Rumors of War
The 13th Annual UC Berkeley Chinese Martial Arts Tournament

By Gene Ching

Ever been asked to withdraw from a tournament? Since profit comes from entrance fees, most tournaments want as many competitors as possible. But in a last-minute move, Berkeley's tournament directors issued an open invitation to all competitors: if they withdrew, they would receive a full refund, two free spectator passes and $30 off of next year's registration. Despite capping pre-registration early, they still had too many competitors for that single day after April Fools.

Welcome to wushu warfare on the West coast. UC Berkeley's 13th Annual Chinese Martial Arts Tournament is the largest and longest-running Chinese martial arts event in that longstanding bastion of Chinese martial arts, the San Francisco Bay Area. This landscape has changed radically in the last few years due to a large influx of mainland Chinese masters immigrating to the East Bay and Silicon Valley. Strip mall start-up schools have sprouted like mushrooms, mere blocks away from each other, inciting a growing tribal war. Most of these new schools teach modern wushu, making Cal Wushu's tournament into an open battleground. Since it is run by students, not a private school, Cal isn't victim to political boycotts, which may have been its key to survival the past thirteen years.

Unlike traditional kung fu, modern wushu was designed for competition. Berkeley's eight rings ran efficiently with help from a computerized scoring system, and the floor was kept free of poseurs and rubberneckers. Attendance in the traditional rings decreased from last year, but internal and modern wushu grew to take up the slack and then some. Despite Cal Wushu's plea for withdrawals, rings ran late into the night, and even ran during the Masters' Demo for a multi-ring show.

Unperturbed, the Masters' demonstrations were strong all around. Performers included the Hong Kong Wushu Team, local talent that included Cal Wushu, Wushu West, and Y.C. Wong's Hung Gar, plus cameo performances by Kenny Perez and He Jingde. Y.C. Wong, at age seventy-four (easily twice the age of any modern wushu performer), gave an outstanding demonstration that showcased the internal power of Iron Wire, along with a sparring weapon set that was as fast as any wushu one, but as traditional-rooted as can be. Will modern wushu athletes be able to demonstrate like that in their seventies? We won't know for another decade or so because the first generation isn't even that old yet.

As for the young wushu masters, the new Bay Area fiefdoms had their sights on each other. Nowadays, local masters shuffle back and forth, making alliances, then breaking off to form their own schools, much like swords for hire seeking the highest warlord bidder. There are more wushu schools here than anywhere else in the country today, all scrambling to fortify themselves for upcoming territory skirmishes by importing more firepower. Using the tournament for visa applications, a few schools invited potential instructors straight out of China to compete for their team as ringers, all the while courting them to join their staff. Such tactics have always been present in the Bay Area, even in the traditional circles, but never so blatant as at this event. It was so bad that the World Journal, a leading Chinese newspaper, cried "foul" in its review, stating that ringers were unfair to the other competitors. But even with that public scolding, it's unlikely that the latest wave of wushu masters will listen. Next year, the Bay Area promises to be even more saturated, so we can barely wait to reconvene at Cal and, hopefully, no one will withdraw.

  • All-Around Champions
  • Female Adult Contemporary: Gao Jie, O-Mei Kung Fu Academy
  • Male Adult Contemporary: Ding Wei, O-Mei Kung Fu Academy
  • Female Adult Traditional: Asya Karchemskiy, Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy
  • Male Adult Traditional: Michael Schaefer, San Francisco Wushu
  • Female internal: Hansie Wong, WushuLink
  • Male internal: Peter Wolf, Pacific Wushu
  • 13-17 Female: Vina Lam, Wing Lam Kung Fu
  • Senior: Stephen Polcyn, Wushu central & Pacific Wushu
  • 8-12 Combined : Coming soon.
  • 13-17 Male : Coming soon

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