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”.
The problems that we had to face this year from my point of view, as both an athlete and a team leader as I lead my country’s team, were numerous. Let’s start with the rules meeting, which was a joke, held in Chinese, with an English translator, who did not speak aloud, nor with English that could be understood. For example, she said: “Dear disgusted guests”. Or used incomplete sentences, or simply those that made no sense. Sometimes the speakers did not even let her finish. At the end, there was an QnA sections, and questions were again asked in Chinese (if in English, someone had to translated to Chinese, otherwise the question was ignored) and only answered in Chinese. Next, all the judges were Chinese. They were introduced all as “international judges”, but who knows what did it mean. Meanwhile, EWUF this year made sure there was no single country twice at each judges’ panel as I noted. Medals were given in festival manner, that means 60% of each event got medals. This is actually not a criticism of the “traditional” here, but I simply don’t like this practice. So called highest level of competition on the market should not be held as a festival.
The main point however is this. IWUF allows compulsory modern wushu forms in the events, so for example you can see a category full of chow gar and choy lee fut and then suddenly people go upside down and run across the carpet with their compulsory nanquan. Of course, it is the problem of the rules that allow this, and also it is the problem of the athletes. Some people argue, that traditional people complain because they are defeated by modern wushu people, who however learnt some traditional form. Well, I have not seen that at the Worlds, people simply performed their compulsory forms. In this blog, it is said that is like if you join a wrestling competition and complain, because you are defeated by a judoka. I disagree strongly. The reality in IWUF is like you join a wrestling competition, but lose to a taekwondo person, because the wrestling competition is actually run by taekwondo organization that does not understand wrestling, and the judges scores very high every jumping kick they see during the wrestling match.
I for example competed in the “other nanquan” division, which meant everything except choy lee fut, as they had enough women to have their own event. Their category then looked like this, a great example of how a division should look like. Note that the people identified their forms in the description:
My event then consisted of chow gar, wing chun, my only hung kuen, 5 ancestors and compulsory nanquan. There is a painful lack of understanding what traditional style is, that nanquan is not a style, and what are the differences between the traditional styles and compulsory nanquan. The athletes should know. I asked one of my opponents the next day what she competed with, as I never watch my division because I like to focus on myself before I compete. She said, waving her hand “aah, I just did the compulsory nanquan, you know.”
When I was watching nanquan event “hongquan”, which is my hung kuen, in the men’s division the next day, I saw a very frustrating picture. In this event, I watched different versions of hung kuen forms, coming from various family lineages and countries. At the end, there was one competitor who performed something really ugly. It was a version of fu hok, a hung kuen tiger crane form, which I could recognize according to every 10th movement that seemed familiar. In between, there was lots of face expressions, disfunctional movement and theatrical motions, that made me watch in disbelief. It looked like if this person saw a book with missing pages about the form and decided to fill in the gaps with his imagination. Well you guess right, he was awarded 9.19 points by the judges. Exactly as in the taekwondo at the wrestling competition. Here is a video from this division, I suppose you can identify the form by yourself. Watch the division at 0:50:00 - 1:03:40.
Urs Krebs, a respectful promoter of traditional wushu, wrote this sharp and very good article. I absolutely agree, this has to be talked about more. Urs wrote:
Why are modern athletes going to a traditional “Championship”?
Traditional competition should not be about people, who take their own imagination and create a snake style, for example, because it does not fit a changquan event in modern wushu competition, hence it must be traditional form. No! Traditional competitions should not be about traditional people coming to compete with compulsory forms. With compulsory forms, go compete against modern wushu! If judges at traditional competitions actually want to see compulsory forms, it does not prove you are good, it only proves you jump in your form. Go compete against modern wushu forms. Athletes and especially judges need to understand that traditional wushu does not mean a taolu. It’s a whole system, taolu is only (one of the) tip of the iceberg. Understand, I am not saying that before you compete in traditional event, you have to go to the judge’s panel and show them a picture of you and your sifu, how you visited the family village and put flowers on the grave of the grandmaster. No, I am saying that the SYSTEM needs to be seen being translated into your TAOLU, and that is a completely different story.
In EWUF at the European Championships, I saw people performing traditional forms. In IWUF’s World Championships, the very same people competed with compulsory forms. So am I thinking, if EWUF keeps doing what they have started, they actually should organize the World Championships by themselves. Because I am not sure, why IWUF thinks that traditional wushu people will pay so much money to travel and time to go compete to their events against modern wushu, and lose because judges are also modern wushu people and only want to see modern wushu. Every year it comes to a lottery whether the athlete will be lucky enough to be in a division such as this year’s female traditional choy lee fut, which was truly what it should be.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I saw old friends from around the world, I could peak my competition preparation, and I spent time with my team. Even, in the domestic group (because IWUF doesn’t allow Chinese people and foreigners compete with each other, hence domestic and international group) I saw some great traditional performances. On the warm up carpet I watched some style I could not really identify, but it looked like hakka. Nevertheless, in the terms of a competition, for the traditional wushu people I feel we were betrayed (again).
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. Follow my path to pro fighter on this blog or my social media.
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