The recent acceptance of wushu (martial arts) into the
Olympic Games attests to the sport's international success. To
be considered for the Olympics, a sport must be represented in 73
countries and span at least three continents; the International
Wushu Federation (IWUF), recognized in 1995 by the
International Olympic Committee (IOC), reported members in more
than 78 countries and in every (inhabitable) continent.
Indeed, the ancient Chinese martial art has come a long way
since the 1970s, when athlete/film actor Bruce Lee introduced it to
the world in his popular action movies. Though few people outside
China knew anything about the art or the country of its origin,
Lee's amazing skill quickly influenced foreign boys and girls to
take up the practice.
Yet it seems wushu is fading in popularity in its
native land. Attending a wushu class in any of Shanghai's
martial arts schools confirms that today's wushu followers
are, for the most part, curious expatriates. At Alvin Guo's Longwu
Gongfu Center on Shaanxi Nanlu, almost all of the students
practicing jumps and crouches are foreigners, usually from Europe
and North America.
Guo says he's noticed that Chinese seem more interested in
attending the other "Western" martial arts classes offered at his
school, such as tae kwon do and yoga. His wushu students,
most of whom are 16 to 25, often consider wushu a part of
their experience of Chinese culture. Also, they know that
wushu coaching in its original country is probably better
than what they can get at home.
Indeed, if they are looking for a qualified wushu
coach, students at the Longwu school are getting more than their
money's worth. Alvin Guo, who teaches both Shaolin Long Fist and
Taiji Chuan, began practicing wushu at six years old, in
"At that time -- in the 80s -- wushu was very popular
in China," he says. He started taking classes and in 1989 swept a
children's competition. He became captain of the Shanghai
wushu team from 1991 to 2002, during which time he spent a
year and a half touring the US with the famous Barnum and Bailey
circus, picking up conversational English on the road.
Guo won the 1996 and 1997 National Championships in sword and
long fist events and the 1998 World Championships in spear, sword,
and Taiji Chuan. After 2002, when an injury prevented further
competitive appearances, Guo took the next logical step: he opened
his own wushu school.
His newly purchased studio is in a former theatre on Shaanxi
Nanlu. It is spacious and colourfully decorated, both with remnants
of theatre backdrops and with wushu related pictures.
There are five large mat areas and many mirrors for students to
practice in front of while the instructors critique and advise.
Most classes are 90 minutes long. The atmosphere is friendly and
supportive, which is necessary to learn often frustrating
Wushu, known in many countries as kungfu, has
hazy origins dating back to before Chinese statehood. Before
China's Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), warriors already
were being trained in wuyi, a practice recognizably
related to wushu. One of the most popular wushu
styles, Shaolin Style, is credited to Bodhidharma, the Indian monk
who came to China teaching Buddhism in the fifth century.
In its roughly 2,000 years of development, wushu has
expanded to include more than 100 styles, such as "Shaolin Long
Fist" and "Drunken Boxing", and more than 50 types of weapons,
varying from the common staff and sword to the more eclectic fan
An ancient practice with a faithful following all around the
world, wushu may not be the current fad in China but its
representation in the 2008 Olympics promises to revive interest and
keep the tradition thriving.
(Shanghai Star August 1, 2003)