I get this a lot. People keep asking me about kung fu and MMA. I have traditional martial arts background, not only kung fu, but also karate. However, kung fu does define me and creates a big part of who I am. I got many messages from kung fu practitioners and also coaches, being very positive about both my wins and losses in MMA, and I am very grateful for them. I also got several comments, mainly from people here in Asia, about how MMA full-contact fighting is opposite of kung fu, too violent, etc. This makes me usually quite angry, not only because kung fu is fighting, but also because MMA is a rules-based sport, as opposite to often mentioned and promoted self-defense by kung fu practitioners, which is in fact much more violent than MMA. But that is a different topic. Transitioning to MMA with kung fu background is specific. I do not hesitate to start from scratch and get lots of beating, because I understand that forms and fighting are not connected naturally, the bridge needs to be built. And that is what I am doing. Kung fu definitely gives me many positive aspects for my MMA training, but today I would like to talk about one single thing, that I believe we do not talk about it enough.
Let me start with giving you some context. I am in traditional martial arts since 1999. Here, I talked about how I define traditional wushu (kung fu). Not only I am a practitioner and athlete, but also a coach of a traditional southern style called hung kuen, and I fight full-contact, too. This year at the World Championships in Emeishan I took the 4th and 6th place, competing with hung kuen forms in “gun” and “other nanquan” events.
This spring I also competed at the European Championships and I was very delighted to see what EWUF is doing for traditional wushu. It is a huge step forward, really employing people who are experts in the field, to build the standards based on actual traditional styles. In IWUF, on the other hand, you can often see at the traditional events very awkward performances, because athletes simply take out nandu from their forms, or create something highly creative but closer to dancing than traditional wushu, often seen for example in the “imitation styles event”.
With the World Kung Fu (previously called Traditional Wushu) Championships just behind the corner, I would like to reflect just a little bit on what is this traditional in traditional wushu. I say a little bit, because it is an enormous topic, and there are whole academic papers talking about traditional martial arts (search for example for articles of Paul Bowman and Benjamin Judkins), and I don’t want to spend so much space on it here. But I come from a traditional martial arts background, I train and teach kung fu, a style called hung kuen, and previously I had been practicing traditional karate for some 8 years (which is absolutely not contradicting my MMA training, though I am asked about this a lot).
Bai Si ceremony, or Bai Shi ceremony (depends if you are a fan of Cantonese Chinese or Putonghua) is usually translated as a bow to teacher or a disciple acceptance ceremony.
It is a huge step, and I decided to take it in Autumn 2017.
It was actually my idea. I came to Hong Kong to live in 2015, after studying hung kuen kung fu for some 8 years in Czech. I have already tasted the difference of the knowledge here in Asia and in Europe, and I wanted more. I wanted to learn deeper and I wanted all the details I could get. So I made this crazy life change and relocated here - but that is a different story. That time, I already had had few private classes with Wong sifu, so I knew exactly to who I am coming to. I asked to be his students after few months of training with him, and he said: “It is not important if you call me sifu or not. Important is, if it is from hear to hear.” Yep, I made a good choice. Few short years after, I wanted to make it official. Not only studying under Wong sifu, but also it was a statement of my whole journey.
So I asked my sifu, Wong Chung Man, if I could bai si to him. So far, no one did in our lineage. So it was a bit tricky. Because, actually, does anyone remember how to do this stuff?
There were moments when I thought: Hey! I want to write a blog post about this! And… nope. I was postponing until the topic was no longer hot, so I decided I will do a long one for spring 2019. Looking back now, I am proud that I really sit down and wrote it, and it’s not even Christmas yet!
Fight in Thailand
I was desperately seeking for a fight in Hong Kong, but I just could not get any. After few months of frustration, I liked all the MMA facebook circles in Asia that I could find, and through that I heard about this competition called K Warrior in Thailand. This amateur MMA event at the end was absolutely great. They did everything so that we, amateurs, could feel like pros. There was music, lights, walk in, public weight ins, stare downs, live stream, commentators… 20 out of 10 would go again!
The problem was, not only it was 4 hours by car north from Bangkok, but I had no team willing to go with me. I found out that Tiger is going, so I was waiting to see who exactly and if they could corner me, too. The time was coming close and I still didn’t know, so I decided I will go anyway. Even if I have to grab a random Thai person on the street and drag him to the cage, “You will be my corner now! Here is my water bottle!”, simply, I was going to have that fight!
An article I originally wrote in Czech language for the Martial Arts magazine published in Czech Republic (Bojová umění, 9, 74-75), with a bit of exaggeration about the way you may travel Hong Kong if you are a visiting kung fu lover.
For the southern China martial arts lovers Hong Kong is fatal: we all want to get there, and as soon as we arrive, our soul is lost. It all start with stepping out of the airport arrival hall, where the humid air with a mixture of scents from meals and incense sticks attacks the tourists, and kung fu being present almost everywhere – that is why Hong Kong gets under your skin so quickly. Hong Kong is one of the places of something we could call “kung fu tourism”. We could count in for example Shaolin temple, Wudang mountains or Foshan. Besides the foreigner coaches and students, who come to Hong Kong almost every year to visit their teachers, there are always numerous groups of people who lust after a bit less intense training, but the more colourful view for their eyes, the kung fu tourists.
In Hong Kong, kung fu can be seen wherever you walk. Even thought the youngsters nowadays prefer tae-kwon-do, still you can often catch a sight of some kung fu legacy in the TV advertisements (for example telling you to check the the condition of your building) or on the posters (if you are at a construction site, wear a helmet! – said the kung fu construction worker). If you turn on a TV, there will be someone fighting in almost every single TV series. In a poetic way, of course. We are no brutes!
First steps of many will lead to the legendary, but still not enough well-known performance at the Kung fu Corner. In the Kowloon Park, every Sunday afternoon, one local kung fu schools will organize two hours program, and ask their friends-masters to also join. They all will create a performance containing kung fu and lion or dragon dance. Just follow the sound of the drum or rushing people with a weapon over the shoulder. It is unknown beforehand who will perform, so the quality may vary, but if you come for the beginning (2.30 pm), you will see the lion dance and also taste today’s kung fu practice for the next two hours. The biggest masters usually sit in the audience. Yes, those old gentlemen, who record the show, use their fans and brag, that is the generation that still used to fight on the streets.
On Sunday it is closed, but after a whole day spent eating dim sum dumplings, drinking pu-erh tea and cursing the icy air-conditioning, you can head to this kung fu shop on Monday. It is called Ka Fok Sports Supplies Limited on the Kwun Tong MTR station. It is the biggest kung fu shop in Hong Kong and you will regret your visit bitterly. Clothing, shoes, weapons, drums, lions, back scratchers, punching bags… you can find anything here. Just, you won’t have enough money for all of that. The shop owners are of course practitioners themselves, too, and will probably like to take a picture with you. Later, you can find yourself on Facebook. And because they know well the misery of shopping tourists in their shop, they are able to send you a package directly to your home.
It is really difficult for anyone to get through the Tin Sum village during the festival. The streets nearby are full of lions and drums. Earplugs, good idea. Earth God, or Lord of the Soil and Ground Festival is celebrated once a year. It seems that all lions from Hong Kong arrived.
I can actually really count around 20 minimum.
This event is very very loud, it takes several hours to be able to hear again. Lion dances together with their schools march through the street to a football field, just big enough to take in all the people. It is very easy to get lost here. Well, unless you are a foreigner. You are probably the only foreigner there, to be honest.
After lions bow to each other and welcome each other, schools light the insence sticks, pay respect and find their table. It is a plastic table with plastic stools, like a garden furniture. The only food here is a big bowl on each table filled in with meat, heated by a heater underneath. There is also some rice. But the food is not the purpose of this event.
The main part is the meeting, gathering of friends, masters, lion dance and kung fu schools. Going around the tables and toasting with a beer is a custom, that even I, a foreigner is more than welcome to do so. This time I took two of my friends with me.
"You know these people?" they asked after we lifted on their feet the whole bunch of people sitting at one table, shouting cheers in Cantonese. Some groups I know, some I never saw before. But it does not make any difference.
Here everyone is connected. And this is such a special celebration in Hong Kong, far away from the city and even including crackers (otherwise not allowed in Hong Kong), that you indeed sure have some connection with these people, so you are able to know about it and be here.
I have been practicing martial arts since 1999. It became the reason for moving to Hong Kong and it guided many of my life decisions. I am addicted to hung kuen kung fu and MMA. Further blog posts are sharing of an enthusiast.
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