Wushu v.s. TMA (Traditional Martial Art)

By Hai Yang


            The Chinese martial art has a long history, beside there are many different styles, there are two important categories: the Modern one and the traditional one. In China, most of the time, people call martial art as Wushu as a whole although there are differences between each other. Sometimes, in order to differentiate them, people will call the traditional one as traditional Kung Fu.


            So where did the modern Wushu come from? Actually, when we studied the history, we will find that the modern Wushu was born from traditional martial art (we do not use the term traditional Wushu in order to avoid the confusion), since the modern Wushu cannot come from empty space.


            In 1950s, the Chinese government tried to promote martial art as a national sport, they believed in this way, that the country will become stronger and stronger, the country could save a lot of health care expenses. Since back to that time, the communist government just began to apply the universal health care system in cities. The result of that idea was great, since Chinese people began to do organized exercises in the whole country. Back to that time, there were some movies about how to promote a healthier lifestyle through doing exercise; martial art has been just one of them.


            In order to make more and more people have the chance to practice martial art, they had to simplify the practice, and many famous masters took that idea very seriously. So to many styles of martial arts, there would be the simplified version as well. After a few years hard working by many great masters, more and more people took martial art as a way of keeping good health, martial art masters got more respect than before, many famous masters even became a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the C.P.P.C.C. is at same political level as Congress in China, it could not happen before. For example, Chen Fa'ke, Wang Ziping and many others.


            At the same time, in order to promote that type of simplified and standardized practice, the government encouraged youth to practice in the government sponsored martial art schools. Students who practiced in that type of public martial art schools would study the standardized practice. So from that time, teaching martial art in public school has become a job, it has never happened before either. Before, only people who could pay could practice martial art with private teachers.


            After creating the new system of teaching, practice and managing the schools, the government made many competitions to encourage students practice better.


            Later on, for the competition reason, teachers had to teach their students more difficult movements in order to compete others in martial art event. This was the reason how the fancy movements come from. That was for the needs of competition and demonstration.


            If  someone went to the government sponsored martial art schools, normally that person would learn the standardized practice, or people call them as modern Wushu. If the person stays with some masters who were keeping the traditional way of practice, that person would study less fancy movements and eventually would practice more application of the movements.


            Now we could understand that the modern Wushu was from the traditional practice, and they just focus on different aspects for different purposes.


Since there were no government support, the development of traditional martial art could not keep the quick pace as much as the development of the modern Wushu.


            From 1980s, Chinese people began to realize that the modern Wushu has a so much limitation that they began to practice and promote the traditional martial art more and more. From that time on, there have been many traditional martial art associations and organizations to be created in the whole country. These associations have published many articles, books in order to keep the practice going. Many old masters did not have education at all, so in order to make their practice survive, many associations sent out their employees to write down the old masters' teaching or help them to write books. This is why right now, there are so many martial art books in China about traditional practices. Because martial art from ordinary people, only the practice of ordinary people will make this art survive.


            In China, any styles have standards, no matter modern one or the traditional one. It is not that the modern one is beautiful and the traditional one is ugly.


            But in the outside of China, there has been a common misunderstanding that if someone does not practice martial art very well, that person will claim that he is doing the traditional way. It is an insult to the traditional style. How come traditional practice can be ugly?


            Any martial art needs speed, force, flexibility, application, and many other factors to be an art. The modern Wushu is not created for combat purpose. It is a type of sport for demonstration and form competition. The traditional practice has been for self-defense purpose of the day it got created. But many people who practice Chinese martial art lack some of these aspects, instead of realizing their mistakes; they would say that they are the traditional practice. Even some martial art teachers do the same thing. It makes the quality of Chinese martial art worse and worse.


            In China, there is a proverb: if you look down something, you have to be better than that. Let's apply this principle in the martial art community: if we look down Wushu, we should be better than Wushu. But the present situation is the opposite: people use the word "traditional" as an excuse of doing wrong practice or low quality of practice.


            People can choose the modern way of practice, and people can choose the traditional way of practice too. Both of these two practices have their own advantages and disadvantages. So it is better to keep peace between these two. For sure the traditional practitioner will feel get insulted if his practice is looked as the modern one, and vice versa.


            In my opinion, doing wrong practice or ugly demonstration is not the traditional way of practice. Traditional practice is very beautiful and enjoyable to look as well.