Wu Shu masters demonstration, London 1981

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Wu Shu masters demonstration, London 1981

Postby GrahamB on Mon Feb 08, 2021 3:48 am

https://thetaichinotebook.com/2021/02/0 ... ondon1981/

Back in 1981, the Daily Mirror sponsored the “Chinese State Wu Shu Company” to do a performance in London. It would have been completely forgotten by now except that they produced a one hour video tape of the event, sections of which have now been uploaded to YouTube. They’re worth a watch because they give a great insight into what “Wu Shu” was in 1981.

We tend to think of Wu Shu these days as being impressive martial-flavoured gymnastic type demonstrations, often with weapons. There is certainly some impressive “monkey cudgel” form and a staff form on show, but back in 1981 “Chi Kung” or “internal strength” demonstrations seemed to play a much bigger part than they do today. These days those sorts of breaking demonstrations have become more what you’d expect from the Shaolin Monks then Wu Shu athletes, who still put on those sorts of shows today (or at leat they did until C19).

The demonstrations from 1981 are serious, in that the masonry being broken over human bodies looks real. The sledgehammer that breaks it is thrown with gusto, but at the same time, there’s a comedy and performance element. Pretend shots of the sledgehammer are done by the performers to tease the audience and get a bigger reaction when the real blow lands. Traditional music is played. Here we can see the echoes of Chinese theatre (or opera), from which these traditions sprang.

Some of the preparations for the breaks are also very theatrical. As the performers do their chi kung to warm up I can see reflections of the “spirit possession” that convinced so many “boxers” in 1899 that they could become invulnerable to bullets in the Boxer Rebellion. The practitioners seem to wrap their bodies in invisible armour.

In the West we very quickly seem to dismiss these sorts of demonstrations as “circus tricks”, which implies they are fake in some way. But the masonry looks real to me. These don’t look like the deliberately weakened bricks, so often seen in these demonstrations. That looks like a regular British kerbstone being broken over his head, for example!

The 1981 demonstration stands as a great historical document of what the “Wu Shu” brand was in 1981, as China was starting to open up to the West, and before the Shaolin brand split off with the internal strength demonstrations and the Wu Shu brand took the athleticism to new gymnastic heights.







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Re: Wu Shu masters demonstration, London 1981

Postby Trick on Mon Feb 08, 2021 4:38 am

From this i draw my Heretical theory that the westernfication beginning in the 80’s softened up the wushu players of China,
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Re: Wu Shu masters demonstration, London 1981

Postby GrahamB on Mon Feb 08, 2021 7:10 am

You could be right - the CCP has been trying to get Wu Shu into the Olympics for years. You don't get any more Western in terms of symbolism than the Olympics.
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Re: Wu Shu masters demonstration, London 1981

Postby wushutiger on Mon Feb 08, 2021 7:24 am

From this i draw my Heretical theory that the westernfication beginning in the 80’s softened up the wushu players of China,


No, it was doomed from the beginning for numerous reasons....

Graham, some good demos there of some solid old conditioning, and also some theatrical performances as well mixed in there. You will also notice the group doing the conditioning demos are not the same people doing the Wushu routine demonstrations :P
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Re: Wu Shu masters demonstration, London 1981

Postby GrahamB on Mon Feb 08, 2021 8:00 am

Byron - good observation, and it's the same if you go and see the modern Shaolin monks - the young, skinny guys demonstrate forms and flexibility... and then they bring out the big, heavy guy to break bricks on his head at the end. :D
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Re: Wu Shu masters demonstration, London 1981

Postby Steve James on Mon Feb 08, 2021 8:09 am

I went to the first (Peking) Wushu troupe performances at Madison Square Garden in 1980 or 81. Jet Li did the staff form. Anyway, in the middle of the performance there was a break. So, some of us got up and went down to the stage to look at these rocks and stones that were. Half were 5-6 inch thick curb stones about 4-5 feet long. And, there were also 6-7 inch long rocks that were about 2 inches thick. Now, we'd all seen demonstrations of people breaking cement blocks and slabs of concrete. But, we wondered how these slabs and stones were going to be used. Maybe they were just decoration.

Well, after the break, out comes this guys with massive forearms who was wearing leather bands around them. Yup. He started doing some breathing exercises, and wound straps around his biceps. Then he picked up some of the stones and started breaking them with one finger. I mean, holding one in his hand and lopping off the stone a couple of times. Then, he propped up a curbstone across two others. He wrapped his forehead in a leather strap. Then, he did his exercises, leaned down and split the stone with his head.

The announcer said that this was an example of chi gung. The guy --who was left-handed-- proceeded to do several types of breaks without using any equipment except his body. It was very impressive.
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