Kung fu’s failures and cultural identity

Discussion in 'Kung Fu' started by Monkey_Magic, Mar 16, 2019.

  1. Monkey_Magic

    Monkey_Magic Well-Known Member

    What’s the future for kung fu? This article makes a great read.

    It’s part two of Bloody Elbow’s Asian MMA series. The article includes some interesting thoughts on the failures and future of kung fu, as well as how Chinese history and culture have impacted kung fu.

    (Sanda and particularly Shiao Jiao get positive mentions, but there’s far more to it than that.)
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
    Grond and Botta Dritta like this.
  2. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    Nice article and sums up the situation pretty well.

    Which, is sad :(
    Botta Dritta and ned like this.
  3. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    Even the article adds to the problem.

    It repeats the often taken as fact assertion that china is about 5000 years old, whereas in reality strictly historical evidence only goes back to 1600 BC. No other civilization is given as much leeway as China. Its mythological times beyond 1600BC appears to be treated as historical truth because... reasons.

    China and the Myth of 5,000 Years of History | John Ross

    If you ignore the articles veiled sinophobia and political slant you still have to admit it does have a point

    Now I'm more than given to believe that chinese civilization is much older than 1600 BC, and it well be that it could still be the oldest, but there is still no definitive evidence to show for it and the burden of proof is on the claimants. And the curious thing is those that cause the backlash for even bringing into question what has often been pronounced to be a self evident truth at usually the kind of people that prevent Kung Fu from developing - Which leads to what I believe the central problem actually is: the stifling inability to challenge received wisdom and culture at least at some levels of Chinese society.

    Kung Fu in its various forms may indeed have much still to add to the world of martial arts, but the Confucian filial ideal fosters a family relationship which is good at preserving a sense of group culture and traditional transmission of ideals and feelings, at the expense of not rocking the boat when techniques or methodology become ossified and superseded by more recent developments. If not challenging the ideas you have been transmitted becomes de riguer then it usually follows that skeptical inquiry/critical thinking becomes frowned upon. I say challenge, because you can never throw everything out. Anyone involved in farming will tell you that when you separate the wheat from the chaff, even the chaff may still have value.

    The reason why I have a bee in my bonnet about this is that only this morning I was reading how one of my favorite Political Writers whose work I read at University but who I had lost track of David Selbourne was actually embroiled in an academic fraud scandal.

    One of his books The City of light (1997), purports to be a translation of a voyage to china by a merchant Jacob of Ancona a number of years before Marco Polo made his journey from a discovered ancient manuscript held by an Italian individual.

    Western academics are extremely skeptical about it, Leading Chinese scholars (some, not all) have taken it as gospel. Some of Western the criticisms of it centre on alarm bells about lingusitics and anachronisms in the work that make them convinced it is a fake, all which can which can be debated.

    But the most damning criticism is that the manuscript on which David translated it has not been made public. Selbourne asserts that "provenance and rights of ownership over it are unclear," motivating its owner's desire for anonymity. Its never been seen by anyone.


    To put it into context there have been endless gripes on this message board about how Hatsumi has not disclosed the contents of his Togakure Ryu scrolls to the public for examination. And yet he has actually shown them to individuals and I think there are some rare images floating around the net of some of its contents.

    David Selbourne has had his book uncritically published in China as History in multiple editions, for reasons one can only speculate, but I suspect may be because it reinforces established popular received wisdom of history or maybe even Communist party dogma (last is doubtful).

    Without any evidence. None. Zero Manuscript.

    If this is the default setting in the academic field of history in China, you can imagine how it is in the world of martial arts.(Though the west is hardly immune to this, See the recent Leonardo da Vinci statue for a egregious example of not challenging authority...)

    Taking aside the development of the individual via martial arts (which contrary to some RBSD/MMA purists is laudable endevour), its hard to to see how much future there is. If you cannot challenge received wisdom, if maintaining culture is more important than developing it or crating new strands, then its bound to fare badly when it come up against MMA/RBSD culture where authority is vested only in those who win/survived when endlessly challenged.
    Grond, cloudz, SWC Sifu Ben and 2 others like this.
  4. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Moved on MAP 2017 Gold Award

    Just that last paragraph there. If anyone does martial arts to better their self they absolutely are doing something good and should continue to do so regardless of what that martial art is, even Systema or Yellow Bamboo!

    Just don't claim you could beat me in a fight :D
  5. Monkey_Magic

    Monkey_Magic Well-Known Member

    You’re underestimating the internal energy of Yellow Bamboo. My Yellow Bamboo is too deadly for the ring :D
    Mitch likes this.
  6. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    Yeah, but I could.

    Does this rag smell like chloroform to you?
  7. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Not fully on topic, but worth watching:

    As usual, quality and effectiveness is down to individuals, not styles. A violin doesn't play itself, a good violinist can make a bad instrument sound great.
    Botta Dritta likes this.
  8. icefield

    icefield Valued Member

    Not to beat a dead horse too much but is any of this news?

    it's all been done before right down to gene arguing king Fu takes the long term view to proficiency ..... Of course no one can answer the other side of the question namely if I train in a combat sport and get proficient quicker than you by years and continue to train what on earth makes you think you will ever get near my skill let alone over take it?

    Oh and MVP is a kung Fu fighter not a karate guy so yey we are repped in the cage!

    And for anyone to prove an arts combat efficiency they really have to compete in a format that allows striking not just grappling.
    cloudz likes this.
  9. dbl0

    dbl0 Member

    I think the article is showing that a traditional Kung Fu school is on the way out, not many people in today's life have the option of living in a martial arts school and training endlessly. So yes I agree that a purist version of Kung Fu teaching does not have much of a future in modern day living.

    That said any martial art that is not prepared to adapt and change will also disappear over the years.

    I have been practicing Kung Fu for a number of years now and certainly from my experience I can say that we are open to change, if someone spots something not right with what we are doing regardless of their grade we work it out and change where needed.

    The grading syllabus has remained unchanged as this is what makes the style what it is, but not everything you teach in class comes from a syllabus.

    My teacher does not enforce his teachers views and teachings and would also not expect us to do the same with his.

    On the flip side not embracing change means that the original styles will never be tainted, the Chinese will keep traditional schools open to ensure the legacy lives on.
    Monkey_Magic likes this.
  10. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Moved on MAP 2017 Gold Award

    I think an interesting question is what will happen to kung fu? Mixed martial arts does seem to be eroding it over time.
  11. dbl0

    dbl0 Member

    As it is with everything !
    Monkey_Magic likes this.
  12. dbl0

    dbl0 Member

    But yes it would interesting to see what will become of Kung Fu and other styles in the next 10 - 20 years.

    I think MMA will become the main go to training system and the others will remain only in small pockets with low levels of students.
  13. Monkey_Magic

    Monkey_Magic Well-Known Member

    How many MMA gyms are focused on teaching children?

    I suspect traditional schools will continue, because many parents will continue to take their kids there. I bet children are a high proportion of martial arts students.

    Some older martial artists may prefer traditional arts over an MMA gym.
  14. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Moved on MAP 2017 Gold Award

    That's twofold. First, any gym that teaches straight BJJ will teach kids (in the current day).

    Second, as mma becomes more accessible and popular it will become cheaper. As it becomes cheaper, more kids from impoverished areas will take it up as it has a professional outlet like boxing.
    SWC Sifu Ben likes this.
  15. icefield

    icefield Valued Member

    Not really Kung Fu in China is in the up thanks mainly to the yip man films.

    I think the two these days attract such a different crowd there will always be room for both, but for Kung fu to survive it will probably move even more towards the health and forms area than combat ability

    I think it will always be popular just like larping and re inactments are.
  16. axelb

    axelb Master of Office Chair Fu

    I wonder about how this will pan out.
    Having been through "kids" classes, then adult classes, and again to look for classes for my kids the one thing I often observed regardless of cost:

    Usually you have a good kids class, or a good adult class in club, but both are difficult to find.
    BJJ and Judo may be an exception, for the club's I've seen.

    Those with a good kids class often have less focus on the adults and as a result the classes don't retain adults who are after serious training.

    The club's with a strong platform for adults, with pro competition, or proper self protection, will not have the right setup for a kids class; missing the attitude or skills to teach kids and a reward system that suits most children.

    I don't think this is a one or the other scale, but the balance seems to go one way or the other. (Partly why I ended up at a different school to where my kids train).

    Maybe in time more MMA classes for kids will occur, but I suspect they will be club's with a less quality adult class, or vice versa.
  17. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Moved on MAP 2017 Gold Award

    I haven't seen many good MMA classes for kids. Seen loads of good BJJ ones though.

    But when I said MMA I imagine it will be more like those spit and sawdust boxing gyms in a few years.

    Maybe not though. Might be more like this in the culture throughout.
    SWC Sifu Ben and axelb like this.
  18. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    I just Googled that martial art and I'm not sure what I witnessed or why anyone would ever train that for real. There's real ku fu fighting and then there's this insane pseudo psychological thing...is yellow bamboo like Kung fu or something more like faith healing? It seems as if the people are deluded into believing they are not only invincible but have magic powers. Is this some sort of mind over magic thing with a tangible spiritual benefit or is it really what it appears on the surface, lunacy?
  19. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

  20. Ben Gash CLF

    Ben Gash CLF Valued Member

    I think this is a complicated question and the answers are difficult
    Kung Fu's big problem is one of branding, and it's place within a changing fitness industry (this is going to be western centric, the issues in Asia are difficult)
    In the seventies Kung Fu's reputation was as a tough fighting art and classes were typically tough, fighting young men. Something changed in the TMA scene starting in the late 80s ans really taking off in the mid 90s. It started to be branded by a newly emerging group of professional schools as an inclusive fitness lifestyle with the consequence of people making a lot of money from 300+ student schools with a heavy emphasis on children, but also a watering down both of intensity and combatives. It also pandered quite heavily to orientalism and the post Meiji, post Qing revisionism about what martial arts actually were.
    The problem with this as a long term strategy is that in in 1993 Royce Gracie choked out Gerard Gordeau, and rather than confronting that there was a decade of denialism
    So you ended up with a massively polarised sector, with one group essentially peddling a lifestyle brand and the other a functional combat sport and each deriding the other
    This has become exacerbated in the last decade by a trend in the fitness industry towards more intense training. If the average Zumba class is a better workout than the average Kung Fu class then it becomes somewhat pointless.
    There has also been a big upward shift in quality in the fitness industry, and the amateurishness of a lot of TMA schools hampers them (but at the same time the other factors make it hard to invest and go for it)
    So solutions revolve around changing those issues
    If you look at Aaradia's school for example, they have something like 1500 students at 7 locations in a single city. They have very high quality facilities, their packages all contain private tuition as well as classes and they have a strong combat sports program.
    Customer base and perception are a massive stumbling block though. I've been seriously thinking about rebranding as a kickboxing school with an Asian combatives program, because a lot of the student base I'd want in my kung fu program are more drawn to Muay Thai and MMA, and a lot of people attracted to the idea of kung fu are turned off by padding up and getting punched in the face.
    axelb, SWC Sifu Ben and ned like this.

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