10 YEARS OF TRAVEL, PART 2
Black Belt|Black Belt December/January 2021
THIS MULTIPART COLUMN WAS WRITTEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE 10 TH ANNIVERSARY OF ITS LAUNCH AND ITS ASSIGNMENT TO A WRITER NAMED ANTONIO GRACEFFO, THE MARTIAL ARTIST WHO HAS BECOME BLACK BELT’S ROVING REPORTER IN ASIA. IT PRESENTS MORE OF THE AUTHOR’S CONCLUSIONS REGARDING THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S MARTIAL ARTS.
ANTONIO GRACEFFO, PH.D.

East and West may never meet. At Shanghai University of Sport, Dr. Dai Guo Bing, dean of the Wushu Department, explained to me the differences between the Chinese arts and Western arts like boxing, wrestling and fencing. He said the commonalities between those three Western styles are identical to their differences from the Chinese styles. One, the Western styles’ main purpose is to fight/compete. Two, they don’t have a performance component. Three, they cannot be practiced alone.

It would be strange in the West to meet someone who claimed to be a boxer, wrestler or fencer but had never competed. In China, however, you can dedicate yourself to practicing wushu, taolu or tai chi for a lifetime without ever fighting. When called on to perform, practitioners of wushu, taolu and tai chi will do a form. About the best a Western martial artist can do is shadowboxing. And finally, men and women in their 60s, 70s and sometimes 80s who have been practicing Chinese martial arts for a lifetime continue to improve or at least stay healthy and relevant by practicing alone every morning. For Western martial arts, if you do not have a training partner, it’s very hard to practice on your own.

Dai explained the reason for the difference: “China is an aesthetic society which developed early. Primitive cultures are concerned about having an apple to eat. But once you have solved the problem of hunger, you say, ‘It is not just enough to eat an apple. I also want someone to paint a picture of the apple.’”

This matches the trajectory of martial arts development in most countries. Hundreds or even thousands of years ago, the martial arts were an important means of combat. Eventually, swords, guns and other weapons became common, and the martial arts lost their importance in battle, at which time they began transitioning to a sport art and later to an entertainment art.

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