thing in 1900). Joining the Facebook group is also a great way of keeping up with everything that is happening here at Kung Fu Tea.

If its been a while since your last visit, head on over and see what you have been missing!

Chinese Martial Arts in the News: Oct. 22 2018: Archery, Kung Fu Villages and the Lives of Detective Dee

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It has been a busy weekend, so this news update will be brief. Nevertheless, I wanted to comment on some of the more interesting stories that have been floating around. For new readers, this is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention or affect the traditional fighting arts.  In addition to discussing important events, this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.

While we try to summarize the major stories over the last month, there is always a chance that we may have missed something.  If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA, drop a link in the comments section below.  If you know of a developing story that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.

Its been way too long since our last update so let’s get to the news!



News From All Over

I recently published an essay on Kung Fu Tea noting the importance of examining martial culture when trying to discern what is really happening in a given art or practice. Our first big news item really drives that point home. It starts off with a brief nod to the near extinction, and then spectacular resurrection, of traditional Chinese archery all within the space of a few decades.  Of course, someone needs to be making all of the bows to supply a new generation of enthusiastic archers, and that too came very close to being lost.

In the 1950s and 60s, when the artisans of Beijing’s last seven bow-making workshops were reassigned to state collectives, a craft that had been practised for more than 3,000 years came to a sudden halt. By the mid-90s, all remaining bowyers had passed away, with the exception of Yang Wentong. Come his death, it was believed, all knowledge of traditional Han Chinese ox-horn bow making would be lost forever.

Obviously, there is a lot more to the story of the revival of China’s traditional archery.  But I was still very happy to see an article (and video segment) like this in the South China Morning Post.



I was recently reading something by Paul Bowman in which he reviewed the ways that various newspapers in the UK have discussed the martial art over the years.  I think that one of the phrases he applied to articles in the Daily Mail was “perpetual wide-eyed wonder.” That immediately popped into mind as I looked at their latest photo essay titled ‘Everybody was kung fu fighting’: Inside the Chinese village where all residents practise martial arts.

If memory serves we have heard about this village in Guangxi before.  They seem to have some sort of communal (early morning and evening) martial arts training, but sadly this article never actually states the style.  What we do get it is yet another variant of the burning of the Shaolin Temple myth, complete with a wandering survivor who takes up residence in the village, founding its current martial arts tradition.  Good stuff!


A Chinese Kung Fu teacher visiting a school in Africa.


At first glance our next article appeared to be a boilerplate account of the sort of educational exchange program that governments frequently sponsor.  Basically, a few dozen Chinese physical education instructors were sent to the USA to visit and observe how teaching was conducted in local classes.  And of course they also taught some Kung Fu to the American kids.  I was surprised that the style they introduced was Five Ancestors Fist, a very important southern school.  Suddenly I want to hear more!


Senior woman doing Tai Chi exercise to keep her joints flexible, isolated.


Taijiquan was one of the big winners of the last news cycle.  A couple of studies had come out on the practice’s ability to build strength in older students, and this unleashed a torrent of near identical articles in several outlets. My favorite was titled “Building Strength Through Tai Chi” in the Seattle Times.

Watching a group of people doing tai chi, an exercise often called “meditation in motion,” it may be hard to imagine that its slow, gentle, choreographed movements could actually make people stronger. Not only stronger mentally but stronger physically and healthier as well.

I certainly was surprised by its effects on strength, but good research — and there’s been a fair amount of it by now — doesn’t lie.

What caught my eye about this one is that the author is actually something of a skeptic.  Rather than seeing Taijiquan as a progressive exercise that can be done at many levels of intensity, the assumption seems to be that it is useful only as a sort of remedial rehabilitation program for senior citizens who are looking to build the physical capital necessary for a more “strenuous” (western style) workout. Taijiquan gets a lot of good medical press these days, but this article made me stop and wonder how common these attitudes might be in certain corners of the medical profession. Not actually understanding much about the art in question, it would be difficult for such experts to visualize what it might do for a wider range of patients.



Speaking of senior citizens doing taijiquan, Netshark had a fun video of an “Auntie” who decided to release stress during an epic two hour Golden Week traffic jam by exiting her car and practicing her solo set. Can’t find time to train?  Seriously kids, no excuses.



I wasn’t quite sure how to classify the next story.  It touches on a number of topics including contemporary film, ancient Chinese history and 20th century crime novels. It turns out that Detective Dee has had many careers through the ages.  This is a really good article to read if you are interested in the interplay between history and popular culture. And somehow it all ends up as a series of kung fu films. I personally found this to be one of the more surprising and enjoyable articles in this month’s review.



Quick, what is your favorite martial arts film?  Now what are your top 50?  If you are still working on that second question Newsweek has some suggestions.  Incidentally Ip Man (2008) comes in at 35.  If you want to find out what they chose as #1 you will need to read the article. In addition to the list, this piece also provides a capsule overview of the genre.  It should be noted that they employ a rather loose definition of what counts as a “martial arts film.”


Collin Chou as Seraph in Matrix Reloaded.


Do you remember watching the the fight with Seraph (Collin Chou) in the first Matrix sequel? I do. It might have been my favorite fight sequence in that film. And it turns out that the film’s creator originally intended for it to be carried out by Jet Li, who was very interested in the part.  But in a recent interview he went into more detail as to why he ultimately turned it down. It seems that the film’s producers were interested in capturing more than just his on screen performance.  They were looking to use motion capture technology to digitally record Jet Li’s movements and build some sort of database.

 “I realized the Americans wanted me to film for three months but be with the crew for nine,” Li recently mentioned during a Chinese talk show appearance. “And for six months, they wanted to record and copy all my moves into a digital library. By the end of the recording, the right to these moves would go to them.”

I thought this story was interesting as there are many projects (in the commercial, scholarly and non-profit sectors) that are digitally cataloging the movements of various martial arts masters. Some of these archives are used to produce films and video games, and other go into cultural institutions.  Jet Li’s story is revealing as it illustrates some issues with what happens to all of this intellectual property.  Are we simply recording for posterity something that is communally owned (an unchanging folk tradition)? Or are we instead attempting to capture a effervescent moment of performance by an individual artist who holds a unique IP claim to their own interpretation of the work.  Li seems to have decided that the situation was more the latter and, in his case, walked away from the film.  This story is all just a footnote in the history of the Matrix, but it raises interesting ethical and theoretical questions for students of martial arts studies.



So long as we are on the subject of film, I should mention that there is one upcoming movie that I very much want to see.  The central premise of the “Kung Fu League” is a fantasy team-up between some of the genera’s greatest characters, Wong Fei Hung, Huo Yuan Jia, Ip Man and Chen Zhen. Clearly its a gimmick, but I am genuinely interested to see how figures from different eras and niches within the kung fu universe are made to address each other.  This seems like the perfect time for some inter-textual comedy and reflection on the development of the genre.  It will be interesting to see what the director ultimately does with it.


Alexander Bennett in Kendo gear.


The next couple of stories step back from an exclusive focus on the Chinese martial arts.  Our first piece is a discussion in the Japan Times of Alexander Bennett’s latest book, Japan: The Ultimate Samurai Guide. Or maybe it should really be titled “an insider’s guide to surviving in the world of the Japanese martial arts.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t, at least momentarily, considered joining a martial arts club upon moving to Japan. However, comparatively few actually take the plunge. One of the biggest hurdles is that clubs can seem to be worlds unto themselves, inaccessible to non-Japanese, even those with fluency in the language. Knowing where to start, especially if you have no previous martial arts experience also puts up barriers: Which is the right martial art for you? What should you look for in a teacher? How can you hope to compete when everyone in the club already seems to have a black belt?

This is where “Japan The Ultimate Samurai Guide,” authored by longtime kendo practitioner Alexander Bennett, hopes to step in, providing answers to some of these questions from the perspective of an insider. The book is part encyclopedia of martial arts — a historical resource tracking the evolution of Japanese martial arts over the last millennium — and part present-day guide to surviving in the world of budō and, more generally, in Japan.

This all sounds very interesting.  I really enjoyed Bennett’s work on the history of Kendo, and he is well positioned to write a popular yet highly informed guide to the wider world of Japanese martial arts.  I suspect that this one will end up on my Christmas list.


Me leading a break out group of students through a lightsaber set at Ithaca Sabers.


And now for a few stories touching on one of my personal research areas which seems to be getting a lot more exposure in the news lately. First off, a local TV channel visited the lightsaber class that I run here in Ithaca. You never know how these things will go, but I thought that the final story came out quite nicely. Are you interested in what lightsaber combat might look like if approached as a traditional martial art?  If so you can check out the full story here.

Of course, that is not the only version of lightsaber combat that you will find.  Lots of people get into the practice because they are looking for a fast paced combat sport where they don’t have to invest years in martial arts training to do something that they enjoy.  This recent report on the Nerdist followed one individual’s journey to a “full contact” saber tournament held in Las Vegas (where else). Its actually quite an interesting piece as it visits a few different corners of the “combat sport” side of the lightsaber community.


An assortment of Chinese teas. Source: Wikimedia.


Kung Fu Tea on Facebook

A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month.  We looked at antique weapons, pontificated about the value of seminars, and learned what happens when Capoeira meets Kung Fu! Joining the Facebook group is also a great way of keeping up with everything that is happening here at Kung Fu Tea.

If its been a while since your last visit, head on over and see what you have been missing!

Chinese Martial Arts in the News: September 24th, 2018: Shaolin, Bull Fights, and So Many New Books….

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Welcome to “Chinese Martial Arts in the News.”  I recently finished the heavy lifting on my draft chapter, so I am now returning to a normal posting schedule. Thanks for your collective patience! A (long overdue) news update seems like the perfect way to ease back into things.

For new readers, this is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention or affect the traditional fighting arts.  In addition to discussing important events, this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.

While we try to summarize the major stories over the last month, there is always a chance that we may have missed something.  If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA, drop a link in the comments section below.  If you know of a developing story that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.

Its been way too long since our last update so let’s get to the news!




News from all Over

A number of this month’s news items highlight the varied intersections between the martial arts and politics.  As such, it seems appropriate to lead off with recent developments at the Shaolin temple.  The venerable Buddhist monastery (and spiritual home of the Chinese martial arts) has once again found itself at the center of controversy. Seeking to get ahead of new government policy directives designed to limit the independence of Chinese religious movements from the state and Communist Party, the temple’s leadership have decided to take a much more visible and proactive role in promoting “patriotism” (rather than simply Buddhism) in the monks’ public performance.  This is actually a somewhat nuanced topic as Chinese Buddhist monasteries have never been truly independent of the state and Shaolin, in particular, already carries a patriotic reputation.  Still, the move has inspired some controversy and much discussion.  A good overview of all this can be found in the South China Morning Post article titled: “Red flag for Buddhists? Shaolin Temple ‘takes the lead’ in Chinese patriotism push.

Here is a sample of the sort of pushback that has been encountered:

Tsui Chung-hui, of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre of Buddhist Studies, said Buddhist scripture already required its followers to respect the state.

“The government does not need to take pains to promote [this] and monasteries also do not need to pander to politics,” Tsui said on Tuesday. “They should let monks dedicate themselves to Buddhism and not waste their time performing various political propaganda activities.”

China has recently come under the spotlight for its efforts to clamp down on minority religions including Islam and Christianity, which it associates with foreign influence or ethnic separatism. Mosques and churches flying the national flag have become an increasingly common sight in China amid the crackdown.

Interested readers may also want to check out this follow-up article critically examining the state of Buddhism in China, including multiple discussions of the compromised situation of the Shaolin Temple.



From questions of patriotism and political interference, we now turn to controversies over animal welfare.  Certain martial artists in Jiaxing, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, have recently been making waves with their own brand of “bull fighting.” While various types of bull sacrifices and worship can be found across the ancient world, this particular practice seems to be a mix of the old and new.  Discursively attributed to the Hui Muslim minority, the practice (which actually resembles steer wrestling minus the horses) was first demonstrated nationally in the 1984 Ethnic Minority Games, and was recognized as a martial art only in 2008. As with so many other “rediscovered” martial arts, the hope seems to be that the practice will increase tourism in the region.

While a seemingly odd story, the more I think about this one the more important it becomes. On a purely theoretical level, it raises questions about the boundaries of what we might consider the “martial arts,” and how they are constructed and negotiated. I suspect that in the West common sense would dictate that the martial arts are a social activity between humans, rather than humans and animals.  And yet this story also reminds me that countless Chinese language books and articles on the martial arts (even scholarly one’s) start off with a straight faced assertion that the Chinese martial arts were created in the distant past so that people could defend themselves from wild animals. I always dismissed these lines as boilerplate, but now I am starting to wonder what their relationship to the Chinese cultural vision of the martial arts actually is.

Of course, no one is actually being called upon to defend themselves from these bulls.  The animals seem to be very tame and have been trained to tolerate humans throwing them to the ground without putting up much of a fight.  While no bulls are killed in the practice of this “martial art,” it would seem to be open to all of the same ethical questions as North American rodeos.  And yet Western readers are assured that any appearance of cruelty is simply a result of their inability to grasp the “deep cultural significance” of the activity.

If you are wondering what all of this looks like in practice, check out this video.




Our next article, from the English language version of a Chinese tabloid, is more mainstream.  It provides an account of all the ways that a Wushu performance has managed to “Wow US Audiences.” Being a press release by a provincial government’s information office, the most interesting aspect of this article is its total transparency about the organization and purpose of shows like this.

“We hope that our show will serve as a bridge for martial arts lovers overseas to learn more about Chinese culture and appreciate the beauty of China,” said Huang Jing, director of the international communication department of China Intercontinental Communication Center.

The center presented the event, together with the Chinese Wushu Association and the Information Office of Henan Provincial People’s Government.

Over 400 people including representatives of members and students from Chin Woo athletic federation branches at home and abroad as well as members of other martial arts groups participated in the worship ceremony. (PRNewsfoto/Publicity Department of Xiqing)


From Virginia we jump back across the Pacific to Tianjin.  While Huo Yuanjia (the titular founder of the Jingwu Association) is often remembered for the phase of his career that occurred in Shanghai, his hometown roots have also made him a popular figure in Tianjin.  The city just marked his 150th birthday with a major event.

Established on June 30, 1990, the Tianjin Chin Woo Athletic Federation has over 70 branches worldwide. The event aims to leverage the global influence of Huo Yuanjia and the club to strengthen local town’s leading role as the birthplace of the Chin Woo culture. It will help display the city’s profound history and culture as well as carrying forward the Chin Woo spirit to promote solidarity.



Kung fu helps build road to success, strength.” So claims an article in the English language edition of the China Daily. The story provides an overview of a network of Shaolin associated schools in the United States.  It tends to focus on adolescent students and the benefits that they derive from dedicated martial arts training. As always, its all about the discipline.



What happens when Brazilian capoeira meets Chinese Kung Fu? This is the fascinating premise behind a new documentary which I need to locate a copy of.

What would happen when Chinese kung fu meets Brazilian martial art capoeira?

As a part of the Open Digital Library on Traditional Games, the documentary Capoeira meets Chinese Martial Arts was screened on Monday in Beijing and showed the sparks between the two traditional cultures.

The 10-minute film, co-produced by the embassy of Brazil and Flow Creative Content, in partnership with UNESCO and Tencent, presents the meeting of Brazilian capoeira masters with Chinese martial arts masters in Beijing and Hangzhou.


One part “interesting,” one part “cringeworthy,” all heuristically useful. Vice magazine decided to let its readers ask a Kung Fu master ten questions. Find out what they came up with here.



Are you looking for your next Bruce Lee fix?  If so, check out this interview with on Radio West.

Through his legendary films, Bruce Lee bridged cultural barriers, upended stereotypes and made martial arts a global phenomenon. Biographer Matthew Polly joins us to explore the life of this ambitious actor who grew obsessed with martial arts.


Its been a while since we discussed a martial arts film, but there is a new project on the horizon that looks interesting.  I like Ip Man films, and I like Michelle Yeah, so its good to hear that she is going to star in an Ip Man spinoff.  In addition to the typical movie Wing Chun, this also looks like its going to be a sword/gun-fu movie.  I don’t see any butterfly swords in the trailer, but I think I spotted a couple of kukri.  I have no idea how those knives show up in the storyline, but as a long time kukri collector, I approve.



Finally, an update from the lightsaber combat community.  Ludosport (originally an Italian group which has since expanded globally) recently held their first US National Championship in Elmira NY, not far from Cornell. They were kind enough to let me hang out and do some fieldwork with them for couple days.  And there was even some nice press coverage of the event by the local news.  Check it out. Hopefully I will be blogging about this event in the near future.





Martial Arts Studies

Summer is typically a slow time for academic news, but a lot has been happening in the Martial Arts Studies community.  We have conferences, journals and even facebook discussions to talk about.  But I am afraid that we aren’t going to get to any of that in this update as we have to deal with a deluge of new books.

The first item of business is Prof. Janet O’Shea’s new publication Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training (Oxford UP, 2018).  Wondering what it is all about?  Check out this interview in which she discusses her latest project.

Or, if you have decided to order a copy, you can do so here.



Janet O’Shea. 2018. Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training. Oxford UP. 284 pages. $35 USD. Release Date: Nov. 1

Risk, Failure, Play illuminates the many ways in which competitive martial arts differentiate themselves from violence. Presented from the perspective of a dancer and writer, this book takes readers through the politics of everyday life as experienced through training in a range of martial arts practices such as jeet kune do, Brazilian jiu jitsu, kickboxing, Filipino martial arts, and empowerment self-defense. Author Janet OâShea shows how play gives us the ability to manage difficult realities with intelligence and demonstrates that physical play, with its immediacy and heightened risk, is particularly effective at accomplishing this task. Risk, Failure, Play also demonstrates the many ways in which physical recreation allows us to manage the complexities of our current social reality. Risk, Failure, Playintertwines personal experience with phenomenology, social psychology, dance studies, performance studies, as well as theories of play and competition in order to produce insights on pleasure, mastery, vulnerability, pain, agency, individual identity, and society. Ultimately, this book suggests that play allows us to rehearse other ways to live than the ones we see before us and challenges us to reimagine our social reality.


Fuhua Huang and Fan Hong (Eds). 2018. A History of Chinese Martial Arts. Routledge. 256 pages. $133 HC. Release Date: October 3.

Chinese martial arts have a long, meaningful history and deep cultural roots. They blend the physical components of combat with strategy, philosophy and tradition, distinguishing them from Western sports.

A History of Chinese Martial Arts is the most authoritative study ever written on this topic, featuring contributions from leading Chinese scholars and practitioners. The book provides a comprehensive overview of all types of Chinese martial arts, from the Pre-Qin Period (before 222 BC) right up to the present day in the People’s Republic of China, with each chapter covering a different period in Chinese history. Including numerous illustrations of artefacts, weaponry and historical drawings and documents, this book offers unparalleled insight into the origins, development and contemporary significance of martial arts in China.



Tim Trash. 2018. Chinese Martial Arts and Media Culture: Global Perspectives (Martial Arts Studies). Rowman & Littlefield. 306 pages. $128 Hard Cover. Release Date: October 16

Signs and images of Chinese martial arts increasingly circulate through global media cultures. As tropes of martial arts are not restricted to what is considered one medium, one region, or one (sub)genre, the essays in this collection are looking across and beyond these alleged borders. From 1920s wuxia cinema to the computer game cultures of the information age, they trace the continuities and transformations of martial arts and media culture across time, space, and multiple media platforms.


Paul Bowman (ed). 2018. The Martial Arts Studies Reader. Rowman & Littlefield. 244 Pages. $44 Paper Back. Release Date: Nov. 15

Today we are witnessing the global emergence and rapid proliferation of Martial Arts Studies – an exciting and dynamic new field that studies all aspects of martial arts in culture, history, and society. In recent years there have been a proliferation of studies of martial arts and race, gender, class, nation, ethnicity, identity, culture, politics, history, economics, film, media, art, philosophy, gaming, education, embodiment, performance, technology and many other matters. Given the diversity of topics and approaches, the question for new students and researchers is one of how to orientate oneself and gain awareness of the richness and diversity of the field, make sense of different styles of academic approach, and organise one’s own study, research and writing.

The Martial Arts Studies Reader answers this need, by bringing together pioneers of the field and scholars at its cutting edges to offer authoritative and accessible insights into its key concerns and areas. Each chapter introduces and sets out an approach to and a route through a key issue in a specific area of martial arts studies. Taken together or in isolation, the chapters offer stimulating and exciting insights into this fascinating research area. In this way, The Martial Arts Studies Reader offers the first authoritative field-defining overview of the global and multidisciplinary phenomena of martial arts and martial arts studies.


Raul Sanchez Garcia. 2018. The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts. Routledge. Out Now. $54 for Kindle.

This is the first long-term analysis of the development of Japanese martial arts, connecting ancient martial traditions with the martial arts practised today. The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts captures the complexity of the emergence and development of martial traditions within the broader Japanese Civilising Process.

The book traces the structured process in which warriors’ practices became systematised and expanded to the Japanese population and the world. Using the theoretical framework of Norbert Elias’s process-sociology and drawing on rich empirical data, the book also compares the development of combat practices in Japan, England, France and Germany, making a new contribution to our understanding of the socio-cultural dynamics of state formation. Throughout this analysis light is shed onto a gender blind spot, taking into account the neglected role of women in martial arts.

The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts is important reading for students of Socio-Cultural Perspectives in Sport, Sociology of Physical Activity, Historical Development of Sport in Society, Asian Studies, Sociology and Philosophy of Sport, and Sports History and Culture. It is also a fascinating resource for scholars, researchers and practitioners interested in the historical and socio-cultural aspects of combat sport and martial arts.

Raúl Sánchez García is Lecturer in sociology of sport at the School of Sports Science, Universidad Europea Madrid, Spain and President of the Sociology of Sport working group within the Spanish Federation of Sociology (FES). He has practiced diverse combat sports and martial arts and holds a shōdan in Aikikai aikidō.


I should note that Professor Garcia published the first chapter his book as an article in the latest issue of the journal.  Read it here for free.



Lu Zhouxiang. 2018. Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts. Routledge. $45 kindle. Out now!

Chinese martial arts is considered by many to symbolise the strength of the Chinese and their pride in their history, and has long been regarded as an important element of Chinese culture and national identity. Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts comprehensively examines the development of Chinese martial arts in the context of history and politics, and highlights its role in nation building and identity construction over the past two centuries.

This book explores how the development of Chinese martial arts was influenced by the ruling regimes’ political and military policies, as well as the social and economic environment. It also discusses the transformation of Chinese martial arts into its modern form as a competitive sport, a sport for all and a performing art, considering the effect of the rapid transformation of Chinese society in the 20th century and the influence of Western sports. The text concludes by examining the current prominence of Chinese martial arts on a global scale and the bright future of the sport as a unique cultural icon and national symbol of China in an era of globalisation.

Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts is important reading for researchers, students and scholars working in the areas of Chinese studies, Chinese history, political science and sports studies. It is also a valuable read for anyone with a special interest in Chinese martial arts.

You can read my review of Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts here.


Chinese tea utensil. Source: Wikimedia.


Kung Fu Tea on Facebook

A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month.  We watched vintage guoshu performances from the 1930s, read about new exhibits in Hong Kong, and discussed the problem of extremist political groups in the martial arts! Joining the Facebook group is also a great way of keeping up with everything that is happening here at Kung Fu Tea.

If its been a while since your last visit, head on over and see what you have been missing!

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