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What Karate Got Right (That Wushu Got Wrong)

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WHAT KARATE GOT RIGHT (THAT WUSHU GOT WRONG)

By: Matthew Lee

Written July 19th, 2020

“…disconcerting is the lack of consistency between the competition divisions in Wushu, resulting in an inconsistency of the sport’s entire collective model…If one were to explain that all these different divisions were all Wushu, this would be hard for the detached observer to believe, because there is no visual consistency between the competition categories.  Wushu could be said to be undergoing an identity crisis.” —Quote taken directly from the write-up

Abstract: In July 2020, the 2020 Summer Olympics were originally set to kick off.  Karate is also set to be included a sport in the Olympics at this time, something that Wushu has failed to achieve with multiple attempts.  There are numerous factors for this, which surround different factors of each respective sport, including the communal, modal, and political.  This write-up will discuss where Karate has succeeded where Wushu has failed, and suggest what possible solutions are.

On July 24th, 2020, the 2020 Summer Olympics, affectionately dubbed “Tokyo 2020” in Tokyo, Japan, was originally set to begin.  Due to the coronavirus, which has essentially put the entire world on hold, including all physical sporting events, Tokyo 2020 has been postponed by a year.  Among the lineup of sports to be included in Tokyo 2020, Karate was a candidate that was successfully accepted into the Olympics.  This is something that Wushu has failed to achieve, with multiple attempts and bids to become Olympic over the past few decades.  The irony that Japan was able to get another of their own indigenous martial arts into the Olympics during a year they were hosting within one try, where China was unable to multiple times, even when they were hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics prior, is not lost on me.

For those unaware of Wushu’s journey to become Olympic, here is a quick history lesson.  Wushu’s history with the Olympics began at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, where “Wushu”, or Chinese martial arts, then called “Guoshu” (国术; guóshù, literally “national art”) during the Republican era of China at the time, was included as a demonstration sport in Nazi Germany, and was demonstrated by such masters as Zhang Wenguang, Zheng Huaixian, Wen Jingming and his wife Liu Yuhua, before Chancellor Adolf Hitler (yes, you read that right—Adolf Hitler, I swear I’m not making this up, I encourage you to look it up for yourselves; I never thought I would live in a universe where Wushu shares a page of history with Hitler, but as I look more and more into the history of Wushu, the facts just get progressively more bizarre…).  Apparently, the first bid by the IWuF (International Wushu Federation) to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) for Wushu’s inclusion into the Olympics was in 2001 (something I was unaware of and failed to include my initial history synopsis in “No Medal for You: Why [I Feel] Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It”).  More well-known, in 2008, when China was set to host the Summer Olympics in Beijing, the IWuF placed a bid to the IOC to include Wushu as an Olympic sport.  This appeal was rejected, with the reasons cited being “contractual”, which stated that no international or national sports competitions were allowed in the Olympic host city, during the Olympics.  But, in what seemed to be a pacifier for the Wushu community, the IOC relaxed their regulations to allow for the organization of the a formal Wushu competition hosted in parallel to the Olympics, Wushu Tournament Beijing 2008, with its own facility and medals, albeit still formally separate from the Olympics.  In 2012, another appeal was made for Wushu to considered in a list of other possible candidates for the 2020 Summer Olympics, which also included Karate.  Unsurprisingly, Wushu did not make it to the final cut of sports to be included in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Originally, I was going to write this write-up on the premise that Wushu had not even gotten any closer to becoming Olympic since my last write-up on this topic, “No Medal for You: Why (I Feel) Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It”.  But surprisingly, Wushu was recently announced to be included in the 2022 Summer Youth Olympics in Dakar, Senegal.  Not only is this surprising, it is unprecedented in the long history and stunted progress to make Wushu an Olympic sport, and while this does not make Wushu “Olympic” in the conventional sense that people would consider it to be, it is a stepping stone to becoming a full Olympic sport.  So, I guess we did it (yay…?).  However, it was also recently announced that the Youth Olympic Games in Dakar would be postponed from 2022 to 2026, again due to the coronavirus.  Despite all that, this does not change my stance or my opinion which I am about to write here.

It is also worth noting that Karate will only be included once as an Olympic sport in Tokyo 2020, with no guarantee of it being included as a longtime sport in the Olympics.  This also begs the question of whether the same will happen to Wushu if it does indeed become Olympic.  Given such a long history of failed bids, will all this persistence be worth it, only for Wushu to be recognized as an Olympic sport, only once?  Will this result justify all that?

Don’t get me wrong, my opinion in “No Medal for You: Why (I Feel) Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It” has still not changed for the most part.  Although I can see the benefits of having a sport be Olympic, such as government funding and professional resources, my overall sentiment remains the same.  I still do not feel Olympic Wushu is worth it anymore.  BUT, if I were to entertain the argument of what needed to be done for Wushu to be Olympic, it is worth noting what the current problems with the sport are, and what possible solutions are to solidify its candidacy, which not only may or may not bring it closer to being an Olympic sport, but also make it a better sport overall.  And looking at the comparative success of Karate, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how the example of what Karate got right, serves as a polar opposite of what Wushu did not, which I will write about in what I feel is a legitimate, three-point argument, something I similarly did in “No Medal for You: Why (I Feel) Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It”.  After all, Wu Bin, the coach of Jet Li, said in the Kung Fu Magazine article “Wu Bin – The Father of Modern Wushu” by Melody Chung, “‘The karate and tae kwon do community were able to make these sports easy to learn, teach, and understand.  Students nationwide also have a passion for it.  Wushu must learn from sports.’”  Well, now it is time to glean these lessons.

  1. Unified Community Support

When I say “community”, I am referring to two different general kinds of communities, specifically the traditional martial arts community, or traditionalists, and the sports community, each for Karate and Wushu.  This is because both terms can refer to either the martial arts styles, or the sports derived from these styles for the sake of competition.  And there is a huge difference in the reception and support in Karate and Wushu’s respective communities to get their representative sports into the Olympics.

Ever since Karate’s bid to become Olympic, karateka, especially those involved in the sport, were consistently vocal in their campaign.  Even Sensei Morio Higaonna, 10th dan black belt in Goju-ryu (刚柔流; hard soft style) Karate and founder of the International Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate-do Federation, publicly voiced his support for Karate to become Olympic.  Whether this was genuine or for political reasons is difficult to know for sure, but for whatever reason, the community support for Karate to become Olympic was there.  The main motivation cited behind this campaign was understandably to promote better awareness of Karate (although I think Karate already has an advantage in this regard as one of the more popular martial arts styles—general spectators don’t even know the word “Wushu”).  And it paid off.

The same cannot be said for Wushu.  The reasons for this are various, but they all stem from one main factor—that the traditional martial arts communities and the sports community for Chinese martial arts are so polarized.  The polarization is even represented in the semantical split of names used between the practices of traditional martial arts and sport for Chinese styles; Chinese martial arts has also more popularly been called “kungfu”, or “gongfu” (功夫; gōng​fu) in Chinese.  In fact, “gōng​fu” actually means the idea of “skill” developed over a long time of effort and hard work, whereas Wushu (武术; wǔshù, literally “martial art”) is the more literal and accurate term for Chinese martial arts.  However, the former term has been used to refer to traditional Chinese martial arts styles, whereas Wushu is used to refer to modern/contemporary/sport Wushu, a standardization of Chinese martial arts for sport and competition.  A large part of this is due to political reasons, both in the historical and practical sense.

Historically, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution from the years 1966 to 1976, Chairman Mao Zedong and his Gang of Four, with their Maoist revolutionary doctrine, set out to destroy every traditional aspect of Chinese culture, including traditional Chinese martial arts, seeing these aspects as obsolete, and a factor that needed to be put down in favor of promoting their communism.  As a result, many Chinese martial arts masters fled from mainland China to other countries in order to escape political persecution by the dominant communist party, and continued to promote and spread their traditional gongfu; those who did not were either killed or heavily persecuted.  However, after the communists allowed for martial arts practice again, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) commissioned various Wushu masters still in the mainland to create a newer, simplified, sport-oriented form of Chinese martial arts, resulting in the modern Wushu that we know of and see today.  Because of this political history of modern Wushu’s inception, many traditionalists claim that modern Wushu is nothing but a communist tool with no traditional or cultural value.  But factually, the creation of modern Wushu had begun long before the rise of the CCP, as early as the ’50s, with the guidance of real and willing Chinese martial arts masters, out of a need to standardize and share Chinese martial arts with the common folk of China.  Although the Cultural Revolution and the persecution resultant from it was clearly a mistake, modern Wushu’s existence out of mainland China is circumstantial, and the negative perceptions that traditionalists associate it with, modern Wushu was simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time.  The phenomenon of the dichotomy between traditional martial arts and their sport counterparts is something that is universal, and not restricted to Wushu and its political history.

Practically, modern Wushu has long been criticized by traditionalists as simplifying and watering down traditional Chinese martial arts in its standardization, too commercialized for sport purposes, and for separating the skill sets of forms work and sparring into separate specializations for competition.  Uncoincidentally, sport Karate has also fallen under the same kind of criticism as well.  Granted, while this is natural to sport martial arts like Karate, the polarizing reaction to modern Wushu by traditionalists is somewhat deserved in this sense, because the difference between modern Wushu and traditional gongfu is so radical, because of all the changes modern Wushu has gone through (which I will get into later).  Because of these radical differences, which are so extreme to the point that there is virtually little to no equivalency as there is with traditional and sport Karate, traditionalists naturally have not gotten behind modern Wushu to represent Chinese martial arts in sport.  The late Grandmaster Ma Xianda, who ironically was a traditional Wushu master involved in the development of modern Wushu, expresses this sentiment in his interview from the Kung Fu Magazine article “The Muslim Master of the Old Empire” by Gigi Oh and Gene Ching, stating, “If Wushu does not go into the Olympics, then all kinds of Chinese martial arts will bloom at the same time.  But if it gets into the Olympics, and the government only pushes those little categories, other categories will die down.  They will only feed that small group of professionals to represent the entire Chinese culture, over 1.2 billion people.  This is the general feeling of Wushu societies.”  This is in direct contrast to what Nick Gracenin says in the Kung Fu Magazine article “Salute to Wushu” by Herb Borkland, which lists three misconceptions or “clichés” of Wushu, where “The third cliché is: ‘Wushu threatens to replace traditional Chinese martial arts.’  On the contrary, says Nick Gracenin, ‘wushu was created specifically to generate interest in Chinese martial arts.’”  The fact that the traditionalist reaction to modern Wushu is the opposite of its designed purpose, is a red flag that something went wrong.

Inevitably, there will always be traditionalists that will be unhappy with how the sport forms of their respective martial arts represent their practices.  I stated before in “No Medal for You: Why (I Feel) Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It”, that modern Wushu bears the pressure, and sometimes unnecessary responsibility, of representing all Chinese martial arts, though it is clear that modern Wushu as not designed for such a purpose.  No doubt sport Karate also faces this dilemma.  Alas, this is the reality of turning martial arts into sports; sport martial arts and/or martial arts competitions will not be able to make everyone, least of all traditionalists, happy, because it will be perceived, objectively rightly so, as either taking something away or not fully representing the depth in concepts and values that traditional martial arts have to offer.  But the difference in overall reception and support in Karate and Wushu’s respective communities to push their respective sports to get to the Olympics, is telling in how each sport counterpart represents its traditional roots (again, I will get into this).

  1. Consistent Model as A Sport Martial Art

Okay, this is where Wushu athletes and practitioners may find this hard to read and may even get butthurt.  This is where I will break down the actual physical practices of both sports, and how they make up a model or image that represent and/or interpret their traditional counterparts on the international stage in front of an audience.  This will also be the meaty part of the write-up, and therefore the longest, as I will go into the most detail here.  As sports, both Karate as sanctioned by the WKF (World Karate Federation) and modern Wushu are standardized into two competition categories: the practice of forms and sequences, and sparring.  In Karate, these are called kata (形; forms) and kumite (组手; sparring, literally meeting hands), respectively.  For Wushu, these are Taolu (套路; tàolù, forms), and Sanshou (散手; sànshǒu, free hand), also known as Sanda (散打; sàndǎ, free fighting), respectively.  This part of the write-up will critique both sports’ representation of martial arts with these established models as a basis.  I will first be pointing out the analogous similarities in the organized competition structure of both sports’ models, then the differences where Karate does things right, where Wushu misses the mark.

Let’s look at the forms divisions of both first.  For Karate kata, there is a predetermined list of 102 kata that may be selected by a competitor to perform and compete with, from the traditional Karate styles of Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu (和道流; harmony way style), Shito-ryu (糸东流) and Shotokan (松涛馆; pine waves school), as recognized by the WKF.  Modern Wushu Taolu has three primary competition styles of Changquan (长拳; chángquán, Long Fist), Nanquan (南拳; nánquán, Southern Fist), and Taijiquan (太极拳; tàijíquán, Grand Ultimate Fist), all of which were similarly standardized from actual traditional Chinese martial arts styles.  Changquan was standardized from the northern Chinese martial arts styles that include, but are not limited to, Chaquan (查拳; cháquán), Huaquan (華拳; huáquán; Flower Fist), and Hongquan (紅拳; hóngquán; Red Fist).  Nanquan was standardized from the southern Chinese martial arts styles of Hung Gar (洪家; hóngjiā) Choy Gar (蔡家; Càijiā, Cai Family), Lei Gar (李家; Lǐjiā, Li Family), Lau Gar (刘家; Liújiā, Liu Family), and Mok Gar (莫家; Mòjiā, Mo Family), but is also not limited to these styles, as top Chinese athletes have also begun incorporate movements from traditional southern Chinese martial arts styles with a smaller frame, such as Wing Chun (永春; Yǒngchūn, literally “eternal spring”) and Wuzuquan (五祖拳; wǔzǔquán, Five Ancestors Fist) since as recently as 2016.  Modern Wushu Taijiquan was standardized from the five recognized traditional Taiji styles of Chen (陈; Chén), Yang (杨; Yáng), Sun (孙; Sūn), Wu (吳; Wú), and Hao (郝; Hǎo, also known as 武; Wǔ).

Looking at these standardizations of forms, one of the most immediate and common criticisms are that they do not fully represent the complete spectrum of substyles or branches under the umbrella of a given martial arts style or system.  For one, the list of recognized Karate styles by the WKF does not include Kyokushin (极真; jízhēn, extreme truth) or Shorin-ryu (少林流; Shaolin style) styles of Karate, although these styles do have their own organizations.  This does not even touch on how modern Wushu barely even scratches the surface of hundreds of styles that have existed in China, too many to comprehend.  Wushu legend, champion, and Jet Li’s competitive rival Zhao Changjun, who was also raised in traditional Wushu, has been quoted as saying in his interview with Kung Fu Magazine “Where Wushu Went Wrong”, “Competitive martial arts can never represent the whole picture of Chinese martial arts.”  However, the Late Grandmaster Cai Longyun, and one of the forefathers of modern Wushu Taolu, responded to these kinds of criticisms in the Kung Fu Magazine article “The Big Dragon with the Magic Fists” by Gigi Oh and Gene Ching, arguing, “‘If we don’t promote competition wushu, then that would be bad…Without a competition wushu, and a recognized standard taiji, you would be giving out too many awards…Part of what makes traditional martial arts so special is that there are so many variations and styles.  But this can hurt competition wushu and the chance for wushu to become a world sport.’”  This statement is in direct contrast to Grandmaster Ma, but illustrates an objective reality; that, in all fairness, these sports are not supposed to the complete picture of traditional martial arts.  Again, this goes back to the fact that traditionalists will never be completely happy with the sport forms of their respective martial arts.  The standardization martial arts into sport means that there inevitably be things missing, and this includes the impossible inclusiveness of all substyles or branches of a certain martial arts style, cases in point here.  So, if we are to accept the endeavor of standardizing martial arts into sport, we must also accept this inevitability of failing to represent or encompass all that traditional martial arts have, is a reality that cannot be avoided.

In typical competitions for both sports, there are individual/solo forms events, which as the name suggests, consist of a single athlete or practitioner performing a form, and group/team forms events, termed “Team Kata” in Karate and jiti (集体; jítǐ , group sets) in Wushu respectively, though these were only restricted to occasional local modern Wushu competitions and were not showcased internationally until the addition of a “Creative Group Event” at the previous 15th World Wushu Championships.  Modern Wushu Taolu also has duilian (对练; duìliàn, choreographed fight sets), which consists of a choreographed “fight” between two or three people in an event, as a standalone division that is absent in sport Karate kata, although this aspect in sport Karate kata is already covered in the bunkai (分解; martial applications, literally to break down) sections of group/team kata events.  When looking at the regulations for both forms competitions, there appears to be a similar compartmentalization of categories for judging criteria.  The criteria for sport Karate kata are divided into two judging categories of “technical” and “athletic”.  This is like modern Wushu Taolu, but with a notable caveat; for the most part, almost all categories of Taolu events are separated into two judging categories of Panel A of “Quality of Movements” and Panel B of “Overall Performance”, as they originally were for all Taolu events, like sport Karate kata.  The first judging category for both sports refers to the execution of compulsory or required martial arts basics based on the specific set of rules and standards in each sport, and the second judging category for both sports refers to the actual performance aspects, such as “strength.”  However, the individual/solo Taolu events for modern Wushu are further categorized into either compulsory (规定; guīdìng) Taolu, which is a predetermined, fixed set of choreographed movements, or optional (自选; zìxuǎn, individual) Taolu, which is choreographed at the discretion of an athlete and/or a coach; this latter category of individual/solo Taolu events currently has an added judging category of Panel C, which refers to “Degree of Difficulty”, the term itself referring to nandu (难度; nándù, difficulty movements, literally difficulty degree), the set of movements and techniques, namely sweeps and balances that are scoreable based on certain eponymous degrees of difficult execution, and has its own controversy within Wushu (which I will get into).  The establishment and distinction of this judging category of Panel C is important because it will factor into the critique of Wushu’s model.  The reason for this is because optional Taolu events have been the exclusive individual/solo Taolu events for the most of recent history in modern Wushu competitions (excluding junior level competitions, which use compulsory Taolu events for the most part), and thus play a huge factor in representing modern Wushu competition as its flagship events.

For the most part, sport Karate kata appears to retain the general shape and movements from the traditional kata it takes from.  This is regulated by one of the aspects under the “Technical” category for judging criteria, “Conformance”, which is defined in Article 5: Criteria For Evaluation, Section 5.5 of the 2020 Edition of the “Karate Competition Rules” document, as, “Consistence in the performance of the KIHON [basics] of the style (Ryu-ha) in the kata”.  Again, the same cannot be said for modern Wushu optional Taolu events, which has no such regulation.  Consequently, this allowed for many changes in the shape and image of modern Wushu Taolu, resulting in an inconsistent model throughout the history of the sport (and down the rabbit hole we go…).

If somebody asked a Wushu practitioner, “What exactly is Wushu?”, specifically, “What exactly is modern Wushu Taolu?”, it would be difficult to answer accurately, because the model for modern Wushu Taolu has gone through so many changes throughout the decades, resulting in the creation of many different generations of practitioners of different goals and practices, and therefore ultimately different, sometimes opposing viewpoints on how exactly to define modern Wushu Taolu.  Thus, there is no single correct answer to such a question.  Initially, this was not a problem; near the beginning of the history of modern Wushu Taolu’s development (which is more detailed in an extensive account in my write-up “The History of Modern Wushu Taolu Development”) during the ’60s, the coach of Zhao Changjun, Grandmaster Bai Wenxiang, was featured in the Kung Fu Magazine article “Making the Grade” by Gene Ching, where he spoke on this age of modern Wushu, and its closeness to the traditional Chinese martial arts.  “The traditional styles like huaquan (flower fist), chaquan (seeking fist), paoquan (cannon fist) and shaolinquan could still be seen embedded in changquan.”  Here, it is clear that modern Wushu Taolu was originally an interpretation of traditional Chinese martial arts forms, as it drew its very foundation on these, only designed for performance goals in competition.  But as the decades went by, modern Wushu Taolu slowly moved away from this.  According to Yu Hai, former Shandong Wushu Team member, actor playing the mentor role in the Shaolin Temple movie series starring Jet Li, and the inventor of modern Wushu Tanglangquan (螳螂拳; tánglángquán, Praying Mantis Fist), in the Kung Fu Magazine article “The Big Monk Of Shaolin Temple” by Gene Ching, tumbling and aerial techniques would be added into Wushu around this time, and “New compulsories introduced aerial moves like barrel rolls and twists.”

The introduction of these acrobatic and tumbling elements of modern Wushu would mold the model of modern wushu Taolu from the ’70s, the first of what fans of modern Wushu would call “old school” Wushu and the era of young Jet Li and Zhao Changjun, onwards, and would eventually serve as a major basis for the introduction of nandu from the ’90s to the 2000s to the present, and seemed to be one of various movements to make Wushu more of a sport in the Western sense, and by extension, in order to make it Olympic.  In the Kung Fu Magazine article “The Tradition of Modern Wushu” by Gigi Oh and Gene Ching, Grandmaster Qian Yuanze explains the reasons for nandu’s implementation.  “‘Originally, wushu was a performing art that could not easily be measured, like swimming, weightlifting, or running.  So to make it a competition sport, elements that could be scored were added.  The gymnastics and figure skating scoring system is relevant…This is why most of the time athletes are spending 70% of their time to practice nandu.’”  Zhao Changjun, however, disagrees with this approach.  In his own Kung Fu Magazine article “Where Wushu Went Wrong” by Gene Ching and Gigi Oh, he asserts, “‘If you want to jump high, you can’t compete with gymnastics.  The artistic aspect cannot compete with skating…Modern wushu has lost the meaning of the movements.’”  Indeed, the emphasis on nandu further watered down the original concepts from traditional Chinese martial arts than they already were, and thus has become another source of controversy and criticism for traditionalists, who rightfully argue that it makes modern Wushu look more like “tricking” or gymnastics.  The interpretations of original martial arts movements were replaced with cleaner and more consistent, albeit simpler combos and dancelike poses and movements to supplement nandu in the structure of Taolu.  This current appearance and practice are what has become the model of modern Wushu Taolu that most Wushu practitioners are familiar with today.

With the prolonged emphasis of nandu, the flexible and freestyle structure for the composition and choreography of optional Taolu, which most modern Wushu practitioners today are most familiar with, inevitably allowed for the replacement of original martial arts techniques with superficial, often self-created movements.  On this situation, Professor Ma Mingda, younger brother of the aforementioned late Grandmaster Ma Xianda, wrote in his paper “Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing) and Liuhe daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)” published in the Journal of Chinese Martial Studies, “The misfortune of contemporary Chinese martial arts lies in the fact that the official body openly promotes ‘self-selected sets’, and determines the standard of such superficial creations of purely performative value on the basis of ‘regulations’, even giving additional scores to sets which are deemed to be ‘good’.  In this way Chinese martial arts have become a jigsaw puzzle that can be assembled and dissembled according to one’s wishes, or a pliable pile of mud which can be freely manipulated in any shape.  With the help of an anachronistic name and a cover of mysticism, any garbled creations may be elevated to the pedestal of ‘traditional martial arts’.  At present, although there is a revival in interest in traditional martial arts, their future is besieged by a host of problems, and they are yet to be rescued from the on-going crisis.  From my personal point of view, to protect and pass on our true martial arts heritage, the first thing we need to do is address this problem, by imposing restrictive measures to prevent counterfeits from posing as ‘authentic’ historical martial arts, and raising the relevant department’s ability to verify the genuine articles, which in addition should be cautioned to proceed with care.”  Although Professor Ma Mingda’s observations may sound a bit extreme to modern Wushu practitioners not concerned with representing Chinese martial arts, there is sound logic in his opinion when taking into consideration said representation if it were to be on such a global stage as the Olympics.  Without the enforcement of specific standards of actual Wushu jibengong (基本功;jīběngōng, basic skills), movements and techniques, like sport Karate kata rules have done, the combination of superficial, dancelike movements and poses, together with the emphasis of nandu in optional Taolu today, runs the risk of misrepresenting modern Wushu, and by extension all of Chinese martial arts, which modern Wushu is commonly mistaken as by ignorant spectators.

Within the past decade, there have been movements to try and address this.  In the Kung Fu Magazine article “The Southern Sword of Wushu” by Gene Ching and Gigi Oh, Wushu professor Wang Peikun declared, “‘After the last Olympics, Modern Wushu is going back to more traditional.  We are de-emphasizing nandu and looking more at the overall…We’re looking at adding some new regulations.  Routines will be required to have at least two traditional movement sequences.’”  Indeed, starting in 2011 to the present, the CWA (Chinese Wushu Association) implement their compulsory movement combinations (规定动作组合; guīdìngdòngzuòzǔhé) into their national Taolu regulations.  Each individual/solo Taolu event, including the apparatus events of each of the three main competitive styles, did indeed have their own specific pair of combinations, all of which pertained to actual traditional, “old school” Wushu movements.  The following year in 2012, the 3rd Set of International Compulsory Routines were introduced, with new Taolu for all existing modern Wushu individual/solo Taolu events; this 3rd Set has been observed to be the most basic, and therefore least fluid of all the sets of international compulsory routines, yet conversely there is still the noticeable emphasis on nandu movements and techniques in these compulsory Taolu.  While the intentions to try and balance out the nandu aspect of modern Wushu Taolu are good, nandu itself seems unchanged, and still exists as a glaringly large part of modern Wushu Taolu.

Now let us look at the sparring divisions of both sports.  For Karate kumite, there appears to be set stance that competitors fight out of a completely side-on stance, not unlike Taekwondo and fencing, but is very analogous to Karate styles with required attire of the gi and equipment not used as in other sports.  Modern Wushu Sanda has no such distinctive structure, instead adopting the use of a “kickboxing-like format” and the attire and equipment of boxing/kickboxing styles and combat sports.  Both sparring divisions allow for punches, kicks above the waist (read: not to the legs), and standing sweeps, trips and throws, although modern Wushu Sanda also allows for any manner of attack to the legs, namely any kind of takedown, provided the fighter executing the takedown does not fall (read: allowing anything besides both feet to touch the ground) first; these cover the first three types or categories of fighting techniques and ranges in Chinese martial arts: kicking (踢; tī), punching (打; dǎ) and takedowns (摔; shuāi), with the fourth, grappling (拿; ná), namely the practice of joint locking and manipulation techniques, prohibited, commonly citing “safety reasons.”  Both competitions also have weight classes/divisions, which is typical for combat sports.

On the historical development of Sanda that resulted in its format, this came out of a need by the Chinese to update their fighting and sparring methods, where there was little to none at the time, at least until the communists were smart enough to allow sparring practice for Chinese martial arts again, with the combined efforts of traditional Wushu experts and Soviet advisors.  Mei Huizhi, one of the fathers of Sanda, and Qian Renbiao, one of the first fighters and national Chinese coaches of Sanda, have said in interviews that influence was directly taken from boxing for punching techniques, with the kicking techniques coming from a variety of sources such as Chinese martial arts styles, Taekwondo, Karate and Muay Thai, and finally, the takedowns coming from Shuai Jiao (摔跤; shuāijiāo, traditional Chinese folk wrestling) and perhaps a mix of Sambo, given the historical influence of Soviet advisors, which has its own roots in judo.  If the goal of these fathers of Sanda was to make an effective fighting method, they succeeded.  However, if their goal was to make a sparring format purely analogous to Chinese martial arts, they failed.  Although this is not to say there is no Wushu content, martial applications and/or fighting ideas in Sanda, the adoption of a “kickboxing-like format” takes precedence over these, as they are not distinctly and obviously expressed and shown to the general spectator.  On the outward appearance of Sanda, Ma Xianda said, “It’s just like wearing traditional Chinese attire with a western mustache.  You look ‘in between.’  You can’t tell the difference between a sanda strike, Korean, Thai, or Japanese…The problem is that basic Wushu training is too weak.”

Even more disconcerting is the lack of consistency between the competition divisions in Wushu, resulting in an inconsistency of the sport’s entire collective model.  Already within modern Wushu Taolu, there is a disconnect between “beginner”/elementary level Taolu and those of “intermediate” and “advanced” levels of Taolu, because the movement patterns are so radically different, to the point where they emphasize completely different skillsets.  There is also the disconnect between the composition and choreography of individual/solo Taolu events, and duilian.  Coinciding with the implementation of acrobatic and tumbling elements into modern Wushu Taolu since as early as the ’70s, duilian’s appearance have changed the appearance to look more along the lines of Beijing opera (京剧; jīngjù) or circus performances, where it was previously based on duilian in traditional Wushu, work off the individual/solo Taolu, and makes clear the martial applications, attack and defense meanings, and fighting ideas of each movement and technique, but still within the context of forms work.  Although there have been some duilian routines in Chinese national Taolu competitions that follow this idea, using examples of visual flavors from such styles as Nanquan and Baguazhang (八卦掌; bā​guà​zhǎng, Eight Trigrams Palm), this still does not address the vast majority of duilian routines that follow the current trend.  On a more macro level between the relationship of Taolu and Sanda, although both events being categorized under Wushu, it seems that Taolu and Sanshou are separate sports and disciplines altogether, with two separate teams and two separate kinds of athletes with no connection or interaction whatsoever, because the two practices seem so divorced from each other.  In an interview with Ma Yue, the eldest son of the late Grandmaster Ma Xianda, “Trail of the Dragon №2. Interview with Mashi Tongbei Master Ma Yue” (龙之路第二。  马氏通备掌门人马越解释传统武术的情况) by EWUF (European Wushu Federation) Technical Committee Chairman Gleb Muzrukov, Gleb explains, “I think [that] is one of the major problems with today’s Wushu, because one is that Taolu and Sanda are really far away from each other…It’s a combination of some boxing and wrestling…But another question, is uh—another contradiction, to my opinion, is inside Wushu itself, because, if we see the competition now, again we see, let’s say, traditional Wushu, it’s okay.  Chaquan, Shaolinquan, Fanzi, Tongbei, Baji, Bagua, Xingyi [etc.].  This is Wushu, it’s okay, you can see distinctive features, but when it comes to duilian, you cannot see which style…they use.  They[’re] just…throwing and jumping…you can never see whether this [is] Baji, Changquan or Nanquan.  Seldom, seldom you can see some Nanquan duilian.”  If one were to explain that all these different divisions were all Wushu, this would be hard for the detached observer to believe, because there is no visual consistency between the competition categories.  Wushu could be said to be undergoing an identity crisis.

Besides all of this, there is also the current issue of the language in regulations.  It is notable that the rules and judging methods for modern Wushu Taolu, has negative language, only listing deductions that athletes may be subject to if they meet certain conditions.  This results in both the search for deductions by the judges, and the consequent avoidance of such deductions by athletes.  However, there are no regulations outlining what more or less “correct” methods as accepted by the organizations and judges would be.  So, while the judges and athletes may be playing their roles appropriately, the underlying issue of “correct” methods is still not directly addressed; after all, as long as athletes avoid deductions, they are not punished for doing incorrect methods.  To those organizational officials who would argue that it is not their job to provide instructions on the correct methods, while this is somewhat true and should appropriately fall to coaches, there exist manuals of conventional methods for other sports such as boxing and Taekwondo, complete with illustrations of what is “correct”, and what is incorrect with common mistakes.  The fact that the such resources do not exist for modern Wushu is astounding (no, I am not talking about instructional books and videos published and released by private businesses and entities for profit—the promotion of general information and better understanding of a sport should not be relegated to paying someone for them to make money off others).  This can be resolved simply with the creation of such resources for Wushu judges and coaches.

Then there is the topic of how these sports will be represented in the Olympics.  Sport Karate will appropriately include both, which will adequately represent the complete sport.  After the initial announcement that Beijing would host the 2008 Summer Olympics, a Kung Fu Magazine article “China Gets the Gold!” speculated, “If Wushu gets entered, it will probably focus on Wushu Taolu or forms competition.  What remains in question is Wushu Sanda, or free sparring.  In contrast, when Taekwondo became Olympic, only free sparring was entered.  Taekwondo Poomse (forms) were not.”  I previously said in “No Medal for You: Why (I Feel) Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It”, that should Olympic Wushu follow the template of Wushu Tournament Beijing 2008, which included both Taolu and Sanda competition, then modern Wushu should be adequately represented.  In their latest bid for the Olympics, the IWuF took out Sanda in favor of Taolu, which rendered this hope moot.  Although I do not personally agree with this decision, I can understand the reason for it, as Taolu allows for the representation of Wushu to be more distinctive as a sport, which is a huge factor in it getting accepted by the IOC.  Judo notably banned the touching of the legs with the hands for competition, to distinguish it from wrestling, and thus for it to become Olympic.  However, this still does not address the question of what exactly will be Wushu’s distinct representation, and the problems therein.  Zhao Changjun poses the question, “Why did tae kwon do get into the Olympics?  All the leg fighting methods are there, so it’s complete.  Boxing is everything with the fists.  To get wushu into the Olympics is a difficult test.  What can represent Chinese martial arts?”  In the Youth Olympic Games in Dakar, only Changquan and Taijiquan will be included.  With the already impossible task of standardizing the vast and diverse styles of Chinese martial arts, perhaps making Wushu competitions simpler by only focusing on one style, as Karate did, would have made things more feasible; Changquan seems to be the most obvious and natural choice, as the “main” and most influential style of modern Wushu, although Nanquan or Taijiquan would also be suitable candidates.

The opening of Mastering WUSHU’s article “Olympic Wushu – Dream or True Possibility?” begins with “The discussion about Wushu trying to get into the Olympics has been going on for quite some time, with masters and practitioners unable to agree if what they’re doing is a sport, a martial art, a performance – or all three.”  I responded in “No Medal for You: Why (I Feel) Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It” that an argument can be made for all three, however the separate arguments of all three will inevitably factor into Wushu’s reception when given the spotlight.  Modern Wushu was originally rooted in traditional Chinese martial arts but has clearly become a sport and should be considered as such if we’re talking about getting into the Olympics.  In one of my first write-ups for Jiayoowushu.com, “Physical Fitness and Conditioning in Wushu: The Sport in The Sport Martial Art”, I opened with the statement that it is interesting to note that the connotation of the term Wushu “athlete” differentiates it from practitioners of other martial arts styles, such as “karateka” in Karate, and “judoka” in judo.  Zhao Changjun even seems to admit that modern Wushu has failed as being both martial arts and a sport.  “‘It’s because when wushu tried to go Olympic, somehow they lost the character of what wushu is.  And that’s where the failure is.’”

So, what can be done to fix these problems of an inconsistent model for Wushu?  Well, this is the part where I stop (kind of) complaining and bring up some solutions.  Those that are perfectly happy with the current model of modern Wushu, need read no further.  But for those that want to engage in a discussion of how to address these problems, feel free to indulge my following thought experiment.

Currently, the Wushu community is of two minds on the direction the sport should go in: those that are closer to the traditionalist values of Chinese martial arts want to bring Wushu back to its original Chinese martial arts roots and do away with the current athletic and modern requirements, to make it more distinctive, whereas those purely concerned with competition as an end in and of itself want to keep developing it as a sport in the Western sense for the sake of success, whether for individual or political reasons.  In reaction to “No Medal for You: Why (I Feel) Olympic Wushu is No Longer worth It”, one of my friends, who is a three-time US Wushu Team member in Taolu, replied that there wouldn’t be any progress made when we’re too busy fighting each other like this.  If I had to choose, I would side with the former.  This will serve as the basis of my approach for possible solutions.

In order to establish something equivalent to what sport Karate has, I would first have to contradict what I have said before, where I first pointed out in “Putting the ‘Shu’ Back In Wushu: The Art in the Sport Martial Art” that going back to the way the sport was before is quixotic, and go back in the time and make a regression to all the various changes of modern Wushu Taolu today, all the way back to the beginning of its embryonic years in the ’50s and ’60s, even before the ’70s of what is considered “old school” Wushu, and do away with the optional Taolu divisions, leaving compulsory Taolu as the sole category of individual/Taolu.  The first specific set of examples I would refer to is the jiazu (甲组; jiǎzǔ, first level/superior) set of compulsory Taolu, of which the Changquan Taolu was adapted for male and female divisions in competition up until the ’70s.  Other specific examples of compulsory Taolu would be the Group C Compulsory Taolu, 3rd Duan (段; duàn, formal rank or level) Changquan Taolu for the Changquan event, and the 4th Duan Taolu for daoshu (刀术; dāoshù, broadsword event), jianshu (剑术; jiànshù, straight sword event), gunshu 棍术; gùnshù, staff event) and qiangshu (枪术; qiāngshù, spear event) events from the previous duan ranking system for Wushu, which serves as a parallel to the formal dan ranking systems of Japanese and Korean martial arts systems, as opposed to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Sets of International Compulsory Routines.  My reason for these specific choices is that they follow a certain “Wushu logic”, or the sequential arrangement of “attack” and “defense” movements and techniques into movement patterns and positions that matched and were based on those of the traditional Wushu styles they were based on, and were the work of such traditional Wushu masters as Chaquan masters Zhang Wenguang and Chang Zhenfang, and Grandmaster Cai mentioned above who was a master of his own family’s style of Huaquan, whereas other compulsory Taolu that followed after do not.  Whether or not this “logic” is practical is another discussion entirely, and not relevant to this topic, which is focused specifically on the representation of Chinese martial arts, practical or not.  This would essentially kill two birds with one stone and eliminate the previously mentioned issues of nandu and superficial, often self-created, dancelike movements and poses.  My longstanding thesis for most of my write-ups is that 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.

In particular for modern Wushu Taijiquan, traditionalists, including traditional Taijiquan practitioners themselves, have heavily criticized modern Wushu Taijiquan for lacking the other training aspects of traditional Taijiquan aside from Taolu, being trained specifically for performance based on a certain set of rules as with all other modern Wushu Taolu events, only having the external “appearance” of Taijiquan with none of the internal content apparent in traditional Taijiquan, and has even been called “Changquan with slow movements.”  This is largely due to the established liberal creativity of optional Taolu events, fell into the inevitable risk of deviating from the original style’s principles and movements.   As stated by former Henan Wushu Team member and Taijiquan practitioner Wang Erping from the Kung Fu Magazine article “Cultures of China” by Gigi Oh with Zhao Xiaohu, “‘When Taiji movements deviate from Taiji principals, it is a very dangerous thing.  Gradually, it won’t be Taiji anymore.’”  However, a regulation in the new Wushu Taolu Competition Rules & Judging Methods released in 2019 states, “All…techniques performed in Taijiquan routines must be derived from the Taijiquan technique tables.”  This regulation should address this shortcoming.  Most recently, the IWuF have released videos of such codified techniques and movements of the five recognized Taiji styles, which elaborates upon this regulation.  A simpler alternative would be to replace the current optional Taijiquan divisions with the World Taijiquan Championships, which use compulsory Taolu of the five recognized Taiji styles.

An alternative would be to implement the regulations stipulated by the “The new EWUF competition standard (taolu competition)” document by the EWUF.  The document begins by defining Taolu and breaking it down to by measurements of a unit that “consists of a series of basic wushu techniques having a martial function (application) – winning an imaginary 单练套路 (single taolu) or conventional 对打套路 (duidataolu) fight, using the principles and techniques of a chosen style (including both barehand and weapon)” with examples and conforming to a definition of “martial functionality”, and explicitly forbidding anything outside of this definition.  This is parallel to the explanation of kata under Article 5: Criteria For Evaluation of the 2020 Edition of the “Karate Competition Rules” document, “Kata is not a dance or theatrical performance.  It must adhere to the traditional values and principles.”  This format also truncates nandu requirements, by specifying, “The degree of turning in jumping is limited to the martial functionality of such turning, and should not exceed 540°”, which make up the bulk of nandu jumping movements and techniques.

In a similar vein, is the recent 1st European Special Online Wushu Championships, which was hosted in lieu of an in-person competition due to the coronavirus.  This competition format exclusively focused on Taolu divisions, accommodating the coronavirus situation by having regulations for the recording of comparatively shorter Taolu in time length to comparatively confined spaces.  The actualization of this competition proved that Taolu does not require such a large amount of space to train and compete in, and that the Taolu presented, specifically the junior divisions, demonstrated that chaining jibengong and compound movement patterns that follow the established “Wushu logic” can still be relevant.  This can make Wushu easier to train and therefore more accessible to practitioners.

Another solution would be to completely replace modern Wushu competitions with the World Kungfu Championships, a tournament and festival event focused on so-called “traditional” Wushu, renamed by the IWuF from the World Traditional Wushu Championships.  This seemed 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” (the fact that we can’t agree on the consistent of use of a name for what we’re practicing here).  These competitions allow for a direct interpretation of traditional Chinese martial arts styles for sport and competition, just as sport Karate does with traditional Karate styles.  As such, these competitions seem to make Wushu more accessible to both traditional gongfu and modern Wushu practitioners alike and could potentially remedy the polarizing effect between the traditional martial arts and sports communities of Wushu mentioned at the beginning of this write-up.  And as much as it pains me to say it, these competitions have done more for the Wushu community, at least in the US, more than any exclusively modern Wushu competition has done in the past 30 years.  Many Wushu competitors, even some traditionalists, that previously would not have been involved in modern Wushu Taolu, are now coming out to participate and put themselves out there.  However, there is still the issue of calling this competition “traditional” when modern Wushu Taolu athletes clearly participate in these competitions; in one of my old write-ups, “‘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.  Although this makes sense, because the majority of modern Wushu athletes were trained in modern Wushu Changquan, the resultant performances demonstrate little to no understanding of the original styles’ or their original martial arts principles.  Even though there are some exceptions, where competitors’ lineages and styles can be traced and authenticated, the vast majority fall into this observation.  In “The Sport of Wushu: Where We’re At & What’s to Come”, I proposed a simple solution to this: don’t call these events “traditional.”  This is because 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.  But then there is still the conflict of how to name these competitions.  The name change from “Wushu” to “Kungfu” in particular seemed to be one of the big factors in increasing participation, and while I don’t like the implications of rebranding or repackaging something for the sake of better promotion, perhaps this is what needs to be done to address these problems for Wushu.

For those who will complain that creativity of modern Wushu Taolu choreography would be bogged down, and would be limited by this kind of direction, dance, gymnastics, and figure skating would seem more suitable to such desires.  And to those that believe that the “art” should come before the “martial” in “martial art” in Wushu, which could consequently allow for personal liberty, interpretation, and even bending of a martial art’s concrete concepts whenever it suited the individual’s personal preference, as I foolishly did before, I firmly disagree.  I said before in “Putting the “Shu” Back In Wushu: The Art in the Sport Martial Art”, that术; shù in “wǔshù” was originally defined as the specific study, practice, and mastering the skill of the MARTIAL art and ONLY the martial art itself, and NOT the liberal artistic creativity that is associated with the word “art” in the Western sense, though modern Wushu Taolu also has this sense of artistry as well.  Also, the option of creative choreography is still available in the options and examples presented by the EWUF and their 1st European Special Online Wushu Championships, as well as in the “traditional” Taolu divisions as they do not have compulsory Taolu, provided it still follows the established “Wushu logic” and does not break that original premise.

On duilian, Gleb himself elaborates on his previous statement of the inconsistent model of duilian in modern Wushu.  “So, my opinion is that we-we have to get closer to the old [way of] doing duilian using Wushu techniques, because in fact this is chaizhao [拆招; chāizhāo, martial applications].  This is the teaching [of] how to use the skills from Wushu, and the modern day duilian are really far away from…Wushu.”  A similar approach to what was established for individual/solo Taolu could be adopted, by simply getting rid of the current typical construct of modern Wushu duilian, and implementing preexisting duilian routines with predetermined, fixed set of choreographed movements, like compulsory Taolu, in their place.  Examples of this would the classic qinna (擒拿; qínná, grappling) duilian, which despite being exaggerated for performance like all other duilian in modern Wushu, still contains clearly martial movements and techniques in the various joint locks within, and serves as a prime example of the martial content within modern Wushu.  Another example would be duilian from traditional styles, such as Bajiduijie (八极对接; bājíduìjiē , Baji two-man choreographed fight set) from the traditional Wushu style of Bajiquan (八极拳; bājíquán, Eight Extremes Fist).  Yet another example would be duilian from the new duanwei (段位; duànwèi, formal ranking system) system by the CWA, termed “duidataolu” (对打套路; duìdǎtàolù, “sparring/fight” forms), and like traditional duilian, these duidataolu work off the solo Taolu, termed “danliantaolu” (单练套路; dānliàntàolù, single training forms) in the duanwei material, and makes clear the martial applications, attack and defense meanings, and fighting ideas of each movement and technique within the curriculum.  A combination of all of these could also be feasible and opens a myriad of possibilities of what can be seen in duilian divisions, which could potentially increase spectatorship based on the sheer diversity.

For improving Sanda’s connection to modern Wushu and Chinese martial arts, I will refer back to my old write-up “About Sanshou: Breaking Down Full-Contact Wushu”, where I explained the history of Sanda, its conceptions, as well as its shortcomings and suggested possible, theoretical solutions to improve these shortcomings.  Specifically, the allowing of knee and elbow techniques, as well as the implementation of open-fingered gloves, as is done with Guoshu lei tai (擂台; lèitái, traditional Chinese martial arts full-contact fighting, literally “raised platform”), which can further open up a larger arsenal of techniques to be used in sparring and competition, such as grabs and open-handed strikes as well; virtually all styles of Chinese martial arts have some form of knee, elbow and openhanded strikes, and allowing these to develop and grow in Sanda can not only make it better as a method of fighting and sparring training, but can also better distinguish it from other combat sports.  To expand on this, changing the competition attire to a design based on Chinese silk uniforms with frog buttons, in order make it more consistent with Taolu silks, just as the attire of the gi is consistent through both sport Karate kata and kumite, could help make the sport’s complete model more visually consistent (yes, I realize real Chinese martial arts is not like a kung fu movie, but if as we’re talking about repackaging Wushu to make it more consistent, it might as well LOOK consistent).  An alternative to this would be to implement dalian (褡裢; dālian, Shuai Jiao jacket) from Shuai Jiao, which is still distinctly Chinese, and allows for grabs.  A combination of all these cosmetic changes, in addition to the continued use of the lei tai as a culturally distinctively and historically significant setting for Chinese fighting, which to the credit of the creators of Sanda, they got right, should help to give Sanda more of a uniquely, culturally Chinese identity, and therefore improve Sanda’s connection to Wushu.

An alternative to Sanda, which by nature is open and not restricted to a specific style of Chinese martial arts, would be to implement a sparring format that is more analogous to specific styles of Chinese martial arts.  Examples of this are combat sensitivity drills that relate directly to the martial application of techniques from Taolu, such as tuishou (推手; tuī​shǒu, push hands) in Taijiquan and chi sau (黐手; chīshǒu, sticking hands) in Wing Chun.  Another solution would be to have a sparring format that emphasizes the distinctive fighting skills of a given style, set stance, like sport Karate kata, and prohibits the use of any other methods in order to allow the emphasized fighting skills to come out, helping to make it distinct from other combat sports.  Although this may seem impractical, it is important to maintain that the goal of this solution is simply to have a distinctive sparring format, which will inevitably omit other fighting skills and/or ranges.  An example of this would be for Bajiquan, which I said in “A Look at Bajiquan: What You Need to Know” is observed to be a style focused on infighting and close range, since Bajiquan techniques are focused in this range; to this end, a sparring format could be made with rules that encourage this infighting, by only allowing and scoring techniques such as the elbow techniques the style is so known for, as well as kao (靠; kào, bumping with various parts of the body), standing sweeps, trips and throws, and even locking the wrists, hands and/or arms, thereby allowing these techniques to come out, and prohibits anything outside of these methods, such as kicks and boxing punches.  These could also be done on a lei tai, like Sanda, again to contribute to a uniquely, culturally Chinese image (similar to Gong Shou Dao, except without the need to reinvent the wheel and for Jet Li and Jack Ma to slap a brand name onto it).

  1. Letting Go of Control by The Indigenous Country

This one may sound idealistic.  And maybe it is.  But by “international political equality” I am referring to the indigenous nation’s ability to relinquish control of their sport within a given organization’s sport.  If one looks at wkf.net, the website of the WKF, one will find that the president of the organization is not Japanese.  The fact that the president of the IWuF is still Chinese is very telling.

I will not pretend to say that there are no politics in Karate, or that its organizations are perfect or squeaky clean.  In fact, I would not be surprised to find out that is the case (there probably is, I just don’t know about it yet).  Politics appears to be a problem in martial arts everywhere, regardless of style.  But one (out of many) thing that Karate has that Wushu does not, is international political equality, or at least the appearance of it.  The Japanese clearly have no problem allowing people from other countries taking up political positions in the organization of their art.  And the Chinese’s inability to do the same is very telling.

Why does this matter?  Because as I said in “Why China Losing Might Be A Good Thing”, the fact of the matter is still that the Chinese still dominate the top echelons of the sport, both in an organizational and competitive sense.  And none of the other factors mentioned prior matter without this one, because despite those other problems, Wushu has made it one step closer to being Olympic.  But this is perhaps the biggest and most actionable one, because it demonstrates the true international political equality (or lack thereof).

Firstly, in the competitive sense, Wushu has had a history of politics getting in the way of fair play and legitimate competition results.  But in the international sense, this is blatant on China’s part and does not make a good case for fairness in the sport.  Although progress has made in recent years, with Chinese athletes being judged more objectively and in fact legitimately losing to athletes from other countries, it is still not very probable, and thus not a regular occurrence to expect.  Who wants to watch a sport where one specific athlete or team always wins?  Such a history of repetitive results does not make a sport worth or interesting to watch.

Secondly, in the organizational sense, control over the rules and regulations of the sport have historically always come from the CWA, and the rest of the world follows suit and is always behind by a couple years.  This goes back to problems with Wushu’s model and the solutions.  The root cause of all these issues point to one responsible party: China.  Someone somewhere in China gave the greenlight to all these changes and allowed these problems to rise and persist without much remedy over the decades.

Ironically, those who have pioneered initiatives and movements to help address these problems with Wushu and are trying to preserve the traditional values and roots of the Chinese martial arts behind the sport, are those that are not Chinese.  This is evident by the latest actions taken by the EWUF, and it is interesting to see how the implementation and interpretation of their standards will carry over, or clash with the IWuF standards in international competitions.  Another question would be whether the IWuF would be open to adopting the same or similar standards and change in suit.  If so, the rest of the world would follow suit, as the IWuF is the organizational hub that directly influences the standards of all participating nations in international competitions, and these solutions would be effective with a worldwide reach.  Granted, they probably will not, but these proposed new solutions and standards would at least bring Wushu the same consistency in their model that Karate has, which is better than the inconsistency right now.  And until the Chinese let go of organizational control of the sport and allow others to step in, none of these problems and proposed solutions will matter, and they’re certainly not getting any closer at this point.

After reading this, some readers might think that I hate Wushu, especially if they didn’t know I myself was a Wushu practitioner, or that I’m criticizing Wushu out of a need to sound opinionated.  But just as I can still love my country and criticize it to point out the problems that need to be fixed and make it better, I like to think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of what I love to practice, as well how it can be improved, and I would encourage others to do the same.  I believe that a combination, ideally a summation of all these proposed solutions, would fix the problems of inconsistency of Wushu’s complete model as a sport.  But at the end of the day, these are the musings of a 27-year-old Wushu kid that nobody has ever heard of.  If these proposed solutions were to be implemented, I might reconsider my stance on Wushu becoming Olympic.  Of course, there is the concern of what will happen to Karate once it runs its course of being Olympic.  There are criticisms that martial arts such as judo and Taekwondo becoming Olympic have made unfavorable changes to competitions and watered them down, which again begs the question if going Olympic is even worth it anymore for Wushu.  Personally, I have a lot of respect for Karate, enjoy watching it, especially the kata (probably because I myself am a forms guy), very much, and it will be interesting to see what happens to Karate as an Olympic sport.

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 matthewlee@jiayoowushu.com.