Monday, September 27, 2010

wubo (3) the fans

So the first annual Sport Accord Combat Games seemed to come off fairly well and I look forward to next year’s events. First, some notes from the website:

“…the competition will showcase 13 Martial Arts and Combat sports, both Olympic and non-Olympic. The event will also include a Cultural Program that will reflect the social and cultural values of these sports and Combat Games as a whole.”

The site goes on to list the arts, beginning of course with Chinese wushu, then adding wrestling, sumo, karate, judo, jujutsu (why both were included I am not sure – maybe to separate the judo we can see in the Olympics from the more recently developed Brazilian Jujutsu?), boxing, kick boxing, Muay Thai (again, why were these two separated?), Tae Kwan Do, kendo, aikido, and sambo.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the kendo events, two very long and satisfying days of competition and demonstration.

I am sure the arena was packed for wushu but kendo is much less known in China. And the kendo events were on the final two days of the week. The stadium (Beijing Science and Technology Gymnasium) was fairly full, largely due to the masses of students who attended (class outings?).

Everyone in the audience was given a little flappy fan (nice in the late summer heat, but needed to be more sturdy) with the logos of the various arts on one side (see picture) and a guide to being a good / polite audience on the other.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

wubo (2) Chinese watching kendo

Ten years ago, I took part in two brief kendo / iaido tours of China. Both were excellent experiences and I wish I had known a lot more THEN that I know now (in terms of Japanese martial arts, Chinese martial arts, the languages involved, everything). (Human relations, too).

On each tour, we gave demonstrations in several cities in the Southeastern province of Zhejiang. We toured together with members of a local wushu school. At each stop, reactions were fairly similar.

The Chinese crowds knew something of Chinese wushu and knew how to appreciate the Chinese martial artists. The crowds did not know much at all of Japanese martial arts, nor how to appreciate our demos.

They were used to flashier demonstrations with large numbers of techniques. Kendo, iaido, and other Japanese martial arts are not flashy and tend toward pursuit of a single technique which finishes the encounter. Our kendo and iaido demonstrations were usually met with curious silence, followed by tentative applause, often at unusual points in the demonstration.

In just ten years, general knowledge about the Japanese martial arts has increased significantly in China, and fledgling clubs can be found scattered across the country.

At the Sport Accord Games (wubo or 武博), there was an overall greater understanding and appreciation of kendo in particular. Even so, I loved the fact that the greatest crowd response seemed to come not after the masters’ bouts or any of the other excellent demos, but during the childrens’ kendo demo.

You just have to love the kid who is shorter than everyone else’s shinai (bamboo sword) – and who is trying twice as hard as most of them.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What did I eat last night?

It had been a long hard day. I walked into Matsuya, a Japanese fast-food place specializing in bowls of rice with beef on top.

But there were no beefbowls on the menu. And they were out of the two other things I tried to order. It seemed quite busy, yet not much seemed to be getting done.

Not too happy, I was headed out the door when one of the curiously idle workers hailed me from behind the counter.

He was quite friendly and we spoke a few minutes. Then another worker, further in back, suddenly burst into a martial arts form. It was a xing yi quan form unknown to me but performed quite well.

Enough of that! I stripped off my jacket, ready to show one of my forms. It was not a challenge, just a hope for mutual exchange. I don’t even think he saw me. He finished his form and took off out the door.

Several other workers joined him in sprinting quite a long ways, apparently part of their daily afternoon workout.

I started running, too, hoping to join them.

Then my alarm went off.

Maybe it was the late night tortilla chips and beer???

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

wubo (1) Combat Games

I finally made it back to Beijing a couple weeks ago - the trip was much too short but good in many ways. I traveled on a journalist visa for the first time, for Kendo World but also teamed with journalists from Kendo Nippon and Kendo Jidai magazines.

More on that later...About the games - this was the first of what is to be an annual international event, gathering martial artists of various disciplines. I have heard that these "Combat Games" will be followed by a "Mind Games" event in 2011, which could be a lot of fun. Personally, like "chess-boxing" (was that in the UK?), I would like to see (or be??) contestants participate in both games.

I wanted to see the wushu event but our journalist visas were extremely strictly controlled by the government of a certain country involved in it all. We were allowed in the night before the games, and had to return home the morning after they finished (two days of competition).

Overall, things went well and I look forward to next year's Combat Sports tournament. More details to follow...

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Tokyo is a crazy city. Where else can you, in a drunken haze near dawn, stumble across a small rock bar with about 10 regulars and 7 bar stools named after your home state? And enjoy the remaining hours until dawn there, stumble “home” to the apartment of two martial arts scions where you are housesitting, and then have no idea where you were the previous night?

And, years later, stumble about in another drunken haze and rediscover the bar? Well, that could be done in other cities, I suppose.

But in what other city could you, more years later, return to the bar and engage in conversation about satsujinken and katsujinken with a rock musician / descendant of the Yagyu clan???

And then blend into a talk on the intricacies of kendo vs. naginata isshu jiai with another denizen of that part of the city crawling with rock musicians???

Alas I had to leave at an early hour to catch the last train home. I have already had too many last-minute runs up that loooooong hill to the train station. And more than a few have ended in rather unpleasant words upon finding the train platform chained off and the lights out. And a walk back to the same bar to drink or sleep until the trains start running again the next morning.

I should have moved closer to that bar….

The guy in the street

Most of the time, I really love China. Like when I am walking down a street at 2 AM and spy someone practicing the martial art of xing yi quan on the sidewalk. It is the end of a very long couple days’ work and I am free at last to savor some alone time in this city I love. I watch him for a while, my arms beginning to twitch a bit, as I also practice this art.

He notices me watching, tones down his practice, almost stops. OK, I get it. I feign disinterest and saunter off, grab a couple beers from the 7-11. I return slowly and give him a smile and a wide berth. I sit on the concrete steps but don’t open a beer. He keeps practicing this time.

When he finishes his form, I ask him whether or not it is xing yi quan, and the ritual begins.

“Oh, you know xing yi quan?”

“Yes, I practice a little.”

“Let’s see one of your forms.”

As if I didn’t know that was coming. I pick za shi chui – I might be going in too high, showing off a bit, but it is the form I have been practicing the most lately. We compare notes on a few of the motions. He doesn’t know this particular form, but he has a good eye for the basics. Our strains of xing yi are different yet the core is the same.

He then asks me to run through one of the five basic fists, piquan. He is not condescending, but does offer some advice: slow it down. My form is too rushed. We should practice the internal martial arts slowly – the motions will come out quickly when needed. He repeats one key phrase which has stayed with me since returning to my home in Japan: 慢功出细活 (man gong chu xi huor). We need to practice slowly, carefully, for the important details to be realized.

He declined my offer of a beer, lit another cigarette, and got back to practice after goodbyes. What a fine night in Beijing (post-Sport Accord Combat Games).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The dust is settling

Quite a hectic few weeks, things finally settling down and returning to "normal". Highlights included Liu JingRu Laoshi's annual seminar in Tokyo (next year to be his last...), working at the Sport Accord / Combat Games in Beijing, late night xing yi quan exchanges on the streets of Beijing, you know, the usual.

More details and photos forthcoming.