Around 100 contestants participated in the North American preliminaries of the 3rd Annual International Chinese Traditional Martial Arts Competition. This year’s competition has attracted the most talent to date.
During the first day of competition at New York City’s Baruch College, each contestant greeted a panel of revered senior martial arts judges before performing his or her 2 to 3 minute piece. Contestants hailed from all over the world, from as far as Australia, Japan, and China.
Restoring a traditional martial arts creed is the goal of New Tang Dynasty TV’s competition. The contestants are judged on their honor and the authenticity of their style—which means no mixing of the different schools within Chinese martial arts, and no modern stuntswork.
Included in the competition are five divisions: fist category (male and female), weapons (male and female), and Southern style. In the long tumultuous course of Chinese history and popularization of wushu (martial arts) in the West, a lot of its roots have been lost. The competition’s goal is to recover these roots.
Head judge Youfu Li opened the day with a message to the contestants: “I hope you will all open your hearts and show the best of your talents. In the future of Chinese cultural renaissance, you will be remembered by history.”
The Southern style began in the end of the Ming dynasty and beginning of the Qing dynasty. The style features a stable stance, flexible, rich hand forms, and powerful movements. Compared to the Northern style first forms, the range of movements is quite compact and attacks are focused on the opponent’s upper body and head.
Andrew Lengyel from San Francisco has studied at the Doc Fai Wong School for more than 15 years. He performed in the Choy Lee Fut style with a form called Leopard Fist. He also entered in the weapons category with double hooks, a unique Chinese weapon.
“This competition is much more traditional than others,” he said, adding that at many tournaments, different martial arts styles are lumped together into categories, “traditional” being one. “There would sometimes be two people in the traditional division,” he said.
Chinese martial arts stress the importance of morality and honor. “It’s all about bettering oneself, improving your skills, and understanding that martial arts are only to be used in self-defense,” Lengyel added.
Tammy Lee from Virginia Beach began her fist form with soft arm movements. She also participated in the weapons category with a piece titled “Plum Flower Spear.” Her school of practice is Jow Ga, meaning “Jow family,” which originates from Guangzhou province in the south of China. It combines Xingyi (animal-derived) movements with the basics of Southern wushu.
Over the course of 16 years, Lee has grown to learn more of the philosophy behind the movements, she said. “For example, why certain punches work, how to block and why.” Her teacher is none other than her father Hoy K. Lee, who learned his art as a kid in a village in Guangzhou.
“Jow Ga combines three systems in one and is one of the most popular schools,” Lee Sr. said. “It follows in the way of Wong Fei-Hung, one of a few famous stars [in Chinese martial arts].”
Michelle Seng of the Nam Pai Academy in Boston practices the Fut Ga “Buddha School” style, which she says is not widely known in the United States. It is an external art with some internal qualities.
“It is not as explosive-looking as some styles,” she said. “As my shi-fu [teacher] puts it, it’s a ‘gentleman’s art’ with precise and tight movements. Sometimes the movements are in the fingers; you would strike vital areas such as the eyes—more for distraction than to hurt someone.”
She has done this style for three years after having done karate. “Karate is more choppy and depends on strength. Kungfu depends on your core energy. I’m glad I switched,” she said.