Wushu Retrospective (Part 6): 1996-2000: Sifu Video
I can remember the first time I saw a wushu video.
I was at Mai Morgan’s house one day after an early wushu class on Sunday (she was a Cal Wushu student who was training at Wushu West) and I noticed she had a video tape labeled “Beijing Wushu Team” on it.
My eyes bugged out. “What is that??” I asked.
She explained that she had gotten the video from this guy named Ishmael and it was footage of the Beijing Wushu Team doing some demos. I begged and pleaded with her to watch it so she let me sit in the back basement of her home and plop it in the VCR.
OH. MY. GOD.
It was a video of the Beijing Wushu Team’s 1995 demo at U.C. Berkeley during the U.C. Martial Arts Expo. After that it was footage of the Beijing Wushu Team training in 1994 — footage taken by Daniel Wu and Patrick Lee while they were training at Shi Cha Hai.
I was floored. I watched the whole thing through .. all 3 hours of it.
Then I watched it again.
And then I watched it two more times.
Mai had gone off to run some errands and was doing something else the whole time. I felt like a mooch, but I couldn’t get enough. By the time I left her home it was almost midnight and I was on a wushu high.
It took a while but I finally managed to get a copy of the video myself. Ishmael had this whole operation going where he would charge people for videos he made which were from footage he copied from someone else. Today it would be laughable, since most videos are online in less than a week.
But this was 1996. There was barely an internet (compuserve, anyone?) and certainly no digital videos uploaded to websites. Getting wushu footage back then was akin to finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
When I got my hands on that tape I would watch it everyday.
I would push play when I woke up. I would keep it running when I came home from work. I would keep it running all night until I went to bed. Even if I wasn’t watching it closely, I was still absorbing it.
To this day, if you just play me the audio from those videos, I can tell you which part of the video it is and who is doing which form. I had memorized every nook and crevice of every movement.
But it was more than just being in awe of the physical performance of the professionals. It was an education. I learned what wushu was supposed to look like. I could disect, slow down and pause techniques to study them carefully. I absorbed it like a sponge, trying to understand what the difference was between people like them and people like us .. and then working to figure out how to bridge that gap.
Aside from Patti’s instruction, I would say that watching wushu videos was the single biggest factor in any improvements I made with wushu.
In 1997 David went to China. When he came back he had videos! It actualy took him 6 months to make a copy for me, but back then it wasn’t unheard of. We would wait months and months to get the latest footage, and then clutch it tightly to our chests like it was the holy grail.
There were 5 videos in particular during the 1996-2000 period that really had a strong impact on me.
The first was the 1995 Cal Martial Arts Expo performance. I wish I still had that footage today but the video tape has long since gone bye bye. However, I do have the same performance, but from a different camera. The quality isn’t as good and you can’t see things very clearly, but at least it will give you an idea.
Here is their opening group set. When I watched this I practically had a canniption.
What really struck me was the level of their basics. It was a whole different level than what I was used to. Yes, I had seen the Beijing Wushu Team perform when I first started wushu. But when you’re that new you aren’t able to grasp what you’re seeing — you have no basis for comparison.
But I had watched wushu basics for a year or two and I had a better understanding of what was involved. But this blasted my paradigm out of the water. Here is footage of their basics from that performance:
In that footage I found my first wushu idol. Zhu Gui Jun. She was the 1994 National Southern Fist Champion. And when I saw her wushu I suddenly had an urge to move to China, marry her and have lots of little southern fist babies.
All joking aside, she really was amazing. Up until I had seen this video I was really on the fense about nanquan. I was still more interested in jumping around with chang quan. But after I watched this I realized that it was possible to do nanquan and make it look awesome.
Here is her southern fist performance from that demo:
The second video was the 1995 Palace of Fine Arts demonstration. Yes, it was the same demonstration that I attended. Except this time I could actually see what was going on as the cameras were closer to the action that I had been in the back row.
On that video I was particularly amazed with a few performances. Qiu Dong Xing’s staff. He Jing De’s broadsword. Jiang Bang Jun’s spear. Kong Xiang Dong’s drunken sword.
Okay .. so maybe it was all amazing. Unfortunately I don’t have the footage for that event. A pity though since it was really quite amazing. (This is also how I learned to never loan out wushu videos, regardless of whom asks.)
The third video was the one Pat and Dan took in Beijing in 1994. It was the first time I had seen real Chinese training before. Until then the only wushu classes I had ever seen were at Wushu West or some other Bay Area school.
But this was totally different. I think what surprised me the most was that they all did basics at the start of each class. I mean .. I knew they did. But I guess I had assumed that their “basics” were some sort of super human version of what we did. Or that they only did basics for demonstrations when they were travelling to other countries.
But it was the same thing! (Just done way way better.)
But it gave me hope, because I realized that it isn’t so much that they are born with better ability than me, but just that they’ve put more time in to their training — the same training that I was doing over in the U.S.
And on top of that it made me realize that if people of their calliber were still focusing on their basics, then that meant I had to focus on them even more. It really instilled in me my focus on having strong fundamentals in wushu (and in pushing those fundamentals on to anyone I teach).
Another strong person from that video, and one that most current wushu folks have never heard of, is Shang Yu. He was the staff champion in 1994. In 1997 He busted his knee doing staff and had to switch from Chang Quan to Nan Quan. It was a pity because, as good as his nanquan was, I think his chang quan was straight off the hook. Here he is:
The fourth video that had a big impact on me was the one David brought back from China in 1997. Again, it was training, but this time even more of it. What made it even better was that David would provide some commentary when we watched the video, so I had someone who could actually tell me what they were doing, why they were doing it, and how they were training.
It made it seem even more real to me, I guess. Sort of like listening to the director or actor commentary for a movie. You just get that extra dimension of understanding.
All of those videos are now available on wushucentral.com, so here is a link to some of my particular favorites.
And you can’t really call yourself an afficianado of wushu videos if you don’t have any Liu Qing Hua in your collection. She is probably the winningest wushu woman in the history of the sport. Her medal count probably is close to or surpasses Patti’s.
I remember David telling me once that she and Patti were talking about how much pressure there is on you after you’ve won multiple consecutive national all around titles. Truly a conversation that very few people in the world can have …
Some people don’t like Han Jing’s flavor, but for me I really, really dig her style. There’s just something really “meaty” about the way she moves that I think is very unique. At a time when a lot of athletes were turning into speed machines, she developed her own unique style and flavor, and that is something I really appreciated.
Of course, these days she is a coach and athlete for the Macau Wushu Team. I should really go over there and hang out with her, but every time I see her she tells me I’ve gotten fat. (Gotta love the bluntness of Chinese athletes … )
You can find even more videos from the 1997 Beijing Wushu Team by clicking on these links:
And finally, the fifth video that really had a huge impact on me was footage that we took during my trip to China in 1999. They had a mock competition for the women and a bunch of women from various teams were going through their forms for some judges to get critiqued.
The best part of it was that there were members of the Guangdong wushu team there and I got to see some real southerners doing real southern fist for the first time ever. I still love watching that footage (which again you can find on wushu central).
One of the competitors in particular would become one of my favorite wushu athletes of all time. Her nanquan was really something special. Fortunately it would not be the last time I got to see it.
Actually, I lied. There is another video that had a big impact on me.
When I was in China in 1999, I managed to get the name, address and phone number of the Guangdong wushu team head coach. In 2000 my friend Matt Wong wanted to train in China so I gave him the contact info and he ended up training with the Guangdong team.
And thankfully he brought back some pretty awesome nanquan footage. Some of the best nanquan training footage I’ve ever seen because, not only were they working on lots of cool (and at that time never-before-seen) individual forms (up until then it was all compulsories), but they got footage of actual nanquan basics training.
It was the first time I had seen China athletes training in nanquan basics besides the standard combinations you get from the compulsory. In fact, it’s one of the few times I’ve ever seen nanquan basics at all. Up until 2006 when Johnny and I learned a set of basics from Li Neng Miao, I would say that this was pretty much the source of most of my nanquan basics knowledge:
(Isn’t it awesome that you can get it just by reading my blog? Yes, it is. You’re welcome.)
Needles to say, besides the two forms I learned in China in 1999, a lot of my first individual nanquan forms came from all of these tapes. In fact, my fourth section is still primarily comprised from the 4th section of the second video below.
This is Wang Lin, my second Nan Quan Female Idol, after Zhu Gui Jun. I only have two sections for you to look at today as I’m not sure where the other footage is at the moment.
And this is the girl that I refer to as “Spikey”. I can’t remember he name, so I gave her a nickname. In any case, I really like her nanquan and a lot of hers and Wang Lin’s moves have been incorporated into many of my forms over the years.
In the Wushu Community people who rely too heavily on wushu videos for their education and training are sort of made fun of. (Well .. not to their face, of course.) That’s where the whole “sifu video” thing came from. And while I agree that it’s not a good idea to solely learn wushu from videos, at the same time I think that videos can be an amazing supplement to your training program.
It can provide inspiration and motivation. It can demonstrate correct technique. It can show you new methods of training. And it can help you learn new choreography or movements to incorporate into your forms.
I only wish that I had received the benefit of all of these wushu videos earlier on because it would have come in handy from 1996 to 1998 when I found myself competing on the National level for the first time….
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