Tough times for wuguan

I was in a bar down Nanluoguo Xiang last night, catching up with my friend H, who’s back in Beijing after being away for nine months. When she had to pop to the bathroom, I idly picked up a copy of Beijing Today that was lying around. It’s edition 402, dated Feb 13 2009. There was a full-page article inside with the title “Hard days for wushu schools”, which featured Yiquan Master Yao Chengguang rather prominently. The article, by Jackie Zhang, isn’t online, and I don’t want to type the whole thing, but there are some interesting points.

Talking about his wuguan (where I studied briefly last year), the article says:

Since the wuguan was established 15 years ago the number of students has remained at around 40. With each course costing 300 to 400 yuan, the money the school makes is barely enough to keep going. “We have to rent houses and employ coaches. Some students are from places outside Beijing and we have to provide them accommodation and food,” Yao said.

To make more money, Yao created yiquan instructional manuals in print and video. “The financial situation is now better; we only have to worry about next month,” Yao said, adding that wuguan who are doing well can be described the same way.

In the past, wuguan flourished because owners also ran other businesses at the same time. “They ran businesses that took advantage of their wushu skills. […] But that business model cannot work any more. “I’m busy with the daily affairs of the wuguan” Yao said.

The article continues to say that many wuguan used to receive sponsorship from businesses whose owners are wushu enthusiasts, but that this is drying up as businessmen seek clearer financial returns for their money, as well as the global economic downturn affecting them.

Master Yao is quoted as saying that most wuguan were forced to close or go underground during the Cultural Revolution.

China’s economic reforms that began in 1978 gave wuguan new life. “Wuguan started opening again, but years of lying dormant made it difficult to repopularize the martial arts”, Yao said.

Wuguan are regarded as folk organizations, so they do not get support even from wushu associations

“Wuguan are not our business, a woman surnamed Lian from the Beijing Wushu Association said. She said the role of the association is to sponsor meetings of directors of each of their 57 wushu research organizations and to disseminate information about wushu competitions and policies”.

The article goes on to discuss the difficulty of motivating Chinese students to take up wushu; they are offered taekwondo in school, and those who try Chinese wushu often give up when they discover that it takes hard work, and that they won’t acquire movie-style super fighting skills. Finally the article mentions that wuguan see hope in attracting more foreign students; it talks about Master Yao’s Polish disciple Andrzej Kalisz (although not by name), and the spread of Yiquan wuguan to other countries.

The article ends with a quote from Xiao Bing, vice-chairman of the Foshan Wushu Association:

There is potential for the renewal of Chinese martial arts. Every little attempt brings hope for the future”.

This reminds me of my recent post about the decline of Chinese martial arts in Singapore for much the same reasons. Very sad.


  1. Yeah, same thing over here in Taiwan. Most guans are Karate, Judo, Taekwondo, Kendo, which are more popular than CMA guans. CMA seems to give not quick enough fighting abilities and …
    not really any face, as Taiwanese praise the US lifestyle and high tech, but not low tech body/mind work.
    If economical hardship continouses, maybe more people invest their time in training, but that doesn’t make the teachers and master rich, neither.
    So, many teachers end up without any successor and lots of arts have already been lost.
    It might be up to us Westeners to try to keep some traditions alive by transfering them to the West. Wheather we can transfer the real thing, depends on the effort we put in.
    So, let’s train harder!


  2. I think it is sad that the traditional martial arts are in danger of being lost. Wu shu being generally performanced based and relatively impressive and pleasing to the eye, tends to attract more people.

    It does take patience to develop a foundation for martial arts and today’s instant culture does not help matters. There is wisdom in the old ways.


  3. I was thinking of the fading martial arts scene when I recalled something from the past.

    When my dad was in his teens he used to learn martial arts from an old Cantonese master who also ran a bone-setting business in a public housing void deck Chinatown (S’pore). Amongst other things, he learnt how to use the nine section whip, the stick (“gun”), the umbrella and the chair as weapons. They trained on concrete floor – no mats.

    The old master also taught an art (don’t know the name) that required the practitioner to place his hands in sand heated over a fire. The hands had to be treated with herbs after the training.

    By the time I was old enough to ask about the master, my dad had lost contact with him – in part due to the fact that my dad does not speak or understand Cantonese (not sure how they communicated). My dad also forbade me to learn martial arts in those early years because the training halls often had triad connections.

    The timing was not right then. But I am sure glad for the opportunities I am given now. šŸ™‚



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