Tucson Meet Yourself is different from other large events: it is a “folklife” festival. This means that our focus is on presenting artists and communities that carry on living traditions rooted in a group’s own definition of identity, artistry and cultural significance. The festival has been held each year in Downtown Tucson, Arizona since 1974.
It’s a three day event and our performance took place on the morning of the second day. The weather has been hot recently in southern Arizona, and thankfully the performance was over before the heat reached its peak. I’ve been practicing and teaching Tai Chi for over 30 years and just recently joined this Martial Arts Club. My motivation for joining was to learn Chen style Tai Chi from a qualified teacher. As far as I can tell, all of the members of the club are Chinese except for me and another guy named Rob. We are referred to as the two “Americans” in the club. I assume that the Chinese members are Americans too, but they don’t refer to themselves that way. I’ve only been to one practice so far, but all of the members were very gracious and welcoming.
I’ve belonged to numerous martial arts clubs over the years, but this one is unlike any of those. The focus of my previous clubs has always been the self-defense aspects of the Kung Fu and Tai Chi movements. This group’s orientation seems to be on performance. The forms I already know come out of southern China and Hong Kong, brought to the US by teachers who long ago left China. The forms that I’m being introduced to at TSMAG have been more recently standardized in China for performance purposes.
In Chinese history, the years from 1912-1949 are known as the “Republican Period”. During this time the traditional Martial Arts were encouraged. They were taught and performed as a means to promote national pride. All the various styles of Martial Arts flourished throughout China. At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, a group of Chinese Martial artists demonstrated for the first time to an international audience. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China came to power and the Martial Arts were transformed. The PRC did not like the martial quality of the art and changed it to a regulated sport called Wushu. To quote an article in Wikipedia, “The new competition sport was disassociated from what was seen as the potentially subversive self-defense aspects and family lineages of the Chinese Martial Arts.” In 1958 the government established the All-China Wushu Association as the umbrella organization that regulates Martial Arts training. The traditional forms were standardized and regulated for performance and competition purposes.
My new Martial Arts club appears to be from this later period. I was the fifth act to perform at the Festival. During all the performances, music was played in the background. Some of the music sounded like revolutionary worker songs. Thankfully the music played during my performance was more traditional stringed instrument Chinese music. I was asked by Shuping, the Sifu of the club, to perform a two minute version of Sun Tai Chi. Sun is the newest of the five main family styles of Tai Chi. It was created in the early 1900’s by Sun Lu Tang. He was a practitioner of all three internal styles of Chinese Martial Arts, Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing Yi. The Sun form was patterned after the Tai Chi long form and contains elements of all three internal styles. I’ve been practicing this style for about 15 years. My main Tai Chi style is the Yang family style which the troupe already knows. The Sun style adds something new to this performance troupe, so that’s probably why I was asked to do it.
When I arrived at the festival Shuping handed me a white silk uniform she brought for me to wear for the performance. I had cleaned and pressed my more traditional black uniform the night before, and Shuping said I didn’t have to change if I didn’t want to. I tried it on and it felt very sheer and silky. So this is how Hugh Hefner must feel all the time. Most of the other men wore their black uniforms and looked quite macho. At least I didn’t have flowers on my jacket like the women. The others said I looked good in it and I felt pleased and honored to be accepted as part of this Martial Arts Troupe.
I think the performance went well. Shuping and a few of the other women performed the Yang 24 form behind me while I did my two minutes of Sun style. I am not a seasoned performer, but this new club will definitely force me to work to become a better practitioner of both Kung Fu and Tai Chi.
For this second picture, everyone jumped into a martial pose and I just stood there like a dummy. Next time I’ll be prepared. Actually the guy next to me is an excellent Chen practitioner, so I’m in good company.