Wyyc asked an interesting question that got me thinking. Here it is:
Anyway, I met a former [professional wushu athelte] recently who coached me on Nanquan. He was talking about the years he spent training and how he began to hate Wushu by his 16th year in it. He said training was extremely bitter and at the time they could train up to 4 times a day, which I think isn’t the case now from your posts about the Shanxi team’s schedule. What I wanna know is, are most of the Shanxi team members like that? Having done Wushu for so long and under such conditions, have they grown to hate it?
The issue of Chinese athletes “hating” wushu is something that I’ve come across quite a bit in the past. Especially when I was working for Jet. I don’t think it is any huge mystery that Jet doesn’t actually care that much for wushu; he’s stated it publicly in the past so I’m not dropping any bombs. (That isn’t to say he doesn’t appreciate it and all it has provided for him in his life, or that he thinks it is “bad” in and of itself. Just that he isn’t that fond of it anymore.) And I think that, with athletes of his generation, this is a fairly common sentiment.
Put yourself in their shoes. You are going along you way at the age of 8 and suddenly someone tells you that you are going to spend all your spare time (and some of your school time) going to a hall with carpets and being forced to endure hard physical exercise for extended periods of time with no rest. You weren’t asked. You were ordered.
Maybe at first it is interesting, but that wears off pretty quickly once you realize that there is no end in sight. Hard, hard manual labor and you start to develop a resentment towards it. Even later on in life when you start to receive accolades or do well in competition, you don’t really enjoy it because you realize that doing well in wushu is only the natural result of having worked so incredibly hard for so long. If anyone was forced to do what you had been forced to do, they would also be just as good.
After 15 years of hard, daily, excruciating work, you come out the other side never wanting to do or see wushu again. The only problem is that now you are stuck since it is the only skill set you have developed over your entire life and it is what you are best at. In fact, you are one of the best at it in the world. So you get a job coaching or doing films and continue to have a dual resentment/reliance relationship with wushu.
But this is really just a generalization. This experience isn’t true for all athletes. In fact, for just as many athletes you have in China, you are going to have just as many perspectives on wushu. No one’s feelings for wushu are exactly like anyone else’s.
Difference in Generations
But as a generalization, I think it is interesting that the athletes of the earlier generations compared with the athletes of the current generations have a somewhat different perspective on wushu.
Back when Jet was a kid, he wasn’t inspired to study wushu by watching “Shaolin Temple”. There was no “World Wushu Competition” he could aspire towards. No videos of great competitors to get inspired by. Heck, back when he first started training there wasn’t even a Chinese Nationals Yet.
By comparison, when you ask a lot of the athletes from the 90’s or the 21st century what their motivation for wanting to do wushu is, they will tell you “Jet Li” or “Shaolin Temple”. I remember Li Jing told me that she wanted to study wushu after watching “Shaolin Temple” and Wu Di told me that his motivation for learning wushu came from wanting to fly like the people in the movies.
When those athletes started training, there was already a system of regional, youth, national, provincial and international competitions in place that they could aspire towards. There was a history of established wushu athletes that they could look at for inspiration and motivation.
One of the things that can inspire and motivate someone to endure hard circumstances is their personal “light at the end of the tunnel”. If you are a kid and you see no “out” from your situation — no light, so to speak — then how much would you learn to dislike what you are doing?
There is a saying that too much of a good thing is not good for you. Certainly too much training in wushu can wear a person down if they don’t have any other underlying motivation for being there other than “because I have no options” or “because I have to”.
The current generation has a little more choice in the matter about their training. There are some other options available if they chose them, but many who train feel that wushu is the best opportunity for them, so they stay with it. They aren’t “forced” to train like previous generations, but there is still a very strong pressure for them to continue with what they are doing. But at least, to some degree, they have a choice.
I’m not saying that the training isn’t hard or that they don’t have bouts of “this sucks” with their situation. But at the end of the day they don’t feel as much of a lack of freedom that previous generations felt, and that does a lot for lightening one’s mood with relationship to “hating” wushu.
But like I said — everyone is different. No two people are going to deal with a situation the same way, and even thought I’m generalizing things about the state of Chinese athletes, I feel it is important to keep in mind that not all athletes fall in to a specific category of attitudes.
Asking Athletes in Shaanxi
During today’s class with the Shaanxi Wushu Team I thought I would make some inquiries and ask the athletes a few questions about why they started training and what they felt about wushu. Here is what I learned:
Yue Xiao Yu said that she started doing wushu because her mother liked wushu and wanted her to do it. It wasn’t something she was interested and during that first class she literally kicked and screamed not to be there.
When I asked her if she liked wushu today she said “no, I don’t like it” (which I thought was interesting since, as you will recall from our bike buying trip, she stated that she did like it). She said that if she had a choice she would not train in wushu. And when I asked her why she continues training if she doesn’t want to be there she answered “because my mother wants me to do wushu”.
I asked her if this was a common sentiment of the people in our group and she said that out of 10 athletes, probably 7 of them don’t like training. So I asked her who the ones in our group that liked wushu were and she said Yuan Min and pointed to another kid who trained with us (you can see him in this video at 0:40).
I thought it might be good to ask someone even younger, since they might not have the same perspective, so I went to go talk to Xin Rui, the little nanquan kid, and the young chang quan girl that trains with us (you can see her at 0:56 in the middle row in this video). Xin Rui started training from his own interest. He was a huge fan of Bruce Lee and wanted to learn real “gong fu”. The girl said that her father was a wushu teacher and so she had to go in to the “family business”, so to speak. Both of them said that they found training in wushu very tiring, but that for the most part they were okay with the experience.
I asked them that, if they really didn’t want to be there would they be able to leave, but I think they might have misunderstood me. They said that, if they didn’t do well they would be told to go home. That makes me think that, perhaps they don’t even consider quitting their training as an option. Certainly, they must receive a lot of pressure from both their coaches, teachers and the other athletes to persevere.
Next I wandered over to Yuan Min. Since Xiao Yu mentioned him as one of the athletes that like wushu I thought he might have a different perspective.
“Do you like training in wushu?” I asked.
“No” he answered.
“Really? But Xiao Yu said you like wushu.” I asked.
“I like wushu. But I don’t like training. It is too tiring.” he replied.
Ah. That is an interesting distinction that I hadn’t thought about. Back in the U.S., if someone likes wushu, that probably means they like training in wushu. But in China those two aspects of your relationship with wushu can be different.
I asked him why he started training in wushu and he said that it was because he wasn’t any good in school.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, but after training for one year I was at the top of my class in school (3rd grade).” he clarified. “From training in wushu I learned what it meant to eat bitter (persevere through difficulties) and I was able to focus in school.”
Well, there is an argument for putting your kids in wushu if I ever heard one. (Or any sports for that matter.)
He went on to explain that the reason he keeps training is because it is his job. He needs to make a living and this is what he does. But, he explained, if he could have a job where he got paid to just watch wushu, that would be ideal. Because it isn’t that he doesn’t like wushu. It is just that he doesn’t like the difficult training.
Some pretty interesting information. A little bit later as I was sitting and stretching next to a few other young male athletes I asked a 14 year old (the one sitting next to us in this video at :05) the same questions. He also stated a general dislike of wushu training, but that he doesn’t mind wushu itself. (Of course, he had just gotten back from a 55 minute run, so that might have been part of it.) He had been training for 3 years and was also from Dong Ming, Shandong. (Apparently 5 or 6 atheltes who were training at the facility are from Dong Ming.)
So, it wasn’t exactly formal research, but it was interesting to hear their personal thoughts on wushu.
I’ve met other athletes that hate wushu. And I’ve met current athletes that love wushu. And I’ve met a ton of athletes that fall somewhere in between. How a person deals with their situation is up to them, and whether or not you love to train, or hate to train, or whether you love wushu or late wushu, has more to do with who you are as an individual than it does about the state of wushu or the state of training in wushu.
Thanks for the question and I hope this was helpful!
On a training note, it was only an hour of self-training today so most of the athletes just sort of did their own thing (I did 80 mabu/gong bus, a bunch of pushups and walked through my nanquan and nangun forms to reinforce choreography). The reason for the light practice is that they have a big test tomorrow. In the morning and in the afternoon they will have a wushu testing session and they need to be ready for that.
What does a wushu testing session entail? I have no idea. Unfortunately I will not be there so I can’t tell you what happens. But hopefully the next time one comes around I will be on hand to give you a report.
Next class: Monday morning