My group (consisting of Aaron, Jennifer and Jeannie) has decided to focus on practitioners of Chinese martial arts, or the wushu community in Singapore, a project which we have entitled ‘The Technique of the Military’. The project will consist of two main components. The first component will be a general overview of the history, tradition and characteristics of wushu. The second component will be a series of four side-stories focusing on one particular wushu group.
After much discussion, the angle I am focusing on would be comparing and contrasting the stylistic and methodological differences between traditional and contemporary forms of wushu. Given wushu‘s long history as a fighting style, dating back to the historical text, the Spring and Autumn Annals (dated 5th century BCE), wushu has long been the fighting style of countless generations of soldiers in ancient Chinese history. Like all forms of hand-to-hand combat taught to soldiers around the word today, martial discipline and a prioritization on the skills needed to quickly and effectively neutralize an opponent are of paramount importance. While wushu is no exception to that rule, there has been growing criticism that contemporary forms of wushu seem to have moved away from the traditional focus on combat functionality. Instead, it has been argued that contemporary wushu appears to focus more on the aesthetics of the martial art. Incorporating what detractors claim to be superfluous and unecessary moves to each style, in order to enhance the supposed beauty of the martial art.
While there are countless tales (and Hong Kong movies/drama series) which feature martial artists in ancient China using their skills as part of a traveling roadshow in order to make a living selling ‘medicinal’ products or simply astounding audiences by being able to withstand blows from plank-wielding assistants; there is an underlying tension between the necessity and role of wushu in times of peace, and its original purpose as a fighting style for self-defence.
This side-story, which I have tentatively called ‘War in Peace’, aims to explore that same tension through the use of video and photography, coupled with a simplified table that compares and contrasts the different forms. To accomplish these ends, I will be interviewing and recording the styles of at least one representative instructor from the traditional and contemporary schools.
Ideally, my side-story would tie-in with Aaron’s photographic essay feature on a shifu (or a martial arts teacher), by concretely presenting and showcasing the differences between the traditional and contemporary forms. With any luck, this side-story would be able to help generate and sustain debate over the fundamental issue of whether a particular cultural form should modernise to suit the times, or maintain its traditional features. By presenting information in a clear and concise manner, I hope to be able to educate my audience about wushu, and allow them to create a more informed opinion about such debates.