Wushu: a Culture of Adversaries

by Guo-Bin Dai & An Lu 

Journal of the Philosophy of Sport
(published online 06 August 2019) 


Wushu is widely misunderstood and its essentially combative nature is being challenged in public discussion. Understanding and recovering its essential nature has become a core issue. This paper first conducts a review of the history of the Chinese hieroglyphic 武 (Wu) which is the core of the phrase of Wushu, and explores the word’s two most widely-accepted interpretations: ‘to carry a dagger-axe to fight with’ and ‘to put away the dagger-axe and stop fighting’. Understanding these two interpretations of Wu is the key to understand Wushu which is an art about Wu. Second, this paper, referencing cultural history, analyzes different methods of Wushu practice: Gedou (free combat), Taolu (compiled routine) and Gongfa (basic prowess). Third, based on Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance, this paper analyzes the different sorts of opponents, either real or imagined, in Taolu, Gedou, and Gongfa. Finally, this paper redefines Wushu as a culture of adversaries where such adversaries implicitly transfer the practitioner’s focus ‘from non-human to human’ and ‘from others to the self’.

From the article:

“… It is noteworthy that among those visible and invisible, microscopic and
macroscopic adversaries, the biggest adversary is the practitioner himself. As
Lao Tzu once stated, ‘He who is able to overcome himself is the winner’. In
order to improve their own ability of overcoming the self, Wushu masters
not only created Taolu, but also set a series of ethical norms to overcome
their own instinctive impulse. Taking self as an adversary demonstrates the
self-control and inward-inspection of Chinese culture. Thus, as the culture of
adversaries, Wushu has civilization on the outside and a warrior in the inside.”


The authors of this paper appreciate all the reviewers’ and editors’ suggestions on the revision. Special thanks should go to Professor Paul Gaffney for his warm encouragement in helping us improve the paper. We also thank Dr. Ben Judkins for his generous help and advice. Any errors are our own and we accept any and all criticism or correction.



Invented Tradition and Translated Practices: the Career of Tai Chi in China and the West

by Gehao Zhang
(Doctoral Thesis) 


This thesis takes the primary contemporary icons of Chinese tradition –the popular practice of Tai Chi‐and subjects its career in both China and the West, to a series of critical interrogations focusing on three main moments; the invention and (re)imagination of tradition, the practice’s migration from China to the West, and its translation by its English practitioners. During the Imperial period, when Tai Chi was defined primarily as a martial art, it was the focus of a sustained struggle between its official deployment as part of the military machine and its practice by clandestine societies and insurgent movement. It was simultaneously incorporated into the push to modernization and promoted as a part of an unbroken cultural legacy that defined the uniqueness of Chineseness in various forms during Republican China, Mao’s era and Post‐Mao era. The thesis also looks at the key figures and the process of institutionalization and indigenisation as the practice generated its own national professional associations and competitions in England since 1940s. Based on ethnographic research in the Midlands, the thesis explores the contending understandings of Tai Chi among its English practitioners. It explores the ways in which British instructors locate themselves within an ‘authentic’ tradition by way of a latent lineage system. This allows them to maintain their own personal commitment to Tai Chi as a martial art conflicts while working with the market drive for mass participation based on concepts of relaxation and alternative therapy and medicine. The ethnographic research also explores the ways that students in Tai Chi classes translate it into an indoors practices with an outdoors imagination, and as a bodily discipline with a spiritual basis, and how they construct their understanding of this spiritual dimension by drawing on polysemic interpretations of oriental conceptions such as Yin, Yang and Qi rather than the standardised references to Taoism in the public representations.

About the author:

Gehao Zhang, assistant professor in Macau University of Science and Technology. He got his PhD in Loughborough University with an ethnography on British Tai Chi Practitioners, his recent research includes martial arts studies, media archaeology, digital anthropology and qualitative data analysis.






Full text available: https://repository.lboro.ac.uk/ndownloader/files/17105312

Let’s Get This Tai Chi Ball Rolling

by Brian Corless 

The aim of this article is to let the Australian Tai Chi community know about the need for more people in Australia to become more physically active and to ask for your help with ideas and suggestions about getting more people involved in Tai Chi.

In 2018 the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) released its Global Action Plan for Physical Activity (2018-2030) with the slogan “Let’s Be Active: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday”. Australia is one of 168 countries that signed up for the Global Action Plan and agreed to develop ways to promote more physical activity with the message of “More Active People for a Healthier World”. Tai Chi and Yoga are both specifically named in the WHO Global Action Plan Report as activities worth promoting to get more people more active worldwide.

According to the Australian Heart Foundation, the WHO Global Action Plan has a goal of “a 15% reduction in the global prevalence of physical inactivity in adults and adolescents by 2030”. It also said that in 2019 “more than half of Australian adults are not meeting WHO activity guidelines” (i.e. not exercising enough for health benefits), and that Australia is in the bottom half of all countries (we are ranked 97 out of 168) in terms of levels of physical activity (including Tai Chi). Countries that fared better on the ranking than Australia included Uganda, China, Canada, Mexico and our neighbours Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The Heart Foundation reported that “52% of Australian adults and 80% of Australian children and young people (aged 5 to 17) are not active enough for health benefits”. They estimate that the cost of being inactive in Australia is $805 million each year, with a large part of those costs relating to healthcare funding ($640 million). The estimated cost of physical inactivity to Australian households is $124 million each year because of chronic lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes related to lack of exercise which also shortens the lifespan of those Australians. These figures are damning and present a major challenge for Australian governments who say that they are committed to coming up with a National Action Plan on Physical Activity as part of the WHO Global Action Plan.

In its 2019 Blueprint for an Active Australia, the Heart Foundation identifies Tai Chi, among other activities such as aerobics and yoga, as improving and maintaining “…physical and cognitive function, social connectedness, preventing falls and maintaining our ability to independently cope with activities…” as we age. It recommends providing more community-based programs for seniors including Tai Chi and Qigong. Also, several recent health research studies support Tai Chi’s practice across the lifespan from children and adolescents through to adults and seniors.

In June, 2019 the Australian Department of Health published tips for increasing Physical Activity and reducing Sedentary Behaviour for Australians and identified Tai Chi as suitable for improving “flexibility in over 65’s”. We know, and the research evidence confirms, that Tai Chi has many more health benefits to offer younger and older Australians than our Health Department realises. How do we get that message across?

Despite the Heart Foundation’s damning figures for physical inactivity, the publishing of the Global Action Plan and Blueprint for an Active Australia presents an opportunity for the Australian Tai Chi community to get the message out to the public and to Governments that Tai Chi should be an integral part of the Australian National Action Plan for Physical Activity. The good news for Tai Chi is that medical research worldwide supports the role of Tai Chi for a healthier society. Volunteer organisations such as TCAA, Wushu Council Australia, WTQA, Chin Woo and others are doing a great job with limited resources promoting annual activities such as World Tai Chi and Qigong day, the Annual Moon Festival, annual competitions around the country, Lunar New Year festivals, training workshops, an academic Wushu conference and other activities. These organisations are volunteer-based and their hard-working committees deserve a round of applause from the rest of the Tai Chi community.

Despite this great work by these volunteer organisations, participation rates in Tai Chi in Australia remained at the same level over the past 10 to 15 years, with no significant increase in the number of people taking part. This has also been the story for participation rates in Tai Chi in the United States, despite an explosion of medical research articles worldwide demonstrating the health benefits of regular Tai Chi practice.

On the other hand, Yoga doubled its participation numbers in the USA between 2002 and 2012 and the difference was coordinated marketing campaigns by the American Yoga organisations. Similarly, physical fitness (aerobic and gym) activities in Australia increased in numbers participating between 2001 and 2010 because of a coordinated and strong public health message via the Fitness Industry and governments in the media. In 2019, Fitness Australia, the peak national body for the Fitness Industry, was invited to attend the 2nd WHO dialogue in Switzerland on implementing the Global Action Plan. What is this telling the Australian Tai Chi community? Do we stay the same or can we get better at promoting Tai Chi for a healthier Australia?

My question then to the Australian Tai Chi community is: How do you think we can best promote Tai Chi to the Australian public?

To answer this question, we need your help and opinions. If you have some experience in advertising and/or promotions or applying for funding please consider helping us by letting me know so that we can coordinate the talents of the Australian Tai Chi community. Alternatively, if you have any suggestions or ideas about promoting Tai Chi in Australia please email me at bcorless@shoalhaven.net.au and I’ll put your ideas together and forward them to the Tai Chi committees and let you know the results.

If you don’t have any suggestions or ideas, maybe you can email me with your Tai Chi story. We want to hear your story, for example, why did you start practising Tai Chi and what does Tai Chi mean to you?

With your ideas and stories, together let’s get this Tai Chi ball rolling for a healthier Australia.


*With thanks to Cyril Loa, TCAA for his comments.

About the author:

Brian Corless is a Clinical Psychologist on the NSW south coast and practises Tai Yi Tai Chi Chuan under
the tutelage of Sifu Wang Yun Kuo, Kungfu Republic Academy, Sydney.

The patriotic narrative of Donnie Yen: how martial arts film stars reconcile Chinese tradition and modernity

Celebrity Studies

Stevey Richards

11 April 2019


Mainland China’s rejection of various traditional institutions and the Maoist political doctrine in the period following Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 resulted in ideological disorientation. To address this, the Chinese government has begun to promote traditional martial arts as a practice and as a cultural object to foster a renewed sense of national identity. However, this process of ideological fortification is complicated by Chinese martial arts’ connection to the country’s imperial system, which collapsed in the face of colonial aggression at the end of the 19th century. This article will explore how Chinese film star Donnie Yen negotiates traditional Chinese martial arts’ problematic ideological position via the Ip Man film series (2008–2015). It draws on Ellis Cashmore’s notion of celebrity narrative and Richard Dyer’s concept of star image to examine how these films have rendered Yen as a patriot and allow him to reconcile ideological contradictions within Chinese martial arts’ status. Finally, it establishes that this operation is reinforced through Yen and the Ip Man franchise’s relationship with the deceased star Bruce Lee, and concludes that martial arts film stars’ images may effect ideological reconciliations between contemporary and traditional Chinese culture.

About the Author

Stevey Richards is currently studying for his PhD in film studies at the University of Winchester, where he also frequently teaches Film Studies. His thesis deals with the semiotic analysis of Kung Fu in mainland Chinese and Hong Kong cinema. He has been studying Chinese martial arts, including Wing Chun, for over fifteen years.



Education in the Chinese national sport system: experiences of professional wushu athletes

Sport in Society

Yang Zhang, Jessica W. Chin, Shirley H.M. Reekie

22 December 2018


Within the Chinese national sport system, the government provides resources and funding to train athletes from a young age to become high-performance competitors. Though athletes are well supported to excel in their sport, during their years of intense physical training, athletes generally receive little to no formal education to prepare them for life outside of sport. The sacrifice of forgoing formal education to compete in elite level sport is not uncommon for athletes within centralized sporting systems and has been widely documented; however, there is little research that focuses on the impact of the team’s educational systems from the perspective of the athletes. To add to the growing body of research in this area, the authors utilized in-depth interviews to examine professional wushu athletes’ education experiences whilst training on their team. Thematic analysis of the findings revealed that athletes who committed themselves to sport training in the Chinese national system had to negotiate a number of factors related to time, motivation, social influences, and resources when it came to education and academia. Findings highlight the ways in which these athletes experience and come to terms with limited academic opportunities, preparation and support from their team and the training environment.

About the Authors

Yang Zhang – Department of Kinesiology, University of Maryland

Jessica W. Chin, PhD – Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, San Jose State University, College of Health and Human Sciences.

Dr. Jessica Chin serves as the research and core specialist for SJSU’s Department of Kinesiology and is engaged in both the undergraduate and graduate programs. Dr. Chin is an active member of the Western Society for the Physical Education of College Women (WSPECW), the International Sociology of Sport Association (ISSA), and the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS), regularly presenting her research at their annual conferences. She is the Chair of the NASSS Elections Committee and has also served on the NASSS Diversity and Conference Climate Committee (DCCC) and the Environmental Impact Committee. Dr. Chin was elected as Chair of the Committee to Enhance Equity and Diversity (CEED) in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts (CASA) from 2010-2014 and was also an academic consultant to the Bay Area Physical Education-Health Program (Bay PE-HP).

With a strong desire to include students in work that promotes diversity and social justice, Dr. Chin has mentored and advised students in various capacities. As an example, she leads and advises RePlay, a nonprofit, student-based group that seeks to benefit and initiate positive change in local communities and educational institutions. Following the core principles of promoting social justice and a green lifestyle, RePlay collects used sporting goods and equipment, which they refurbish and distribute at events specially organized for underserved community groups. RePlay has organized events and made significant donations to foster children, homeless shelters, underfunded physical education programs, and summer camps. Dr. Chin is passionate about physical activity and remains an advocate for underserved and underrepresented populations through her teaching, research, and community service.

Shirley H.M. Reekie, PhD – Professor, Department of Kinesiology, San Jose State University, College of Health and Human Sciences.

Shirley Reekie received an undergraduate degree from I.M. Marsh College of Physical Education, Liverpool, and the University of Liverpool, UK and a master’s degree from the University of Leeds. Following three years teaching physical education, English and geography at Keswick School, Shirley earned a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University with a dissertation entitled “A History of Sport and Recreation for Women in Great Britain 1700-1850.” Shirley came to San Jose State University in 1982 and had one book “Sailing Made Simple,” published in 1986, and another “Bean Bags to Bod Pods” that chronicles the Kinesiology Department’s 150 years, published in 2012.  She has recently been commissioned to write a history of Trearddur Bay Sailing Club, founded in 1919.