To Nandu or Not to Nandu?

by Sifu Bryant Fong, April 2006

It has always been my hope that Wushu would become part of the Olympics. China in its desire to get Wushu into the Olympics has instituted new rules through the IWUF for competition. They hope that with the introduction of nandu, or difficulties, Wushu can be spectular enough to be part of the Olympics Games. (You will note the CMAT has created two divisions to try these rules out.) China and the IWUF feel these rule changes are necessary to conform Wushu to the Olympic model, e.g. ice skating and gymnastics, and also to help the beer drinking TV watcher able to figure out the winner. Well, frankly I personally, don’t care for it. In fact, last summer, while taking our students to Beijing to train at Shi Cha Hai, I had an occasion to speak with the former coach of the Beijing Wushu Team, Wu Bin. Coach Wu’s comment was that the new rules are bad for Wushu and for the athletes’ health. The new techniques have nothing to do with Wushu. Can you apply an aerial twist or a 900 degrees jump inside? No, in fact, this type of movement was just grafted from ice skating. Wushu forms have a flow and the techniques a use. Currently, it’s about stopping, nandu, run, hammer fist, stop, nandu … reminiscent of a gymnastic routine. Weapon forms become merely a collection of flowers and spins. Taiji is a travesty – it is slow long fist!

Having said all that, we are still going to have a nandu division. Unfortunately, that is the direction of the IWUF and China. Though it should be pointed out that Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian countries have raised objections. The IWUF so far has not listened. China has told everyone, “This is our sport, so you have to do it our way!” Well, actually, no, this is an international sport, and as such the world needs to have a say. Before, during the introduction of compulsories, the IWUF was able to raise the level of Wushu worldwide, so everyone could compete with China. Now instead, they have created a chasm between them and the rest of the world. To do the nandu properly, you must have the special floor and carpet they use, which does not exist outside of China. Without this floor, athletes will get hurt trying to perform these techniques. The jump twisting techniques are frankly dangerous and bad for knees in general. Today, nearly 60% of Chinese athletes have knee or lower back injuries. We are supposed to practice Wushu to improve our health, not harm our bodies. China has realized this, so their teams are getting younger. For the current Beijing Team, the athletes’ average age is around 15 years old. Once you get too old, you are too heavy to perform the twisting and jumping movements. You must be light and quick in order to do them well. Many of China’s finest Wushu athletes are retiring because they know this to be true. It is also important to note that China needs to retrain coaches and judges worldwide if it wishes to take Wushu in this direction. The last 10 years of world competition has been to promote pre-2000 style Wushu competition. The new rules mark a major change in direction. It has made it China’s sport and not the world’s, but what fun is there if one cannot truly compete?

Well, we cannot change the world, but at the CMAT level, we can make a stand for how we see Wushu. The introduction of individual forms is without a doubt important to helping students develop forms of interest to them, rather than just practicing compulsories. This was a necessary step to raise the level of athletes worldwide. But at the CMAT, you will see that we still feel basics are important. The CMAT this year has tried to more clearly define beginning Wushu. I must thank Brandon Sugiyama for making these suggestions. It is our intention to make beginning Wushu emphasize basics, stances, punching, and kicking. We will have nandu divisions for those of you who can do them. But our emphasis will be to encourage you to compete in compulsories or non-nandu individual forms, which can already be extremely difficult. We will not be promoting the “contemporary Taiji.” I have practiced Taiji for over 30 years, and can tell you this is not Taiji. Instead, it represents all the things we tell a student not to do. The contemporary Taiji violates every principle of Taiji – it is not smooth, not continuous, does not use yi to move qi, is completely external, and emphasizes physical rather than internal work. It makes a mockery of being a Taiji practitioner.

The trend of concentrating on nandu, rather than on basics and principles of Wushu, however, is not a new development. In speaking with Madams Chan Dao Yun and Zhang Ling Mei, two of China’s finest coaches, they have said in the late 80’s, Wushu in China faced this same question. There was a desire to modernize Wushu and make it more athletic. At that time, China decided not to go that route, as it would take Wushu in a direction counter to its roots. Wushu is a link to China’s culture and heritage – to alter it in this way would turn it purely into a physical endeavor devoid of its philosophy and application. The result of this change of rules can be seen at the recent 10th World Wushu Games where China easily won 12 gold medals, and could have won everything else if they had entered those events. Where then is there a sport? The art must be accessible and competitive to be a world sport. That’s why Wushu will not be in the 2008 Olympics. It still has a way to go yet. Everyone’s input is important in this process.