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Wushu Goes for Olympics
If curling and synchronized swimming qualify as Olympic sports, then wushu, Chinese martial arts that are lethal, disciplined, poetic, historic and deeply rooted in culture, should be adopted as well. The International Wushu Federation recently held a program for overseas instructors in Shanghai, hoping that their lobbying efforts will help win the ancient sport a place in the Olympics.

Wushu, as the ancient Chinese martial arts are known, first emerged as primitive forms of self-defense. After thousands of years of refinement, wushu, in its various forms and disciplines, is practiced the world over by people of all ages.

The most significant indication of its global stature was its recognition in February by the International Olympic Committee. The next step, being undertaken by the International Wushu Federation, is to make wushu an Olympic sport -- ideally, in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Of wushu's 31 categories, eight are being proposed for the Olympics -- four for men and four for women, says Li Yapei, an aide to the president of the IWF.

The enormous popularity and growing enthusiasm for wushu worldwide is almost certain to assure its adoption as an Olympic event, Li adds.

In China and overseas, foreigners participate in wushu competitions, like Gololobov Mikhail. At a recent kungfu training course, his brown hair and blue eyes seem a tad out-of-place -- like seeing a bushman in a loin cloth at an IT convention. But his broadsword play was masterly, and erased any doubt that the fellow had stumbled into the wrong building.

"Wushu is beautiful," says Mikhail, a member of National Wushu Federation of Russia. "I enjoy the movements and the way it makes my body feel."

And he isn't alone. About 81 overseas wushu coaches and students gathered in Shanghai earlier this month for the International Wushu Coach Training Course.

The object of the course was to introduce wushu coaches to a set of five new "taolu" (routines) which will be adopted in all international wushu competitions later this year, in preparation for next year's 7th Wushu World Championships in Macau.

Ng Siu Ching, 33, gold medallist at the 1999 Fifth Wushu World Championships, says that kungfu movies "have helped to popularize the sport abroad."

Leopoldo Castro Cruz, a 44-year-old lawyer and wushu coach from Mexico, who also attended the training course, believes the Olympics will benefit from wushu -- and vice versa. "Once wushu enters the Olympics, it will certainly become more popular -- at least as popular as taekwondo," he predicts, referring to the Korean martial art that primarily uses kicks.

Many foreign wushu students say language is a major stumbling block to learning wushu. Markus Heilmann, a member of the German national wushu team, says the best Chinese wushu teachers usually don't speak English. "Competent teachers who can speak English are extremely rare," he says, "and Chinese is a difficult language for Europeans to learn."

Ng, from Hong Kong, agrees. "Using more English would definitely help it (wushu) global accepted faster," she says.

The limited amount of information on wushu available overseas is another obstacle.

Kristaps Simanis, from Latvia, says that when he was learning wushu, he only had three videotapes of Chinese wushu tournaments. "All I could do was to imitate the movements on the tapes. If I did them incorrectly, I didn't know," he says.

The culture of wushu -- which, of course, is rooted in Chinese culture -- poses yet another problem.

"In China, your wushu teacher is your master -- 'shifu' -- and commands the respect that all teachers receive in China. The master passes on the techniques and skills and the spirit of wushu and the way of life," says Heilmann, 29. "It's completely different from a Western teacher-student relationship. We think students are equal to the teacher because it's the students who are paying, and that gives us a right to decide how -- and what -- we learn. All we want to learn are the skills and the movements. Yet without a profound understanding of the spirit of wushu, you can't possibly learn real martial art."

Due to the arduousness process of learning wushu there is a high attrition rate. Hundreds of people begin wushu training in Latvia every year, but only a few remain after one or two years. "Most give up because they can't endure the training," says Simanis.

The 26-year-old kungfu fan also calls for better regulations in the wushu world. "There is a ranking system in taekwondo, where one's class is identified by his waistband. But wushu doesn't have a similar system. If someone claims he is a master in Latvia, people will probably believe him, even if he's not," he points out. "There's just no way of knowing."

Yet foreign wushu practitioners maintain that the difficulties are not insurmountable. As Hailmann says: "Once wushu enters the Olympics, it will become more influential in the world. More people will understand wushu, which will spur its rapid development worldwide."

(eastday.com August 26, 2002)

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