Wushu Culture: An Interview with the Martial Artist Shaobo

Posted by Anne Rhebergen • Friday, April 8. 2011 • Category: Arts and Beyond
Knowledge Must had the chance to interview the China-born martial artist Shaobo Tang who is living in the Netherlands. Although not living in China any more he continues to cultivate many Chinese traditions, especially Wushu. Whenever he finds the time he goes back to China to train with the masters. Consciously moving between Dutch and Chinese cultures Shaobo is trying to make the most out of the two worlds.

By enanon

KM: Hello Shaobo. Thank you for finding the time for this interview. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Shaobo Tang: Hi, my name is Shaobo Tang and I’m 27 years old. I was born and raised in Qingdao, China till I was 10. Then I moved to the Netherlands with my parents. I am currently working in Amsterdam and living in Hilversum. Before that I lived with my parents in a small town near The Hague till I was 25.

KM: How do you experience living in two worlds, one Asian and one Western?

Shaobo Tang: It gives a lot of advantages but also some disadvantages. For example I learned Chinese, Dutch and English with ease and I am now speaking and writing them all fluently. It also gives me different perspectives on things. For example: things in the media. Sometimes it is also difficult as I am feeling less and less attached to one single culture. We don’t really celebrate Dutch or Chinese holidays anymore. It is also a bit difficult on your identity as I don’t really feel fully Chinese but also not fully Dutch.

KM: How do you encounter this in everyday life?

Shaobo Tang: Well I prefer Chinese food over Dutch food! So for living and eating I am more Chinese. For example I prefer warm and big breakfasts instead of sandwiches. For other things I think it is more of a mix. I have the luxury of choosing which culture fits me the best.

KM: Could you give us a short explanation on what Wushu exactly is, where its origins lie and what its main philosophy is?

Shaobo Tang: Wushu will probably be known in the West as Kungfu. But Kungfu is really not the correct term. Kungfu means skill – it can refer to anything – while Wushu literally means art of war, so basically martial arts.

If I give you a detailed description of the philosophy and history of Wushu, I would have to type a paper at least, so I’ll spare you all that and give you just a summary. A lot of people think Wushu descended from the Indian monk Bodhidharma (from the Shaolin temple) but Wushu already existed in China before that. Bodhidharma gave his own twist on Wushu. I am really not sure when it exactly originated, not sure if anyone knows, but it did exist already more than 2000-3000 years ago. Clearly it has been developed for fighting purposes and there are thousands of different types, forms, styles and schools of Wushu.

By Kjell Tjensvoll

KM: Could you give us a broad overview of what all is considered Wushu?

Shaobo Tang: In general you can divide it into 2 categories: internal and external. Internal Wushu focuses on breathing and meditating so your organs will get stronger, while external Wushu focuses on making your body more flexible, agile and strengthening it.

Nowadays Wushu has been modified so it can be more practiced as a competition sport. Modern Wushu has been split into Taolu and Sanda. Taolu focuses on performing different forms and Sanda can be more compared with kickboxing. I mainly practice Taolu. Taolu itself has also been split into different categories: Northern, Southern, Taiji, Traditional and Duilian.

Northern (chang quan) is elegant with more kicking elements. It combines the biggest styles and schools from the northern parts of China. Examples are cha quan, hong quan, hua quan, etc.

Southern (nan quan) is more aggressive with steady and short movements and arm work. It combines the biggest styles and schools from the southern parts of China. Examples are yong chun (wing chun), Tiger, Crane, etc.

Taiji is well known by everyone I think. It’s more calm and fluent. The most well known styles are Chen and Yang.

Traditional includes animal forms as well as some other traditional forms like drunken, di tang, ba gua, xing yi, etc.

And last Duilian are different “sparring routines” or “fight scenes” which include different styles and weapons.

Next to practicing these styles, there are also some moral standards attached to Wushu which are generally not very familiar to Westerners. It’s called Wu De. Things like having respect for each other and especially for your teacher. Don’t use your fighting skills to pick on the weak. Be disciplined, listen well to your teacher and train hard to accomplish things in life.

KM: What motivated you to start with Wushu?

Shaobo Tang: When I was a teenager I started reading a lot of those Wushu novels, similar to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It got me really motivated and sine I also wanted to be like those guys, I looked up the nearest Wushu school with my parents (it was in Rotterdam at that time) and just went!

By istolethetv

KM: When did you start practicing Wushu?

Shaobo Tang: Well it’s kind of embarrassing as I actually started when I was 8. Because I was really energetic as a child, my parents thought it would be good for me to channel all those energies into something. However I had to stretch and do front kicks for 3 months and I found that really boring. So I quit after 3 months, and then got started again when I was 17. That was really a shame as I would have been much better now if I kept on training since I was 8, because as a child you’re much more flexible.

KM: Which aspect of Wushu attracts you the most and why?

Shaobo Tang: It is a combination of things. First of all it is really healthy for your body (well at least if you don’t get injured often, which is a big risk if you want to practice at competition level). Modern Wushu is also really spectacular and acrobatic thus great for shows and demonstrations. It’s great to know you can do all kinds of tricks and jumps! Wushu also improves your fighting abilities significantly so it is great for self defence. All these things make Wushu really cool to do for me.

KM: How does Wushu benefit you in daily life?

Shaobo Tang: There isn’t a day when I don’t think about Wushu as I train or teach almost every day of the week. So I would say a lot. It has become more like a way of life than just a sport for me. For example when I get up and brush my teeth, I’m also stretching at the same time. When I’m traveling and sitting in the train I will think about the forms in my head etc. The benefits are for example that it really makes me feel healthy and my body becomes stronger and more agile. I also don’t really have a lot of stress as I can lose them all during the sport. It keeps me in really good shape. It’s also really good for my character as I’m more disciplined and my threshold for pain is a lot lower.

KM: You have also been training Wushu in China. How and where did you experience that?

Shaobo Tang: Yes, I try to go to China every year to train nowadays. I’ve been training in Shanghai, Qingdao, and Nanning, all sorts of places. When I (or we – sometimes it’s a group) go, it’s for 3-5 weeks and training everyday, sometimes twice a day. However we’re really nothing compared to the Chinese athletes. Of course most of them are professionals; the level of their Wushu is really amazing. So we’re pretty much there to learn from them.

The difference in their training method is that they train much harder, more frequently and they start much younger. They’re also being pushed really hard by their coach. For example, some kids have to stretch really hard till they cry but still have to carry on. Otherwise they’ll get hit. Or they have to do something right no matter how many times they try, and while they do that, they’re being hit for every mistake.

These kinds of methods really are not likely to be used in the Netherlands, but they do get really good results. Also athletes in China have no other choice than to train hard, as most of the time, they come from a poor family or countryside and being good in Wushu is their only way out to get a better life, while in the Netherlands it’s only a hobby as you have school/work and other interests, so the motivation is not the same.

By McBunny

KM: Is it correct that you trained with the Shandong Wushu team? How did you make contact with them? How was it to exchange experiences?

Shaobo Tang: Yes, I indeed trained with them last year and am planning to train with them this year again. My father’s friend is the head of the university there so he pulled some strings for me as normally it’s not possible to train with such an elite group. They’re like Ajax Amsterdam in football. It was really cool! Their level of course is outstanding. Most of them you only see in videos online or on television, so I was really excited to go. It is such an inspiration to see them up close and train with them. I have improved and learned a lot so this year I’m hoping to go again. I already booked the ticket!

KM: Does Wushu help you to immerse yourself in the Netherlands?

Shaobo Tang: It doesn’t really help at all, as Wushu is 100% Chinese and has pretty much nothing to do with the Netherlands. It rather alienates me a little more from the Dutch culture, but luckily I have a Dutch girlfriend. So she reminds me all the time about Dutch culture!

KM: Would you recommend Wushu to other people?

Shaobo Tang: Of course! Wushu is good for all, young or old. If you’re a kid, it’s good for your flexibility, morals and discipline because of the Wu De (Wushu morals) we teach. For elderly taiji is really suitable. It has healthy exercises which are really good for the body and the mind as you also practice internal energy, breathing exercises, concentration and meditation. It’s also really appealing for teenagers or young adolescents as it’s really great to look at with lots of jumps and spectacular acrobatic movements like backflips and so on. It is a lot of fun to do!

KM: Shaobo, thank you so much for the interview!

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