Today’s interview is a real treat for fans of Chinese martial arts films as we sit down for a chat with 23-year-old Jonathan Lee. A key member of Thailand’s national Wushu team, Jonathan has been perfecting his craft since childhood. Beyond his cool demeanor that catches the eye, there’s more to this sport that piques curiosity. Let’s dive in and discover what makes Wushu appealing to young individuals like Jonathan, who are dedicated to keeping its spirit alive.
Wushu Vs. kung fu Before we explore the essence of ‘wushu,’ let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Establishing this foundation is crucial because many might not be familiar with this sport if they haven’t been exposed to the world of Chinese cinema before.
“Wushu is the international term equivalent to ‘kung fu,’ much like how we use ‘Siam’ to refer to Thailand. There are people who argue that these two are not identical, aiming to differentiate them based on factors like age, physical limitations, competition structures, and other commercial considerations.”
“In the past, the Chinese people had various clans, and each clan had its own style of martial arts. Wushu is about combining the distinctive elements of these individual martial arts styles and then establishing standardized criteria for correct forms. There are three main categories in competition: routines or forms, sparring, and weapons demonstrations.”
What qualities contribute to achieving excellence in wushu? “Determination, discipline, and a suitable physique. You must possess the determination to participate and the discipline to practice, especially considering you’ll meet coaches specializing in various areas. Some focus on jumps, while others concentrate on choreography. Without a willingness to learn new techniques, you won’t progress. Additionally, body weight plays a vital role in performance. If your weight is excessive, jumping becomes challenging as wushu’s all about agility and speed.”
What makes wushu unique? “Wushu encompasses both philosophy and artistry, possessing charm, diverse techniques, and a philosophy that has been passed down since its inception. It’s an activity for everyone regardless of age or gender. For instance, older individuals might opt for a slow and graceful style like Tai Chi, while teenagers could engage in more dynamic and energetic forms of martial arts.”
What’s the most challenging part of practicing wushu? “The most challenging part was the flexibility training, because wushu athletes need to be able to achieve a full split or even more than that.”
How long have you been practicing wushu? “I’ve been involved with wushu for as long as I can remember. My dad did kung fu, so he would teach me punches and dance routines from a young age. I loved how fun and cool it was, like something out of a Chinese martial arts film. At first, my focus was more on practicing traditional martial arts. I started taking wushu more seriously when I was around 10 or 11 years old. That’s when I began training with the Thai Wushu Association and eventually became a member of the national team. My first international competition was at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore, where I competed in the ’duilian’ (synchronized combat) category. Nowadays, I mostly compete in the ‘changquan’ or longfist category.”
“I didn’t win any medal at the 2015 SEA Games. What’s worse was that I ended up dislocating my shoulder during the fall. I had to regain my composure, retrieve my weapon, and exit the arena trying now to show that I was in pain. Even though I didn’t win, the experience really got to me. It made me realize where I stood skill-wise and pushed me to keep improving.”
How do you manage to stay motivated? “When I lose, I get upset and even shed a few tears, thinking to myself that I could have scored better. But eventually, I come to realize that in every sport, there are wins and losses. Success depends on various factors, like the time spent practicing, skills, or even a stroke of luck. It forces me to reflect on myself, address my weaknesses, and strive to develop the qualities needed to overcome those challenges.”
Do you have any additional techniques that help you improve your practice even further?
“After I finish my training and hop into the car to head home, I usually close my eyes and play the same music that I use during competitions. Then, I mentally rehearse continuously, almost like I’m developing myself mentally, making me aware of what I’m doing. In the arena, we only have 1-3 minutes to perform in front of the judges, requiring intense focus.”
(For Maher: Please embed this video in the article. It’s “Wushu_08” Thank you!)
What are your future plans? “My dream is to secure a spot within the top 3 in one of the individual categories at the World Wushu Championships. I want to also pass on my knowledge to the next generation, enabling them to perform even better than us. I’d like to make wushu a recognized sport worldwide and contribute to preserving the Chinese culture through it.”
If someone is interested in learning wushu, where should they start? “I would recommend taking lessons at a school that offers standardized wushu instruction. Wushu is a sport that can result in injuries if not practiced correctly, so having expert coaches overseeing your training is essential. Wushu isn’t incredibly difficult, but it’s also not entirely easy; it’s somewhere in between. If you’re dedicated and passionate, you can excel in it.”