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Wushu From Taiwan: An Interview with Hsiao Jingying

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WUSHU FROM TAIWAN: AN INTERVIEW WITH HSIAO JINGYING

By: Matthew Lee

Written October 16th, 2018

“…most primary is, training Wushu needs [to be] able [to] ‘return’ [to] one’s own body…But most important is you can know yourself, [do you] understand how to use your body?  How [to] use your joints, how [to] ‘swing’ [snap/turn your] head.  These two points [mean] how [to] control your own body’s every area.  These are [what] you truly train…I feel no matter [whether one] is training—no matter [whether it] is any event, [it is] also good.  I am [saying] training any event [is] all good.  [As long as] you can control your body.  Understand yourself, that is [the] most important thing.” —Quote taken directly from the write-up

Abstract: The following is an interview with Taiwanese Wushu athlete and coach, Hsiao “Jing” Jingying.  It is interesting to note that almost all interpretation of modern Wushu stems from mainland China, which is appropriate given its role as the country of origin.  However, virtually no attention is given to the views of Taiwanese Wushu, which are very different.  The goal of this interview is to discuss Jing’s experience training in Taiwan, and her views in Wushu.

Hsiao “Jing” Jingying was a former Taiwanese Wushu athlete on the Wushu team of the Taipei Institute of Physical Education.  She has trained with the likes of Taiwanese Wushu Team members Hsiao Yungsheng, Nanquan champion Peng Weiqun and World Wushu Championships medalist Wang Zhenming, known internationally as Chen Ming Wang, all under renowned national Taiwanese Wushu coach Zhang Shibo, who has a unique perspective of coaching Wushu, steeped in the roots of traditional Chinese martial arts culture (which we will go into detail later in the interview).  Jing was also a champion in Xingyiquan (形意拳; xíngyìquán, literally “shape-will fist”) at the 2013, 2015 and 2017 Chinese World Kuoshu Tournament.  She is also a coach, and has students in Taiwan and in Boston, where she is currently an international student studying English.

I first met Jing at the end of last year, over a holiday get-together on Christmas Eve, hosted by Roland Quan, a friend and gongfu brother of my current Wushu coach, Ching-Yin “Bee” Lee.  Bee called me in the middle of the day, while I was being a bum in my bedroom not doing anything and told me about a Taiwanese Wushu athlete he had just met who would be at a dinner with Roland and his friends.  Since I am by nature a reclusive introvert, and need a good reason to go out, I decide to first have a holiday dinner with my parents, grandmother from my father’s side and my eldest uncle, before stopping by Roland’s house after.  It was a memorable night where I socialized, which I rarely do, and make new friends as I made conversation and joked.  But the highlight of the night was undisputedly my interactions with Jing.  When I conversed with Jing, we spoke about what it was like for her training in Taiwan.  That night, after a round of fun and games with some new friends, Jing would show both her skill in Wushu with an impromptu performance of the Jinluohanshaolinlianhuanquan (金罗汉少林连环拳; jīnluóhànshàolínliánhuánquán, Golden Arhat Shaolin Linked Fist) Taolu , and then her knowledge of the martial applications and fighting ideas behind Wushu with some applications of said form, and later with an explanation an demonstration of the fundamental lannazha (拦拿扎; lánnázhā, block up, down, and thrust) basic of the qiang (枪; qiāng, spear).  I also took videos of both demonstrations and uploaded them to YouTube, and had them shared on the Jiayoo Wushu Facebook page, where they were quite popular with the online Wushu community.  This meeting would affirm for me my personal and longtime thesis for most of my write-ups, which was even though modern Wushu is not on the same level as traditional gongfu, it should at least retain some of the depth of its traditional counterpart; only this time, I actually met someone who embodied this directly from the root of Chinese culture, and not just my own personal circle of friends, training partners and coaches that happened to share my opinion.  The next day, on Christmas, we would meet again at Roland’s house, and Jing would show that despite the fact that she was very knowledgeable, she also had an open mind and was willing to learn new things about martial arts from others, as Roland, himself a specialist in traditional Gao (高; Gāo) Style Baguazhang, would show her some circle walking and some palm changes (换掌; huànzhǎng).  I would later meet Jing again in August of this year, while she was hosting a small series of two seminars based on Liuheqiang (六合枪; liùhéqiāng, Six Harmonies Spear), a traditional qiang form, for my Wushu coach Ching-Yin “Bee” Lee’s Wushu school, GOSU Institute of Chinese Martial Arts.  Through this time, she also showed an awareness of the “internal” (内家; nèijiā, literally “internal family”) side of Chinese martial arts, such as qi (气; qì, vital energy) and intention, as opposed to “external” (外家; wàijiā, literally “external family”) styles, which focus purely on physical techniques, and is something that modern sport styles of martial arts such as modern Wushu falls under.  This awareness that she had was lacking in most modern Wushu athletes today, again something that was deeply rooted in the holistic roots of traditional Chinese martial arts culture, that could not be duplicated in the majority of modern Wushu schools that focus purely on producing athletes for sport and competitions like machinery in a factory, and it is her training background behind this that interested me.  On August 14th, 2018, the night before her final seminar when should leave afterwards, I was able to sit down with Jing at Wong Gee Asian Restaurant to ask her questions about her experience and training in Taiwan, as well as her views on Wushu.  For those that have the “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) reaction, you can just go ahead and watch my video interview here, as it covers the following transcript I have of this interview (though this may be useful both for the hard of hearing, as well as clarifying any words said due to audio issues in the video):

The interview talks about Jing’s training experience and views in Wushu, which understandably stems from the Taiwanese interpretation of modern Wushu and provides some interesting insight into Wushu.  This is also the second interview I have ever done in Mandarin, which is probably most ambitious interview or video project ever (and given how long it took to produce and translate in the exact way I wanted, I probably will never do it again), the first one being with Coach Chen Qingbin for my write-up, “Wushu in Schools: The Beginning of Widespread Wushu?”  I would also like to apologize in advance for any inconvenience I may cause to any readers for all the additional edits, I tried to make everything comprehensible in English, while still maintaining the integrity of the Chinese sentence structure (and Chinese is extremely dense); I also included the pinyin of some Chinese terms (more so than usual), to help educate any readers interested in Chinese lexicon and culture.  So, without further ado, here is the interview!

Interview

Q: Jing dàjiě (大姐; big sister), than you [for] letting me interview you.  Well, first question; it is my simplest question.  How did you start training Wushu?

A: I [started] training with my dìdi (弟弟; younger brother).  My dìdi is…his body [was] not good (not in good health).  So, he [had] eye surgery, neck surgery.  And, so mama [wanted] him to train [his] body.  To train yǎngshēn (养身; support/nurture [the] body), xíwǔyǎngshēn (习武养身; study martial [arts], support/nurture [the] body).  My mama allowed him to train [his] body.  So I accompanied my dìdi [to] train together, straight up until high school, in fact I…And I [was] very lucky [to continue] training, up until now.

Q: Oh.

A: [This is] when I was 12 years old.

Q: Next question.  In jìngjì (竞技; competitive/sort/modern) Wushu, what is your specialization?

A: I am [a] Taijiquan (太极拳; tàijíquán, Grand Ultimate Fist) specialist, and—but before [in] high school I did qiang/jian (枪/剑; qiāng/ jiàn, spear and sword/straight sword combined).  Běiquán (北拳; Northern Fist)

Q: Oh.  So…[when] training in Taiwan, what [was] your training like?

A: If [it] is in [the] Taipei Institute [of] Physical [Education], we would…[In the] morning go [to] school classes, afternoon go—3:00 pm [in the] afternoon start training, train until nighttime.  [It is] possible to train up until ast 8:00 [pm], but after nighttime, we can [continue training].  [We] can all possibly train—very many times [we] can [train] until 12:00 [am].  11:00 [pm or] 12:00 [am] all can be possible [occurrences].

Q: Oh.  So, what does [the] coach teach?  Are [there] traditional Taolu (套路; tàolù, forms) and jibengong (基本功; jīběngōng, basic skills)?

A: Yeah.  Mm-hmm.

Q: What else [do they] teach?  Applications?

A: Yeah!

Q: Really?

A: Mm-hmm.  We show—whatever [the] university coach is teaching [we show].

Q: Oh.  So, your coach, Zhang Shibo lǎoshī (老师; teacher), what kind of person is he?

A: “What kind of person is he…”  He is a…he—

Q: Can [I] ask [this]?

A: Huh?

Q: Can [I] ask [this]?  No problem?

A: He…he [is] very awesome.  Um, [it] should [be] said [that] he [is] very…different.  [It] is—I think—I think [it] is…He takes…we are training jìngsài (竞赛; competition) Wushu.  But he uses traditional applications—every action, every move—he is using traditional [Taolu] to tell us, [to conceptualize the] attacking skills—[the] attacks’ meaning [and] shape, to tell us how [to] go—how [to] put [them] in jìngsài Taolu.  So [it] is [to] let us use [our] body [to] go tell [a] story.  With more use—how [to] use your body, and how [to] go—control your body, and use your awareness, [to] go do [each] movement.

Q: Oh.

A: Right.

Q: So, when he taught…[was] he fierce?

A: “When he taught [was] he fierce…”

Q: Oh?

A: [Do] you feel every coach [is] fierce?  (Laughs).

Q: Uh, sometimes…

A: Yeah.  And my coach is—he is [a] Cheng (程; Chéng) Style/Gao Branch (Baguazhang [八卦掌; bāguàzhǎng, Eight Trigrams Palm]) disciple, and [same] with Qi (祁; Qí) Family Tongbeiquan (通背拳; tōngbèiquán, literally “through-the-back” fist), and also…I forgot, but—He is—he is also very awesome—[in] traditional Taolu, [and] until now [is] still [a] Wushu coach.

Q: He also [is] some, um—Hebei Xingyi’s generational [disciple], also, um, some—

A: Cheng Style—Cheng Branch/Gao Style (Baguazhang)…

Q: Oh.

A: Right.

Q: Also, um—also, um, some—you did say before, some Tongbei ménpài (门派; sect/school)

A: Right, right, right, right, right…

Q: What ménpài is that—

A: Qi Family Tongbei.

Q: Qi Family Tong—oh!  [It] is very famous.

A: Mm-hmm.

Q: So, next—

A: He—he is very awesome, he is still training until now.

Q: Oh.

A: Right.  He [is] still—Coach [would] still say, [he] is also constantly—constantly [improving].

Q: Oh.

A: He [is] still training.

Q: So, next question.  You had said before if [training Wushu] in Taiwan, uh—men can only train dao/gun (刀/棍;dāo/gùn, saber/broadsword and staff/cudgel combined), and women can only train jian/qiang (剑/枪; jiàn/qiāng, sword/straight sword and spear combined).  So, why is [it] like this?

A: [It is] not all “only can practice.”  [It] is—we lead to—[it] is because all our jìngsài Taolu are following along with [the] Asian Games’ competition rules.  Asia[‘s] competition rules [are like this for the Asian Games].  It is, um, China’s competition rules in—put in [competition] together.  So most [of the] problems are all saying at [the] top—[at] that time—it is[at] that time was—they had said females do qiang/jian, males do dao/gun.  Of course, now—but [we] are following—following those competition Taolu changes.  But now [we] slowly have different males—males having done qiang/jian, females doing dao/gun.  [We] also have [these kinds of practitioners].  So [it was] all before, we all would follow—follow compulsory Tao—it is [that the] competition rules are already…in [their implemented] changes.  Right.

Q: Then, in—but if in competition, it is—it is like this.

A: Right, right, right.  So—but of course you can train very many different events.  We also do not only train qiang/jian from childhood to [getting] big.

Q: Oh.

A: You train—still can train—[I] think you [are] surely training…you are training dao/gun?

Q: Ah yes.

A: [You are training] dao/gun.  But you surely also train—train a little qiang/jian.  You can train a little jiujiebian (九节鞭; jiǔjiēbiān, nine-section whip/chain whip), shanzi (扇子; shànzi, fan), or [it can] be shuangchui (双锤; shuāngchuí, double hammers), liuxingchui (流星锤; liúxīngchuí, meteor hammer), those…any kind, any[thing], good things, yeah…

Q: Oh.  Ah Korea is also like this.

A: Right, right.  [It] is only [that] you can have [a] specialty.  It is [for] you [to compete in] a champion—because [it] is [for the purpose of]—[for the purpose of] following Taolu competition.  So [it is for] competition.  Championship’s—what are its regulations/compulsory requirements?  So, you focus—focus [on] training those events.

Q: Oh.

A: Right.  But you can have—you—you can also train other [events].  Right, it is like Changquan (长拳; chángquán, Long Fist), but…we can train—we can how [how to] train Nanquan’s (南拳; nánquán, Southern Fist) stuff, [there is] a little Taijiquan.  Right.  It is that you have this specialty.  Right…

Q: Oh.  So, next question.  Who is your favorite jìngjì Wushu Taolu athlete?

A: Oh!  Taiwan’s?  Or China’s?

Q: Whichever!  Whichever…

A: Oh!  If [it’s] China, because I am doing qiang/jian, so, I—I did qiang/jian at that time, so I really like Ma Lingjuan.

Q: Ma Lingjuan.  It is mainland [China’s] Anhui Team’s Ma Lingjuan.

A: Yes!

Q: Why?

A: Because she does Tao—because she [has a] tall enough body—stature.  Because—anyway it is—I feel her Taolu [is] very graceful.  It is [a] process.  And [she is] tall.  She is rather tall, tall—right…Oh, and…so [at] that time [I would] endlessly…watch films of her.  Also Liu Qinghua!

Q: Liu Qinghua!  [She] is—is [a] very old, uh, women’s champion.

A: And if [we’re talking about] Taijiquan, after watching Taijiquan, I watch[ed] Cui Wenjuan’s films.  Cui Wenjuan’s Taijiquan film.  Then [if we’re talking about] Taiwan, I like Chen Jingming [the] most.

Q: Oh.

A: Right, my—my…partner [in] Taiwan.

Q: Really?!

A: Mmm [yes]!

Q: Āiyōu [oh my]!  Next question.  Uh, some people say our jìngjì Wushu is, uh, huāquánxiùtuǐ (花拳绣腿; “style and no substance”, literally “flowery fists and embroidered legs”).  Right now [it’s] also called huājiàzi (花架子; “attractive appearance, but without substance”, literally “flower frame”).  So, what is your response to these criticisms?

A: Oh.  “[My response] to these”—tsk…if…[it] is, uh…”What is [my response] to these criticisms?”  Tsk.  [Let’s] see now…I feel, [it] is like this.  [It] is, see how you train it.

Q: Mmm [right].

A: [It] is, see how you, with your Taolu—know, uh—you understand your body—in fact, most primary is, training Wushu needs [to be] able [to] “return” [to] one’s own body.  Right.  Huājiàzi [is] also good…But most important is you can know yourself, [do you] understand how to use your body?  How [to] use your joints, how [to] “swing” [snap/turn your] head.  These two points [mean] how [to] control your own body’s every area.  These are [what] you truly train.  Then you say—I feel no matter [whether one] is training—no matter [whether it] is any event, [it is] also good.  I am [saying] training any event [is] all good.  [As long as] you can control your body.  Understand yourself, that is [the] most important thing.  Um, no matter [if it] is Changquan, or traditional Taolu or jìngsài Taolu.  [It is] possible you train traditional Taolu, but you might train strangely, it is also possible.  [This] is not [to] say, also not—is also not [to] say, this is impossible.

Q: Ah.

A: Right, but you can also train jìngsài Taolu very, very [clean], because you all—whatever you [are] doing, use your body [to] go tell [a] story.

Q: Ah.

A: Your—I know when you [go], “Ta!” (does an impression of the first movement from my optional Changquan Taolu) [referring to my optional Changquan Taolu]—your liāozhǎng (撩掌; uppercut palm, literally “lift palm”), what [are] you doing?  And when you reach pī (劈; chop), what [are] you doing?

Q: Ah.

A: Y—when you have awareness, then it is not huājiàzi.

Q: Oh.

A: Right, most important is you have awareness when using your body to tell [a] story.

Q: Right.

A: Right.  That is most important…that with—that with you training jìngsài, or that with you training traditional, are different things.  [The] main [thing] is, [do] you understand [how to] control [your] own body?

Q: Mmm [yes].

A: [Do you] understand [your] own body enough?  This situation.  Right, that is most important.  Then, I feel—I feel it not only has—not only jìngsài is like this.  Traditional is [also like this].  Traditional is [even] more [like this], it [puts] more emphasis on this part.  So—so everyone [would] say, “Oh, traditional, training traditional is real stuff.”  [Training traditional] also [means one] really learned [martial arts].  That is certain.  Of course, that is very, very crucial.  Because you can do jìngsài compulsory—all movements [in] jìngsài Taolu, are all from traditional coming to jìngsài.

Q: Ah yes, yes.

A: Right.  So, in fact, one head swing/[turn/snap].  It is like, that, uh, old-fashioned basic concept, sāntǐ [(三体; literally “three bodies”) from Xingyiquan].  Head [and] center line!  Right, you have [to] know where is your yuánshén (元神; spirit), where is your dāntián (丹田; qi center), where is your center line…How [to] attack [and] defend, how [to send your] hand out.  This—[isn’t] this [the] same [as] jìngsài Taolu?

Q: Mmm [yes].

A: If [we’re talking about the] human body, [it’s the] same.  [It] is all [the] same…only, can you control—from training, this self, can [you] “return” to [your] own body?  [Do you] understand [how to] use your body, [do you] understand, know, “Eh—where is [your] awareness, where is [your] thought, where is [your] jīngqìshén (精气神; vitality and intention behind movements) still?”

Q: Oh.

A: That [is] very—[the] most important thing.

Q: Oh.

A: Right.

Q: So, next question.  [There are] also some people [that] say jìngjì Wushu has separated Taolu and Sanda’s (散打; sàndǎ, free fighting, also known as 散手; sànshǒu, free hand) competition events.  So, your response?

A: My response?  Tsk.  I feel…they are different things.  Uh, it is like, Wushu…is not Taekwondo…But [they are] pretty similar.  Right?  And then, and then—But it really—it has different specialties inside.  It is like…This dish (points to a plate of Peking duck, which was recently placed onto the table).  You also cannot say…In here, eating this in [the United States of] America, [compared] with [eating this in China] is, um—surely can have different things in this.  You also cannot say—it is like…My lǎoshī spoke with me, he said, “[It] is [like] Italian [pasta].  You go to Italy, you eat pasta, [compared] with you up until now…”  Y-you now the pasta here, I feel is different.  Right, like this dish…[They] are all different things.  But I feel [it] is—it is how [you] regard this thing.  I feel [it] is similar [to]/[the] same [as the] fourth topic.  Right… jìngsài—jìngsài Taolu, Sanda “Taolu”—also what [else]?  What [else did you] ask [about]?  Sanda, jìngsài [Taolu]…

Q: J—just Taolu and Sanda.

A: Oh, Taolu with Sanda, right.  But most important is, you have [to] know…[It’s the] same [as before], can [you] “return” to [your] body?  How [to] go use all your things [to] go do, attack [and] defense and other [things].  [It] all is…it in fact [should be] thought [of being] combined.  But you say [they’re] separated?  Yeah…But…I feel this one subject really is, is not very well answered, but I feel, it [is] very like [the] fourth topic.  Right.

Q: Oh.  So, next question.  If you could change on thing about jìngjì Wushu, what would it be?

A: “If I could change one thing about jìngsài Wushu, it would be…”  “It would be”…oh, so hard.  “If I could change one thing about jìngsài Wushu, it is…”  More resonance [with] flow state.

Q: Oh.

A: Right?  (Laughs).

Q: Okay so, last question.  What are your future plans?

A: You [are] saying…my plans?

Q: [What I mean] i—is your personal future plans.

A: I want [to] bring Wushu around [the] world (traveling)…

Q: Āiyōu, really?

A: Yeah!  This is…my dream!  I want to take Wushu, yeah…and then, go to any country and travel.

Q: Oh, this is your style.

A: Yeah!

Q: Okay…thank you.

A: Don’t [mention it], don’t [mention it].

Jing is truly a rare specimen of Wushu practitioner, showing knowledge of martial applications, body awareness, as well as traditional knowledge rooted in traditional Chinese culture, from internal practices to the history and proverbs of Chinese martial arts.  She is both great with kids and can also cater to adults depending on their their needs!  Although Jing is currently residing in Boston as an international student, as established at the end of the interview, Jing loves to travel, so if you’re looking to host her for a Wushu event, hit her up at !  This was at the encouragement of her mother, who in her words, told her to “open her heart” to the world, so she spontaneously goes wherever she pleases.  She will make her next appearance at the 14th Annual University Wushu Games on Saturday, December 1st, 2018, hosted by , TerpWushu, the collegiate Wushu club of the University of Maryland, College Park, where she will plan to compete with her winning Xingyiquan form, so if anyone is looking to see and meet her in person, you can catch her there!  This interview is by far the hardest one I have ever done.  Looking back, I realize I probably could have worded some things better to make the interview go smoother, specifically the question of asking kind of person Zhang Shibo lǎoshī is, which is apparently considered a very abrupt way to ask such a question from the Taiwanese cultural perspective.  My dad, himself from Taiwan, suggested that I should have instead something along the lines of, “What is his personality like?”  However, this interview is still special to me, because it touches on the more traditional Chinese martial arts roots of modern Wushu; since I first started Wushu, I was always learning from the standardization and material from mainland China, and it was interesting to see it interpreted from the Taiwanese perspective, which included traditional Chinese culture and martial applications.  Although in retrospect, the head coach of the Wushu school I used to go to, who was also my first modern Wushu Taolu and Sanshou coach, was from Taiwan, and taught senior students that specialized in traditional Chen (陈; Chén) and Yang (杨; Yáng) Style Taijiquan, who in turn taught me the traditional principles behind the original movements behind Wushu at the basic level, such as explanation of the body mechanics, martial ideas and applications, which leads me to believe now that my alignment with the Taiwanese perspective of Wushu may run deeper than I realize, and influence my aforementioned thesis and views on Wushu as a modern form of martial arts, much of my later and prominent experience in training modern Wushu came from learning studying Wushu from mainland China, which did not seem to emphasize these qualities as much.  It was also an interesting learning experience for me, as I learned about the differences between how mainland Chinese and Taiwanese speakers use different vernacular to refer to the same thing.  For example, my use of the term jìngjì and Jing’s use of the term jìngsài to refer to modern Wushu.  Although I initially used the term jìngsài to refer to modern Wushu, I quickly began to convert over to using the term jìngjì after I heard Grandmaster Bai Wenxiang, coach of Wushu legend and champion Zhao Changjun, use the term jìngjì when asking me about my modern Wushu experience, which again goes to show the influence the mainland Chinese perspective over my interpretation of Wushu.  Special thanks to Jing for her time and willingness to sit down and talk about the hard questions of Wushu, and to my dad for helping me to translate words I couldn’t understand! It was fun to pretend I knew Chinese! 😊

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.