From Wingate to Nanjing – part 3

Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication. As the English word derives from the Latin lingua, “language, tongue”, it reveals the metaphoric relation between language and the tongue that exists in many languages and testifies to the historical prominence of spoken languages. When used as a general concept, “language” refers to the cognitive faculty that enables humans to learn and use systems of complex communication.

In a broader sense, music, mathematics, dance, and even martial arts can be considered types of languages. In light of such profusion of languages, how can the language of martial arts being taught? The number of possible movements is vast, but it is clear that some motion combinations are incorrect according to the rules of martial arts. We often define the “grammar” of the motion according to the martial situation. Nonetheless, there are major, clear “grammatical” rules, some of them written in the shape of “classics”.

The system of “Chinese motion language” uses a large group of terms originating in the Chinese cultural world. This may account for the publication of books that attempts to examine each term, its linguistic origin and cultural context. As the language of motions in the martial arts also denotes internal feelings which are aroused during practice, self development and language development are connected to each other and thus language skills develop with the practice. How is this language taught?

In the 1920s and 1930s, Republican Chinese thinkers viewed modern sports and traditional martial arts as important ways of invigorating the Chinese nation and race, and institutions in the ROC used both in attempting to extend the nationalist impulse to the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. These alternative physical culture models provide insights into both the diversity of thinking and the shared modernist assumptions that inspired projects directed toward the creation of “Greater Chinese” communities. Morris (2000) notes: “By the 1920s both modern sports and martial arts (wushu) were commonly viewed as important models of strengthening and modernizing a Chinese nation and race for the twentieth century.”

During the long course of Chinese martial arts history they were a number of attempts to form an organized, structured program that would qualify the future generation of teachers. The Central Guoshu Academy – Zhongyang Guoshuguan, 中央國術館,  established by the National Government in 1928 and the Jingwu Athletic Association 精武體育會, founded by Huo Yuanjia 霍元甲  (Kennedy & Guo, 2010) in 1910 are examples of organizations that promoted a systematic approach for training in Chinese martial arts. A series of provincial and national competitions were organized by the Republican government starting in 1932 to promote Chinese martial arts. In 1936, at the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin, a group of Chinese martial artists demonstrated their art to an international audience for the first time. Eventually, these events lead to the popular view of martial arts as a sport.

The Central Guoshu Academy  was a project directed by the commander of Northwest, Zhang Zhijiang 張之江 in March of 1928 in order to organize and teach a curriculum that included guoshu 国術, national arts, in a broader sense of martial arts.  This provided a concrete guideline to developing a new system of indigenous sports and martial arts competition – the so-called ‘guoshu’ system – with martial arts at its core and surrounded by other sports competitions (Ma Mingda, 2009).

The Academy’s program that lasted three years; Two years were dedicated to learn the different styles and matters from the curriculum and during the third the students had to serve as monitors/instructors in the Academy or its branches. The curriculum included: Shuaijiao (wrestling), Quanshu (boxing), Qixie (arms), Biology, First aid, History, Social History of the guoshu, and studies of the ideology of Sun Yat- Sen (Morris, 2004) This program strove not only to train good, educated martial artists but also civilized instructors who would not be manipulated with myths like the difference between internal and external styles, which caused a lot of tension in the academy. The styles that comprised the boxing curriculum were among others: Bajiquan, Piguazhang, Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Shuaijiao etc. The students had to compare and to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the different styles as well as to appreciate their characteristics. In his book “Marrow of the Nation”, Morris (2000) writes: “The Central Guoshuguan in Nanjing operated two types of programs. Sixty students, most sent by their home provincial governments, were accepted to the instruction section each term… Graduates acquired three years of instruction in several styles of martial arts and several academic topics, living in Guoshuguan dormitories and taking forty-four hours of courses each week. The training section provided free goushu and academic instruction to youth not accepted into the degree program.” (p. 207-210).

The Guoshuguan succeeded by pulling once autonomous martial arts practitioners into its fold, as it rewarded with a new national recognition the martial artists who had served their local communities for so long. Many martial artists and guoshu educators and activists operated outside of the formal Guoshuguan apparatus in the 1930s, but this state organization left its traces on virtually all aspects of the modern martial arts during this time. Morris describes the 1934 winter men and women’s course schedules (instruction section):

Men: Boxing (3), Bayonets (2.5), Taijiquan (1), Mantis-Fists (1.5), Xingyi (3), Ape – back Cudgels (1), Short-sword fencing (1), Wrestling (9), Fencing (4.5), Bagua (1.5), Military drill (3).

Chinese (2), Physiology & hygiene (1), Guoshu history (1), Party principles (1), Geography (1), Mathematics (2), Military studies (1), History (2), Sun Yat-Sen study (2).

Plus: Saturday afternoon field trips, Saturday evening and Sunday morning lectures.

Photo courtesy Paweł Maciejewski

Are we still “Chinese” ?

In order to respond to the need of developing physical culture institutes and training man power, the Culture Council of the Zionist National Committee decided in 1944 to establish an institute for this purpose. The Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport, was inaugurated in 1957 and is named in honor of Major General Orde Charles Wingate.

The Israeli Sports Law (1988, clause a.50) notes “Karate, Krav Maga, and all martial arts categories”, while the Israeli Sport Authority defines martial arts as “acquired physical skills containing the major essence of improving the fighting skill in hand to hand combat, but containing other values, such as artistic value, body control value, improvement of the awareness skill etc.”

The Martial Arts Department at the Wingate Institute has gone through many changes since being established. Slowly, but steadily, the conclusion reached was that the three most important foci are Safety (Rule no.1: “Don’t harm”) and forging the character and teaching skills of the apprentice. Therefore, the current staff, headed by Dr. Guy Mor, accepts candidates with a record of five years of training, who have already mastered certain technical skills. In addition, candidates must bring a recommendation letter, certificates, and pass oral and practical exams.

The instructor course is the first and shortest among the three comprising levels, labeled: instructor, coach, advanced coach. The program includes 257 hours, as dictated by the Sport Authority of the Ministry of Culture & Sport.

The course schedule includes:

Sciences (90 hours):

Anatomy (30 hours), Physiology – (30 hours), Sport coaching (15 hours), Sport psychology (15 hours).

Affiliated section (117 hours):

Teaching skills – theoretical methodology, safety of the practice and the student (10 hours), Teaching skills / instructor training – implementation of the safety rules (30 hours), Martial arts physical fitness – theoretical (6 hours), Theoretical and practical basic techniques (20 hours), Sparring (20 hours), History and ethics (6 hours), Physical preparation for children (15 hours), Final examinations (10 hours), First aid (20 hours), Internship (30 hours).

I would like to bring my own personal point of view of this program. Some students are happy to acquire this knowledge as part of the new path they chose towards becoming a martial arts instructor / coach. Others find it limiting and excluding of their own character and nature. However, this program is taught by a team, and each member brings forth his own experience and personality. I prefer to view the teaching skills as a toolkit. The instructor must pick the correct tool at the right moment, and polish his teaching skills step by step.

Let us examine for example the “instructor training”. This part of the training prepares the apprentice to stand in front of a class, to be mindful of safety rules and transfer his knowledge in the optimum way. The apprentice first learns how to write and document a lesson plan. With that achieved, according to the subject, age and level of the students (plus season, indoor/outdoor, etc) he now stands in front of his fellows. He then gives a short introduction, demonstrates the technique from a few angles, chooses the method of teaching (for example “from partial to whole”), and starts teaching. The staff gives feedback in regard to the following points:

  1. Attitude and behavior.
  2. Appearance and introduction.
  3. Safety – of the students, eye contact, keeping the order, safety guidance: appropriate and timed.
  4. Demonstrations and explanations – number of angles, self demo or alternative.
  5. Movement / standpoint/ self confidence/ commanding the class/ intuition/ clarity of speech.
  6. Didactics – presentation, demonstration, mistake corrections: identification/ correction/ feedback/ instruction in stages, instruction from uncomplicated to complex.
  7. Attitude to colleagues, eye contact and body contact.
  8. The level of interest that class arouses.
  9. Class organization – areas, aids.
  10. Martial arts skills – terminology level, performance level, professional knowledge: practical/ theoretical.
  11. Aim of class: achieved, not achieved.

In conclusion, I would like to posit the question: Are we loosing the cultural context of Chinese martial arts? This context is usually referred as “Chinese philosophy”, but actually pertains learning the knowledge – such knowledge that can raise one above the people. Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. This study usually indicates search for a new knowledge, which is a western characteristic. Learning and adapting the perception to an existing ancient knowledge possessed of moral and social quality is in the core of Chinese tradition.

Therefore, the ambition of the Chinese martial arts practitioner to make the art part of his life includes motives of the Chinese culture and interpretation according to his own faith and culture.


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Photo courtesy Paweł Maciejewski: “Two Generations: An old Chinese woman and her granddaughter sitting in the Beijing Subway”.


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