Wushu Retrospective (Part 4) – 1996-1998: An Introduction to Wushu Politics
When I first started training at Wushu West my focus was pretty much centered on the world inside my school. It took me a couple months just to get to know my fellow students and start bonding with them.
But it became clear after a short time that there was a whole world of wushu outside our four walls, and that the world had it’s own sorted history that I was soon to get a crash course on.
In hind-sight it was all pretty silly, of course. But that’s the benefit of hind-sight, isn’t it? At the time what seems serious and important ends up really not meaning much at all. And the things that were really important in life, were the things we tended to take for granted.
In fact, looking back, I came to realize that a lot of what caused most of the conflict between Wushu West and (at that time) Cal Wushu, was really done by just one student. One person, acting inappropriately, caused a string of bad-impressions and bad-blood that went on for several years and took a considerable amount of time to resolve.
Without getting in to the specifics, a student from one school had gone to the other on legitimate business, but had acted quite disrespectfully towards the teacher there. I don’t even think it was intentional, because from what I’ve come to understand about this person, their personal insecurity has fueled a considerable amount of arrogant and condescending behavīor towards others.
This behavīoral theme left a trail of bad blood and animosity in this person’s wake for quite a while, which is a pity, because my guess is that, once you got to know them, they are probably a pretty decent person.
Unfortunately, the result of this was that many of the students at Wushu West had a grudge against Sifu Bryant Fong. I even found myself developing this bias, without really knowing anything about the guy or having met him.
Such is the power of peer pressure.
A couple years later I ended up going to a dinner in Chinatown with Patti and some other students, and afterwards I was seated at the table with Bryant Fong and some of his students. One of the other Wushu West classmates had such a resentment against Sifu Fong that he decided to just go home, but I was of the mind that since I had never met the guy, I might as well give him the benefit of the doubt. (Plus it was a free meal.)
I think part of it came from my personal philosophy that you can’t define the world solely by your interpretation of it. It’s all subjective, especially views on people. Obviously this guy had SOME merit or else he wouldn’t have any students and no one would talk to him. So, if someone out there liked something about him, then there was something about him that I could find to like if I searched for it.
There’s a quote from Abdu’l Baha that says “If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, look at the ten and forget the one. And if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.”
It’s a good thing I made the effort, because I learned that he actually wasn’t such a bad guy. As the years went on I learned that Sifu Fong is actually one of the more decent people in the world of wushu — someone for whom I developed a good amount of respect and admiration.
And to think I would have missed out on knowing that if I had succumbed to the impulse to assume the worst about people.
But, for most of 1995 and 1996 there was a divide between Wushu West and Cal Wushu. There just wasn’t any sort of mixing of the two groups at all. Like … ZERO.
Until Lisa Nguyen and Alda Lee.
Lisa and Alda were two Cal Wushu students who had opted to supplement their Cal Wushu training by coming to Wushu West. Of course, as far as I was aware they didn’t tell anyone at Cal Wushu this and it was very hush-hush. In fact, when I saw Lisa at the 1996 Cal Wushu Tournament, she asked me to make sure not to tell anyone how I knew her.
In late 1996, at Lisa’s invitation, I went to Cal Wushu to try it out. I just wanted to see what it was like as I had heard the workouts were really brutal. Of course, I didn’t tell Patti about it since I was just doing it as an observation of how other people trained and didn’t plan on switching schools or anything.
It was the first time (I’m aware of) that a native Wushu West student trained at Cal Wushu.
So, the precedent had been set. The next person to bridge the gap would be David Chang. He came to Wushu West at the end of 1996 and was around for a good 5 years before going off to start his own school. (That’s a long story in itself .. )
But the significance of David Chang was that he really bridged the gap between Cal Wushu and Wushu West. He gave Patti and Sifu Fong something/someone to discuss in a positive manner. They were both sharing the experience of having him as a student. It led the way for other Cal Wushu people to come to Wushu West as well (Elan, Inyork, Hansie, Mai, Mike Chew, etc. etc.), and for Wushu West students to visit at Cal Wushu and train. Even Patti taught at Cal Wushu for a semester when Sifu Fong didn’t have available time.
As the years went on the divisions between the two groups faded away to almost nothing. Today it is hard to believe there was ever that much animosity between the two schools.
But the world of wushu politics wasn’t limited to just the interactions between Wushu West and Cal Wushu. I gave it so much attention, simply because it was the biggest issue I had to deal with for the first couple years of wushu, and as such it was the “biggest deal” for me as a young wushu enthusiast.
The truth is, there have been conflicts and issues between schools, students, teachers and the like, since the beginning of time. Almost every wushu school I’ve known or been a part of has had some sort of drama going on at one point or another (or several).
But, after looking at all of these conflicts, I’ve come to realize that it all really boils down to a specific trait that acts as a catalyst for these issues to crop up — one main attribute that contributes to so many of the problems that plague the wushu world.
Maybe it’s a result of the type of people who end up training in and teaching wushu — a certain personality type that inevitably ends up acting in certain predisposed ways. Or maybe it’s just that there are only so many issues that wushu people can deal with.
Whatever the reason, I’ve noticed that all of the problems that come from wushu politics essentially derive from one specific phenomena:
I’ve seen teachers bad-mouth other teachers. I’ve seen schools isolate themselves like China in the 60’s. I’ve seen environments that foster ignorance and paranoia in their student population. I’ve seen arguments between teachers, both physical and emotional. And I’ve seen enough gossip, back-biting and negative displays of dis-affection to last me a lifetime.
But in the end it all comes down to insecurity.
In the teacher, the student, and sometimes the parents.
Sometimes it came across as paranoia or fear. Someone opens a school and suddenly develops paranoia that someone else might steal their students. Of course, that is really only because they are insecure in their own abilities as a coach. But instead of dealing with the cause of the issue (by improving their skills and abilities) they put down other schools and teachers to their students to keep them from leaving.
Or sometimes it is anger and hatred towards others. They see another school or teacher achieving something that they have not, so they develop a deep seeded resentment towards that group, when the truth is, if they would stop needing so much acknowledgement and social gratification, they could appreciate and acknowledge the accomplishments of others without thinking that it is a reflection on their own abilities.
Or sometimes it is pride. A pride so strong that they feel a need to put down the system or abilties of others. The irony of course is that the pride is really just an extention of their insecurity in their own abilities. If their system was truly the best, they wouldn’t need to put any else’s system down.
As Jackie Chan said in The Forbidden Kingdom, “He who talks, does not know, and he who knows, does not talk”.
I came to realize that the more someone talked negatively about others, (1) the less they had something worth contributing to a conversation and (2) the less they thought about their own abilities. Often what we say is more of a reflection on ourself than it is on those we are talking about.
Over the years I’ve seen all matter of issues pop up, but essentially they’re all really “non issues” at the core. It’s all just smoke and mirrors, vapor and noise — none of it matters and none of it is significant to what is at the core of wushu.
Wushu isn’t about which school is best or which teacher has the most students, makes the most money or has the most clout. It isn’t even about the specific technique, crazy jumping or going to competitions.
Wushu, at it’s essense, is about self-development — going from the person you are, to the person you can become.
In fact, that is what “kung fu” is really about: the cultivation of inner excellence and mastery over time.
Whether your medium is cooking or calligraphy; computers or combat — the end goal is the same: To be a better human being than you were when you started.
And the wushu practitioner who keeps this in mind — who roots their training, beliefs and focus on this simple truth — will never need succumb to the allure of politics and gossip.
Because to them, those are not real — they are non-entitities. They are vapors of the imagination — with no true affect on their journey in life.
There are only three truths to training:
Who you are at the beginning
Who you are at the end,
And what you did to get from one to the other.
Interestingly enough, those are also the three truths when living one’s life …
Log in to alivenotdead.com with one of these trusted providers
NOTE: Users of the original website please Click here to reactivate your account.
New users - Join the alivenotdead.comcommunity instantly by confirming your identity with a trusted authentication service.
Returning users - Please use with the same authentication service to login to your alivenotdead.com account.
First time users can create a new account from scratch by authenticate using any of the following trusted services:
WARNING: If you disconnect all your social media accounts your profile will be locked and you will not be able to access it again. If you want to keep your page, please add another social media account and then remove this one.
If you understand the risks, click this box to deauthorize your account.