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Mark Moran
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Ask the ‘Zilla: Shanghai, Careers and Choreography (1/5)

Once again it is time for another installment of “Ask the ‘Zilla”. I got quite a few questions in the past week so here are my attempts to answer them. Please note that I am not an expert in anything and that my opinions are only that — opinions. I reserve the right to be complete wrong.

First a few quick questions before we get to the meaty ones…

What part does videographing these practice sessions [have] in their training?  I would think that seeing one`s performance would be a wonderful training tool.  Are you the only one doing it at this point?

Actually, they aren’t recording themselves much at all. Not all athletes do that and to be honest, the class structure isn’t really set up for that sort of thing. You are usually running around and doing stuff so much that there isn’t time to set up a camera and/or have someone specifically in charge of filming.  Plus, they practice soooo much, and are making distinctions in their wushu on such a regular basis, that doing a daily or weekly recording isn’t necessarily representative over the long run.

I have noticed that some teams do record themselves though — or even some specific athletes. I know that Wu Di would record himself quite a bit to review his form (and occasionally post them online) and I suppose it really depends on the athlete.

When I was in Shandong I recorded some of the athletes during a nandu testing session and gave a copy of the VCD to the coaches. They seemed appreciative, but since they didn’t film it themselves they probably didn’t feel it was a necessary thing to have.  Otherwise — they would have done it, right?

And I’ve seen teams record themselves before a tournament while they do a mock run-through of their forms.  I would wager that most coaches probably reserve that sort of thing for a time closer to competition.

So, long answer short: I don’t really know. hahahaha.

I like the music used.  Is there a Chinese genre for Taiji music?  CDs etc?

I believe they use music that is already available. There isn’t really a “genre” per se, but they do tend to use music with a traditional Chinese feel to it. I believe the only rule is that the music you use when doing your forms (and for changquan too) can’t have any vocals — it has to be instrumental. Other than that, I think they usually just end up buying a lot of Chinese movie soundtrack music.

A good friend of mine … is likely to spend 6 or more months in Shanghai, I was just wondering if you can give me a brief list of schools you know there, prices, and maybe just a sentence or two as a review?

Well, keep in mind that I haven’t trained in Shanghai for a couple years. But when I was there there were three main places you could train with professional athletes, and a few that you could train with kids.

I also can’t really give much information on prices since a lot of that depends on so many variables it is problematic at best. Generally the longer term the better.

I have also set up a Google Map with the relative locations of each school so that you can get their aproximate distance from the center of Shanghai.

View Wushu Schools in Shanghai in a larger map

Shanghai University of Sports (Dark Blue in the Upper Right)

I’ve visited a few times and know a few athletes and foreigners who have trained there.  Everything I heard is that the training is good, even though you are stuck way out in the boonies (but not as far out as Ruida).  Some good athletes (wei jian) have come from there so it can’t be all bad.

Pros: Good training facilities, easier to apply and get in to (foreigner friendly-ish), good level of athletes (i.e. Wei Jian)

Cons: Far from Shanghai Proper, a lot of foreigners there sometimes

Shanghai Sports Vocational College (Red towards the bottom middle)

(Formerly the Shanghai School of Sports and Exercise Science)

This is where I trained for a year and a half, so it has a soft spot in my heart.  I used to live a few blocks from the school so I became very familiar with the neighborhood.  I was very happy with my experience there and enjoyed it immensely.

Pros: Good training facilities, great coaches and athletes (i.e. Yang Yu Hong), closer to the city

Cons: Harder to get in to train sometimes

Shanghai Ruida School (Green Dot on the far left) (Formerly Qing Pu)

I haven’t been here, but I’ve heard a lot about it and know a few athletes and foreigners who have gone there.  It kinda fell out a few years back but I think the name changed helped because it seems to be doing much better these days. (based on completely circumstantial evidence, mind you.)

Pros: Training Facilities, professional athletes

Cons: Sooooo far from Shanghai but with Line 9 of the subway you can at least get most of the way there now.

Fudan University (Dark Purple Upper Right)

I only mention this school because Wei Jian is teaching there and Xu Ming Hu told me he would be there as well.  That leads me to believe that they have a wushu training facility on campus although I know nothing about it.  Might be worth checking out though, especially if you are a straightsword or spear person.

Pros: Wei Jian, One of the top universities in China (if you care)

Cons: Beats me.  I’ve never trained there.

Now we are getting in to the realm of Children’s wushu schools …

Shanghai Wushu Yuan (Turquoise in the middle)

Smack dab in the middle of Shanghai (literally) I trained here with the former Nanquan King of Shanghai, Cao Wei Ming.  He was a really amazing coach, formerly for the Malaysian Team for a few years.  When I was there he was coaching kids.  This is also the location of the Shanghai Wushu Center, one of the administrative centers for wushu in Shanghai.  The classes are Monday to Friday in the afternoons — around 4 to 6, give or take.  The facilities are rather delapidated and they rent it out for ballroom dancing (which apparently includes a cigarette smoking marathon) some days so you end up with a lot of smoke and dust.  Old, green carpets too.

Pros: Awesome coach, convenient location, lots of basics

Cons: Bad facilities, no professionals

Minhang Wushu Guan (Yellow)

I don’t even know if this is still here or not, but there was an after-school wushu school in this area that my friend was teaching at from time to time.  I had some friends that would go there to train too and they seemed to think it wasn’t too bad.  But, the focus is on the kids, of course, so there is much more basics and fundamentals training.  Also, it is kinda far from the city.

Pros: Good carpet, albeit only one

Cons:  Far from Shanghai, no professionals

Zhang Yi (Lavender)

Zhang Yi is a former wushu athlete who opened his own school.  It caters primarily to foreigners and is a little on the small side.  It reminds me a lot of wushu schools in the U.S., actually.  More for the after-work ex-pad crowd, although sometimes he brings Yang Yu Hong over to help teach if he is out of town.  This is also the only place where the coach speaks English.  They only train a few times a week too.

Pros: English speaking coach, Occasional visits from YYH

Cons: Small, hard to find, not daily training, lower level of wushu students

There is also another school in the middle of the city off of Yan An Zhong Lu, but I have only seen it and the friend I had who went there wasn’t all that impreassed with it.  Plus they use the word “kung fu” instead of wushu and seems to cater mostly to the expat crowd.

If your friend is going longer term then I would probably recommend the Sports University, only because I know that they are an easier place to get in to train and are better set up for foreigners.  If only it wasn’t so far from the City ….

I hope this helps.

1) How can I make a career out of wushu, 2) what kind of degrees can i get if i studied wushu and chinese in china and how long will it take to get that degree, and 3) what are the best universities…cheaper would be nice

Well, quite a few questions there.  Let’s see here …

First I would have to ask you what you mean by “career”, because there is a big difference between having a career like Jet Li and having a career like Joe the Wushu Coach.

To be honest, there are basically three routes a generic high-level wushu athlete can take

1) Become a coach

2) Become a stuntman/actor

3) Start a wushu-related business

Becoming a coach is probably the easiest of the three, especially in Western countries.  Now, I’m not saying that it is a piece of cake.  Just that it is EASIER than the other two.  But you have to really love coaching and teaching and be invested in the progress of your students.  It can’t be about making a quick buck.  Some athletes start schools to make money and ultimately they never work out if that is your only motivation.

Opening a school means you need to know a bit about how to run a business and especially about marketing.  A lot of coaches/athletes don’t know much of either, to be honest, and this is a lot of the reason their schools don’t make it.  The best thing about starting a school is that you can do it wherever you want to put down some roots and you can start small and work your way up.  Tony Chen started by practicing by himself in a park in San Francisco 13 years ago.  Now he has some of the biggest schools in California.

The other thing I would say is that you should always focus on the quality of your instruction and the education your students receive.  Not quantity.  The better the instruction, the more students you will get.  But having a lot of students doesn’t mean you will have good instruction, if you know what I mean.

To become a stuntman or actor is a lot of work, but it can be a lot of fun too.  I have a few friends who have gone this route.  You have to be persistent, not mind constructive critisism, and be patient.  You also need to have a positive outlook and be willing to learn.

Actually wushu alone is not enough to become a stuntman or actor.  You need to learn about other styles of martial arts, stunt work, wire work and it doesn’t hurt to take acting classes and get some experience with camera angles and various aspects of film-making.

When I was working for Jet a lot of people would audition for roles by just doing a wushu form and they almost never got chosen.  The ones that got chosen for stunt/action work were those that demonstrated an ability to do reactions (getting hit, falling down, etc), learn choreography and have a high degree of athleticism across various types of movements.

If wushu is one dimensional, then being a stuntman/action actor is the third dimension.  You really have to expand your abilities.  And that takes commitment and dedication.

And finally you could start a wushu-related business .  In this regard your primary emphasis is not wushu, but you would utilize your wushu experience to develop products or services that are of value to those people who train in wushu.

Whether you develop products (clothes, shoes, DVDs, etc.) for consumption by wushu athletes, or you develop a service (seminars, china tours, online resources, etc.) that they can use, it will take a lot of experience and understanding in not just wushu, but in business administration, managing employees, marketing and branding, and a whole slew of other things.

One of the best examples of this sort of career is Li Ning.  He turned a gold medal in gymnastics in to a multi-million dollar athletics apparel business and brand.  But of course, that sort of success is very difficult to achieve.  Not impossible — but difficult.

If you want to go this route I recommend doing a lot of studying of how businesses are run, getting some good, practical experience in that field.

The truth it, doing wushu just for the sake of doing wushu is not really a money making opportunity.  No one really pays the average person (outside of China) to do wushu.  So if you want to make a career out of wushu you will have to develop a skill set or business that is related to it, but not actually doing it.

Of course, if you figure out a way to make money doing wushu, I’ll be the first to know, right? ;-)

The second question is easier to answer.  In China, assuming your Chinese is good enough, you can get a degree in just about anything you want to study.  If you go to a sports university/college you can get a degree in a wushu-related field.  This could be anything from wushu theory, coaching, sports science or several other options.  It depends partially on the school you attend and what programs they offer.

A friend of mine did the following: Right after high school (he’s from Scotland) he came to China and took a year of Chinese at a local university.  He basically picked it based on economics realizing that being in China and studying full time would allow his Chinese to develop at a good rate regardless of the “quality” of the university.

After a year he applied for a degree program at another university in Chinese Literature and 4 years later he graduated.  He said that the first year was difficult, but by the second year he was getting along okay.  Now, of course, he’s totally fluent and most Chinese who talk to him on the phone can’t tell he’s a foreigner.

These days there are also a lot of scholarships that the Chinese government offers to foreigners who want to study in degree programs in China.  That might be an options as well.

As far as how long it would take … 4 years is pretty normal, just like in the U.S.  You just have to add on the extra year or so for developing your Chinese language skill.

And the “best” universities is sort of a subjective question to some degree.  It really depends on what you want to study.  Assuming you mean wushu, then the universities that are considered by “most people” to be the best are probably Beijing Sports University (北京体育大学) Shanghai University of Sports (上海体育学院) and maybe Wuhan Sports University.  There are a few others too, such as Xi’an University of Sports or Shanghai RuiDa Xue Xiao or even Jimei Daxue in Xiamen, Fujian.

And again, for many of them you can get scholarships to attend them.  If you apply for the scholarships you can specify your top choices for schools to attend. At least that is the case with this particular one: http://en.csc.edu.cn

Anyway, you get the idea.  If you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. Just keep an open mind.

I hope this helps!

Do you have any tips for choreography? I’m just a little stuck. I don’t really like modifying the compulsory, and I’ve watched thousands of videos, but I can’t seem to come up with stuff that feels right or flows.

And I was wondering how the pros do it. Does their coach choreograph for them? Do they just spend hours playing around on the floor? Granted, being in a high concentration of Wushu gods probably stimulates the brain juices a little more, but they must run into problems if they have to run sections and they only have one. (My current situation) I’ve been running the same spear section for about two months.

My main tip regarding choreography is that it should come from within.  Your form should be a reflection of who you are as an artist and athlete.  It has to not only showcase your strengths and hide your weaknesses, but it must be a presentation of your own personal “story” with wushu.  When people watch you do your form they should feel like they are learning who you are as a person.

Traditionally, of course, a form was choreographed to include all of the applications within a particular style of martial arts.  You learned the form so that you could memorize the techniques.  But now, with sport martial arts and forms competition, the choreography of a form has morphed in to a representation of a style, not an actual presentation of application technique.

But of course this doesn’t mean you should take out the fundamentals of wushu from your form.  It is important to maintain the “martial” part of your “art” and be aware of the technique that is behind your movement.  Otherwise you are just dancing on a carpet.

But assuming you are able to do that, then I think that developing choreography is really something of a personal journey.  Or at least it has been for me.

When I was younger I would look at forms and try to take the coolest movements to include in my form.  But then I just ended up creating some sort of Frankenstein taolu that had nothing to do with me at all.  I remember seeing a lot of athletes in the U.S. create forms based on those they saw from athletes in China — sometimes even just doing the whole form verbatim.  And it always ended up looking like a pale imitation of the original, made even worse because everyone already knew that form since they had probably seen it themselves.  If you are going to do a Liu Qing Hua form, then you had better be prepared to be compared to Liu Qing Hua’s technique and skill level, y’know?

So, over time I stopped looking for “cool” moves and started looking for moves and techniques that spoke to me on a deeper level.  A combination that seemed to resonate within my heart rather than just look really neat.  And eventually I started to get closer to having a form that was a better representation of who I am.

To be honest, I still feel like my own form is only about 35% complete.  The other 65% of the form is just there as a placeholder while I slowly figure out and swap out techniques that would work better.  It isn’t because I think the movements aren’t good, but I feel like they aren’t really “me”, and finding the “me” movements just takes time to do.  It is a constant process of observation, testing, evaluation and development that might take me years to figure out.

But fortunately that is one of the aspects of wushu that I really enjoy.

To answer the second part of your question, Most of the young athletes learn a form from someone, either the compulsory or another athlete’s individual.   Xin Rui, for example, a 12 year old boy whom I train with, is learning the compulsory nanquan routine.  Not necessarily because it is well suited for him, but mainly because he just needs to learn a form to practice.  He’s still at a beginner level for the team.

Another boy, about 15 or 16, has learned an earlier version of Yuan Ming’s form which he practices.  Again, this is for two reasons: first, Yuan Ming’s form has nandu in it and it allows him to practice a form with higher level difficulty movements.  And second, since it is Yuan Ming’s form, both he and his coach are familiar with it and can really give him good critiques on technique and execution.

But a third athlete there has his own nanquan form. He’s probably in his late teens or early 20’s.  His form is definitely all his own and it is clear he spent some time developing it.  Some athletes use the forms they learn as a generic template, but I think a lot of them are eventually told to create their own form and then they bring it to the coach for evaluation and feedback.  Then, together, they figure out the best combinations to keep and which ones should be swapped out.  It is a collaborative process, most of the time, at least until the athlete is advanced enough to be able to express their wushu artistry on their own.

The thing about professional athletes is that they spend a LOT of time and energy on figuring out their choreography.  They are always adjusting and modifying things around.  They work hard to make it an expression of their own style of wushu.   Most of the off-season (and some of the on-season) is spent working out those details.  If you remember, I have a video of Yue Xiao Yu working out some choreography.  She was just standing there in front of a mirror for almost 2 hours working out choreography for her form.  And I”m pretty sure she did that quite a bit over the course of the past few months after the All China Games.

The thing is — choreography is a process, not a destination.  You are always re-evaluating what you have developed and figuring things out.  There is never a time when you say “phew, I’m glad I’m done choreographing THAT form” because there is always more refinements and details you could work on.   Kind of like with wushu itself.  You can always get better than you are, and I think that is reflected in the process of developing choreography too.

Just keep at it and work on uncovering the truth of your own wushu.  I think that is the best advice I could give anyone — including myself.

Good luck!

And that is it for this installment.  A whole lot of text going on there, huh?

If you would like to leave a question for the ‘Zilla, you can leave a comment to this blog entry or check out my contact form on wushuzilla.com.


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about 11 years ago 0 likes  2 comments  0 shares
Photo 28042
Thanks for the answer.
about 11 years ago
Photo 34128
Most informative.
about 11 years ago


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Languages Spoken
english, cantonese, mandarin, japanese
Location (City, Country)
Xian, China
Member Since
September 1, 2005