or "Feel the power of the Bear Claw System!"
by Raffi, 2/20/99
|Liu Qing Hua demonstrates the effective wushu of the California Golden Bear|
The highlight of the trip came at about the 400 mile mark when we hit the scourge of I-5... the grapevine! This part of the highway is really steep and turns many a vehicle into a molten pile of slag. But under my masterful piloting, the Sherpamobile managed to pass a few tractor trailers as we averaged upwards of 35 miles per hour up the steep inclines.
The big excitement came as we suddenly faced some road debris in our lane as we were coasting down the other side of the Tejon pass. Luckily we only ran over this big metal bar that was in our lane, without puncturing the tires. By about 10pm, we found our wonderful accommodations for the weekend, the Motel 6 in Santa Ana, and were informed by the woman behind the bullet proof glass that we needed to pay for our room upfront. Well, definitely no frills, but it was cheaper than staying in Irvine!
Ultimately our group at the Motel 6 consisted of 14 people, most of whom
were competing the next day at the competition. Several more of our
competitors were staying with relatives in the area and were meeting up
with us the next day. We tried to hit the sack early, as we had to show
up to Irvine by 8:30 AM the next morning. But we couldn't turn in before
laughing to Max Weinberg's "Punch my steel hard abs baby!" skit on Conan
O'Brien, remind me to reinact it next time you see me.
|Nhan Tu caught in the middle of executing a jump front kick. Check out those cool shoes man!|
By the way, Cal Wushu brought two teams as well as several extra people competing as individuals. Cal's "Gold" Team was our surefire champ. It was stacked with Superstars Nathan Tong and Mae Hsu, of US Wushu Team fame, as well as Brandon "I own the internal divisions" Sugiyama. Also on the team were Elan Hom, Inyork Wong and Nhan Tu.
Cal's "Blue" Team was also a definite contender! The team was made up of Peter "Too tall for this sport" Pebler, Sam Hsu, Dennis Wong, David Chang, Susanna Wang and myself. Other schools in attendence included U of Oregon, UCLA, Stanford Wushu (making their Collegiates debut as a newly reformed club!), Cal State Fullerton and the hosts, UC Irvine.
The competition stared with beginner men's changquan in one ring and intermediate in the other. Yes, thats right, there was a seperation between men's changquan and women's changquan for all skill levels. This fact wasn't told to anyone beforehand (well, at least not til we asked about it after we set our teams, that is). Oh, but wait, I was going to save the issues like this for later in the article...
The divisions went well except for a few things, there was a definite disparity in set difficulty in the beginner division, on one hand you had guys doing basic straight back and forth sets, and then at the opposite extreme you had guys doing the compulsory changquan form. While they were doing it poorly, they were still executing jump insides and butterflies, making it hard for a guy who's lucky to have a two step jump front in his set. Unfortunately the judges (did I mention that the judges for this whole shindig were the Beijing Wushu Team, in sharp blue blazers?) were a bit swayed by more difficult, albeit imperfectly executed moves. Despite that set back, Nhan from Cal Wushu's Gold Team managed to get 3rd and Sam from Cal Wushu's Blue Team managed to get fourth, out of about 10-15 competitors!
|Elan busts out his three section!|
This is where the funny turned absurd. Elan was so tired that he could hardly do the ground work required in his whipchain set (I was surprised he could even do a flower!) So Elan is trying to do that thing where you're sitting on the ground and bounce up and down on your butt letting the whipchain pass under you as you bouce up. (you know what I'm talking about right?) Anyhow, between his baggy silks, the carpet and him not bouncing very high, it just wasn't working!
But not to give up easily, Elan decided to try again. Opps, didn't work!
One more time! (signalled to his adoring fans by the "#1" finger sign).
And of course one doesn't get less tired as the set progresses, so
after three failed attempts to get the move off, Elan decided to skip it
and proceed to finish the set. But the funny thing was that not only did
the audience really enjoy Elan's competitive drive in the face of
adversity, but so did the judges and coaches watching on (see photo of
many important peoples cracking up, below). After the whole thing was
over, Elan was nearly exhausted, as evidenced by his emaciated appearance.
Luckily he was done for a few hours and could regain his strength before
needing to grace the ring again. (oh, and just to make matters worse, his
number pinned to his back came off during this whole deal too!)
|From right to left, that's former Beijing Wushu Team member Zhang Hong Mei, Phillip Wong, Beijing Wushu Team coach Wu Bin, Judge and Beijing Team member Li Qiang, and some random UCI guy, all getting a good laugh out of Elan's competitive spirit!||Yes, check out the blue lips on "The Iron Man" after three sets in a few minutes.|
|Brandon's practice of the internal arts has reached a whole other level!|
Brandon's chi was in full effect as he lit up the floor during yang taiji, defeating UCLA's Rob Collins and Debbie Chen. No one could deny him his multiple golds, as he continued on his path of destruction, taking out poor Raffi debuting his Xing Yi Quan in "Other Internal." But Brandon's Bagua Zhang could not be denied. He's been practicing it a lot in the past few months. We both learned our "other internal" sets from the same instructor, Zhang Hong Mei. But Zhang Hong Mei was a champion in bagua, not xing yi... so I guess there was no way I was going to beat him! Luckily he didn't bust out any external wushu this day, so he only cost me one medal this day.
Brandon also got a first in the "other taiji" with his 42 combined form.
Definitely watch for him to be a contendor for "internal man" on future US
|Anne and Mae Hsu after Women's Advanced Changquan|
After that we went to the short weapons, there were two upsets here, first of all Debbie Chen beat out Mae Hsu who is defending Women's All-Around Champion in straightsword. Secondly Matt Emery beat Nathan in Broadsword. Broadsword wasn't the same without Erick 'I'm still the Goldensilk Pimp Daddy' Louie though, maybe he didn't come this year after the humilation of his deduction at last year's competition for making extraneous noises during his set?
After the short weapons were the long weapons, no big surprises here,
Nathan took first place in staff and Mae took first in Spear, beating out
Cal's Blue team members David Chang and Raffi, who had to settle for
second and third respectively. Let the record show that I haven't
actually practiced spear in several months, so the fact that I did the
whole set without messing up (more than a little) is a significant
achievement for me.
|Your webmaster caught in action|
Last up in the regular competition was "open wushu." I don't even
remember anything about this division except for the fact that Dennis Wong
of the Cal Blue team got first with his drunken fist. Dennis' drunken is
pretty good, he has lots of great jumps and falls in it, all performed
well. The really great part came at the end when they were handing out
medals and Dennis didn't respond to his name being misprounced as Dennis
Wang, so he stood still in front of everyone as "Dennis Wang" was
repeatedly called and everyone was staring at him. I think he said he
thought there might have been a Dennis Wang and he didn't want to accept
the medal for that guy by accident. Better safe then sorry I guess,
right? But then again, I'm used to people misprouncing my name.
|Despite what Patrick told me, I was NOT late on every move! Here's an action shot of Cal's blue team on their jumping sidekick fall.|
|Cal State Fullerton about to start their group set. My percieved incongruities accented with arrows.|
|Stanford Wushu's demonstration of the "Captain Kirk."|
Oregon's group set was good, but also with several syncronization problems. UCI did a group taiji form for their set. This was really an off beat move. How do the judges compare people doing jumping kicks, falls and throws with people doing taiji? There were no hammerfists or wheeling arms in the taiji set... the things that REALLY show how together a group is. (how much easier is it to synchronize a taiji set than a changquan set?) I disagree with the judges on the scoring of this one considering the difficulty difference with the competition (kind of like with the taiji straightsword in "other weapons"), but then again, when in doubt, the judges invariable will "stick them in the middle somewhere" which is exactly what happened.
|3/5 of the Cal Team caught in action. Notice the strained look on Brandon's face. Thats because he had to yell really really loud so his team mates could here to calls over the crowd noise (99% of which was from the rabid Cal fans).|
Last up was UCB's Gold Team. I know for a fact how hard these guys practiced this set. They worked on it in class three times a week for the two weeks proceding the competition, but also held extra workouts to get more practice in. Also this team contained the best athletes present that day, so one would expect their group set to be totally high caliber.
One thing that I noticed most that set them apart from the rest was the
power. They were all sharp and quick, no weak moves anywhere. Furthermore
they were almost totally in-synch. One mess-up was that Mae slipped on
the openning kick combination, but since it was an inside crescent into a
back fall, it wasn't that noticable of a mistake. Luckily she was
uninjured and was able to keep up with everyone without really missing a
beat! This performance won them the well deserved gold medal... or was it
just because they went last? :)
|Cal's Blue and Gold Teams celebrate their school's victory and their love of their new coach!|
1 - University of California Gold Team
2 - UCLA
3 - UC Irvine
4 - University of California Blue Team
5 - Cal State Fullerton
6 - University of Oregon
7 - Stanford University
I personally would give the most congrats to Stanford for being the new kid on the block and making a real strong showing, don't let the placing fool you, they were definitely a competitive team. From what I know of the team scores, the Gold team of UC Berkeley was most definitely far out in first place (I think they could have gotten last on the group set and still probably won). With four of their 6 competitors bringing home two golds for their team score, something no other team could even touch!
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th placed teams were all pretty close in score. Unfortunately as of this writing UCI hasn't posted any final results, so there's no way of knowing exactly how it ended up. But keep your eyes open for updates if that does become available.
After serving as our diligent judges for 8 hours, the Beijing Wushu Team was kind enough to give us a brief demo. This is especially remarkable considering that they had only flown in from Beijing the day before and were suffering from serious jet lag. The demo was about 15 minutes, incompassing some basics, jumps and a set or two from each of the athletes.
Think of it as a gentle reminder of what good wushu is SUPPOSED to look like! Highlights included Liu Qing Hua's long tassel straightsword, Shang Yu's Nan Quan, Jiang Bang Jun's Eagle Claw and the famous Chen Chen - Li Qiang sparring set. Oh and just to prove that wushu coaches don't get all out of shape and lazy, Li Jing jumped in and performed a little fanzi quan with her former team for old time's sake!
Photo courtesy of George Nguyen.
The night after the tournament most everyone from most of the teams went to a place called Dave and Buster's, a bar/restaurant, video arcade. Unfortunately several competitors had trouble getting in as they weren't over 21, a small technicality that the tournament organizers didn't foresee apparently. Luckily as a seven year college student, I passed my 21st birthday quite a while ago and was able to enter.
The highlight of my evening there was doing permanent nerve damage to my hand in the "electric chair" machine earning me the handsome prize of 20 tickets, worth all of 1/2 of a super ball. But as everyone was getting ready to leave, I had the opportunity to help Eric use up his credits on the video games. We were kicking so much ass on "Area 51" that it actually crashed and we needed to get an employee to reset the game!
The next day was the event that a lot of us were really looking forward to, the Magic Mountain trip! While I enjoy a good amusement park trip (see the Great America article), this trip was special because the 9 visiting Beijing Team members who served as judges were going to be accompanying us. Unfortunately the full 16+ member team wasn't in attendance because of visa problems so we had only half as many wushu superstars as originally planned. But hey, a few Beijing wushu members is certainly better than none!
|Shao Chang Jun, newest member of the Beijing Team waiting in line for the Viper with Anne, Brandon and Luke.|
The day started out fun... for the Beijing Team at least, not so much for me. Li Qiang decided to grace everyone with an impersonation of my march out during the group set... lets just say that I wasn't doing the opposite arm opposite leg thing so great, and everyone seemed to think it was awfully funny. Well we know why the judging was the way it was for that division... the judges were too busy laughing at me to notice the rest of our group set apparently!
I also got some great constructive tips from Chen Chen too, something along the lines of "Ru Fei mei you bu!" (Which for those of you who don't understand Chinese means "Raffi has no stances." But the thing that you gotta understand is that this is the way the Beijing team is, no phony politeness. So I didn't take it too personally, I'm not going to quit wushu or anything over this.
First ride up was "The Viper" I was lucky enough to get in line next to my
friend Liu Qing Hua and managed to practice a little Chinese with her. I
also got the chance to talk some more with Shao Chang Jun, the new guy on
the team. I felt a little sorry for him since it was his first time in
the US and everyone else already knew people here but he didn't. A lot of
other people made it into line with us, including most of the Berkeley
team and University of Oregon. I got to ride in the coaster with Shao
Chang Jun and he was flipping out as we started on the first downhill run,
I'm not sure who was screaming louder, Liu Qing Hua sitting ahead of me,
or him... or maybe it was Mae, who was sitting in front of me. See the
photo for an idea of who the calm one on this train was. I even shelled
out the exorbenent fee of $7.95 to buy the picture just so my web surfers
could share in the funny experience.
|Members of the Cal Wushu team and the Beijing Wushu team stop for a photo. From back to front, that's Kai, George, Nhan, Dennis, Shang Yu, Shao Chang Jun and Li Qing Hua.|
We found the rest of the group hanging in front of the giant climbing wall, Liu Qing Hua was taking a power nap to overcome her jet lag while Patrick and Li Jing challenged Kong Xiang Dong to a race up the wall. Unfortunately Pat got stuck on the "hard" level path and never did make it past like 10 feet up. But KXD and Li Jing showed their gung fu in making it to the top pretty fast. I would have liked to see Shang Yu give it a try, as his Nan Quan probably gives him strong tiger claw abilities. As it was, KXD's forearms were way tired by the time he got down, apparently the taiji prince was going all external on the wall climb?
After that we stopped to eat and chat. I got the chance to ask the
Beijing Team coach, Zhang Xian Ming
what he thought of my Xing Yi Quan, which he was judging for the day
before. He also practices Xing Yi so I thought it would be good to ask
him his opinion, although I'm sure I knew the answer to my question.
Basically from what I could understand of his answer (he kind of had to
dumb it down for my limited Chinese abilities), I had no power and my
legs were all wrong. OK, well at least he didn't candy coat it! But
that's what I get for asking!
|Li Jing is destroying Kong Xiang Dong and Patrick on the climbing wall! Wushu athletes have no fear!||Jetlag catches up to even a women's wushu champion. Brandon is keeping guard to make sure her nap isn't interrupted.|
|Brandon and Liu Qing Hua tame the wild beasts!|
But it was a long drive back to Berkeley, even from remote Valencia, home
of the Magic Mountain, so we all piled into the SherpaMobile 2000, hit the
I-5 and made our way back, this time encumbered by a few more medals and a
team championship trophy!
OK, this is the part where I put the put in my opinion, cause everything up to this point was completely impartial an unbiased. -- That's a joke, of course this whole endeavor is nothing but my opinion from start to finish. But this section is where I want to put in my Jerry Springer Final Thought. If you disagree with my version of things or my opinion please email me and let me know. Don't get all angry, just focus the energy intotraining harder for next year's tournament! OK, lets get it on:
First of all let me start with the entire men's and women's changquan thing. As you may or may not know, in previous tournaments men's and women's CQ were divided for individual medals if there were enough men and women to make it worth doing, but still combined for team placings no matter what. This is because you can't add or subtract team divisions because it has an unfair impact on the team competition. But thus far in competition there has not been so many women participating as to guarantee a good number (like at least 4?) of competitors to warrant seperation. Unfortunately the tournament organizers decided to create a separate women's division for each skill level of CQ for individual and team competitors. Equally unfortunate was the fact that they didn't tell anyone about this til after the team reg forms were sent in. This is really unfortunate because this change in the setup has a major effect on the likelihood of a woman bringing in a medal for changquan. Had we known this fact, our team make up would most likely have been different. As it ended up almost every single woman in any changquan division automatically got a medal just for entering because there were so few. As a matter of fact, the tournament organizers changed the rule for women participating from 2 women per team to 1 woman per team because so many schools had problems with this rule in the past. Despite all these arguments, the tournament staff refused to reconsider this issue when I brought it up.
Get there at 8:30 am? Why did we have to get there at 8:30am? I can understand the need to be organized and what not, but when I was there at 8:30am, I knew for sure that we wouldn't be competing for quite a while. The judges didn't show up for another hour or so even! As a matter of fact the carpet was still being taped down. Speaking of which... what was up with that Frankenstein's Monster? The best my Sherlock Holmes skills can deduce is that that used to be the dormitory carpeting from at least 4 different rooms. There was more tape than carpet showing almost. This made sets like spear really hard since I had to be really careful I didn't snag the tape while sliding my spear tip across it. Then again, I did really appreciate it when we did the group set, I remember specifically realizing how much softer my jump sidekick felt compared to practicing it on the hardwood.
One thing that I would be absolutely negligent to not comment on is the way that the tournament was divided up by skill level. Intermediate and beginner were run simultaneously, but all the advanced divisions were saved for the afternoon. While the positive of this is that you only have to be warmed up once instead of all day long, the downside strongly outweighs the upside. If you need a good example, go back and look at the part I wrote about Elan. Luckily he had no competition in other weapons and open wushu. How could he possibly be competitive in a division if he can hardly breath to make it through the set? Is it fair to let an inferior competitor beat a better competitor just because the better one is tired from going twice in the last five minutes while the other guy hasn't? Are we testing people's ability to practice styles that are spaced out in the reg form so as not to be too close to each other or their wushu skill? I also had a similar problem, I was third in spear and went on first in other weapons within a few minutes - NOT fun! Clearly this experiment has failed.
Another thing that I had to get involved with was the fact that Matt Emery was originally in Intermediate, despite the fact that he's practiced wushu (on and off) for over 10 years (note that intermediate is supposed to be 1.5-3 years). Apparently he felt that his wushu wasn't advanced level. But after he stepped out and won first place in intermediate changquan by a margin of over 0.3 points over his nearest competitor, everyone watching in the audience was sure convinced that he didn't belong in intermediate! My team asked our coach Li Jing to complain to the officials and she asked me to discuss it with the tournament staff after head judge Wu Bin told us we needed to resolve it with them. Thankfully the tournament staff and officials agreed that his skill level and training history clearly required him to switch to advanced. And certainly his team and coach can't complain about this decision being unjustified, Matt almost tied for first in advanced changquan and did get first in advanced broadsword. I apologized for making a big deal about it to Matt, and he was cool about it, cause you can't argue with his performance.
But the thing that takes the cake is the order for the group set! All wushu competitions claim at least to randomize the order of competition. In fact the better ones let you draw straws or numbers before the division starts so you know for sure that you're getting a fair shake. The tournament staff didn't do this for the group set division. Instead they straight up told us that they were doing group set in alphabetical order by school. Which meant that the two Berkeley teams were up first, then CSUF, Oregon, Stanford, UCI, UCLA. Aren't they aware of the fact that going first is a MAJOR disadvantage? Almost every tournament I've been to I've seen the last few people get much higher scores then the first few people despite being of equal or lesser skill. Its just a fact of competition (and not just wushu). So why screw people over based on the alphabetical order of their school's name?
Well, on my second attempt to get them to rearrange the order in a random fashion, I also brought to the tournament director's attention, the fact that they weren't even correctly implementing this alphabetical order, since our school is the University of California at Berkeley, which anyone who made it into college can tell comes after Stanford and California State University at Fullerton. But alas my argument fell on deaf ears... our school is called "Cal" so we're doomed to first! I guess we would need to trick some school like Alabama or Ball State to getting a wushu team to compete to get out from behind this eight ball?
Well as luck would have it, after my third and most stubborn complaint to the tournament director, they agreed to change the order. ("If its really that important to you..." yes fair competition is important to me, not getting screwed is important to me and my team mates, who put in a lot of work for this competition, only to be doomed by the letter "C"!)
And was the rest of the competition really randomized? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. Who were the first competitors for beginner and intermediate changquan, the first events to open the tournament? First two in beginner changquan were the both of Cal's competitors in that division, and the first in intermediate changquan was from cal too. There was another cal team member who did compete later in that event, but he sent his reg form in several weeks earlier then the rest of us. So apparently the order was somehow based on when you sent your reg form in?
One reason that the tournament officials were so intransigent on everything was because of their predeliction for advanced preparation. They had the scoring sheets for the judges stapled in order of the competitors. This means that once the order was set, it was a hassle to change it. (Was that why my logical arguments were being ignored?) Of course this also means that any at-door competitors were either added to the front or the back, apparently the back as near as I can tell.
While this organization is something to be admired in many respects, when it comes at the price of fairness, its unacceptable. Its not like collegiates is such a huge endeavor as to require so much advance preparation. Speaking of over preparation. What was up with the reg fee? One of the original goals of the collegiates was to make it an AFFORDABLE tournament for college students. Apparently the tournament organizers didn't realize this when they made it $40 for preregistration, $50 for at door, no matter how few events you participate in. Well, ok, what do you get for your $40? You get lunch... which I hardly ate because I was competing shortly after it. You get some medals? -- Well that's another issue! As the organizer for the previous collegiates I can say that unless they got ripped off, those medals are not worth more than $2.00 each. Carpet? I'm afraid to ask how much that cost, hopefully it was a donation.
My point is that it was pretty damn expensive for what you got. I don't suppose its anyone's business what the budget looked like, but as a poor grad student I felt like I didn't get my money's worth and I think a lot of people felt the same. 70 competitors at $40+ each can by a lot of tournament, I don't think we got it. I'm certainly not hanging those medals up on my wall. :(
But to put my positive spin on here at the end: It happened, it worked, it was still fun and it was bigger than last year and looks like next year will be even bigger. And that's all that really matters in the long run, right?