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2017 US Capital Wushu Championships: A Personal Account

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2017 US CAPITAL WUSHU CHAMPIONSHIPS: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

By: Matthew Lee

Written March 12th, 2017

“‘I’ve always wanted to host a tournament since there are very few local Wushu tournaments in the area.  The only local tournaments are the University Wushu Games hosted by TerpWushu, and Nationals/Team Trials if it was on the East Coast.  As a coach, I wanted to 1.) Give my students more experience practicing in front of an audience; 2.) Create another tournament for those athletes who were serious about competition so that they would have an opportunity to compete more; and 3.) Expose Wushu to those who do not know about it.’” —Coach Stephon Morton, Founder and Owner of NOVA Wushu Academy

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 2017 US Capital Wushu Championships.

On March 11th, 2017, the 2017 US Capital Wushu Championships was successfully hosted by NOVA (Northern Virginia) Wushu Academy.  The event was held at NOVA Field House, a sports complex tucked away in a small area of its namesake, the Northern Virginia area of the East Coast of the United States of America.  Since this is a fresh new competition, it would naturally be difficult to know how exactly it would go.  I’ve taken some time to reflect on my experience competing at this competition, and now, I’d like to write about it.  After the competition, I reached out to Coach Stephon Morton, founder and owner of NOVA Wushu Academy, to get information on the short history and inception of the competition and how it got started, how the computerized scoring system and software was developed and incorporated into the competition, and what his vision of the competition will be for the future, which will be related as I progress through my personal experience throughout the day of the competition.

My first inkling of this competition began around the time of its inception last year in 2016, though I did not attend that time.  I did however, know of people that were going to the competition, including both competitors and judges.  After the competition, I had actually heard good things about it; there was a new computerized scoring system that was apparently functional (although this does not seem like a surprising thing for a professional Wushu competition, I will get to this later), and everything was run on time (again, something I will get to later).  I was also told that this was a competition worth going to and supporting, a thought that would be stored at the back of my head, for next time.  On how the competition got started, Coach Stephon relates, “I’ve always wanted to host a tournament since there are very few local Wushu tournaments in the area.  The only local tournaments are the University Wushu Games hosted by TerpWushu, and Nationals/Team Trials if it was on the East Coast.  As a coach, I wanted to 1.) Give my students more experience practicing in front of an audience; 2.) Create another tournament for those athletes who were serious about competition so that they would have an opportunity to compete more; and 3.) Expose Wushu to those who do not know about it.  At first, I was a little nervous about hosting the first tournament last year.  I was always worried about the cost, finding a venue, and worried if anyone would come.  After constantly talking to my students and the parents about it, they convinced me to take a chance and said they would support me.  Without them the tournament would’ve never happened.”  As it happens, Coach Stephon’s reasons for starting the competition also coincided with my own for participating in it.  Later that year, I quietly decided that I would compete at this competition this year, as I wanted to see if I could improve from my previous performances at the 11th Pan-American Wushu Championships.  My reasons for choosing this specific competition was not only because it was a convenient opportunity for me to test myself, but, purely based on what I had previously heard, it also seemed like a legitimately good Wushu competition to participate in.

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It is important to clarify that in this context, when we say Wushu, we are specifically referring to modern/contemporary, sport 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 the case with most “Wushu” competitions, the US Capital Wushu Championships is exclusively concerned with Taolu competition, which is trained for performance based on a specific set of rules and standards.  Something interesting that I read from the Facebook event for the 2016 US Capital Wushu Championships, was that competition divisions included new events such as “Changquan [长拳; chángquán, Long Fist] with Music (as seen in China)”, though I did not see this at this year’s competition (but the idea of Wushu with music something that would be worth writing about).  Whether or not this particular event will be regulated internationally in the future remains to be seen.  I was particularly bummed to find out that, according to the competition website, there would be no nandu (难度; nándù, difficulty movements) events, also called “optional” (自选; zìxuǎn, individual)  events, which were what I originally wanted to compete and test myself in, “due to the new IWUF [International Wushu Federation] rule changes that will be released this year”, and that if one wanted to still compete in optional forms, to register in the “other” events categories, which is what I decided to do.

As previously stated, the US Capital Wushu Championships are hosted by NOVA Wushu Academy, and has just reached its second year, starting last year in 2016.  It has now become a new addition to the small but growing group of local level Wushu competitions of the East Coast area, such as UWG (University Wushu Games, formerly titled “East Coast Collegiates”) hosted by TerpWushu, the collegiate Wushu club of the University of Maryland, College Park, as well as the New Jersey International Wushu-Kungfu Tournament hosted by Zhao Changjun Wushu Academy, which Coach Stephon also acknowledged, and the new US Challenge that was just hosted last year by US Wushu Academy.  Although I don’t know and can’t remember precise names, I recognized that much of the working staff for the competition were both students and their parents of NOVA Wushu Academy, as Coach Stephon also acknowledged.  I was even surprised to see Timothy “Tim” Babich, former TerpWushu member and alumni of University of Maryland, College Park, who was emceeing the competition, and who previously emceed at and was past and present manager of UWG.  On his support of the competition, Tim Babich says, “It’s great to see more opportunities for athletes to compete in wushu competitions.  It not only benefits the students but also builds and strengthens the community.  I’ve gotten to know athletes and coaches from as far as Florida and upstate NY [New York].  It gives us all something to work toward and look forward to.  This year it was especially fun to see the competition bring out some long retired old friends back onto the floor.”

Last year, the US Capital Wushu Championships took place at Northern Virginia Community College, which had two rings, one blue carpet and one green carpet.  The venue for this year’s competition, NOVA Field House, was comparatively smaller; the competition occupied a basketball court with a wall of blue bleachers, and had only one blue carpet this time comprised of separate blue mats that were surprisingly seamlessly taped together, making it feel like one carpet, and as is the case with longstanding series of “Collegiates” tournaments hosted by the collegiate Wushu community in the US, I personally felt that it was similar in texture to a professional Wushu Taolu carpet, giving back a little on the landing of jumps, and even giving a little spring to the takeoffs of my jumps.  At the competition, Coach Stephon also personally told me that I could warm-up at the other side of the facility, which consisted of a hallway with a carpeted floor, with a conference room at the end of the hall.  These areas were very convenient for me, especially when taking into account the fact that local level Wushu competitions generally do not have formal warm-up areas, and competitors naturally have to be creative about warming up.  The room of the competition itself shared its space with a lacrosse field, separated by a wall of net.  This is worth mentioning, because it is interesting to note that while the venue was not exclusively occupied by the competition, there were lacrosse athletes coming in and out while attending to their own business, who stood on the sidelines and watched the competition events, especially during the morning session, and even clapped after each performance, which satisfied Coach Stephon’s third goal of exposing Wushu to those who do not know about it.  I was also surprised to see some previous friends spectating at the competition who stayed long enough to support and watch some of my competition events, including Coach Chen Qingbin, who was my first interviewee for the Jiayoowushu.com, “Wushu in Schools: The Beginning of Widespread Wushu?”  There was even a local appearance at the competition by former Beijing Wushu Team member and champion Jiang Bangjun, also known as “JBJ”, who came to support his students from his own Wushu school, PMAA (Professional Martial Arts Academy).  Since the competition is still in its infancy, it is yet to be seen where the competition will be held next year, and if there will be a consistent venue for the competition.

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“Last year, the US Capital Wushu Championships took place at Northern Virginia Community College, which had two rings, one blue carpet and one green carpet.”

According to the official competition schedule document, the doors for the competition would open at 8:00am.  However, as is the case with such competitions as UWG and Collegiates, my day would start much earlier, as I was quite a ways from the competition venue, and would have to commute with my parents who were supporting me at the competition, and was planning to get there before the opening ceremony.  The opening ceremony began around 8:15 am, which consisted of the national anthem and the introduction of the competition’s judges.  Though the competition would start a couple minutes later than scheduled, everything generally ran smoothly and was only about ten minutes behind schedule at the point of the lunch break.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of immediately warming up as soon as I arrived the competition venue, meaning that I had warmed up too early, as I had done with the 18th Collegiate Wushu Tournament in 2014.  I also briefly had a nosebleed, since I am someone who gets nosebleeds when my body gets too hot for too long or when the air gets dry, although this specific instance was not as severe as the ones I had during the 2015 US Wushu Team Trials.  As a result, I had to go outside in the unusually cold weather to cool off my body.  I also had to briefly leave the competition venue with my dad to help get my coach, who had trouble finding the place.  For me, the hard part was now trying to maintain a balance between getting too hot and getting another nosebleed, and cooling down, until I went up to compete.

For my Changquan routine, although I successfully hit most everything I wanted to, I lost my balance attempting the pantuipingheng (盘腿平衡; pántuǐpínghéng, lotus leg position balance, literally “coiled leg balance”) technique, which I decided to include in my routine because it was speculated to be a new addition to the aforementioned new rules by the IWuF, though I was advised at the end of the competition to not attempt movements outside of the current regulations, unless said regulations have changed, which they have not yet.  Because my first event was so close to the lunch break, and I had quite a long time until my next competition event, I had some time to rest and recover, and though I felt sluggish, I surprisingly found it easy to get warm again for my next event.  I was also pleasantly surprised that athletes were generously allowed short warm-up times on the carpet prior to their competition events, which is very convenient for getting a feel of our routines leading up to our events.  During my daoshu (刀术; dāoshù, broadsword event) routine, the blade of my dao (刀; dāo, saber/broadsword) got bent (so much for cheaply made Wushu apparatuses), but I did my best to continue with the rest of my performance.  Afterwards, I felt strangely energized afterwards, but I found that during my last event I was gassed out; during my gunshu (棍术; gùnshù, staff event) routine, though this was the first time I had ever landed all my nandu in all three of my forms with nandu in one day, I was getting unusually sloppy and tired at the latter half of my form.

One thing that was previously mentioned, and that I especially liked at this competition, was the scoring system.  As I was told before, the scoring system for the competition was computerized, and very much functional, which was apparently developed and provided a parent of the a student from NOVA Wushu Academy.  On the computerized scoring system, Coach Stephon says, “I had a lot of students/parents contributing in different ways, from creating the registration and judging system, to helping me with the logistics.  From my competition experience as an athlete and a coach, I’ve seen well organized tournament and those not so organized.  So with that experience, I decided to get together with one of the parents at my school to put together a registration and judging system.  Basically, I had to layout my plan on how I wanted the system to work.  I had to provide all the info I wanted to collect to the person who created the database system.  The information that was collected raged from the competitors events, contact info, and etc.; along with all the information about judging such as, deduction codes and value, number of judges, how the scores are calculated, and etc.  To this day we are still adding features and tweaking the system.”  Early in the competition, I heard Tim Babich announce that we could check the deductions of our scores online.  After the competition, Coach Stephon later clarified that competitors could check their deductions either through a link received by email, or through the online link for the drawing of lots for the competition.  By clicking the hyperlinks of the final scores, competitors would be taken to a page that displayed the full breakdown of scoring, including categories of judging, deductions listed and deductions taken from the particular performance.  For Wushu competitions in the US, this is a big deal, because most Wushu competitions, both local and professional competitions alike, do not employ computerized scoring, instead calculating scores manually by paper, and thus cannot show any deductions.  The problem here is twofold; firstly, this method of scoring is not transparent or clear and thus does not allow spectators to easily understand how the sport is judged, and secondly, it does not allow competitors to know what mistakes they made, and thus how they can improve their performances in the future.  Prime examples of this are the 10th Pan American Wushu Championships, where the Taolu scoring was done by judges on paper and thus would not display deductions, and also unlike the 2015 US Wushu Team Trials, where the computerized scoring system failed midway through the competition, causing major delays and making the competition run severely behind schedule.  Although the visual display of the scores at this competition also did not show the breakdown of Groups A (basics), B (overall performance), and C (nandu) categories of judging, nor do they show deductions, as was done at Collegiates, which would be convenient for both spectators and competitors to see in the short-term, all this information can again still be found online, as established.

2017 US Capital Wushu Championships Scores

“After the competition, Coach Stephon later clarified that competitors could check their deductions either through a link received by email, or through the online link for the drawing of lots for the competition. By clicking the hyperlinks of the final scores, competitors would be taken to a page that displayed the full breakdown of scoring, including categories of judging, deductions listed and deductions taken from the particular performance.”

Originally, according to the Facebook event for the 2017 US Capital Wushu Championships, the competition was scheduled to end at 7:00 pm.  Surprisingly, the competition would end at around 4:00 pm.  Whether this was a result of the still relatively small size of the competition, or simply the fact that the competition ran smoothly with very few hitches, the competition was a very fun experience regardless, and I was happy to have participated in it.  The people there, fellow competitors and competition staff alike, were also open and friendly during the competition.  All of this is reminds me of my experience with Collegiates and the colleigate Wushu community, which I have stated before in ““Collegiate Wushu in the United States: What It Means For US Wushu”, “Martial Arts Clubs vs. Schools: Which Is Better?”, and “10th University Wushu Games: A Personal Account”, is a very optimistic and encouraging environment, and is unlike the past negativity of rivalries and tensions between Wushu schools which historically has pervaded the professional Wushu circuit in the US.  However, unlike Collegiates and UWG, which are managed by collegiate Wushu clubs, the US Capital Wushu Championships is run by a professional Wushu school.  Perhaps the US Capital Wushu Championships is a sign that the professional Wushu circuit in the US is beginning to change for the better with a new generation of Wushu coaches, judges and students that encourage an open and friendly environment for the Wushu community in the US.  On what his vision of the competition will be for the future, Coach Stephon states, “My future goals for the tournament are to provide another local tournament for athletes to attend and to promote Wushu.  Also personal goal of mine is to have the tournament run a lot smoother, to save everyone’s time; and to also provide feedback for competitors.”

To finish my account, I would like to give my thanks to certain people: I would like to thank Coach Ching-Yin “Bee” Lee for pushing me to my limits, and making me stronger in terms of athleticism.  Also, special thanks to my parents for taking time out of their day for coming out to support me, and to Coach Stephon Morton and his Wushu school, NOVA Wushu Academy, for hosting such an organized and well-run competition!  I was even pleasantly surprised to find people I didn’t even know cheering for me, and at the results I got, which reminded me of my positive experience at Collegiates.  But I’ve still got a lot to work on.  It’s still too soon to say where I will go from here, and although I am glad that the hard work is finally over, it was still a great and fun experience.  Anyone in the Northern Virginia area, come check out and support this local Wushu competition that is open and free (come on, it’s FREE!  Don’t you like free stuff?) to the public!  It’s a great way to see what competitive Wushu in the US is like, and to also get involved with the Wushu community!  Although I am exhausted, in the long-term, it was still a fun time, no regrets, totally worth it, would do it again! 😊

PS: Special thanks to Coach Stephon Morton of NOVA Wushu Academy and Timothy “Tim” Babich of TerpWushu for their consultation on the details of the US Capital Wushu Championships!

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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 and traditional Chen Style Taijiquan. He is a three-time consecutive US Wushu Team member and most recently Pan American Champion, 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.