USA At The 15th World Wushu Championships: An Interview with Naoki Tang

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By: Matthew Lee

Written November 19th, 2019

“It felt amazing and nerve-racking to represent Team USA.  Since it was my dream and goal to be in the A-team, I was very proud that I could finally wear the Team USA jacket to a high-level competition.  However, it was also my first experience, so I was nervous about how I would be able to prepare and execute my best performance.” —Quote taken directly from the write-up

Abstract: The following is an interview with US Wushu Team member Naoki Tang.  Competing at the World Wushu Championships is a very prestigious feat, and an opportunity only few can dream of.  With a new generation of US Wushu Team members, it will be interesting to share their views and thoughts on the sport.  The goal of this interview is to discuss Naoki’s experience competing at the 15th World Wushu Championships, and his views in Wushu.

Nearly a month ago, I was asked to write about the 15th World Wushu Championships from the US Wushu Team members’ perspectives.  As promotion for the sport of Wushu in the US, I thought this was a great idea.  Having only gotten replies from two Team members, and only getting responses to my questions from one, I decided to move forward with what I have so far.  Naoki Tang is a young up-and-coming Wushu athlete, and one of the latest to represent USA at the World Wushu Championships, affectionately dubbed “Worlds” by the Wushu community.

I must admit that until very recently, I was only peripherally aware of the name of Naoki Tang.  This is because I myself was a fellow competitor competing at both the 2017 US Wushu Taolu Team Trials and 2019 US Wushu Taolu Team Trials and was only focused on myself at the time.  At the 2017 US Wushu Taolu Team Trials, Naoki Tang was a member of the US Wushu B Team, so it was clear that he was one of the younger generation athletes that was rising in the national level of US Wushu competition.  At the most recent 2019 US Wushu Taolu Team Trials, Naoki would secure a spot on the coveted US Wushu A Team, of which there are only currently 4 available spots for the top scoring Taolu competitors of each gender, making the competition even stiffer than it was during the initial years I was competing under this competition.  The US Wushu Team Trials are the gateway to representing USA internationally in competitive Wushu, so it’s no secret that it attracts the very best and highest skill level of competitors in the current sport’s standards throughout the nation, and Naoki has clearly established himself as one of the newest male competitors at the top echelons of the sport in the US.  Upon reviewing footage of his performances, I noticed that a bit of his choreography was directly taken from Shandong Wushu Team member Chu Haoran, who has most recently established himself as a national champion in China, so as with the best competitors in the US, he has taken influence from the best in the sport, the Chinese.

The interview talks about Naoki’s experience competing at the 15th World Wushu Championships in Shanghai, China, as well as his views in Wushu.  So without further ado, here is the interview!


Q: How did you get started in Wushu?

A: I started Wushu in late 2015, with my best friend Andrew Xi.  I had trained in several traditional schools since I was four years old, and I decided that I wanted to try a different style of kungfu.  Eventually, I trained my way up to the national level and finally attended my first international competition in Shanghai in 2019.

Q: How did it feel to represent USA at the World level?

A: It felt amazing and nerve-racking to represent Team USA.  Since it was my dream and goal to be in the A-team, I was very proud that I could finally wear the Team USA jacket to a high-level competition.  However, it was also my first experience, so I was nervous about how I would be able to prepare and execute my best performance.

Q: You have some very unique choreography in your Taolu (套路; tàolù, forms), particularly the great fanquan (翻拳; fānquán, “turning”/“flipping” punch, also known traditionally as 翻叠拳; fāndiéquán, “turning”/“flipping” “folding”/“layered” punch, and 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), as well as the yazhou (压肘; yāzhǒu, pressing elbow) technique in your Changquan routine!  What served as your inspiration for the choreography of your Taolu?

A: The inspiration for my choreography was mostly from watching high-level athletes from other professional countries.  During the process of making my form, I would choose certain moves that looked like it could suit my body type and style.  From there, I would make a rough draft of my form and present it to my coaches.  My coaches would make fixes, and the final result would become my form.

Q: Who is your favorite Wushu athlete?  Why?

A: My favorite athlete is Weng Son Wong from the Malaysian team.  He is a prominent straight sword and spear athlete, so I learned a lot from his rhythm, technique, and performance over the years.  I had the pleasure of meeting him this year at the competition and was very honored.

Q: What was your biggest challenge you faced at this competition?  Why?

A: The biggest challenge I faced was my injury and nervousness.  I had a back spasm that tightened all my back muscles two days before my first event.  I was hardly able to walk, but my coach Nathan Hughes was there to help me recover quickly.  Besides my physical state, I experienced an overload of adrenaline and nervousness.  The scale of the competition was nothing like I had experienced before, so I had no idea how I would execute my form.  However, I believe that the sport of wushu includes how you handle your injuries and nervousness, so I was happy I could handle both.

Q: What was your favorite/strongest moment at the competition?  Why?

A: My strongest moment was when I received my long fist score.  The score made me realize that I was not an absolute underdog of the competition and that if I pushed harder throughout the years, I could reach the professionals’ levels.

Q: What is your response to the criticism that modern Wushu is not “real kung fu?”

A: I think that almost everything changes and develops as time goes on, so I think it is inevitable that modern Wushu is different than traditional kungfu.  In my opinion, kungfu has many different branches, and modern Wushu is just one of them.

Q: What is your response to the criticism that modern Wushu has separate forms and fighting?

A: I think the criticism mostly comes from the misunderstanding that kungfu is not all about fighting.  I think that wushu is more about the presentation and technique of martial arts, rather than focusing on fighting.

Q: If you could change one thing about Wushu, what would it be?

A: I would not change anything about Wushu, but one thing I hope changes is its popularity.  I really hope wushu becomes a more popular and known sport so that everyone can share and experience its uniqueness.

Q: What are your future plans for Wushu?

A: My future plans are to further improve so I can become a top athlete at the World level.  My current goal is to become number one in the upcoming Junior Team Trials.  My next is to receive a medal in any World competition.

Having had the opportunity to hear and read about Naoki’s personal story in Wushu, I was amazed to hear that he was able to go from a beginner to the top ranks of Wushu in a matter of 4 years, and impressed with his strength and fortitude in dealing with back injuries (anyone that knows anything about physical activity knows that if you injure your back, virtually all your body movements are screwed), especially so close to competition.  Naoki is one of many kids who are coming up faster, stronger and more explosive, and picking up Wushu faster than the previous generation ever did (and I include myself in that generalization).  It will be interesting to see what Naoki’s future in the sport will be like!  Thanks to Naoki for his answers and to his mother, Yoriko Yamao, for connecting us!  Best wishes to Naoki Tang and his future in Wushu! ?

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