The first organization I was aware of in my martial arts career was the Korean KukKiWan, AKA the World Taekwondo Federation. From them we got our official rank recogniztion, our black belts had (still have) registration numbers and we got beautiful certificates, etc. They standardized competition rules, whereever you went the compeitions were the same, the terms were the same. You had national championships, regional championships, world championships and world cups. They even got Taekwondo into the Olympics.
When I entered the Chinese martial arts community, to say it was a let down would be an understatement. At the time, the only organization was the Eastern United States Kung Fu Federation. By then, they were no longer sponsoring tournaments so they never provided us with that venue. They only held an annual demonstration and that was always poorly organized and poorly promoted. It only attracted the existing schools and its students, it did not do any marketing for the federaton members. In fact, the federation also banned advertising, at least with our school.
Tai Yim and Anthony Goh started the North American Chinese Martial Arts Federation (NACMAF) in the Baltimore/Washington DC area. It had a huge and well organized national tournament. NACMAF promoted not only forms and weapons but full contact as well. It was actually a great organization, except that it was mostly teachers from Guangdong, and it didn’t network well with either the US KuoShu Federation (the Taiwan teachers) or with Jeff Bolt’s organization.
I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t have much dealings with the US KuoShu Federation. They were very insular, they discouraged outsiders from participating, made it very hard to join. It seemed mostly to be composed of old friends from back in Taiwan. Hard to say how well organized it was, but as a marketing scheme it was not very successful.
While both NACMAF and US KuoShu were dominated by Chinese leadership, initially Jeff Bolt offered a well run event that also show due appreciation to the many American instructors. Jeff Bolt was also purely interested in promoting Chinese martial arts, often to his own detriment. That is to say not only was he not “money hungry” he barely kept a thumb on the business aspect.
Without getting into a huge blog post, suffice to say that Chinese martial arts in the United States changed radically when the NACMAF leadership and Jeff Bolt’s group merged to form the United States of America Wushu Kungfu Federation (USA WKF). I don’t really want to re-hash all the events right now, but a number of bad decisions were made, bad BUSINESS DECISIONS that ultimately hurt the federation. While they are still around, they never achieved the heights that seemed potential when the group started.
Most importantly, and to the point of this blog, NONE of the organizations in Chinese martial arts in the United States ever lived up to what they were supposed to do; i.e to promote the arts and the members schools. Wait, let me modify this statement! In the United States, contemporary wushu has certainly grown, but both traditonal kung fu and fighting (Lei Tai, sanshou, san da, whatever you want to call it) have suffered in the past two decades. In fact, the USA WKF effectively DESTROYED sanshou/san da!
An orgainzation that hopes to really leads its constituant members builds regional and a national competition. These events are the fuel that run the engine of the organization. Well organized events bring attention to the arts and the consituant members. Seminars can be arranged at successful events. So can “trade shows”. HECK! Let me throw out a crazy one here, how about BUSINESS MEETINGS that help school owners improve their business!
In today’s age, events also attract people to web sites. Web sites that can be used to educate people. Web sites that can be used to promote the constituant schools and their events. Web sites that MIGHT (this is a HARD ONE) attract potential sponsorship.
I don’t beleive you can standardize Chinese martial arts (or any martial arts tradition for that manner, even the Koreans failed at that!) but competition raises standards. And public scrutiny , the light of day, kills a lot of fungus. Where Chinese martial arts are concerned, you could do a lot to re-establish its reputation by promoting application events like san da, shuai jiao, push hands and chi sau.
Things to AVOID:
1) Rules designed to “protect” the arts or just simpy to favor one organization or one school
2) Corruption! A huge issue in the Chinese martial arts. A real organization is led by people who are ACCOUNTABLE to the consituants. Also, competition rules need to be the same way. For example, the absoute power of the chief offical in IWUF sanshou is a concept born of Communist Totalitarianism. It simply won’t work with people who aren’t brainwashed and used to staying silent
3) Leadership run ONLY but the Asians from the home country! Both Chinese and Korean martial arts organizations have been guilty of this. It’s especially strange considering how many non-Asians run HUGE, successful commercial schools and are the ones providing the competitors!