Back in 2008 I started to write this Wushu Retrospective, an accounting of my personal history with wushu. Now that I have a smidge more time I am going to re-post the original entries (previously only posted for a select group of people) and continue writing them to completion. I will post a new segment each Sunday.
It’s been an up and down sort of relationship with wushu over the years and while I’ve always been fairly dedicated to wushu as a sport, my training will sometimes run cold before I get motivated and turn back on the heat. I thought I would look back at some of the highs and lows of my training.
In Japanese it is called "Arahan" making it that much harder to find in the U.S.
I had first seen wushu a few years before I knew what to call it.
One summer during high school when I was working in Tokyo, my host family’s son, realizing that I liked kung fu flicks, showed me some Jackie Chan films. (”Fearless Hyena”, “Wheels on Meals” and “Project A”, I later learned) as well as a Jet Li film (”Shaolin Temple 3″). I didn’t know who Jet Li or Jackie Chan was, and the Japanese names of the films were different than the Chinese or English, but those films were brewing in the back of my head for the next several years, fueling my interest in martial arts.
A few years later I happened upon a video tape in a rental shop called “Iron and Silk”. Most wushu folks know of this film, but if you don’t it is based on Mark Saltzman’s trip to Hangzhou, China in the mid-80’s to teach English. While there he trained with Pan Qing Fu, a well-known wushu coach. That was the first time I heard the word “wushu”. In the film he also mentions the film “Shaolin Temple”.
Iron and Silk Movie Poster
Shortly after that, during one of my short stints trying to pick up martial arts (in this case a Korean system called Jungae Moosul), I had asked the instructor about wushu and he mentioned the film “Shaolin Temple”. Remembering it from “Iron and Silk” I expressed interest in watching it and he let me sit in the studio and put it on the small TV they had sitting in the corner.
No English subtitles or dubs. Just Cantonese with Korean subtitles, but I watched it and was mezmerized. It reminded me of how I felt watching those movies back in Japan. I was hooked on martial arts films.
Over the next couple years I became engrossed with Jackie Chan films. I still didn’t know who Jet Li was but I knew that Jackie Chan was making the kinds of films I wanted to watch. I would go to the independent theater on the Ave next to the University of Washington in Seattle and start checking out their Jackie Chan film nights. After a while I expanded my choices to any Hong Kong movie that came.
And there, on one of their schedules, I saw the name Jet Li. I didn’t realize that it was the same person I had seen in the Shaolin Temple movies but the film and his name sounded interesting so I went to check it out. It was “Once Upon a Time in China 3″. I left that theater on a high. The production values, the wushu moves — I couldn’t stop talking about it to my friends.
They didn’t get it of course. They liked Jackie Chan, but it’s hard to explain the appeal of a Wong Fei Hung / Jet Li film to someone who had never seen one. I even dragged my sister to a showing of Fong Sai Yuk a couple months later, but she spent a fair bit of the film laughing out loud at the wire-work wall-running and silly plot.
I wasn’t detered though. I searched around Seattle for a wushu school. Kung Fu, sure. Tai Chi, yeah. Aikido, you bet. But wushu? I couldn’t find it anywhere.
At around the same time I realized that Seattle wasn’t really the place for me anymore. I decided to move to San Francisco. I didn’t really tell anyone that one of my motivations for moving there was to see if I could find a wushu school. I don’t even know if I admited it to myself. That was the fall of 1994.
I kept trying to look. I went to Tat Mau Wong’s school. I checked out the 8 Step Praying Mantis school in the Sunset. I called up the number in the phone book for “Wushu Resources” but a young girl answered and told me “My dad isn’t here right now”. (It later turned out that was our own
Sifu Bryant Fong’sdaughter Marla.)
But finally, on March 3, 1995, when I had almost given up on finding a wushu school, I spotted something on a co-worker’s copy of “
The Open Exchange“, an independent newspaper in San Francisco. I grabbed the paper from my co-worker and my eyes bugged out.
The words were on the page. And there was a picture of a woman holding her leg up next to her head holding a sword. The text said that she had been a member of the Beijing Wushu Team and had trained with Jet Li.
Well, that’s all I needed to know.
I grabbed the phone and called the number and left a message.
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