Articles - USA Wushu Team - A New Generation Rising Brings Home Medals and Memories at the 12th World Wushu Championships in Malaysia
The U.S. Wushu team had a splendid showing at the 12thin Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which took place October 28-November 6, 2013. American athletes took home 3 medals -- Jason Liu won silver in his compulsory nanquan, Emily Fan took bronze with a strong quiangshu performance, and sanda fighter Alex Cisnes fought a fierce semi-final battle with the King of Sanda (and reigning World Champion) to emerge with the bronze.
The rest of the team – Peter Dang, Brenda Hatley, Lucy Lee, Emily Hwang, Jessica Shyy, Justin Benedik, Wesley Huie and Jeffrey Lui – all contributed excellent performances – some scoring just barely outside medal territory. But transcending scores, the team showed not only diverse skills but also heart and soul in each performance, sportsmanship on the carpet and off, and an enthusiastic spirit of support for every member. The event was even more of a continuing wushu odyssey for Benedik, Hatley, and Dang, who also competed a week earlier in St. Petersburg, Russia at the SportAccord World Combat Games.
US wushu boasts a long history. American athletes have been traveling to train in China since the 1980s and have participated in IWUF events since the first World Wushu Championships in Beijing in 1991. America is home to a great many top wushu coaches, many from former professional teams in China. But many challenges also exist for the athletes, the greatest of which is the absence of a national sport ministry and lack of corporate funding to support athletes’ training and travel. Some athletes, like Peter Dang, even train by themselves when there are no coaches available where they live.
Wushu athletes in the US are all amateur in status; they either have full time jobs or are in school full time, which limits their training. They generally prepare for events like national or international championships either by themselves or with their own individual coaches. Despite these obstacles, when they come together in a competition like the World Championships their bond is deep, their support of each other unwavering, and their cheers of “jiayou” from the stands couldn’t be louder. A number of devoted parents and coaches also make the long trip and become part of the team support, creating an extended wushu family.
Delegation leader, and IWUF Executive Board Vice President, Anthony Goh, noted, "The Wushu Federation of Malaysia ran one of the best championships IWUF has ever hosted – with 860 participants, it was smoothly run, full of friendship, and the organizing committee offered great hospitality. The US brought the largest team with 39 members and I am very proud of our athletes performances. I especially want to congratulate Jason, Emily and Alex for winning the medals in these high-level competitions. I also want to thanks all the officials for their hard work and the parents for their support. "
U.S. Team Coach Mario Martinez, along with coach Eugene Moy, ushered the young U.S. team to the games in Kuala Lumpur. Martinez notes, “We really have an impressive World Wushu Championships new generation of wushu athletes coming up right now. The last Junior Wushu championships showed a lot of talent emerging, and the next event will be even more competitive. The level across the world teams is continually improving, and we saw a lot of new fresh blood coming out of almost every professional team here. But the U.S. athletes have upped the level of difficulty in their techniques accordingly. Our medaling here shows that we can compete with athletes that train 8 hours a day professionally. These young athletes show the world that the USA is a wushu force to be reckoned with, and I am very proud of how our athletes represented their country. I know many American athletes sacrifice so much to get to the world stage and they do it all for the love of the sport; I have nothing but the utmost respect for them.”
Team Coach Eugene Moy also noted, “It was a great honor and privilege to serve as a U.S. team coach. I'm very proud of the athletes' performance in Malaysia, especially considering the circumstances. Many of them were dealing with injuries, and I don't think anyone was used to the conditions in the warmup tent. A constant, ninety degrees, what felt like 100% humidity, and the two carpets inside the tent were over-saturated with athletes.”
He paused, then continued. “One thing that stood out to me over there was wushu's level of public exposure in Malaysia. A day after the competition, a cab driver asked me the reason for visiting Kuala Lumpur. When I said I was there for World Wushu Championships, he replied saying he had gone to the competition to watch one night and had read about the final results in the newspaper that morning. I hope wushu will one day have the same level of exposure in the U.S. The Wushu Federation of Malaysia did a great job as hosts, and put on a very professional and well-run competition.”
In sanda, the U.S. team is also showing promise and potential, despite similar challenges. Alex Cisne was captain of a sanda team including Brandon Chew, Livingston McKenzie, Cory Johnson, Mike Lee, Ragan Beedy and Sarah Felton, led by head coach Ian Lee. The fighters showed tough skills, heart and spirit as they battled with top contenders from around the world.
Seasoned MMA veteran Cisne truly put U.S. sanda skills in the spotlight. Early on he was pitted against a top fighter from Afghanistan, bringing loud cheers from the U.S. team as well as from a united Middle Eastern bloc rooting for the Afghan fighter. Cisne prevailed, thanks to a barrage of heavy punches, and went on to quarterfinals to face a French fighter who proved a formidable opponent with menacing savate kicks. The Frenchman won the first round, but Cisne quickly regrouped and changed strategy to win the second round and then the third to take the match. This put him into the semi-finals against none other than reigning World Champion and King of Sanda, the great Muslim Salikhov.
Salikhov had dispensed rather quickly with his earlier opponents, but from the start, Cisne’s strong punches and tough defense put the Russian on his guard. Cisne says, “I’ve seen Muslim fight at a lot of other events. I was supposed to fight him in Turkey, but I broke my toe earlier, so that was very disappointing. I couldn’t wait to fight him here – he’s the best, after all!”
“Muslim knew I knew his fighting, and he knew I’d look for an opening strategy. I had to feel out his range in the first round. We both know our spacing, and were looking for openings. His catching and throws are really on point, so you have to be careful. He caught a couple of my kicks and threw me, so I had to catch up by scoring with punches.”
It was by far the most exciting fight we’d seen with Salikhov in Malaysia up until then, and kicks and punches were scored about equally – Cisne caught his opponent with a solid cross he wasn’t expecting, but the Russian eventually won the match with his elegant, and lethal, takedowns.
Regardless, Cisne looked elated to stand on the bronze medal podium with the U.S. flag rising behind him, winning the Americans their third medal of the games. Like taolu, this U.S team is auguring a new era in for U.S. sanda. “It’s all about experience,” says Cisne. “My skill level over the past 7 years has completely changed because of international experience. This is my fourth World Championships, after Beijing, Canada and Turkey. We need to give our sanda fighters more time on the leitai like this. It’s invaluable. Our sanda team has a lot of potential, and being captain here in Malaysia has been really gratifying. I want to go back to America and help build up the team, and I look forward to the next event for our younger athletes.”
The experience of training, traveling and competing in an event like the World Wushu Championships is unlike any other. The athletes, in their own words, describe some of their experiences:
Emily Fan: “My week spent in Malaysia to compete in the 12th World Wushu Championships was definitely one of the best experiences I've ever had. Firstly, it strengthened the bond between my fellow teammates and me. We pretty much spent every waking moment together and shared emotions of happiness when someone did well, and feelings of sadness when someone didn't. Hearing the "Emily!--Jiayou!" from the sidelines during my forms gave me the strength to continue and to finish strong. Similarly, through this experience, I formed a stronger bond with Coach Eugene Moy and Coach Mario Martinez. They were constantly sitting in that hot, humid warm-up tent watching us warm up, holding our waters, and giving guidance when necessary. Before any event of mine, they would be right next to me offering words of encouragement, calming my nerves with jokes, and even sharing my feelings of anxiousness and nervousness. For example, I remember clearly, when waiting to go on for Qiangshu, they began to joke about my extremely small feet. Yes, I am 15 years old, 5 ft. 2 in., and only wear a size 2 in shoes. Their light-heartedness helped to calm my nerves and fully relax as I walked onto that carpet.
Lastly, this experience helped open my eyes to see all the amazing wushu that is out there. Sure, like everyone else, I've spent days on end watching professional teams compete on YouTube; but seeing it in real life is a totally new experience. Watching a 720 tornado kick from my computer screen is nothing like watching it from the sidelines. Going to this competition, watching, learning, and speaking to the other competitors helped me to aspire to their greatness and hope that one day I could be as good as them. Overall, this competition has allowed me to see what wushu is like on an international level. Through this, I have strengthened past friendships and made many new ones. It feels so surreal thinking back on this now, but experiencing this competition has furthermore fueled my passion for wushu, and now that I'm back home, is inspiring me to train even harder for the next competition.”
Lucy Lee: “The WWC was a real eye opener for me. For me, meeting all the athletes was the best. Being the smallest and the youngest one, no one expected much from me, and no one knew me. However, everyone on the team welcomed me, and I felt like I was part of the team, instead of being an outsider. It was quite fun to see people's eyes open in shock when I told them I was an athlete, and exciting to meet the famous wushu stars of the age and see them perform live. The wushu athletes from the other countries made helpful suggestions to me, and I felt amazed that they remembered me, and had even bothered to talk to me. It was a real honor to be part of this competition and team, and I thank everyone who could make this happen for me!”
Jeffrey Lui: “Competing at the 12th World Wushu Championships was AMAZING! Meeting so many of the wushu Youtube stars that I got my inspiration from, and knowing they were competing with me, on the same carpet! As nerve wracking as it was, I still had an amazing experience meeting all the other athletes and getting to know them better. It’s like I realized that they were real people outside of wushu. You know how they say never meet your heroes -- I don't think that applies here at all.
I personally think that I'd performed better in practice, but who doesn't think that? I won’t make any excuses, everyone gets the nervous jitters, and there's always more room for training. I could've gotten more prepared, but it all boils down to the fact that some days you're "on" some days you're "off." I know I tried my best, and I'm proud of that. Hopefully next time (if there is a next time) I'll come out stronger. When it came down to carpet time the experience was very surreal. Knowing that I've practiced months on end for the 1-and-a-half minutes I'm going to spend on this carpet.
When I'm in the middle of the carpet, about to start my form, I'm all alone and even though I know everyone is watching it feels like I'm in the whole stadium all by myself, lights out, total silence, just me and my weapon -- and then it starts and before I knew it I was done and saluting the judges. It was an amazing experience.
I also had tons of fun spending time with my teammates eating, shopping, sight-seeing and bonding in general. It was great to share such new and exciting experiences with such a fun bunch. All in all I am extremely grateful I was able to have this experience with these people. Hopefully in 2 years I'll be back at it again.”
Justin Benedik: “My experience in Malaysia and Russia was incredible! Getting the opportunity to compete against people you have watched on YouTube for the past five years who I have tried to model my wushu after. After a few great performances in both the SportAccord games and the World Championships it makes me happy to know that my hard work went towards helping promote the sport as well as helping me grow as a person and an athlete. Hopefully one day I will compete against people who have watched my videos and have gained inspiration from my wushu so that at the end of the day instead of wanting to take pictures with my idols people will want to take pictures with me.”
Wesley Huie: “The experience I had in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was amazing. I was able to meet incredible people. Being able to spectate live wushu from other countries was a learning experience itself. Meeting them and talking to other athletes was also a great experience because it gave me an understanding about their life. The citizens of Kuala Lumpur were very friendly. They offered us information about the best food joints in the area. I was also amazed at how many different languages Malaysians spoke – they knew English, Chinese, Malayan, and even more.”