Putting up a good fight

Putting up a good fight

You need to be disciplined to master wushu, a martial art which is becoming more and more popular

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Jessica Chan is dedicated to the martial art.
Jessica Chan is dedicated to the martial art.
Photo: Edmond So

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Jessica in action in the Taijijian event (sword) at the World Junior Championships 2012 in Macau
Jessica in action in the Taijijian event (sword) at the World Junior Championships 2012 in Macau
Photo: Jessica Chan

The traditional martial art of wushu demands discipline, balance and an understanding of tradition. If you want to become a champion, it might also demand that you stop wasting time on social media.

"Because of my busy training schedule, I have to be incredibly disciplined and organised," says Jessica Chan Cheuk-lam, a wushu champion from King George V School who won gold in the women's doubles at the World Junior Wushu Championships in Turkey.

"The key to balance in life is to never waste time, and to manage time efficiently. Wushu is all about the balance of chi, the internal energy in the body, so I believe these skills really prepare me for the future."

The 17-year-old usually trains 24 hours a week when preparing for a competition. But she still loves the sport she was first introduced to aged 11.

"What I like most about wushu is that it differs from other sports," she says. "Contemporary wushu has three main categories, but I mainly focus on tai chi chuan, better known as just tai chi.

"To me, tai chi not only looks more elegant, but it also allows for flexibility and variation, with both fast and slow movements involved."

There are two sides of wushu - first, there is the physical side, which includes aerial techniques and balance. Then there is the philosophical side, where wushu is studied. The Chinese term wushu literally translates as "martial arts".

"The philosophy originated several thousand years ago but still applies today," Jessica says.

Jessica's dedication to the sport means she has little spare time for anything else, but she says it is all worth it.

"Looking back, wushu has opened me up to a lot of experiences that many of my peers will never get," she says. "A few years ago, I was given the chance to go on a cultural exchange programme to New Zealand. I was able to travel around the country and meet many new friends. It is so interesting to connect with people from other countries."

While competition may be tough, competitors often remain good friends.

"In the wushu world, everyone is part of a big, extended family," Jessica says. "We try to maintain a friendly environment at the Hong Kong Sports Institute [HKSI]. While my male teammates are better at jumping, I'm better at balance, so we give each other tips so we can all improve. It's great fun."

Although wushu is becoming more popular, particularly in Europe and China, it is still often misunderstood. The reason? Most people don't really know very much about it.

"A few years ago, some friends asked me if I was as good at tai chi as their 'conservative' Chinese grandparents. But what they failed to understand is that the type of tai chi I do is contemporary, not traditional."

To establish a global standard for competitions, traditional wushu has been modernised into contemporary wushu in recent decades. Now it is not only a traditional art, but also a competitive sport where speed, power and presentation are important.

To display this modern version of wushu, the Hong Kong Wushu Union regularly organises performances for the public.

"Through these performances, I hope to help promote wushu in general and remove these misconceptions," Jessica says.

It seems to be working. Wushu is gaining recognition. It is an elite sport in Hong Kong, meaning athletes can train at the HKSI in Fo Tan. It was introduced to the Asian Games in 1990, and efforts are being made to make it an Olympic sport in the future.

Jessica hopes that tai chi will eventually become an event at the Olympic Games.

"For people to stop misunderstanding contemporary wushu, we need a platform for publicity, so that the general public can finally appreciate the finer aspects of tai chi and wushu."

The annual Hong Kong Open Novice Wushu Championships will be held at the Kowloon Park Sports Centre this weekend. Admission is free.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Putting up a good fight

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