Why are there so few Chinese people in Chinese martial arts?
The answer isn't so simple and there are a number of factors to consider. Whilst yes, China is famous for martial arts, there is often a misconception that everybody does it. This isn't and never was true. The number was actually much lower. So who practiced martial arts in pre-modern China? Soldiers, law enforcement, armed courier escorts and people who had to defend their land and property. But how about Shaolin monks? Well, the honest answer is that people who actually want to be a monastic were never in large numbers. Shaolin is but one Buddhist temple and there many*. Not all monks practice martial arts and people who didn't know martials are the majority in Chinese society. That is still the case today.
It looks like there are a lot of Chinese people practicing martial arts, because it looks that way in films and there are large public demonstrations. How many you seen at the opening of the Olympics, they are the select few or the people who practice martial arts. But what about Shaolin? Well there are lot of documentaries which shows lots of monks. Well, actually, most aren't monks, they are lay practitioners or students who pay to train and study the Shaolin arts.
So why aren't more Chinese people practicing martial arts? Well on one hand people are. Martial arts is taught in schools, but as an exercise. There are plenty of older people who practice Taiji. Society has changed we no longer fight with swords and spears. The role of martial arts has changed. Unless your occupation requires these skills, the chances are you might not need them. So martial arts is now practiced as a sport, demonstration art or for health reasons.
When Chinese people moved overseas, they took their traditions with them, which also includes martial arts. So this was available to the next generation. But how come so few practice martial arts? Well you have to like it in order to do it. You have to be really dedicated to do it well. Martial arts is hard work (even Taiji) and requires investing a lot of time and energy. The same can be said for any art or craft. There's time spent in class and the training you do outside class. It's not unheard of for people to train several hours a day. So you really must love what you're doing and you'll have little time for anything else. Young children who loved martial arts classes may eventually give it up as they need more time to study, find new hobbies or socialise. They might never come back to taking up martial arts.
Whilst it's not advertised, injuries do happen and it may be enough to put people off. It may certainly put parents off the idea of sending children to practice martial arts. To honest truth is that martial arts is hard work, there are risks and it isn't easy. When you see people doing martial arts well, it looks great, but they've invested a lot of time and effort into what they do. That's gongfu and a labour of love. Chinese people are no different in this respect. However, martial arts does face have an image problem in certain parts of the Chinese community. Martial arts is seen as old fashioned, uncivilised, for troublemakers and gangsters. It's ironic that an aspect of Chinese culture is not actually appreciated by the Chinese. Furthermore, it is poorly understood.
Martial arts has a lot to offer. It's not just fighting, there's fitness, life skills and comradery. I have noticed the limited number of Chinese people in martial arts for many years in both my native Hong Kong and in the UK. In the school I belong to, I know of only a few others. There are schools in London that have more, but these are due to clan affiliations. Lion dancing in Chinatown is one example, as are public demonstrations where a Chinese presence is somewhat sparse. At competitions, I am often the only Chinese person there. There aren't that many Asians either. It is a very lonely experience that few would understand. The door is open to all. I do hope more people try martial arts. A lot of young people love samurais and Bruce Lee. Put away those DVD's away and try martial arts for real.
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* The Shaolin that people talk about is Northern Shaolin, but they have branches and affiliated temples.
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