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10th University Wushu Games: A Personal Account

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10th UNIVERSITY WUSHU GAMES: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

By: Matthew Lee

Written November 29th, 2014

“‘UWG has a clear mission: to promote competitive wushu and strengthen the wushu community.  We hope that this competition inspires athletes to achieve higher goals in their wushu training and that the athletes learn and grow from their performance experience at the tournament itself.’” —Timothy “Tim” Babich, former TerpWushu member and alumni of University of Maryland, College Park

Abstract: This is part of a segment of write-ups entitled “A Personal Account.”  These write-ups mainly consist of play-by-plays as well as my detailed personal experiences, as the name suggests, of specific Wushu-related events I attend.  These events will range from Wushu performances to competitions, and other such martial arts related events that I can afford to attend, given that I am in the area.  This specific edition will be about the 10th University Wushu Games.

On November 29th, 2014, TerpWushu, the collegiate Wushu club of the University of Maryland, College Park, successfully hosted the 10th University Wushu Games.  This event was held at Ritchie Coliseum within the campus of said university.  As its name suggests, it is the 10th anniversary of this annual Wushu competition, also abbreviated as UWG.  The life of this competition is obviously quite young compared to other longstanding martial arts tournaments.  However, the University Wushu Games has risen to recognition in such a comparatively short time, and this is nonetheless a very important achievement for this competition.

Personally, I was initially only aware of this competition peripherally, having only watched YouTube videos of past competitions, namely the competition events of seniors of the Wushu school I used to go to.  It wasn’t until 2012 that I would begin personally attending the University Wushu Games, not only as spectator, but as a coach of my collegiate Wushu club, members of which would be competing, as well.  This year was no different.  But before I begin to recount my experience this year, I feel it that it should be appropriate to share this competition’s history, as well as the history of its founding and managing club, as both histories are intertwined with each other.

In the words of Timothy “Tim” Babich, past and present manager and emcee of UWG, as well as one of the de facto coaches of TerpWushu, “UWG has a clear mission: to promote competitive wushu and strengthen the wushu community.  We hope that this competition inspires athletes to achieve higher goals in their wushu training and that the athletes learn and grow from their performance experience at the tournament itself.”  It is important to note that in this context, when we say Wushu, we are specifically referring to modern/contemporary or competitive Wushu, which is a standardization of Chinese martial arts for sport and competition.  Modern Wushu is standardized into two specific events; Taolu (套路; tàolù, forms), and Sanshou (散手; sànshǒu, free hand), the full-contact and freestyle sparring, also known as Sanda (散打; sàndǎ, free fighting).  As is typical with most “Wushu” competitions, the University Wushu Games is exclusively concerned with Taolu competition, which is trained for performance based on a specific set of rules and standards.

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Timothy “Tim” Babich: “UWG has a clear mission: to promote competitive wushu and strengthen the wushu community. We hope that this competition inspires athletes to achieve higher goals in their wushu training and that the athletes learn and grow from their performance experience at the tournament itself.” Photo by Chester Lam

The University Wushu Games was founded and managed by TerpWushu, which was itself founded by former two-time consecutive US Wushu Team member Justin Ma, in 2001.  To be specific, the masterminds behind the beginning of the University Wushu Games in 2005 were three-time US Wushu Team member, World Wushu Championships silver medalist and Pan American Wushu Championships gold medalist Jason Liu, two-time consecutive US Wushu Team member and Pan American Wushu Games double medalist Ching-Yin “Bee” Lee, and Horatiu Muresan.  The idea of the competition itself was started a year prior in 2004.  According to Jason Liu, the goal was to have a collegiate Wushu tournament on the East Coast (of the United States), as the official collegiate Wushu competition, dubbed “Collegiates”, was exclusively held on the West (Pacific) Coast (of the United States) at the time.

Initially, the University Wushu Games was previously known as “East Coast Collegiates”, and was exclusively a collegiate level Wushu competition, like Collegiates, which is specifically restricted to competitors attending college and college alumni.  However, TerpWushu would later be inspired and take after the example of another large-scale Wushu competition, CMAT (Chinese Martial Arts Tournament), one of, if not the largest known Chinese martial arts competitions throughout the nation; CMAT is open to other competitors, such as professional Wushu schools with students of various age demographics and competitive divisions, and the competition is hosted and run by Cal Wushu, the UC (University of California, Berkeley) Wushu Club, one of, if not the first of collegiate Wushu clubs in the US.  In 2010, then-current president of TerpWushu, Tina Zhang, would open up the University Wushu Games to competitors and divisions of all ages.  This would allow professional Wushu schools to attend the competition with younger competitors, and even occasionally seniors.  Though this intent to expand had existed long before, the need for a solid foundation first, in addition to legal formalities, were big obstacles.  Since then, this expansion has yielded a much larger turnout for this tournament, and made the University Wushu Games a success.

Today, the University Wushu Games has been established as a local level competition of the East Coast, and has garnered many supporters since its inception.  One such huge supporter of this competition was former Beijing Wushu Team member and champion Jiang Bangjun, also known as “JBJ”, who has also previously served as a judge for the competition.  To this day, the tournament has been managed by the current standing club officers of TerpWushu of each specific year.

Historically, the venue of the University Wushu Games has alternated its location between Ritchie Coliseum and Cole Field House on the campus of University of Maryland, College Park.  Between 2009 and 2011, the tournament was consecutively held at Cole Field House, which was most recently the venue for the 18th Collegiate Wushu Tournament this past April, also hosted by TerpWushu.  However, starting in 2012, the tournament would move its venue to the current Ritchie Coliseum, which already held a longstanding history with US Wushu, having already been the venue of the 2007 US Wushu Team Trials.  As mentioned before, the competition’s venue was Ritchie Coliseum for this year’s University Wushu Games in 2014.

The doors for this year’s University Wushu Games would open at 8:30 am.  However, my day would start much earlier, as I was a while away from the competition venue, would also be driving two friends and supporters of my collegiate Wushu club, and planned to get to the competition venue for the opening ceremony.  While the opening ceremony was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am, it would not start until approximately 10:00 am.  This was the first sign that the competition would run behind schedule.  The opening ceremony itself consisted of the national anthem, sung by TerpWushu vice president Zachary “Zack” Feitelberg, followed by the formal introduction of TerpWushu’s officers and the competition’s judges.  Afterwards, the competition formally began.  The official hosting itself fell to Tim Babich and former TerpWushu member and alumni Leon Chao, both of whom emceed throughout the whole competition (quite humorously; at one point, both accidently spoke at the same time and played an impromptu game of rock-paper-scissors to decide who would speak first).

The competition was divided into two rings, appropriately designated ring 1 and ring 2.  The room itself consisted of a blue carpet at the side of the main entrance, and a green carpet on the far side of the room, as it always had since my first time at this competition in 2012.  The blue carpet was made of separate blue mats taped together, which was previously used in the 18th Collegiate Wushu Tournament; speaking from personal experience, I will say that it was similar in texture to a professional Wushu Taolu carpet, giving back a little on jumps.  The green carpet, which was also used for the 2013 US Wushu Team Trials, was contributed by Kevin Law, head instructor of Goh’s Kung Fu, and another longtime supporter of and judge for the competition; also speaking from personal experience and observation, this particular carpet seems to be slightly smaller than a professional Taolu carpet, but not by that much.  Both carpets were borrowed before that by the Virginia Wushu Club (University of Virginia) for their hosting of the 16th Annual Wushu Collegiates in 2012.

“The competition was divided into two rings, appropriately designated ring 1 and ring 2. The room itself consisted of a blue carpet at the side of the main entrance, and a green carpet on the far side of the room, as it always had since my first time at this competition in 2012.” Photo by Jackie Ho

Since 2012, the green carpet was designated as ring 1, and the blue carpet was designated as ring 2 (this seemed to be counterintuitive in my opinion, since based on common sense, the first ring one would see would be the blue carpet, and thus would be ring 1).  However, this year, ring 1 would be the blue carpet, and ring 2 would be the green carpet (perhaps they finally decided to adhere to the common sense perception), which I found surprising and confusing as a coach, as did other coaches and athletes.  While this and of itself was only a small discrepancy, another related to the rings was the fact that there was only one printed copy of the competition’s event order posted, which is very inconvenient for coaches, athletes, and spectators (although the rings were color coded, which was a plus); previously, there were multiple printed schedules posted throughout the venue, which made them easily accessible.  In the future for this tournament, I would suggest the reusing of multiple printed schedules for the sake of convenience.

The morning session of the competition consisted of youth and junior divisions on both rings.  As is to be expected, there was a large number of competitors within these age divisions.  Although I will not waste time going into detail and naming names of specific competitors, I will note that there were very strong and solid performances from students of O-Mei Wushu Kungfu Center, NOVA (Northern Virginia) Wushu Academy and PMAA (Professional Martial Arts Academy).  As usual, this competition was full of competitors; compared to last year, there was a much more successful turnout at this year’s tournament, at least in terms of competitors.  This may have been due to the fact that last year’s tournament was held on Thanksgiving weekend, which, as a holiday weekend, is not good timing for a competition, especially when people preferably want to relax during this time.  It is notable that the Virginia Wushu Club did not attend the tournament last year precisely for this reason, as the founder and former president of the club’s Sanshou division, Peter Le, has pointed out in the past, though the club was able to make it this year.

As the morning session reached closer to the scheduled lunchtime, I decided to take my group from my collegiate Wushu club, and have us leave early to get food.  Last year as a coach, I made the mistake of having my group from my Wushu club leave for lunch during the tournament, lose track of time, and arrive later than planned, which nearly left my students and competitors representing the club unprepared and without time to properly warm-up.  This year, I promised that I wouldn’t make the same mistake.  After grabbing a lunch, I decided to return to the venue and catch whatever events were left.  However, when I returned, I observed that there were separate lunch break periods for ring 1 and ring 2, unlike previous years where there was one uniform lunch break.  This gave the competition a rather disorganized appearance, as it seemed that things seemed to be running separately and on their own, whether the managers of the competition meant for this to happen or not.  In the future, I would recommend employing a single standard lunch break, if only to keep the appearance of organization for the competition.

Another discrepancy was the impromptu moving of competitors in ring 1 to ring 2 near the end of the competition, as all the competition events in ring 2 were already finished before ring 1 and open for further use.  This proved to be another inconvenience for coaches and athletes.  The reason I had heard for this was to quicken the pace of the competition and for the goal of the competition to end at 6:00 pm, rather than the original scheduled time of 8:00 pm.  While this reason is justifiable, as it is understandably a long day for everybody, I would still personally advocate adhering to the original schedule of the tournament, for the sake of consistency.

Of course, this personal account of this competition would not be complete without mentioning the gold medal-winning performances of Brian Wang and Justin Benedik, both of whom are current members of the US Wushu Team.  First was Brian Wang, who previously presented USA at the 10th Pan American Wushu Championships and got gold in Men’s Qiangshu (枪术; qiāngshù, spear event) – Optional (自选; zìxuǎn, individual), and this time competed in Adult Advanced Male Jianshu (剑术; jiànshù, straight sword event); despite being the only competitor in this division, Brian earned his gold with a beautiful display of sharpness, fluidity, dazzling speed and high jumps.  Not long after came Justin Benedik, who previously presented USA at the World Combat Games 2013 and 2013 World Wushu Championships, and competed in Adult Advanced Male Gunshu (棍术; gùnshù, staff event); unsurprisingly, Justin also won with a powerful combination of his own speed and sharpness, and a very incredible corkscrew.  Needless to say, both of these competitors’ performances were awesome, and the entire venue was watching them the whole time!  If there was an award for “performance of the night” that day, these two would have been sure contenders for it.

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“…despite being the only competitor in this division, Brian earned his gold with a beautiful display of sharpness, fluidity, dazzling speed and high jumps.” Photo by Jackie Ho

One unique feature of this competition was the judging software employed for the competition events, courtesy of Sujal Bista, who has donated his time and dedication to this competition for many years now.  This software has enabled TerpWushu to streamline competitions, and allow each competition to run much faster and smoothly (however, one thing to note is that due to issues of late registration with certain competitors, such as a lack of e-mails until the day before competition, there was not enough time to properly set it up this year).  Mr. Bista’s very same software was employed previously at the 18th Collegiate Wushu Tournament, as well as at the past 2013 US Wushu Team Trials.  Although other TerpWushu members have contributed to the development of this software, Mr. Bista was the main architect responsible for its creation.  The modern trend of computerized judging methods in modern Wushu is a definite plus in the sport, and this specific example is no exception.  Unlike the traditional method of paper, which was used at the 10th Pan American Wushu Championships, this way of judging is much more efficient and comprehensive; final scores are not only shown electronically, but the specific groups/categories of judging are broken down and also displayed, and can give people a better idea of how Taolu performances are graded in Wushu competition (the only thing this specific software lacks is the display of deductions made during the performance, if any, which I would suggest they add to this software, and which is already being done at international Wushu competitions.  This can help competitors know for sure what deductions they received on their performance, and thus what mistakes they made and can improve on in the future).

Another thing to note is that the fact that TerpWushu works hard to offer free and professional video recordings of all competitors’ events (Stay tuned for videos on TerpWushuViewer, TerpWushu’s YouTube channel for coverage of this year’s competition events!).  This particular feature has been integrated into the competition for the past few years, thanks to the generosity of Ben Wong (father of current TerpWushu president Analee Wong).  Speaking from personal opinion, I would say that the quality of the videos themselves are exceptionally high in terms of resolution, and the close-up angles of competition events allow viewers to get a closer look at the action.

The competition would formally come to a close early in the evening.  After the last of the medal ceremonies, Tim gathered everybody in the room for a group photo, and everybody dispersed into whatever social interactions there were.  In review, this competition was an enjoyable experience, and I was glad to be a part of it.  During my final days of training for the 10th Pan American Wushu Championships, Jason Liu, who is also my coach and teammate on the US Wushu Team, said, “Spend as much time as you can in the collegiate Wushu community, because there is no other community like it.”  Looking back, I realize that he was right.  Indeed, there is no community, martial arts, sports or otherwise, I have found that is as open or positive as the collegiate Wushu community.  I have said before in “Collegiate Wushu in the United States: What It Means For US Wushu” and “Martial Arts Clubs vs. Schools: Which Is Better?”, that the collegiate Wushu community in the US is a very optimistic and encouraging environment, and lacks the negativity of rivalries and tensions between schools, people and other groups, which is frequently rampant in the professional Wushu circuit of the US.  My observation in this regard still stands.

This competition has truly grown and earned its place as one of the great Wushu events to be a part of, and again, I’m glad to be a part of it.  Hopefully, we will continue to see it grow even more, so that it can be comparable to the scale of Collegiates or CMAT.  On the University Wushu Games’ comparison to Collegiates, Tim Babich says, “We have always appreciated the bonding experience of collegiates.  Collegiates has been a powerful force in American wushu in the way it has expanded the sport and brought bonded countless wushu enthusaists from all over the country you would have otherwise never met. We hope that UWG is having a similar effect, particularly in our local wushu scene. While the majorty of our audience has remained within local wushu schools; we are proud that we too have had competitors from all over the country and hope that UWG encourages a diverse range of wushu practitioners to interact and learn from each other.”

So if you’re in the College Park area, be sure check this competition out in the future!  It’s open and free (it’s FREE!  Don’t you like free stuff?) to the public, and is a great way to introduce what American Wushu looks like!  The University Wushu Games is a great competition to be a part of, and the collegiate Wushu community surrounding it is nothing but open, encouraging and positive! I highly recommend checking this competition out in the future, if not to compete, then at least to spectate and support the collegiate Wushu community!

PS: Special thanks to Timothy “Tim” Babich of TerpWushu and Jason Liu for providing the details of the University Wushu Games’ history!

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Matt began practicing Wushu at the age of 7 under US Wushu Academy, and is a coach of the UMBC Wushu Club. He has held positions in national, international, and local modern Wushu competitions, and is currently training in Sanshou/Sanda, traditional Chen Style Taijiquan and zhanzhuang. He is a former four-time consecutive US Wushu Team member, former Pan American Champion and multiple times Pan American Championships medalist, and is continually trying to improve himself both as a competitive athlete and as a real martial artist. If you have any questions you would like to ask Matt, please email him at matthewlee@jiayoowushu.com.