Fighting Modernity

Traditional Chinese Martial Arts and the Transmission of Intangible Cultural Heritagez`

Authored by: Patrick Daly

Routledge Handbook of Heritage in Asia

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415600453
eBook ISBN: 9780203156001
Adobe ISBN: 9781136582042


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In these days of globalisation and blaa, blaa, blaa. You know, I think that all of us are losing our cultural identity … Chinese kung fu is very unique. It’s a total art form. It is not just about fighting; it is a way of life. It is philosophical, spiritual, it’s physical. It’s everything.

I think for too long when you talk about culture, it is always how you dance, calligraphy. How often do you hear martial arts being spoken of as cultural heritage? 1

I arrived in Bintulu, a small town on the coast in Sarawak, East Malaysia, in mid afternoon as part of a project to document traditional Chinese martial arts. Master Edward was waiting for me at a coffee shop and, after a cup of tea, we drove to a small park on the beach. As we pulled up, Grandmaster Yeo was walking around a park bench, lightly twirling an old basketball around in his hands and moving it back and forth in circles in the air. A short man in his late 70s, dressed in a button-down shirt and a pair of slacks, he walked over, handed Edward the ball and shook my hand. I introduced myself and explained my interest in traditional martial arts and how it is transmitted, and gave him a letter of introduction from a mutual friend. He read the letter intently and without saying a word, walked over to the table, pulled a sword out of a bag and started a form (a sequence of linked movements central to kung fu training) with grace and intensity that belied his age. After he finished, he requested that Edward join him to show me some two-person sparring drills. Edward handed me the basketball, which I almost dropped in surprise; it was filled with iron filings and weighed nearly twenty kilos.

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