I used to hear (both from others and inside my own head) the question a lot:
“Why are Chinese wushu athletes so freaking good??”
The quick answer?
In a cryptic nutshell: ((Ai/T) +((C*R)+M))(U+S)
But let me start at the beginning …
The Quest For Understanding
When you first start wushu you are in a bit of a bubble, and especially for me, since I didn’t have access to all these wushu videos online, I only had the advanced students at my school or at tournaments for comparison. You assume that the highest level you see around you is pretty close to the highest level you might get to, and even though you have heard that Chinese athletes are really good you don’t really realize just HOW good.
Until you see them. Then your mind is blown out of the water.
The disparity seems so great. How can athletes get that good? Its like a completely different level. A whole ‘nother universe of ability.
For years I used to wonder what their secret was. I would hear people talking about it, discussing it and contemplating their training regimen. Even those people who had gone to China to train didn’t initially understand it. And especially when you see it right in front of you and feel the power that their movements have, you can’t even grasp the journey it would take to get you from where you are to where they are.
Asking athletes why they are so good brings out a whole range of responses, from the humble (“my wushu still has a long way to go”) to the arrogant (“because I’m the best”) to the racist (“because Chinese are better”) to the cryptic (“because the philosophy of wushu is reflected in the eyes of panda bears”) and everything in between. But they don’t actually give you the secret to what makes them so amazing. Even just a bow stance (弓步) has a totally different feel to it when these athletes do it.
Gong Fu = Time?
Of course, most people will just say that it is because they have so much training from such a young age and that if anyone was to get subjected to that much time in the wushu guan they would probably be just as good.
But is that really true? Is time all you need to be as good as Chinese athletes?
Well … yes and no. Time is a very important element. In fact it is probably one of the most important elements. But I wouldn’t say it is the only reason why Chinese athletes excel to such a degree.
When people talk about the definition of “kung fu” or “gong fu” (功夫) as a measure of skill or mastery the inherent implication is that it is really a measure of time. The longer you spend doing something, the better you will be at it. But the other part of that “gong fu” equation is related to both “effort” and “intention”, or as I like to say it “intensity”.
One of the other main factors that Chinese athletes have going for them is that they are not only spending a lot of time training, but their training is of a very intense nature. As you can imagine, an hour of training in a Chinese school is a very different level of intensity from an hour of training in many schools in the West.
So, is that what it boils down to? Intense Action over a long period of Time means you will be amazing at wushu? Well, that might get you a good part of the way there, and many athletes who are very good at wushu have done this and been quite good. But this is only if you consider the purely physical aspects of wushu. There is more to wushu than meets the carpet, and if you ignore the mental parts of training, then you are missing half the picture.
A coach is without a doubt one of the most instrumental influences in your wushu development. Without a good teacher your skill can only get to a certain point. (And, may I add, the coach who realizes when their student has surpassed what they can teach is a wise person indeed.) All you learn, at least in the beginning, comes from that fountain of knowledge.
So what separates the Chinese coach from other coaches? Strictly speaking it is access to resources. Not just material resources, but educational and scientific resources. They are constantly required to be knowledgeable about the best training methods and techniques. You always see athletes in China training with new methods before anywhere else in the world. Remember those spinny turns into the splits that they practice for their inside split landings? Yup. China started that whole thing.
It is like in web design. There is a big difference in abilities between the web design company located in Silicon Valley vs. the web design company located in Billings, Montana (no offense Billings), because they are in the environment where the latest technologies and resources are being developed. Those with access to new information are often the quickest to benefit from it.
But it isn’t just that coaches in China tend to have those resources, but it is also the resources available to the athlete. No, not the latest Nike Shaolinquan shoes, or the coolest looking silks, but I’m speaking more about resources through which they can develop an understanding of high level skill.
Continued in Part 2