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The Sport of Wushu: Where We’re At & What’s to Come

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Photo credit to Kalon Wang (Instagram: hellokalon)

THE SPORT OF WUSHU: WHERE WE’RE AT & WHAT’S TO COME

By: Matthew Lee

Written November 6th, 2017

“…with new generations of athletes, new rules and ever rising standards, Wushu becomes more and more fascinating as I get older and find it difficult to catch up with it.” —Quote taken directly from the write-up

Abstract: In recent years, the sport of modern Wushu has gone through various changes.  The recent 14th World Wushu Championships will serve as a current and primary example of said changes.  These changes range from purely athletic and performance-based, to organizational, as this write-up will cover.  The goal of this write-up is to comment on the current state of the sport as a result of these changes, and speculate on what the future may hold in store.

From September 28th to October 3rd, 2017, the 14th World Wushu Championships were held in Kazan, Russia.  Also dubbed “Worlds” by the Wushu community, the previous competition in 2015 at Jakarta, Indonesia had brought with it some new additions to the structure of the sport of modern Wushu; this most recent edition of the competition has brought with it even more changes.  It’s been a month now, and I’ve had more than enough time to gather my thoughts on what has happened, and it’s about time I talked about it.  It is important to clarify that I say Wushu, I am primarily referring to modern/contemporary/sport Wushu, a standardization of Chinese martial arts for sport and competition.  As a sport, modern Wushu is standardized into two competition categories; Taolu (套路; tàolù), the practice of forms and sequences, and Sanshou (散手; sànshǒu, free hand), the practice of freestyle sparring and scientific martial applications, also known as Sanda (散打; sàndǎ, free fighting).  Since I am writing about the entire umbrella of modern Wushu as a competitive sport, this write-up will cover both categories of Wushu.

To begin, let’s talk about the three primary changes in competition regulation for Taolu, as highlighted in this video, courtesy of Brandon Sugiyama of Jiayo.com (not to be confused with Jiayoowushu.com):

First is the removal of compulsory Taolu events from international Wushu competitions.  In modern Wushu competition, solo Taolu events, which consist of a single athlete or practitioner performing a form, are categorized into either compulsory (规定; guīdìng) forms, which is a predetermined, fixed set of choreographed movements, or optional (自选; zìxuǎn, individual) forms, which is choreographed at the discretion of an athlete and/or a coach.  Starting in 2013, the IWuF (International Wushu Federation) integrated all the bare hand Taolu of the then-newly introduced 3rd Set of International Compulsory Routines, as medal events into international Wushu competitions.  This was done in an effort to put the 3rd Set of International Compulsory Routines into active practice in competition.  As a result, speaking from personal observation and experience, this also gave athletes who weren’t so successful in optional Taolu events a chance to medal at international Wushu competitions, which from an achievement and results-based standpoint, is a good thing.  Personally, it also gave me a chance to discover what the judges valued and rewarded in terms of performance, not through the compulsory forms themselves, but rather how the movements were performed, and resultantly what was winning and/or getting high scores.  With the removal of these compulsory Taolu events, it seems they have done their job.  While this can be perceived as taking away the chance of success from certain athletes who are better at compulsory Taolu, it returns modern Wushu competition back to exclusively optional Taolu events, which is what it has been since 2005, when optional Taolu replaced compulsory Taolu as the exclusive competition Taolu events.

Aside from the compulsory Taolu, is the addition of so-called “traditional” Taolu events into international Wushu competition, which was introduced in 2015.  Initially, there was Xingyiquan (形意拳; xíngyìquán, literally “shape-will fist”) and dadao (大刀; dàdāo, literally “big saber/broadsword”), or guandao (关刀; Guāndāo, blade of Guan Yu) for males, and Baguazhang (八卦掌; bāguàzhǎng, Eight Trigrams Palm) and shuangjian (双剑; shuāngjiàn, double straight sword) for females.  As I said in “The Thing about Nandu: Addressing Degree of Difficulty in Wushu”, previous word of mouth was that the “traditional” apparatus event for males would be shuangdao (双刀; shuāngdāo, double saber/broadsword), which was first heard in 2013, either around or after the time of the then-previous 12th World Wushu Championships, but it seemed that the IWuF opted instead for dadao or guandao, at least at first.  Starting in 2017, the “traditional” apparatus event for males would indeed be shuangdao in international Wushu competitions, replacing dadao.  These additions have been seen as controversial.

The addition of these events seemed to be done in an effort to promote the awareness and practice of traditional Wushu styles.  In theory, these intentions sound good, and admirable, however it is in their implementation and execution where the flaws lay.  The use of the term “traditional” in Wushu circles is used to refer to the original Chinese martial arts styles from which modern Wushu was standardized from, also broadly referred to as “kungfu”, or “gongfu” (功夫; gōngfu)  in Chinese.  From a semantical perspective, “gōngfu” actually means the idea of “skill” developed over a long time of effort and hard work, whereas Wushu is the more literal and accurate term for Chinese martial arts.  However, “gōngfu” has been used by traditional Wushu practitioners, dubbed “traditionalists”, to distinguish it from the term “Wushu”, which generally designates modern Wushu (on short aside, the IWuF decided to rename the World Traditional Wushu Championships, a tournament and festival event focused on so-called “traditional” Wushu, to World Kungfu Championships a couple years ago.  This seems to be adopted in favor of using more popular term of “kungfu” to spread awareness of Chinese martial arts, but ultimately results in inconsistency, where modern Wushu events organized by the same organization still uses the term “Wushu.”  Seriously, can we agree on the consistent of use of a name for what we’re practicing here?).  In an old write-up, “‘Traditional’ In Modern Wushu: Clarifying the Distinction”, I said that traditionalists have long criticized modern Wushu’s interpretation of Chinese martial arts practice, mainly because many of the open hand and open weapon performances can be said to have been embroidered with the fast and flowing flavor of modern Wushu Changquan (长拳; chángquán, Long Fist), the “main” and most influential style of modern Wushu.  This makes sense, because the majority of modern Wushu athletes were trained in modern Wushu Changquan. Consequently, the resultant performances demonstrate little to no understanding of the original styles’ or their original martial arts principles.  Although there are some exceptions, where competitors’ lineages and styles can be traced and authenticated, the vast majority fall into this observation.

Herein lies the problem of the interpretation of “traditional” in modern Wushu.  Traditional Chinese martial arts styles can be said to be complete standalone systems of practice on their own, which each have their own set of basics, conditioning exercises, and martial applications, as well as greater philosophical ideas that form the core of their practice, not just simple forms and sparring, unlike modern Wushu, which was designed specifically for the sport and competition disciplines that it was standardized under.  This exposes the folly of trying to standardize “traditional” styles into competition events.  With so many traditional Chinese martial arts styles, with each already having their own preexisting and already diverse branches of practice, like that of the different Taijiquan (太极拳; tàijíquán, Grand Ultimate Fist) family styles, Shaolin and Wing Chun (永春; Yǒngchūn, literally “eternal spring”), and have their own way of doing things, how can you expect to grade such diverse performances based on one uniform competition standard?  Furthermore, is the segregation of certain “traditional” Taolu events into specific genders, where the more “direct” and “robust” styles of Xingyiquan and dadao or shuangdao, and the more “fluid” and “flexible” styles of Baguazhang and shuangjian for females, encourage a certain trend that is only superficial and ultimately not accurately reflective of the Wushu community (which alludes to the gender-based trends that have pervaded modern Wushu throughout its history, and was another can of worms I opened in “Women of Wushu”)?  This leads me to a quote from the Kung Fu Magazine article “Where Wushu Went Wrong”, where Zhao Changjun, one of modern Wushu’s greatest champions and Wushu legend, who was also trained in traditional prior to competing in modern Wushu, said, “‘Competitive martial arts can never represent the whole picture of Chinese martial arts.’”  The true, authentic practice of traditional Wushu does not work in competition, because it was never meant to be condensed into a standardized competition format.  That’s what modern Wushu is for.

At least with the compulsory Taolu, its addition into international Wushu competitions made sense, because it was still very much modern Wushu today, and could be judged as such.  With the idea of “traditional” Wushu, the definition of it is still not clear-cut.  Of course, there is one simple solution to all of this: don’t call these events “traditional.”  To be clear, I have no problem watching these events, and even enjoy watching them to a certain extent, and even have had friends and teammates that participate in these events.  From a purely modern Wushu, competitive and performance-based perspective, it even makes logical sense why these events are done the way they are, because, like the rest of modern Wushu, they have been augmented and changed to project towards judges and a bigger live audience, especially when competitive Taolu is judged based on purely performative value, not combative ones (hence the standardization of Sanda competition).  My ability to enjoy watching these events is just like my being able to enjoy watching modern Wushu Taijiquan, where as I said in previous write-ups mentioning modern Wushu Taijiquan, part of being able to appreciate modern Wushu as a sport and competition item is being able to understand that it is not the same as traditional Wushu, but rather an interpretation of it, again, for competition and performance towards the visual perspectives of judges and a bigger live audience.  Ultimately, my only gripe with these competition events is that they are called “traditional”, when, as has been established, they are clearly not; doing so is lying, and runs the risk of making these events appear fraudulent in the face of real traditional martial arts, which is not good for Wushu’s perception and image.  An alternative to this could simply be to rename these events to “open hand” or “open weapon” categories under modern Wushu, which is what they are also already being called in certain competitions, and can even be considered more accurate, because they are miscellaneous forms events that do not fall into the three primary competition styles of modern Wushu Changquan, Nanquan (南拳; nánquán, Southern Fist), and Taijiquan.  In this way, we can at least be honest and transparent about what we practice.

Another alternative solution towards the intention of promoting awareness of traditional Wushu to a modern Wushu audience and practitioners, is the featuring of traditional Chinese martial arts styles and masters in halftime shows, which was done in the China Wushu Taolu King of Kings Championship (中国武术套路王中王争霸赛; Zhōngguówǔshùtàolùwángzhōngwángzhēngbàsài) competitions.  Another example of this is when the elderly Master Li Liangui was featured in the masters’ demonstrations of the 2009 US Wushu Team Trials, where he showcased his famous suogugong (缩骨功; suōgǔgōng, shrinking bone skill), and was more recently featured in Reuters news.  This can keep modern Wushu competitions and events relevant to Wushu, as opposed to including showcases and performances that have no real relation to Wushu.  Again, I said in “‘Traditional’ In Modern Wushu: Clarifying the Distinction”, that standards and requirements, specifically those in competitions, are not the answer to spreading awareness of traditional Wushu; encouragement and opportunity is—and instead of competition, these can also be done through seminars, lectures and workshops hosted by legitimate traditional masters to students that can include modern Wushu practitioners, which again, is already being done in the international Wushu community, and can be expanded upon.

Moving on to the specific modern Wushu Taolu competition events, is the subject of nandu (难度; nándù, difficulty movements).  Nandu is the Chinese translation of the term “degree of difficulty”, and in the context of modern Wushu Taolu, it refers to the set of movements and techniques, namely jumps, sweeps and balances in modern Wushu Taolu that fall under such a category, and is one of the primary aspects of grading modern Wushu Taolu performances competitively today.  The scoring of Taolu performances is separated into three judging categories of Panels A, B, and C; Panel A refers to the judging of “Quality of Movements”, which refers to the execution of compulsory or required martial arts basics based on the specific set of rules and standards in modern Wushu Taolu, Panel B refers to the judging of “Overall Performance”, which refers to the actual performance aspects itself such as choreography and coordination, and finally, Panel C refers to “Degree of Difficulty”, which in turn refers to the aforementioned nandu.  Modern Wushu Taolu performances are scored out of a maximum 10.0 points, where nandu consists of a minimum 2.0 points.  The inception and addition of nandu as a category of scoring in modern Wushu Taolu was to make it less subjective as a performance sport, and more quantitative, gradable, and objective, in what seemed to be a veiled attempt to make Wushu an Olympic sport.  This aspect of modern Wushu has been widely criticized, both by traditionalists and modern Wushu practitioners alike, that the emphasis on nandu in modern Wushu has watered down its martial arts content unique performance qualities, and makes it more like “tricking” or gymnastics, something that is well-known by observers of modern Wushu.  However, in direct contrast to these criticisms, the emphasis on nandu in modern Wushu seems to have increased even more in recent years.  In 2015, nandu requirements were added to the long apparatus Taolu events, which were initially non-nandu, “no nandu/non-nandu” system, which as the name suggests, excludes the Panel C of “Degree of Difficulty” in solo Taolu events, and consists only of Panel A of “Quality of Movements” and Panel B of “Overall Performance”, both of which were equally divided between a distribution of 5.0 points out 10.0 total points possible in the final performance score.  This was the basis of judging Taolu events prior to the inception of nandu, and like the events that were judged under this original “no nandu/non-nandu” system, athletes and competitors were unrestricted by nandu and the fear of failed nandu impacting their scores, allowing the other performance aspects of Taolu to balance out the actual performance and their scoring.  In “The Thing about Nandu: Addressing Degree of Difficulty in Wushu”, I said that this change was concerning, because the addition of nandu requirements to long apparatus Taolu events would remove this freedom of performance in long apparatus Taolu events.  After reading this, one of my friends, who was a former national US Wushu Taolu Team coach, replied to me saying that at the 12th World Wushu Championships in 2013 at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the top eight scoring athletes in male long apparatus Taolu events had enough nandu in their forms, that it seemed like a ‘nandu’ event already, and that the then-new rule changes would just formalize a set of unspoken rules being used by the Asian countries.  Most recently, in 2017, C degree nandu scoring was added to international Wushu competitions.  Nandu jumping movements and techniques are separated into degrees of A, B, C, each having their own set worth of points, ranging from least to greatest; degree A consists of many of the original jumping techniques of Wushu and 360° degree jumps, degree B includes twists and 540° jumps, and degree C includes 720° jumps.  Previously, the maximum scoring value of nandu for international Wushu competitions was that of B degree nandu, making any C degree nandu techniques scored with the value of B degree nandu.  With the value of C degree nandu being scored in international Wushu competitions, and since 720s have already been attempted at international Wushu competitions for years, the only real change to this is that they will scored accurately according to their designated value.  So, as we have established, the emphasis on nandu persists.  At the 2017 Summer Universiade, where modern Wushu was featured as an international collegiate sport for the first time, and where there was apparently no nandu scoring, Taolu athletes and competitors included nandu in their routines regardless.  Based on this, nandu, or at least the emphasis of it, has become established as a longstanding aspect of modern Wushu Taolu today, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.

Besides these three primary changes in competition regulation for Taolu, another aspect of performance in modern Wushu Taolu is the choreography of forms, which has seen some noticeable changes in the past few years.  Although there are other aspects of performance to modern Wushu Taolu, for the sake of being concise, I will only address the choreography of forms, which I feel can be addressed with a much more general and blanket statement.  Originally, modern Wushu Taolu still preserved the interpretations of movements and techniques from the various traditional Chinese martial arts styles of which it was derived from; this general time period of Wushu before the 2000s was known by Wushu fans as “old school” Wushu, and was even called “real Wushu” because of its abundance of actual Wushu basics and techniques, though this progressively became more and more condensed and watered down as more of the pure athletic and acrobatic aspects of Wushu took more emphasis and prevalence, resulting in somewhat of a pendulum effect.  Again, a large part of this is due to the emphasis on nandu, which is very prevalent in both the training and performances of Taolu in competition.  This shift in emphasis in Taolu has also been widely criticized by traditionalists, as well as Wushu fans and practitioners alike, and has even put into question modern Wushu’s legitimacy as a form of martial arts practice.  However, my longstanding thesis for most of my write-ups, is that even though modern Wushu is not on the same level of martial arts as traditional gongfu, it should still retain the depth of its traditional counterpart, in order to have some legitimacy as a practice of martial arts.  In “Putting the ‘Shu’ Back In Wushu: The Art in the Sport Martial Art”, I said that a solution to the watering down of traditional martial arts content in modern Wushu, could be done by reemphasizing modern Wushu’s connection of martial arts movements and ideas that can be shared through its derivation of traditional Chinese martial arts.  A vital part of this means going back to the traditional Chinese martial arts roots of modern Wushu, looking at traditional Wushu ourselves as modern Wushu practitioners, exploring the plethora of traditional techniques and movements, learning the martial applications, intent and ideas behind them, and develop our own understanding and skill of them through detailed study, experimentation, and of course, long and dedicated training.  And in the past few years, I think we’re finally beginning to see that.  Although there is still an abundance of the standard and repetitive running slap kicks and pounding/hammer fist combos in modern Wushu Changquan, repetitively, there are quite a few standout performances by top athletes.  In the optional Changquan routines of many by top international athletes, I’m beginning to see top athletes incorporate the great fanquan (翻拳; fānquán, “turning”/“flipping” punch, also known as 滚打; gǔndǎ, rolling hit, according to the 翻子拳; fānziquán, tumbling or “rotating” fist, literally “turning/flipping fist” 段位; duànwèi, formal ranking system by the CWA [Chinese Wushu Association]) technique from Fanziquan (which is funny, because I’ve trained the incorporate the same technique into my personal Changquan routines in the exact same spot in my choreography, prior to seeing it presently here).  I have also begun to see a kicking movement resembling a high tantui (弹腿; tántuǐ, snap kick), where the hips are pitched forward and the upper body leans back as a result, from Baguazhang, similar to a high teep in Muay Thai (unfortunately, due to the lack of standardization and terminology of such unique techniques interpreted from traditional Wushu in modern Wushu, I am unable to discover the names of said techniques).

China in particular has gone through interesting developments since the beginning of the 2010s for Taolu.  Effective 2011, the CWA incorporated compulsory movement combinations (规定动作组合; guīdìngdòngzuòzǔhé) into their national rules of Taolu.  Each solo Taolu event, including the apparatus events of each of the three main competitive styles, have their own event-specific pair of combinations, all of which pertain to actual traditional, “old school” movements.  And in the past few years, this return of emphasis on actual martial arts movements and basics, has finally begun to see a trend in even more choreography in the same vein.  In Changquan, interpretations of techniques and movements from Chaquan (查拳; cháquán), one the primary traditional northern Chinese martial arts styles that modern Wushu Changquan was standardized from, and the previously mentioned Fanziquan, have started to become incorporated by top Chinese professional athletes.  In Nanquan, aside from the featuring of more distinct movements of Hung Gar (洪家; Hóngjiā, Hong Family), one of the primary base traditional southern Chinese martial arts styles that modern Wushu Nanquan was standardized from, top Chinese athletes have also begun incorporate movements from traditional southern Chinese martial arts styles with a smaller frame, such as Wing Chun and Wuzuquan (五祖拳; wǔzǔquán, Five Ancestors Fist) since as recently as 2016.  In the past few years, the pendulum is swinging back.  The aforementioned compulsory movement combinations are even being used by athletes in international Wushu competitions.  It remains to be seen whether or not international Wushu competitions will follow suit and emulate the Chinese rules, as they have always historically been a few years behind China, like the nandu rules.  To be clear, when it comes to my opinion on modern Wushu Taolu choreography, it doesn’t take a lot to impress me in terms of volume of movements; really, one or two standout moves are enough to make me go, “Wow!”  But specifically, it is the incorporation and combination of such movements woven seamlessly into the flow and rhythm of a form that is key to what I value in the martial arts content of modern Wushu Taolu, and really shows the potential of what modern Wushu Taolu can be as a representation and interpretation of Chinese martial arts forms.  I have heard from a former senior of the Wushu school I used to go, who was also one of my first Wushu coaches, and has also served as a certified Taolu judge, that there has been more of a push to look for aspects of more modernized traditional elements, which reflects my longstanding thesis for modern Wushu.  This is funny, because three years prior this person has also stated that if certain judges saw movements from the compulsory Taolu, which are taken from traditional Wushu, they determine that the competitor “is not creative enough” (this statement angered and frustrated me, because this was in direct reference to my own choreography in my personal competition routines at the time).  Whether or not the judging of modern Wushu Taolu internationally will shift towards this focus remains to be seen, but it is refreshing to this shift back towards the martial techniques.

On the other side of the sport, Sanda competition has also seen numerous changes.  Rules wise, the only real change has been the time limit of five seconds of inactivity, where it was previously eight seconds of inactivity.  This allows the action in matches to progress at a faster pace, forcing fighters to be more active frequently.  In previous write-ups, I wrote about and critiqued Sanda, stating that takedowns are the biggest point gainers, making the other skill sets secondary in the game, resulting in a serious lack of solid boxing and kickboxing skills, and turning Chinese Sanda athletes into sloppy wrestlers with added gloves, flicking kicks and wild haymakers.  Traditionalists have also criticized Sanda for its lack of Chinese martial arts content and connection to Chinese martial arts.  However, many things have improved since I last wrote these observations.  In my previous write-up, “From A Platform Judge’s Point of View: An Interview With Mark Lorenzo About Sanda”, where I interviewed Mark Lorenzo, a nationally certified platform judge under the USAWKF (United States of America Wushu Kungfu Federation) for modern Wushu Sanda competition, about Sanda, Mark clarified many of the misconceptions in my various observations, as well as provided updates to others that were valid at the time.  After 2014 in international Wushu competition, the scoring of strikes has balanced out the previously dominant scoring of takedowns.  Punches and kicks are being scored evenly with takedowns, which finally reflects what the scoring was supposed to be in the Rules of Sanshou under the IWuF in the first place.  Mark stated that the boxing has improved for Chinese Sanda athletes, and I have observed that to be true, especially for their kickboxing as well.  As for flicking kicks, I have found that this is exclusive to the “amateur” competition of Sanda, which is more point-based on simple contact, and is primarily what we’re talking about here, as it is the format of Sanda competition that is hosted alongside Taolu in modern Wushu competitions; in a way, as I said in the interview, the differences in “amateur” and “professional” levels of Sanda can be compared to the differences in amateur and professional levels in boxing, where “amateur” is more focused on safety and points for superior technique, and “professional” has fewer protection and seems to favor more of a pure brawling quality that gives it spectator appeal.  “Professional Sanda” has virtually none of these flaws in its competition format, and the difference in a sports perspective makes logical sense.  Because of the speed/point-based emphasis on striking today, strikes are much less telegraphed nowadays.  In the ’90s, kicks were easy to get the rhythm of and see coming, making takedowns clean and frequent due to a fighter easily seeing their opponent’s kicks coming, and having very entertaining results for matches.  However, in the 2000s, Sanda techniques developed further, with defense and counterstrategies making clean takedowns much less frequent now, where athletes would often enter the clinch to go for a takedown or avoid being takedown in turn, and most of the time making matches boring with little to no exciting action, resulting in even a single successful takedown over the opponent deciding the outcome of a round and sometimes the whole match.  Yet with the development of an orthodox and in some ways “predictable” kickboxing and wrestling structure, this has given way to the implementation of some unorthodox throws and takedown techniques in turn, specifically the crossbody knee tap technique Shuai Jiao (摔角; shuāijiǎo, traditional Chinese folk wrestling—sorry, don’t know the name of this technique either—alas, the persisting problem of the lack of knowledge and terminology) which has been successfully scoring frequently nowadays, and was previously a technique with a low percentage of success in the ’90s.  In China, fighters from Inner Mongolia have had an astounding degree of success applying their Mongolian wrestling and Shuai Jiao.  Although I said in “About Sanshou: Breaking Down Full-Contact Wushu” that fighting is fighting regardless of style, and that the complaints and need to demonstrate the distinguished features of a style or technique simply for the sake of it seems rather unnecessary, especially if it cannot be deemed useful in sparring, deep down, I feel it’s good and refreshing to see some distinctive, Chinese style techniques in Sanda, showing that Chinese martial arts techniques can and have indeed been applied in Sanda, especially given the conventional explanation that Sanda has Chinese cultural roots and relevance from Shuai Jiao and Chinese martial arts.  So, I would like to update my blanket statement about the state of Sanda, to my observation that amateur Sanda in general seems to be looking better each year.

Outside of the specific athleticism and practice itself, there have also been various organizational changes surrounding the sport.  First is the implementation of the streaming website Worldwushu.tv by the IWuF in 2015.  Through this platform, all world level Wushu competitions are streamed and broadcasted for anyone and everyone with an Internet connection to see.  Previously, the only coverage of the sport to be found worldwide was primarily through YouTube, and even then the number of views/hits does not match the amount and exposure of other sports such as gymnastics, to this day.  Now, with not only professional videotaping and editing, but backing by an official organization, and perhaps most importantly, ease of access, the coverage of the sport has vastly improved.  With this implementation came official commentating, and most recently highlight videos.  Not only does this put Wushu on the same level of coverage as other sports, but it also allows spectators to get a better understanding of what they are watching, which as I have said multiple times in previous write-ups, is the next step after spreading awareness.  However, these things are not necessarily new to Wushu, as they have been done for years in China since the beginning of the sport’s international exposure.  From a pessimistic perspective, the general attitude towards these additions would be more along of the lines, “it’s about time.”  But, in terms of the structures around the sport, these additions are overall a good thing.  It shows that the IWuF is paying attention to what should be done in promoting the sport, though perhaps they are simply checking off a checklist to apply as a legitimate sport for the Olympics (kind of like a kid in school who keeps turning in the same project to their teacher, but fails each time because they don’t meet the requirements).

An interesting addition is the inception of the Athletes’ Committee to the 14th World Wushu Championships, as well as IWuF merchandise.  According to two-time US Wushu Team member, 13th World Wushu Championships bronze medalist, and Athletes’ Committee member Justin Benedik, “The committee is full of very passionate and dedicated athletes set on providing the best experience as well as a meaningful voice to all athletes around the world.”  The creation of this committee sheds a positive light on IWuF.  Historically, relations between athletes and organizations have generally been tense, due in large part of miscommunication and the inability to understand each other’s relative positions in the sport.  Hopefully, the Athletes’ Committee will help to bridge this gap between organization and athletes.  As for the IWuF merchandise, which includes an IWuF Magazine, yearbook and selfie stick (yes, you read that right), athletes have stated that these products and content don’t seem to provide any depth or culture; the yearbook and magazine appear to only contain pictures from the IWuF events in 2016 and 2017, with no tangible information or content to absorb, which doesn’t seem to provide any real value, and at most would only seem important for those whose pictures are included.  In remains to be seen if value can be added to this merchandise.

To wrap up, there are some good changes coming about in modern Wushu, but again, still has many problems, so the sport is a mixed bag right now (but then again, any longtime practitioner or fan could say that about their own sport too).  However, with these changes, it seems that for the first time in a long time, Wushu is getting interesting to watch and talk about again.  Even here in the US, I am seeing a sudden increase in participation in modern Wushu from practitioners all over the nation since 2016, particularly at the USAWKF Nationals, a competition that another former senior of the Wushu school I used to go to, said was previously dead and not worth going to.  But with new generations of athletes, new rules and ever rising standards, Wushu becomes more and more fascinating as I get older and find it difficult to catch up with it.  The sport is slowly getting more dynamic bit by bit, and it will be interesting to see which direction it will go in the years to come.

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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 four-time consecutive US Wushu Team member and 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.