Articles - Brazil - From the Heart of the Amazon to the World Stage, Brazil leads the Way for Wushu in South America
Brazil has plenty to be proud of sportwise in 2014 – hosting the World Cup for soccer, readying for the Summer Olympic Games in 2016 – and celebrating 22 years of wushu. Founded in 1992, the Brazilian Wushu Confederation now has 25 state federations as members – and thanks to the continual promotion by Confederation President Marcus Alves and his Board of Directors, the sport is more popular than ever and growing fast. Upwards of 10,000 wushu, traditional kungfu, and sanda affiliated athletes contribute to the current development of Chinese martial arts in Brazil. Forging relationships with both Brazilian sport organizations and international wushu organizations, and working closely with them, is Brazil’s key to success. We sat down with Alves in Kuala Lumpur during a break in the 12th World Wushu Championships to learn more about the Federation’s story.
Since its inception, the Brazilian Wushu Confederation has been steadily promoting wushu throughout the country with planning, vision, and consistency. The support of Brazil’s Sport Ministry makes much of this possible. "We have national team training every 45 days -- remember that Brazil is a country with a very large territory," says Alves. "Each year we start to conduct our team trial in January or February. From roughly 250 athletes, we make evaluations and cuts until we have our national team for the year to represent Brazil internationally." An important partner of the Confederation is Campinas State University, and wushu officials have a close relationship with the Physical Education Faculty here, who assist in running meetings and national team trainings.
"In the 5th South American Wushu Championships we sent 105 athletes, in all divisions," remarks Alves. "The Sport Ministry helps support some of our athletes financially. Some wushu athletes get scholarships, and they work closely with the municipal sport secretary for this. We also work to stay close to the Brazilian Olympic Committee and Ministry of Sports. We work to make projects happen." This year 17 athletes received stipends from the Ministry of Sport for $1000 US per month for 1 year. To apply, they must win one medal at an official international event. And making wushu shine at international events is a key goal of the Brazilian Wushu Confederation.
In January the Brazil Wushu Team went to Goa for the Lusophony Games, an IOC- recognized event for countries who speak Portuguese. Alves says, "This event is recognized by the International Olympic Committee, so the Brazilian Olympic Committee will look to wushu inside this kind of games. We sent 2 taolu athletes, one man and one woman and they got two gold, one silver, and one bronze."
For the 12th World Wushu Championships in Malaysia, Brazil was represented by a delegation of 19 people, including 15 athletes, 9 in taolu, and 6 in sanda.
Today Alves wears a suit and tie to IWUF meetings, but two decades ago he was a young martial artist and feisty fighter on the sanda leitai. "I started out doing traditional kungfu," he says, "and had my first international experience competing in Taiwan in 1992. Then I fought in sanda internationally for the first time in the USA in 1997 at the World Wushu Championships – it was my first gold medal." Alves remembers that it was exciting just to be on the team, but his leadership qualities were quickly noticed by the Brazilian Wushu Confederation. By 1998 he was on the Board of Directors, and since then he hasn’t looked back.
"From Brazil, to South America, to Pan-America, I feel I am responsible to help my hemisphere for wushu in the Olympic movement," he says with seriousness. "I feel if I try my best, I can contribute to accomplishing this. Our Olympic goal."
Today, as President of the Brazilian Wushu Confederation, Alves expands his working team both nationally and internationally. He knows the importance of a good relationship with the local government and the national Sport Ministry, but he has also worked to establish strong ties with the Chinese Wushu Association (CWA) and International Wushu Federation (IWUF.)
"These organizations," he notes, "know it’s very important to develop wushu in other regions of the world – they can see Brazil’s potential. Brazil can cooperate and help develop all of South America. I feel responsible for that. In the last few years we began doing an exchange – we sent some athletes from here to train in China – and got some Chinese coaches to come to Brazil. So by this, our technical level is growing higher. It’s a partnership. Conversely, we’ll also get coaches sent here. Cooperation helps a lot to develop wushu here."
As he continues, Alves becomes more and more animated. "Our main goal now is ambitious," he says, "to build an International Training Center in Brazil. We need help from the Brazilian government – but with it we can help develop wushu in all other South American countries. Then hopefully China can send more coaches – other countries can visit us for free – and this will be a great contribution to wushu."
To realize this, Alves stresses the importance of building on his established relationships both at home and abroad. "We got support from investors who saw our efforts, and showed interest in investing funds for the construction of the International Training Center in Brazil. We also count the support from the Chinese Wushu Association and IWUF."
"It’s a very ambitious project," he notes again, "but maybe it can be ready for 2015. We also have a good relationship with Beijing Sports University, and with that partnership we hope to be able to get Chinese coaches sponsored for 6 months or maybe a year." Not only will this profoundly benefit South American wushu athletes in their training, but it can also offer visiting coaches international experience.
With boots on the ground, the Brazilian Wushu Confederation works to continuously boost experience for athletes, judges and officials with more wushu events. "Last year," says Alves, "We organized our first International Wushu Championships, an open event, with support from the CWA. I had a meeting with the president Gao Xiaojing in 2012 who asked me to try and organize an international event here. The Anhui team came, and for the first time we had a Chinese delegation in Brazil. (It was held in Cuiaba City July 23-2, 2013.) Seven countries participated. Now we intend to host an international wushu event every 2 years. It’s a big step, an important step, to gain international exposure, both for athletes and for us as organizers. Next year we will host the 1st Pan American Traditional Wushu Championships in Brazil. My biggest goal is to host the World Wushu Championships in Brazil – but we need to gain the right experience first."
Alves builds experience one event at a time, and some of his innovations are notable additions. "This year we had national championships with a new division, the disabled division – we had blind competitors, and some in wheelchairs – it was a big success, and the public loved it." He’s also attentive to building all-around wushu skills on smaller local and regional levels. He says, "The 24th Brazilian Wushu Championships took place in October-2013, with 19 state Federations and 750 athletes participating in traditional, wushu, sanda, and taiji events. Each state has its own team trials to qualify for the national events. This process also builds good experience for local judges and organizers."
Beyond Brazilian borders, Alves also wants to help develop wushu in other neighboring countries. An active member of the Pan America Wushu Federation, Brazil hosted the PAWF Championships in 2000 and again in 2008. "With North America, South America and Central America together, we have a lot of talent, "Alves says. "In many smaller countries there’s a greater importance placed on other sports, but we want to raise the profile of wushu in the Americas and see it grow here."
As Alves was nurtured by the Brazilian Wushu Confederation early in his wushu career, he is keenly conscious of raising up the next generation and building on the strong foundation and accomplishments of the past 22 years. One of his main protégés is Paula Amidani who is herself a wushu veteran of 16 years, and perhaps the most notable wushu star in Brazil. "Paola’s first World Championships was in Italy in 1997," Alves recalls, "She was 16 at the time. Now she’s finishing up her competition career, and she’s also an international judge in taolu. She’s been in every World Championships event since 1997 except the last one, where she had knee surgery so didn’t compete, but she participated as a judge. She’s much more experienced than many others. It’s important to have a lot of interaction with the other athletes on the team. Paola’s the captain of the team – and this year joined the IWUF athletes committee. Malaysia was her last year competing as an athlete in the Worlds, and this year will be her last with Pan America. Then she will continue to help on the technical committee in Brazil, and continue to work as a judge in the PAWF. She has lots of experience. Some athletes leave the sport, but she continues with the development of wushu. She has worked hard to promote it in Brazil, her dedication is very deep."
Alves looks over to the Brazilian sanda athletes as they are warming up. He points out 19-year-old Marcus Vinicius Segamtim, who’s busy throwing punches at his coach. "This is his first World Championships competing in sanda," he says. "He’s 70Kg, he does really fast work with throws. We brought him here to the World Championships to see what it’s like to fight internationally. The Brazil Federation wants him to gain experience for the next games – no pressure here."
In the glow of hosting this summer’s soccer World Cup, and as anticipation for the 2016 Summer Olympics builds, Brazil continues to offer a broader and more diversified platform for international sport, and wushu is undeniably now part of this bigger picture.