US Team Adventures in China:
2nd World Traditional Wushu Championship
Date: November 19, 2006
Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China, October 15-19, 2006
By Paula Bailey (San Francisco) and Kris Sieloff (Baltimore)
Police escorts, bus caravans, paparazzi, TV coverage, waving crowds, spectacular entertainments and lavish ceremonies to honor the athletes became the norm for members of the Traditional US Wushu Team organized by the USAWKF, for the Second World Traditional Wushu Championship in Zhengzhou, China. The competition included athletes from 68 countries. The US team returned home with 21 gold, 17 silver, and 21 bronze medals. After receiving rock star treatment in China, coming back to ordinary reality has been quite a shock! This trip was not only about competing, but also included sightseeing in Beijing and central China, as well as making new friends through cultural exchange opportunities. It was truly an incredible journey.
The adventure started when US teams arrived separately in Beijing, and all came together in Zhengzhou for a whirlwind 5 days of competition, comradeship, cultural exploration, and incredible hospitality from the Chinese government and people. Zhengzhou is capital of Henan Province and one of the former capital cities of the Shang Dynasty. At Xinya Jianguo Hotel (a wonderful 5-star property), the team was complete, all 35 of us at last present and accounted for. We attended the opening banquet at the hotel, as we would share many meals together over the coming days, becoming acquainted with the teams from Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, and Singapore, who were housed there as well. Team members would compete and make friends with athletes from all over the world, and support each other as they competed. The USAWKF team was comprised of participants from regions such as Dallas, Baltimore, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, all guided by Team Leader Kyle Cummings, who also had attended the first World Traditional Festival in 2004.
The tournament was held on the state-of-the-art campus of Zhengzhou No. 47 Middle School. Students from the school observed athletes practicing before the competition and attended parts of the tournament when they could. The students were eager to interact and to hold conversations with the international visitors. Throughout the events, the spirited US team shouted "Jiayo!" from above to encourage their fellow team members as they performed on the floor below.
Of the 35 USAWKF athletes competing, the team achieved 21 gold, 17 silver, and 21 bronze medals for individual events. Notable performances include Zhang Yang, who scored 9.0 in the Double Apparatus division and 8.85 for Quanshu; Philip Sahagun, scoring 8.86 for Single Whip, Li Shudong, who scored 8.85 for Taiji Apparatus and 8.8 for Chenshi Taijiquan; John Su, who scored 8.81 for Luhanquan; Fu Bide, scoring 8.83 for Other Soft Apparatus and 8.81 for Xiangxingquan; Jamel Brown, 8.83 for Single Apparatus and 8.81 for Xiangxingquan; Andrew Chin, who scored 8.8 for Hongquan and 8.75 for Daoshu; Ernesto Matamoros, who scored 8.78 for Nanquan, and Matt Wong, scoring 8.76 for Gunshu. The youngest members of the team, Matthew Chen, age 10, and Nick Wright-Sieloff, age 9, collectively brought home one gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in their events. The day after the Wushu Competition, we attended the China Team Demonstration in honor of the 2008 Olympic Committee members.
Among the outstanding competition entertainment events were two from the 1500 year-old Shaolin Temple, located on the western peak of Songshan, or Mount Song, which is the birthplace of Shaolin Kung Fu. On our first evening, a Shaolin Wushu welcoming performance at a beautiful outdoor theater in Dengfeng (near the temple) stressed the harmony and beauty of the Shaolin culture, which goes back to ancient times. The setting was perfect. Guests viewed the show across a lake and the stage included huge rocks, groves of trees, bridges, temples and a mountain backdrop. Chanting monks and beautiful music enhanced the mood of the performance. Topping it off were lighted swordsmen flying over the treetops to the soundtrack of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Visiting the temple itself on another day was an amazing experience. Our extensive convoy of buses, complete with police escort stopping traffic along the way, traveled to Dengfeng. Along the route of our ascent, in addition to citizens who lined the road to welcome us, we were greeted with miles of martial arts demonstrations. Thousands of students from various Shaolin schools in the region performed for our buses as they rode through the city on the way to the temple. Guests walked the final mile to the temple through woods and fields, which were alive with Shaolin Wushu performances. This experience is difficult to describe except to say that it was like walking through living art and living theatre. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of performers in vibrant colors provided tremendous variety and a feast for the eyes and ears. A helicopter hovered overhead all day, filming the event for television. Reaching the temple itself, the mood changed to one more reverent, as guests entered on a yellow silk carpet and toured the ancient temple grounds, many participating in a Buddhist prayer ceremony.
Grand Opening Ceremony
Equally difficult to describe is the Grand Opening Ceremony, which took place in an Olympic-sized stadium in Zhengzhou. Team members were thrilled to march into the stadium behind the US flag wearing their blue and white team uniforms, and to participate in this event with teams from all over the world. As one small contingent of more than 2000 coaches and athletes representing nearly 70 countries, we marched into a packed stadium into brilliant lights and roaring, welcoming crowds. The response to our presence was overwhelming and humbling. The opening ceremony featured some of China's most famous artists performing musical and dance numbers amid martial arts demonstrations, as well as elaborate stage presentations and fireworks, courtesy of the country that invented them.
On the last evening of the competition, we converged on the Zhengzhou Convention Center for an elaborate and colorful light and water show on the deck overlooking the lake, as a prelude to a banquet for the athletes, giving us one more chance to get to know other teams in a social setting. The program included traditional performing artists, acrobatic and musical performances. Our time in Zhengzhou was nearing its end, and teams would go their separate ways for additional sightseeing in other parts of China before returning home. We said warm goodbyes to the team members we had met from other countries and to our tour guides and translators, who made our time in Zhengzhou so gratifying.