Saturday, September 06, 2008

day 172: las vegas kung fu tournament

well, we finally had the big trip to the Las Vegas Kung Fu Tournament.

this was a first time for me, and i figured to just go and experience things. as a result, i didn't have any expectations.

originally, i was entered the beginner sparring competition and was also serving as a referee for the sword sparring competition, but i knew there was a conflict between the 2 and the chances of me being able to do both were pretty slim. this was all the more assured by the announcement that the organizers were going to try and have everything in 1 day, compressing the schedule. with this in mind, i'd pretty much made up my mind that if there was a conflict, i was going to referee the sword sparring, since it seemed to be a bigger event and something that involved a lot more people than just me (as opposed to just beginner sparring, which only involved me), and hence had greater significance that called for greater priority.

the tournament was hosted by Tony Yang and Nick Skrima. Tony is a kung fu brother of our Sifu, Jason Tsou. the tournament, while open to anyone, seemed to also serve as a reunion point for the North American representatives of the Wutan organization, with the list of masters including a roll call of Wutan flag-bearers: Su Yuchang (New York), Jason Tsou (Los Angeles), Tony Yang (Ohio), John Hom (Canada), and Kurt Wong (Alaska). they were only missing Adam Hsu, who relocated to Taiwan a number of years ago but used to be in San Francisco.

this was a bit of a revelation for me. even though this tournament was in its 1st year and hence had a smaller turnout relative to the other national ones, it still seemed like a big event. part of this was that i've never seen so many kung fu practitioners gathered into 1 location. another part of it was that i'd never seen such a diversity of kung fu participants. the tournament crowd covered a full spectrum in age and gender and race and background and styles and skill level. i spoke to a few people who'd driven or flown from as far as Alaska (from Kurt Wong's school) and Florida.

i took a few pictures so you can get a feeling of the visitors:
for Sifu and the other Wutan masters, i could tell this was really more a reunion, and thus a time to catch-up on news and events in their lives and share time with friends they don't get to see that often. the tournament was really a secondary thing. as a result, they were quite relaxed and seemed to be have a good time.

i had a chance to meet all of them, enough to get a feel for their personalities. Master Su Yuchang, who is the most senior of the group, doesn't speak very much English, so i had some difficulty talking to him, but he seems to be a very friendly individual once he feels comfortable around you--i've been told he's quite a socialite, and is renowned for staying up late into the night and early morning, and the little i saw this time confirmed this for me (i don't think i've stayed up past midnight in YEARS, perhaps decades, but Master Su seemed to do this with aplomb). Masters Tony Yang and John Hom also seem quite gregarious, with Tony Yang appearing to be the more outgoing personality, and the leader of conversation in the group. Master Kurt Wong turned out to be what i had expected, with a much more reserved personality (i've always believed it takes a certain personality type to live in Alaska, particularly as a teacher, and he fit it almost exactly).

this also gave me an opportunity to see Master Tsou in context...he's the only martial arts instructor i've had, so i've never really been able to have a feel for how he compares with others apart from people have told me. he's not quite as socially outgoing as Masters Su, Yang, or Hom, with a slightly more toned down edge. and his kung fu practice seems to cover more of the traditional asian medicine aspect compared to the others--with the exception of Su Yuchang, who i understand is an actual TCM doctor. in addition, he also seems to be in better health.

i wasn't able to take as many pictures or videos as i would have liked. because the schedule was compressed into a single Saturday, i found myself busy the entire day. as i had expected, there was a conflict between beginner sparring and sword sparring, and i had to forfeit beginner sparring to help out with the sword tournament. this was just as well, since it turned out that the sword tournament had 19 competitors (by far the most popular event of the entire tournament) and had a shortage of judges (even with me, we still had to rotate in Mike DiSargo and Sifu to help). that, and Sifu mentioned to me that because this was the 1st year for the sword tournament, he considered it more important than anything else we had going on and wanted to try and make sure it had a good debut.

i managed to make some videos during breaks, mostly of the events closest to the sword ring. you can see them for yourself.
kung fu kid:

women's sword:

women's sabre:

men's sword:

i had wanted to take video of everyone from our school who was competing, but i missed out on most. Laura was in beginner forms, John Eagles was in 2 events (advanced forms and sword sparring), Jonathan Shen was in 3 events (advanced forms, intermediate sparring, and sword sparring), Simon was in beginner sparring, Phunsak was in advanced forms (solo, and 2-person with Ching-Chieh), and Richard was in sword sparring.

i ended up mostly taking video of the post-tournament Master's Demonstration, which served as the closing ceremony. Sifu did demonstrations of san cai and bagua 64 palms, and Phunsak did a 2-person demonstration with Ching-Chieh of 64 palms as well as a 2-person demonstration with Kieun of san cai jian. you can see the video of them, as well as the 1 video i caught of Jonathan, below:
Sifu Jason Tsou, 64 palms A & B:

Phunsak & Ching-Chieh, 2-person 64 palms:

Sifu Jason Tsou, san cai jian:

Phunsak & Kieun, 2-person san cai jian:

Jonathan Shen, mantis:

one of the things i should note is that i got a real sense while being in the audience that my kung fu school, and my instructor, is really unique. i heard whispers of excitement and curiousity about bagua and san cai jian, with some people saying that it was important to record them because they were the kind of things people don't often see. i even overheard one person tell his partner to ignore all the other forms and to make sure to record ours, since they were more important and more worthy of video time on his HD video memory card. i could see that our school is much more traditional, and much more closely aligned to the fighting function of kung fu, relative to many others that were present, which were more modern and related to current wushu practice.

most of the other forms i saw were all shaolin-related. they were impressive, and definitely very showy and crowd-pleasing. you can see the videos i took:
shaolin weapons:

shaolin rope dart:

would i go to a tournament again? well, this tournament is being held in Las Vegas again next year, and then the year after is moving to Tokyo. i'd like to go, and actually make an effort to compete. and for sure, i think it's important to try sparring, if nothing else to help motivate learning how to use kung fu as a martial art--Kieun mentioned to me that compared to other forms of self-defense, kung fu generally doesn't do anywhere near the same amount of person-on-person application training that other styles like boxing, judo, wrestling, etc. do, which i see as important in terms of actually being able to defend yourself.

the catch for me is that i'm in a bit of a fluid period in my life, since i'm looking for a tenure-track job and don't have a lot of stability. i'm also still committed to endurance sports, and my friends are saying that there's only so much time for us to get together (since everyone has family and careers that are pulling us away from each other) and that we should commit to doing an Ironman as a group--and all the ones they want to do occur at the same time as all the kung fu tournaments. i'm going to have to take some time and sort this out.

but this was a good experience, and i got to see a lot of things i didn't know before. it helped improve my perspective on traditional chinese martial arts, and learn more about the Wutan presence within it. hopefully i can go again...i'd really be interested in Tokyo, since it would give me an excuse to stay for an extra month and really tour a country i've always wanted to visit. we'll see.

1 comment:


Best of luck in your martial arts path! Cool videos.