Surprises as well as fantastic performances awaited me at the Phoenix Wushu Nationals. On Saturday, December 3rd, 2022, I visited Phoenix and the Phoenix Convention Center to be a judge at the Phoenix Wushu Nationals. In the morning I was a judge for the Children’s Traditional Divisions. This included all age groups and performances of both empty hand routines, or forms, and weapons forms. The young competitors were grouped into different age brackets and by different categories or styles. All of the competitors were neatly and colorfully attired and competed with everything they had. After judging for over 4 hours my first shift as a judge was over. Although I absolutely loved watching and judging the youth divisions I had yet to see any of the adults perform and compete.
After a quick lunch break, I returned. Just as I began watching the adults ring the Xing Yi Quan competitors were performing! What a rare pleasure to see other Xing Yi Quan groups give great performances. In the afternoon, I judged in the Adult Traditional Divisions. These were mostly weapons routines, and there were plenty of them. These competitors were all well practiced and skillful competitors. The best were exceptional athletes and artists easily capable of heading to careers in performance and film. The Phoenix Wushu Nationals certainly lived up the moniker of “National” in terms of the quality of the competitors, staff, venue, and judging. For me I saw many highly skilled competitors and well known Sifus that I knew and competed against in the 1980s and 1990s judging and bringing great teams.
Special Thanks to Kisu Stars, my good friend, who badgered me out of my Hidden Kung Fu Fortress here in Marin to show up and attend the tournament. Kisu also made sure I met all the Northern Shaolin Facebook Group members and introduced me to everyone and just made me feel super welcome. It was a great day powered by great friendship and mutual respect. Thank you Kisu! He also took great photos!
Meeting members of the Northern Shaolin Group on Facebook for the first time face to face was a great pleasure. At the Phoenix Wushu Nationals I met Sifu Ferrara from Madison, WI, Sifu Voss from Coon Rapids, MI and Sifu Eager from the Phoenix Area. All of these schools are Northern Shaolin Schools teaching the magnificent Northern Shaolin Gate System. For me watching their students compete with Northern Shaolin forms was great fun. The level of both skill and competitive spirit everyone had was outstanding. Northern Shaolin remains a rare martial art and it is with great joy that I watched the next generation of young, strong athletes show their skills and abilities.
Memorable Moments Judging:
Although I watched some amazing performances the hidden high lights of the tournament was watching the individual students, especially the youth, struggle with their fears and emotions and conquer them. I think every time someone competes and does their best, they are building their confidence and inner strength. However, some days build more character than others.
Some highlights for me were watching one girl who was competing with a simple Xing Yi Quan form. When her name was called she leapt up and ran straight for the bathroom. We all waited patiently while she was coached back. Standing at the edge of the ring I could easily see her confronting her fears and struggling to salute and enter the ring to give her performance. She was terrified. All of us judges were smiling in a friendly way and signally our encouragement. She struggled saw our friendly expressions and calmed herself just enough to enter the ring. Terrified, not having truly conquered her fears but continuing anyway she showed true, pure bravery and began giving her performance. Expressions flashing across her face, she conquered her fears, kept her concentration, and gave a credible performance. Although a far more experienced competitor was going to carry home the gold medal, her victory was far greater. Later when she competed with her weapons form, she was a completely different performer. Although fear flashed briefly, her new found confidence carried her forward and she performed strongly and precisely. For people to grow sometimes it takes the heat of the forge to temper their steel. As judges witnessing the moment her self-confidence and self-esteem grew we all remembered our first, rough performances and earliest victories and felt proud for her.
Another great and similar moment occurred when a young woman competed with Northern Shaolin #6 Duan Da or “Short Striking”. She had worked hard and was prepared, but she was also incredibly nervous. Her nervousness was manifesting in being too light, almost frivolous, and not concentrating enough. Her beginning was good, but shortly she forgot what to do next and was paralyzed. I think every experienced competitor or performer has hit this wall at least once. She couldn’t continue, so we let her restart. Restarting results in a penalty. She started again and got stuck again. This is a rough experience getting stuck, forgetting what to do next in front of an entire ring of officials, competitors, and family. She did not give up, and without asking for our permission, she walked back to start a third time. Emotions passing across her face, she settled in and focused herself in front of all of us. This time she got determined, her face showing a new wrathful, powerful expression. The frivolity and lightness vanished. Then she gave a fierce, powerful performance. Later, I heard her friends exclaiming as I walked by that she had never performed like that before. They were amazed and proud of her. It was beautiful.
One petite girl about 10 years old came out. Seated in the center position, I appeared to be the head judge even though I was not performing that role this time. She walked forward and gave her salute and looked me dead in the eyes. And it was on. I wasn’t expecting a no blink stare down with a 10 year old girl. I knew I could not let her down, so I stared right back as she waited to be signaled to begin. As we both stared and did not blink, time slowed down around us. It was awesome, she was great. Full intensity at 10 years old. Then at the signal, she performed a dynamic double dagger routine! Watch out world, she is growing up and I don’t think she has any patience for false limitations on her greatness!
Perhaps next year I will see a whole new level from each of these great competitors!
Photos: Courtesy of Sifu Kisu