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Chinese Wushu Champion America Tour

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Chinese Wushu (Martial Arts) Champion America Tour: A Personal Account

Written May 23rd, 2014

 “In retrospect, I liked most of what I saw.  I paid to see a Chinese Wushu show, and I mostly got what I paid for.” — Quote taken directly from the write-up

On the weekend of May 17th, 2014, a Chinese Wushu Team came to perform on the East Coast of the United States of America.  This was due to the combined organizational efforts of the Chinese Wushu Association, 2014 US “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month China Week” Committee, and the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland.  Two performances were held that weekend; one at the Ernst Community Cultural Center in Annandale, Virginia on the 17th, and the other at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Maryland on the 18th.  Among the performers were Chinese Wushu Team members Huang Yingqi, Liang Yongda, Shi Longlong, Wu Xiaolong, Shi Zhonghai, Zhang Yaowen, Gao Xiaobin, Zhuang Yingying, Chen Huiying, Kan Wencong, and Zhang Mei.  This event went by various names.  The Facebook event called it “Chinese Wushu Champion World Tour.”  On my ticket stub and receipt, it said “Chinese World Champion: Kungfu Wushu Show.”  For the sake of formality, I will call it by its name on the program I received, “Chinese Wushu (Martial Arts) Champion America Tour.”  As you may have already gathered, this was specifically a performance of modern Wushu, a standardization of Chinese martial arts for sport and performance purposes.  Modern Wushu is divided into two practiced disciplines; Taolu (套路; tàolù, forms), and Sanshou (散手; sànshǒu, free hand), also known as Sanda (散打; sàndǎ, free fighting).  This performance, as with most performances designated with the name “Wushu”, was concerned exclusively with Taolu.

The timing of this performance was right before the first day of my final exams for university classes (all of which I can luckily say I passed), so at the time, the decision to go see it was not an easy one.  But then again, it’s not every day you get see Chinese Wushu performed by actual, high caliber, professional Chinese Wushu athletes, who are renowned as the best in the world, in person.  A Chinese Wushu Team also came to perform in my area three years prior in 2011, and the first time I had ever seen Chinese Wushu at a professional level in person was when the Beijing Wushu Team performed at the Kennedy Center in 2005.  So my choice was already pretty clear from the start.  Now that finals are over, and I have a short break before summer classes will start, I can write about what I saw that night.  This will be the first in a segment I will call “A Personal Account”, where I will relate both a play-by-play a well my personal experience of events such as Wushu performances and competitions, and other such martial arts related events that I can afford to attend, given that I am in the area.

 The first inkling I got of this event was by invitation at the Facebook event.  As previously mentioned, there were only two performances being held.  I definitely could not make the one in Virginia (the last time I drove to Virginia, it was a three hour commute).  College Park however, was only a forty-minute drive from where I was living at the time.  When I decided I would go see it, I followed the link to order tickets online, and got the closest center seat I could find, which amounted to a whopping $45.00.  Because the location of the performance was in a university campus, it did not exist on any formal GPS system, so the address was naturally inconvenient to search for, but luckily it was right across from where I found free parking, as I was pointed to its location across the street and couldn’t even see it with my own eyes (as you probably figured out by now, I have a horrendous sense of direction).  When I got there the day of, I was able to get my hands on a program, which was colorfully designed, and had a very informative and educational exposition about each event that was planned to be performed.  The first problem I encountered was in a conflict in information about the timing of the performance; the Facebook event said it was at 7:00 pm.  My ticket said 7:30 pm, so it turned out I was quite early.  But the event itself did not actually begin until about eighteen minutes after that (yes, I counted).  The performance naturally opened with a group of speakers who exchanged pleasantries, who gave a brief introduction of Wushu, and finally allowed the performance itself to begin.  In actuality, this event had three kinds of performances, when I was only expecting one; Chinese Wushu, Wushu performed by the O-mei Wushu Kungfu Center, and musical performances by two performers I had quite frankly never heard of, though all of these were mentioned in the program.  Unfortunately, the performance that night did not follow the program exactly, which I was initially planning to base my review on.  So, I will simply go through the order of, and focus most of my efforts on, the events performed by the Chinese Wushu athletes I saw that day, as designated by the program (as a joke, I’ve directly copied down the program events that were performed verbatim, typos and all.  I’ve also added in pinyin pronunciation next to all event titles for any who are curious about reading the Chinese).

开场: 集体基本功 (全提运动员) (Kāichǎng: Jítǐjīběngōng (Quántíyùndòngyuán))

Prologue: Group – Wushu Basic Skills – Performed by all athletes

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Anyone who is familiar with Wushu jibengong (基本功; jīběngōng, basics) knows how this section of the performance goes; the performers were mostly in groups of three and four, demonstrating basic kicks with basic combinations and postures, as well as opening and closing with a series of well synchronized movements and poses.  Some of these combinations were reminiscent of “old school” or traditional Wushu movements, and some were not.  This may have been due to the recent transition of modern Wushu towards more a traditional and martial arts oriented emphasis.  Overall, while the execution didn’t arguably look as sharp or as explosive as the previous generations of Chinese Wushu athletes (for me, the best will always be the cleanliness and explosiveness of the Beijing Wushu Team 2005 Tour.  However, a friend and senior of mine at my Wushu school, who was also at the show, said that nothing tops the explosiveness of the Beijing Wushu Team in 1997), I feel that this kind of motif was a good thing to see.  For many observers of modern Wushu, including myself, it’s refreshing to see some actual Chinese martial arts movements in Wushu demonstration again, as opposed to superficial, dancelike moves and poses that have plagued the sport for the past few years.  The jumps performed were naturally very high, and the 720s with split landings, continuous butterflies, and tumbling backflips earned some “wows” and claps from the crowd.  Some styles were briefly showcased as well, from modern eagle, Xingyi, monkey, Nanquan (the shouts by Zhang Mei and Chen Huiying were especially applauded), Taiji, Changquan, and mantis.  All in all, this was a strong opening for the rest of the show, and I definitely wanted to see more.

太极剑 表演者: 庄莹莹 (世界冠军) (Tàijíjiàn Biǎoyǎnzhě: Zhuāngyíngyíng (Shìjièguànjūn))

Tai Ji Sword performed by Zhuang Yingying(world Champion)

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It was at this point that I realized that the performance would not be following the program.  According to the program, the next event would a kids’ dance followed by Taiji fan, which turned out not to be the case.  This was an obvious problem of how the information was prepared for this event.  Whether or not there was a sudden change in the performance, or someone just didn’t organize the program properly, this started to be very confusing.  HOWEVER, this does NOT mean I did not enjoy Zhuang Yingying’s performance of Taijijian; I did.  Since I understood that modern Wushu Taiji was a competition and performance style that was derivative of, but not equivalent to traditional Taijiquan, I was able to separate myself from the usual distaste of martial arts performances that sacrifice martial content for flash.  So as far I go, I can say I liked this performance.

集体咏春拳 表演者: 世界冠军黄颖祺 等 (Jítǐyǒngchūnquán Biǎoyǎnzhě: Shìjièguànjūn Huángyǐngqí děng)

Group Yongchun Quan (Group Wing Chun): Huang Yingqi (World Champion) (+etc)

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When I read about this part of the performance in the program, I knew I would find this difficult to enjoy.  Maybe this was because I had seen traditional Wing Chun and the fact that it was only being performed in the modern Wushu sense seemed to take away the authenticity of what I saw as a real, traditional Chinese martial arts style.  Despite my belief that modern Wushu should be connected to and retain the depth of traditional Chinese martial arts that it came from, I have my personal qualms about the way traditional Wushu is practiced and performed in modern Wushu, which I will get into some other time.  Just performing a style is not the same as actually studying and understanding it as a distinct martial arts style, and this observation kept me from really enjoying the performance, yet the audience seemed to be awed by the choreographed “fights” on the stage.  However, my friend and senior of my Wushu school said that apparently the Wing Chun performed in modern Wushu was standardized by a legitimate master, and for now I will take his word for it.  Maybe it was just me that kept me from enjoying this part of the performance.  I don’t know.

枪术 表演者: 张耀文 (亚洲冠军) (Qiāngshù Biǎoyǎnzhě: Zhāngyàowén (Yàzhōuguànjūn))

Spear performed by Zhang Yaowen(Asian Champion)

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In all honesty, I was not very familiar Zhang Yaowen as a Wushu athlete, at least not by name.  It wasn’t after the show that I recognized him as a member of the previous Chinese Wushu Team that visited and performed in 2011, when he had also performed spear, and of course he performed it very well both times.  Personally, I always enjoyed watching modern Wushu spear purely in the performance sense, so this was great to watch.  While he was running, Zhang Yaowen could be seen slipping his hand off the spear for a brief moment, but as expected of a professional performer, this mistake did not slow down or halt his performance, which is to his credit.

少林拳 表演者: 陈惠颖 (世界冠军) (Shàolínquán Biǎoyǎnzhě: Chénhuìyǐng (Shìjièguànjūn))

Shaolin Quan Performed by Chen Huiying (World Champion)

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This was another “traditional” style being performed in the modern Wushu sense, but I was more comfortable watching this performance than the Wing Chun one, perhaps because I knew that Shaolinquan was actually one of the base styles that made up the standardization of modern Wushu, so seeing it performed in the modern Wushu sense did not seem so alien.  I would especially like to note Chen Huiying’s performance as a modern Wushu athlete, who performed throughout the night with her usual and impressive explosiveness.  She stood out with many accentuations like the head snap and pop at the end of her strikes, which was commonplace with almost all old school Wushu athletes, and I find it’s a shame that this is mostly only seen in Nanquan athletes nowadays.

棍术 表演者: 高晓彬 (全国冠军) (Gùnshù Biǎoyǎnzhě: Gāoxiǎobīn (Quánguóguànjūn))

Staff performed by Gao Xiaobin(National Champion)

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I have to admit, I was not too familiar Gao Xiaobin before this performance, and I only vaguely remember seeing his Changquan and staff forms once before.  Sorry to say that I found this performance to underwhelming.  I find this difficult to say because I want to keep myself promoting the positives of the event.  I’m not saying Gao Xiaobin is not a good Wushu athlete; he clearly is.  After the performance, I went back and saw his staff forms at competitions, which I found not only to be much faster and more explosive than what I saw here, but I also saw many more actual staff movements and techniques in his competition forms.  This performance was an abridged version of his 2013 competition form, which was tame compared to this 2012 form that had an eye-catching catch-throw-strike-and-figure eight combination.  Aside from a throw and catch in the air, there was nothing much apart from the tap-tap combos seen in modern Wushu today.  There were many great staff movements I know he can do and has done, and he just didn’t do them that night, which ultimately disappointed me.

南刀 表演者: 张 美 (全国冠军) (Nándāo Biǎoyǎnzhě: Zhāngměi (Quánguóguànjūn))

Nan Dao performed by Zhang Mei(National Champion)

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Again, this was another athlete who I was not familiar with (I think it’s time I started brushing up on my familiarity with the current generation of Wushu athletes).  But, I found that she had the acceleration and explosiveness that Nanquan athletes are known for, and for that I thought her performance was without a doubt really good.  Her tornado fall in particular garnered some applause from the audience.

三人对打拳 表演者: 吴晓龙, 史龙龙, 施中海 (Sānrénduìdǎquán Biǎoyǎnzhě: Wúxiǎolóng, Shǐlónglóng, Shīzhōnghǎi)

3 man set performed by Wu Xiaolong, Shi Longlong, Shi Zhonghai(National Champion)

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With all the solo events that were being performed, the inclusion of duilian was definitely something that could catch attention.  In fact, I don’t believe I’d seen a three-man duilian in years.  It was refreshing for me to see, and the audience seemed to think so too.  I remember hearing an audible “Aww” when the one performer was being overwhelmed and eventually “defeated” by the other two.

长拳 表演者: 高晓彬 (全国冠军) (Chǎngquán Biǎoyǎnzhě: Gāoxiǎobīn (Quánguóguànjūn))

Chang Quan Performed by Gao Xiaobin(National Champion)

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Like his staff form, this performance was an abridged version of Gao Xiaobin’s Changquan competition form.  If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.  Aside from nandu (难度; nándù, difficulty movements), some nice traditional and old school movements and postures, in addition to the standard abundance of slap kicks, pounding/hammer fists and floor slaps seen in modern Wushu today, there wasn’t much else surprising.  Again, Gao Xiaobin is a great Wushu athlete.  In fact, he’s one of the most explosive Wushu athletes I’ve seen.  It would be great to see that with more than just one or two traditional, old school Wushu combinations.

长穗双剑 表演者: 阚文聪 (世界冠军) (Chǎngsuìshuāngjiàn Biǎoyǎnzhě: Kǎnwéncōng (Shìjièguànjūn))

The Long Tassel Sword Long Tassel Double Straight Sword performed by Kan Wencong(World Champion)

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This actually caught my attention.  As far as open weapons events in modern Wushu go, I had previously seen long tassel straight sword and double straight sword, but never a combination of the two, so I was definitely interested in seeing it performed.  Obviously, as its name suggests, the event is a combination of the long, arching movements of long tassel straight sword with a pair of straight sword, without the faster movements of double straight sword.  Also, seeing Kan Wencong, one of the few Chinese Wushu athletes that I recognized, was a treat.  As you may have noticed above, the translation from program was singular, which I took the liberty of correcting.

南拳 表演者: (全国冠军) 梁永达 (亚洲冠军) (Nánquán Biǎoyǎnzhě: Zhāng měi (Quánguóguànjūn) Liángyǒngdá (Yàzhōuguànjūn))

Nan Quan performed by Zhang Mei (National Champion) Liang Yongda (Asian Champion)

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Another error in information was encountered.  As indicated, Zhang Mei was in fact NOT performing Nanquan, Liang Yongda (another athlete I’m not familiar with) was.  However, this should not take away from the performance, which I liked.  One of best things I like from watching Nanquan poorly as a spectator, is the variety in choreography between Nanquan athletes, which simultaneously sticks to actual Southern Chinese martial arts movements and techniques, and I saw some unique movements here, including a scorpion style kick that I had only previously seen Li Fukui do.  So, despite the mistake on the program, I still enjoyed this performance.

猴棍 表演者: 史龙龙 (全国冠军) (Hóugùn Biǎoyǎnzhě: Shǐlónglóng (Quánguóguànjūn))

Monkey Staff performed by Shi LongLong (National Champion)

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This was one was a crowd-pleaser.  Acting like a monkey and twirling a staff definitely fulfills the performance value that an audience watching a Wushu show is looking for, and Shi Longlong did just that.  Props to him.

情景剧: 美丽的大脚 表演者: 庄莹莹 等 (Qíngjǐngjù: Měilìdedàjiǎo Biǎoyǎnzhě: Zhuāngyíngyíng děng)

Scene “Beautiful Huge Feet” Performed by Zhuang YingYing etc…

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This was the “skit” part of the Wushu performance, and it was one of the highlights that I was looking forward to.  The story of this piece consists of a “bridegroom” (they could have just called him groom in the standard context), his bride (Zhuang Yingying) with the eponymous “huge feet” and shoes (props), and their fight with two porters (why they get into the fight in the first place confuses me, I can never fully understand how these silent plays work unless the background story is completely spelled out for me beforehand).  It’s always fun to see some comical and projective stage acting from Wushu athletes, especially from Chen Huiying (although it took me a minute in to realize that she was playing the husband), though for me the skit from the Beijing Wushu Team 2005 Tour is undisputedly the most hilarious I’ve ever seen.  But if you set aside logic for a bit and just enjoy the physical antics of the act, it is very fun to get into.

扑刀 表演者: 高晓彬 (全国冠军) (Pūdāo Biǎoyǎnzhě: Gāoxiǎobīn (Quánguóguànjūn))

Pudao performed by Gao Xiaobin(National Champion)

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We saw return to some simple Wushu with some open weapon events.  Despite its exotic appearance compared to European weapons, the pudao is by nature a traditionally simple weapon in the combat context, and the techniques practiced are restricted to chops, thrusts, and cuts.  In modern Wushu, pudao performances are accentuated only by running and jumping, and little else, so its performance value is more martial and less flashy like the chain whip.  However, this does not mean that it was not performed well here.  As usual, Gao Xiaobin was very explosive and very fast.  Right before the end, there was a slight slip of the hand, but that didn’t stop him.  Nothing much else to say here.

醉劍: 张耀文 (亚洲冠军) (Zuìjiàn: Zhāngyàowén (Yàzhōuguànjūn))

Drunken Sword performed by Zhang Yaowen(Asian Champion)

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Unlike the previous pudao performance, drunken straight sword has a lot of performance value.  Drunken forms always catch an audience’s attention, and acting drunk with a straight sword can be very entertaining.  Much like the recent competition straight sword forms seen in modern Wushu, there was an abundance of flowers, but this unsurprising, as it’s a trending basic in Wushu short weapons to this day.  Again, another enjoyable performance by Zhang Yaowen.

南棍表演者:陈惠颖 (世界冠军) (Nángùn Biǎoyǎnzhě: Chénhuìyǐng (Shìjièguànjūn))

Nan Gun performed by Chen HuiYing(World Champion)

刀术 表演者: 陈惠颖 (世界冠军) (Dāoshù biǎoyǎn zhě: Chénhuìyǐng (Shìjièguànjūn))

Broadsword performed by Chen HuiYing (World Champion)

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Right away, there was a glaring error from the beginning of the performance.  As you can see, nangun was NOT being performed by Chen Huiying.  Instead, she was performing broadsword.  This is the problem with the announcers, who were obviously reading off the program verbatim, and not paying attention to what was actually being performed onstage (neither the announcer nor her translator seemed to realize their mistake).  Even if you were not educated about Wushu, it was pretty clear that what Chen Huiying was holding in her hand looked a lot more like a sword than a staff.  But again, this should not take away from the performance itself.  As expected, Chen Huiying had her distinctive acceleration and explosiveness, which I found to be unparalleled by any of her male co-performers.

集体鞭+双鞭 表演者: 阚文聪 (世界冠军) 等 (Jítǐbiān+shuāngbiān Biǎoyǎnzhě: Kǎnwéncōng (Shìjièguànjūn) děng)

Group – 9 Section Whip+(Double Chain Whip) performed by Kan Wencong etc… (World Champion)

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This is what it sounds like (yet another error; Kan Wencong was not part of this performance); the performance consisted of a group of three, Liang Yongda with two other performers from the duilian performed previously, with synchronized movements, and a very flashy double chain whip performance in-between.  Chain whip as a modern Wushu performance event is very flashy, and it typically got a lot of “oohs”, “ahs” and clapping from the audience.

剑舞 表演者: 阚文聪, 张 美 (Jiànwǔ Biǎoyǎnzhě: Kǎnwéncōng, Zhāng měi)

Straight Sword Dancing . Performed by Kan Wencong, Zhang Mei

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This is exactly what it sounds like; a vague combination of straight sword and interpretive dancing (I think?).  Straight sword movements were transitioned to what looked like ballet, which left me feeling very confused.  Of course, this performance was very beautiful, I am not denying that.  But what really kept me from fully enjoying this performance was that half the time I didn’t really know what I was looking at, or what it was supposed to be.  I suppose what really made me uncomfortable with this was that it was mixing martial arts movements with dance, though modern Wushu Taolu has always tread an undefined line between dance and martial arts performance.  So I guess I still don’t know how I feel about this.

情景剧: 醉汉戏猴 表演者: 吴晓龙, 史龙龙 (Qíngjǐngjù: Zuìhànxìhóu Biǎoyǎnzhě: Wúxiǎolóng, Shǐlónglóng)

Drunken Man Plays Monkey performed by Wu Xiaolong, Shi Longlong

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This was another skit, which consisted of a curious monkey trying to get ahold of the drunkard’s wine bottle.  Humorous antics ensue.  The previous Chinese Wushu Team that had performed in 2011 also had this act in their performance, so I had seen this before.  Personally, I found that the performance in 2011 was a bit more humorous compared to this one, but maybe that was just because I had seen this skit before.

鹰爪拳 表演者: 张耀文 (亚洲冠军) (Yīngzhǎoquán Biǎoyǎnzhě: Zhāngyàowén (Yàzhōuguànjūn))

Eagel Claw Performed by Zhang Yaowen(Continental Champion)

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Aside from the fact that I thought it was nice for a modern Wushu performance I have little else to say.  Modern Wushu eagle claw combines long Changquan-esque runs and jumps with the shorter and faster traditional eagle claw movements, which at their martial core represent a variety of qinna (擒拿; qínná, grappling)  techniques.  Because I’m by no means an expert on eagle claw, I can’t speak as to whether or not it was “good” or “bad” compared to other eagle claw performances, so I can only say in my ignorance that I found I could like it.

地躺拳 表演者: 高晓彬 (全国冠军) (Dìtǎngquán Biǎoyǎnzhě: Gāoxiǎobīn (Quánguóguànjūn))

Ground Tumbling Boxing performed by Gao Xiaobin (National Champion)

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There isn’t much to say about this performance, or the style.  Modern Wushu Ditangquan isn’t even a real style, at least not by traditional Chinese martial arts standards.  Due to the loss, or rather, lack of access to knowledge of traditional Ditangquan, the competition event was invented by Wushu legend and champion Zhao Changjun, and based off of drunken style.  Essentially, modern Wushu Ditangquan is nothing more than a combination of tumbling jumps and a couple Changquan movements thrown together, and is just a venue for athletes who are good at jumping to show off their ups.  But even during the time of its inception, performances such as those by old school champions like Zhao Changjun himself or Yuan Wenqing at least had some movements  that were performed ON THE GROUND (and isn’t that what the style is literally named after?).  Nowadays, all the more recent ditangquan performances I’ve seen by modern Wushu athletes today consist almost completely of just running and jumping.  And here, that’s just what Gao Xiaobin did.  Again, I’m not downplaying Gao Xiaobin’s performance.  He jumps high, just like any professional Chinese Wushu athlete, and that’s something that should be acknowledged as one of his strengths.  And it’s not his fault that Ditangquan is such a difficult item to make distinctive.  But in terms of an actual martial arts performance, this kind of style barely has anything unique, at least for me, to see.

集体太极拳 混合双人自选太极拳 表演者: 世界太极冠军庄莹莹, 黄颖祺 (+太极刀 表演者: 黄颖祺 (世界冠军))+(太极扇 表演者: 庄莹莹 (世界锦标赛冠军)) (Jítǐtàijíquán Hùnhéshuāngrénzìxuǎntàijíquán Biǎoyǎnzhě:  Shìjiètàijíguànjūn Zhuāngyíngyíng, Huángyǐngqí děng (+Tàijídāo Biǎoyǎnzhě: Huángyǐngqí (Shìjièguànjūn))+(Tàijíshàn Biǎoyǎnzhě: Zhuāngyíngyíng (Shìjièjǐnbiāosàiguànjūn)))

Taiji Quan(group) Mixed Doubles Optional Taijiquan performed by Zhuang Yingyin, Huang Yingqi etc… (World Champions)+(Taiji Broadsword performed by Huang Yingqi(World Champion))+(Taiji Fan – Performed by Zhuang YingYing(World Champion))

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This was in fact, three different performances from the program combined into one; Taiji broadsword performed by Huang Yingqi, then Taiji fan performed by Zhuang Yingying, and finally “mixed doubles optional Taijiquan” performed by both.  I have crossed out “jititaijiquan” and added in “hunheshuangrentaijiquan”, because this was not just a jiti; there were only two performers.  “Hunheshuangrentaijiquan” translates roughly into English as “mixed doubles optional Taijiquan”, a new competition event implemented in China under the “traditional” Wushu banner just this year.  As seen, it primarily seems to emphasize synchronized movements of two Taijiquan athletes, customarily one male and one female, with some brief elements of choreographed push hands and synchronized nandu as well.  Due to the recent introduction of this event, when and if this event will be disseminated internationally as well is yet to be seen.  First, let me talk about Taijidao; this was surprising to me to see when I first read about it in the program.  Although I had seen traditional Taiji broadsword forms before, I had no idea that it could be performed in the modern Wushu sense, as it was not one of the standardized Taiji events in modern Wushu: only Taijiquan and Taijijian were.  Technique wise, this was simply what it sounded like; the basic techniques of dao, namely wrapping and twining, ideally with Taiji “flavor.”  Taiji fan, while no doubt beautiful to look on, did not really appeal to my taste of martial arts performances, so I didn’t find it memorable; I find fan forms in general difficult to take seriously as martial arts routines, but that’s just my opinion.  And finally, mixed doubles optional Taijiquan: this was very interesting to see in person.  The synchronized nandu of both, as well as their successful split and one-legged landings earned applause, although there were some slight lapses in the synchronization between the two (though this may have been because this was actually Zhuang Yingying’s routine, which by the way earned her a national championship title, and Huang Yingqi was not her original partner).  Because this was something new, I couldn’t determine how I felt about certain elements, namely the push hands segment, which is traditionally a combat sensitivity drill, much like that of sticking hands in Wing Chun, being performed like choreography.  Nonetheless, this was still a performance, and like most modern Wushu Taijiquan performances, I still found a way to appreciate it as just that, a performance.  At the end, when the performance was greeted with not only applause, but shouts and whoops of approval, something I found strange, yet profoundly heartwarming, happened: Zhuang Yingying smiled.  And as both performers walked off the stage, Huang Yingqi gave what seemed to be a small but appreciative salute, which Zhuang Yingying quickly followed up with one of her own.  This is an especially interesting moment to reflect on, because it made me thing about how these professional performers, not just the audience, must feel about a performance for once.  It must feel nothing short of fulfilling for a performer to perform something with such difficulty that requires a high level of skill, and have themselves rewarded with recognition, appreciation, and even respect.  And you know what?  They deserve that.  Good for them.

空手进枪 表演者: 吴晓龙, 史龙龙 (Kōngshǒujìnqiāng Biǎoyǎnzhě: Wúxiǎolóng, Shǐlónglóng)

Barehand against Spear performed by Wu Xiaolong, Shi Longlong

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Despite the fact that this was obviously choreographed, the introduction that this set included a bare handed fighter against an opponent with a weapon got some “oohs” of interest from the audience.  The continuous head dodge movement got some laughs (can’t deny it looks funny).  Like the previous performance, this one also gained its fair share of whoops and applause.  As the two performers walked off the stage, one raised his fist while facing the audience, and the other did the same, perhaps following the brief trend set by Huang Yingqi.  It is interesting to note that Wushu performances that are either choreographed or synchronized have usually gotten more positive reactions from audiences on average than solo events.  The performance value in these events is obviously greater than that of solo events.  I feel that Wushu competitions should be more inclusive of these other divisions as they were decades ago, if Wushu organizations want to regain the spectatorship so easily attained in Wushu performances.

集体刀术 (全体运动员) (Jítǐdāoshù (quántǐyùndòngyuán))

Broadword (group) performed by all athletes.

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This set was relatively short, and served as the closing performance piece.  Although the program states that this performance is performed by “all athletes”, three athletes were in fact not part of the performance; Zhuang Yingying, as well as the two performers of the previous duilian, though this may have been because they had just performed prior and could not prepare properly, and I’m just nitpicking (as if I already wasn’t).  When looking back this performance, it became clear that some of the athletes like Kan Wencong, Zhang Yaowen and Huang Yingqi did not specialize in broadsword, but again this is just me nitpicking individuals.  Yet even as a group set, there were lapses in the performance’s synchronization from one moment to the next.  There were also brief sub-performances, such as Ditangquan by Gao Xiaobin, double broadsword by Liang Yongda (who I feel was not explosive enough here and cut a lot of his movements short of full extension), and a rehash of previous routines like Zhang Mei’s nandao, Gao Xiaobin’s pudao, and Chen Huiying’s broadsword (who I’d like to point out had the best broadsword I’d seen out of the whole group).  Near the end, Kan Wencong made a mistake which clearly made her lose focus for a brief moment, though I did not notice this when I first watched the performance.  I really hate to say this, but I was a little disappointed in this performance, partially because of the aforementioned mistakes made, as well as this exiting act’s short length compared to the opening act of the show, but this might also have been because I didn’t really want the show itself to end.

 So now that I’ve completed my summarization and review of all the Chinese Wushu Team’s performance events, let me cover the other two kinds of performances that were part of the show, which happened somewhere in-between the beginning and end of the Chinese Wushu Team’s performances; I can’t be bother to remember exactly when.

The Performance by the O-mei Wushu Kungfu Center

Okay, I feel like if I don’t talk about this one, I’m discrediting the performers who were part of this performance, because this was actually a pretty impressive performance.  There were some individual mistakes, hiccups and stumbles here and there, but that doesn’t mean it was a great performance.  The strength of this particular performance is that it was performed solely in groups, so synchronization was mainly what made it look so good.  One performer in particular who goes by the name of Fan Lei (who is also apparently the nephew of ’90s Sichuan Wushu Team Member Ding Wei from what I’ve been told, if I remember correctly), is the new instructor at this Wushu school and comes from China, and you can tell; his speed and acceleration stood out compared to everybody else in this performance.  I also especially liked the straight sword duilian by Wesley Huie and Emily Fan, both of whom represented USA at the most recent World Wushu Championships and 5th World Junior Wushu Championships, as part of the US Wushu Team and US Junior Wushu Team.  There’s really only one thing that bothers me, and I can actually kind of get over it, because I’ve seen this kind of thing before; the combination of performances representing Chinese and US Wushu athletes can work against the event, because 1. There is and always has been a clear drop-off in skill level between the two groups which can hurt the performance of the Americans, and 2. The audience is misled going into the event, because they are only expecting Chinese athletes (Though my I’m told by my senior that US Wushu Academy started this trend, so this is not solely the fault of the O-mei Wushu Kungfu Center).  You could make a stretched argument that it is still a “Chinese Wushu” performance in content.  But in all honesty, when you are advertised a “Chinese Wushu” you most likely expect professional Chinese athletes, especially if you’re educated about Wushu.  However, I do not intend to take anything away from the performers here.  They undoubtedly had a good performance.  This is a good demonstration of how the skill level of US Wushu has increased dramatically compared to a few years ago, and for that I appreciated it.

Musical Performances by Chen Dan and Jing Shanghua

This is where I have to extremely careful, now more than ever, to not be disrespectful, but also honest at the same time, about the performances I saw that night, because I don’t want to discredit these two performers, who were undisputedly great in their own right.  The first performer, Chen Dan, had two separate performances that seemed to serve as intermissions for the whole event; the first was a flute performance, and the second was an exhibition of using various “ordinary items” to produce a flute performance.  First of all, both these individuals showed a great degree of professionalism during their performances, because for both of them, their background music was cut off, multiple times (whoever was the DJ for these particular performances clearly didn’t know how to do his/her job, because none the Wushu performances had an issue with music whatsoever).  I thought it was amusing and entertaining to see a man make flutes out of his tie, his sleeve, and a wallet, and I can and did appreciate hearing a woman’s beautiful operatic singing voice.  But the one thing that mainly kept me from fully enjoying these performances was they seemed so out of place in a martial arts show to me.  Why include singing and musical performances in a martial arts event, when they aren’t even remotely related to the martial arts performances in any way?  I saw on the program that this event was prepared for “Asian & Pacific American Heritage Month China Week Festival 2014”, so as a representation of Chinese and Asian culture, perhaps the inclusion of these performances make more sense in that context.  But if that’s the case, why didn’t you just advertise the event like that?  I was also told their performances were included to make up for the fact that one of the featured performers, a celebrity named Cole Horibe who I’ve never heard of, couldn’t show for some reason or another.  Maybe the justification of including these two performers at that night really was to serve as intermissions, and to give either the Wushu performers or the audience, or both, breaks in-between performances: but you have actual intermissions for that, and this whole show had none at all.  So again, I don’t really see what the point of having these particular performances was.  If I wanted to see musical performances, I would have gone and paid to see those.  At the end of the day, when I pay $45.00 to see a Chinese Wushu show, I want to see a “CHINESE WUSHU” show, NOT a musical performance.

In retrospect, I liked most of what I saw.  I paid to see a Chinese Wushu show, and I mostly got what I paid for. I’m glad I got to see what I was looking for.  Again, the other two kinds of performances that were discussed before, while great on their own, were not necessarily needed in this event.  Some of flaws of the performance I noticed were already talked about, but there were also other issues that effected the whole night overall, not just each individual event.  This performance suffered from some of the same problems I saw in the Chinese Wushu Team performance in 2011, not the least of which was the inclusion of modern nandu, namely the stationary jumps.  This is mainly because the audience doesn’t really know what nandu is, only judges at modern Wushu competitions do; nandu is an invention specifically designed for Taolu competition grading, not performance, and thus the standard crowd cannot appreciate the difficulty of nandu.  Because of this, I feel that nandu should be omitted completely from Wushu performances, as it takes away from any kind of consistent rhythm that any Taolu performance is trying to achieve.  Some exceptions to these are obviously split landings, which are obvious crowd-pleasers anywhere (but then again so are tumbling jumps, backflips and flash kicks, which are more gymnastics than they are actual martial arts techniques, and thus less preferable for my taste).

And, once again, several inconsistencies in information occurred, not the least of which was the consistency of the program.  Certain things I could appreciate the fact that the announcers and MCs tried to describe Wushu to the audience and inform them about what was being done; there was even a backdrop onstage that featured beautiful pictures and descriptions of each event being performed, which looked cool.  One simple problem though; both the announcers and the backdrop displays were reading straight from the program, verbatim.  Seriously?  Come on.  If you’re going to try to better inform an audience about a kind of performance, at least make an effort to pay attention to what the performers are doing, and don’t just read off pap (the previously mentioned mistake made during Chen Huiying’s broadsword performance frustrates me to no end).  Also, if someone is performing on the stage, chances are the audience isn’t going to be looking at the backdrop.  So ultimately, while it was nice to see, the backdrop display was, by practical design, completely pointless.  There were also a few events on the program which were absent, such as “Kids’ Dance”, a performance by Cole Horibe, Baguazhang, Tongbeiquan, dog style, double handed straight sword, “Health QiGong”, and nangun (although some of these I’m glad I didn’t see, for obvious reasons).  I was especially disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of Kan Wencong’s straight sword.  These are issues more concerned with organization, and are not the fault of the performers.

Now, I know with the critical attitude I’ve projected throughout this whole thing, I may sound like I didn’t enjoy this performance, which is not true.  I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t like this performance.  I really did.  However, the fact that I liked most of what was being performed doesn’t negate the fact that these glaring errors, which again were mostly the fault of organization, not only detract from the greatness of the performance, they also take away from customer satisfaction.  If someone is going to design a specific program for an event, they had better make sure the information is consistent all-around.  Overlooking differences in how information is transmitted to an audience, in multiple ways as seen here, is not a good job of organization.  This kind of management needs to be avoided in the future, if we want Wushu events like this to be more successful.  But again, at the end of the day, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to see professional Chinese Wushu athletes, and I’m sure everybody else was too.  I saw what I wanted to see (mostly), and I’m glad I came to see it.  This is undoubtedly my kind of show.  It’s always a treat to Chinese Wushu performed by actual professional Chinese Wushu athletes.  And for better or worse, I don’t regret spending my time and money on these kinds of events, and I certainly don’t regret spending the better part of my free time reflecting on and reviewing what I saw.  Hope you enjoyed this first edition of “A Personal Account”!  Next, I plan on writing about my visit to arguably the greatest Wushu martial artist ever, Zhao Changjun, and his upcoming tournament this year, so stay tuned for that!

 

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  • Char Dero

    I went to the first show in Virginia, with WKFFC, and they did everything according to the program. It’s a shame that they didn’t stick to it during the Maryland show, but at the same time it’s great that they didn’t. Although it was inspiring and great to see real Chinese wushu athletes in person, the show ran considerably long due to the musical acts. I do wish that the Maryland folks got to see Chen Hui Ying’s nangun form in person because that was one of the highlights for me.

    I also got to speak to the athletes for a bit and they all generally said they were exhausted and jet-lagged. Big ups to them for providing us with a great show and performing while not feeling their best.