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the definition of wushu - part 2

In my last entry on wushu, I expressed my view on its fundamental purpose, the reason why it has changed continually to adapt to the constantly evolving needs of human society. I talked about four different goals around which the practice of wushu is structured in today's society: Olympic competitions, film/TV stunts, self-defense, and health.

Many people, fans included, have approached me on how they should go about training in wushu to achieve one of these four objectives. Here, drawing upon my past experience, I will try to provide a very general framework within which the individual can pursue wushu training. It is important to remember, first and foremost, that these are very general guidelines only, and that individuals vary from one another in terms of body size, age, personality, and other vital respects.

First off, many people ask me, does wushu have an age requirement? Is it too late for me to start training? The answer lies in the goal of the individual. If someone wishes to improve his health or enjoys the sport for its own sake, then age is irrelevant. A person over 70 years old can still begin training in wushu if his purpose lies in personal health.

If, however, an individual aspires to become a professional wushu athlete taking part in Olympic competitions, then I recommend he start as early as possible. Preferably before age 13. If an individual delays training until after age 15, it will be considerably more difficult (though not impossible) to reach a certain level of skill.

The goal of becoming a world-class athlete is perhaps the most difficult one to attain out of the four objectives. Even becoming a stunt person in film/TV is much easier. One can begin stunt training after the age of 18 and still do quite well in that field after, say, three years of training.

Another question frequently asked is: how many hours should I train each day? Again, the most important factor to consider is the individual's goal. If one wants to become a wushu athlete, then comparatively more rigorous training is needed. The Beijing Wushu Team, for instance, trains an average of 5-8 hours a day.

On the other hand, those who practice wushu for health purposes need not train as many hours as those who strive for a world-class title. Individual age and state of health also play a crucial role in determining the suitable time length of a day's worth of training. For example, two hours of wushu exercise each day may be fine for a young healthy teenager, while an individual over age 70 may be better served with a less strenuous exercise schedule.

Doing stunts in the film/TV business requires a different sort of training than is generally taught by martial arts teachers. The camera catches only a specific angle of the action process. For an actor, only his face can be seen at certain times. For stunt men, only the arms, legs, or a specific body part is filmed in action scenes. Hence, overall body movement, a concept much stressed in traditional martial arts instruction, may not play as key a role in the filming process as one might think. The most important thing for a stunt man, then, is his experience with camera angle.

Some people hesitate from entering the stunt business because of the perceived risk of injury or even death. The Hollywood stunt business, generally, from what I've seen, has good protection and is relatively safe. Deaths are rare, in any case, though the risk of getting bone fractures or injured muscles is still there.

In Hollywood, the stunt business is far more specialized than its counterpart in Hong Kong. What does this mean? In action movies, there are a wide variety of stunts to be performed, from jumping down buildings and driving cars to martial arts fighting. Each type of stunt is executed by a different person who is specifically trained for it. The guy who leaps off a cliff, for instance, is usually not the same guy who is fighting the villain or running through fire.

In Hong Kong, on the other hand, stunt men are usually called upon to perform a wide spectrum of stunts. A stunt man in Hong Kong must not only know martial arts fighting, but he must also know how to deal with fire, dive into water, perform acrobatics, and so forth.

What is the best way for a stunt man to defend himself against potential hazards? My recommendation is to find a good teacher. A good teacher will know what type of training is best suited for the conditions on a movie/TV set. Unfortunately, stunt teachers are not as popular (and therefore more difficult to find) as your usual martial arts instructor. Patience in finding the right instructor is invaluable, and one should not settle for a second-rate teacher under any circumstances. The same can be said of martial arts training in general.

Finally, on the issue of self-defense. My knowledge and experience in this area of martial arts are limited, as my focus and training have been on the other three aspects of wushu practice. I cannot give a specific opinion on the subject. The training process, again, must be tailored to the body type of each individual. There is no all-encompassing technique that will enable everyone to fulfill his or her self-defense needs.

Situations always vary. It is hard to say under what circumstances it is right or wrong to use martial arts against someone else. Of course, generally speaking, avoiding conflict and resorting to lawful authorities are always the best means of dealing with a dangerous situation. If a robber holds a gun to you and wants your money, it is better to give him the money than to risk your life. A gun outdoes years of martial arts training in a split second. Like I've said many times before, it is important to differentiate between movies and reality. The hero in movies may be able to knock the gun off his opponent and save the day, but in real life - probably that is not the case.

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