CWRU Kung Fu Club competes at international tournament

On April 20, seven CWRU students from the Kung Fu Club had a rewarding experience at the 32nd Annual Great Lakes Kung Fu Championship.
On April 20, seven CWRU students from the Kung Fu Club had a rewarding experience at the 32nd Annual Great Lakes Kung Fu Championship.
Courtesy of CWRU Kung Fu Club

Saturday, April 20, 7:15 a.m. No wise Case Western Reserve University student wants to be up that early, yet a flock of seven—myself included—was gathered on a bench outside Veale Recreation Center. While eating slightly stale muffins, apples and other food grabbed from Fribley Commons, the CWRU Kung Fu Club shivered from both the cold and anticipation. We were headed to the 32nd Annual Great Lakes Kung Fu Championship and the United States Shuai Chao Nationals, an international tournament held a mere half hour away from campus.

Great Lakes, as the competition is usually called, has been held in Cleveland for more than three decades. Attracting schools and competitors from as nearby as CWRU and as far away as California and Canada, it has over 100 competitive divisions, including forms—a series of linked moves and stances designed to practice defensive and offensive moves in a quick, clear manner—and shuai jiao, a form of traditional Chinese wrestling. While our student competitors stuck to forms, both with weapons and without, with a few brave souls hitting the mats for shuai jiao, the tournament also offers light contact sparring, full contact sparring called san shou, tai chi, bagua and other styles of martial arts.

At the CWRU Kung Fu Club, we are students first, which places us at a distinct disadvantage to many competitors. Anyone reading this article will know how busy CWRU students are, and finding time to go to practice can be exhausting. However, it is something that the members look forward to. As club treasurer, Yi Zhang said, “It’s like a reward.” Zhang and I are currently battling our way through the dreaded sophomore spring of the nursing program and use the Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday practices to work off stress and focus on something other than academics.

At the competition, the gymnasium was filled with dauntingly large crowds of opponents and observers. Personally, I was surprised at how many children were participating in shuai jiao. One of the major components of shuai jiao is grasping at the jacket that competitors wear and using your opponent’s momentum and your own body mechanics to throw them to the ground. Some of the children had to have been as young as four years old, and some were as old as high schoolers.

Only one of the members from CWRU Kung Fu had been to Great Lakes before. The rest, myself included, had never been to a kung fu competition before. Luckily, we were not pitted against sifus and masters. Divided by years of experience, our members competed in novice, beginner and intermediate levels. Shuai jiao is separated by and bracketed within weight classes. These divisions allowed our students to compete against people both older and younger than we are while still being of equivalent skill levels.

Some highlights of the competition included meeting several members of the Canadian National Shuai Jiao team, watching one of CWRU Kung Fu’s own instructors compete in the advanced forms division and experiencing the adrenaline rush of stepping up to the floor and bowing to the judges before starting the form or fight.

CWRU Kung Fu has attended Great Lakes for almost twenty years—an impressive feat, especially when the club just hit its 21st year. Traditionally, students do very well, and those of us who went this year continued that streak, winning a total of three gold, four silver and two bronze medals. I had never met the vast majority of people in the room, yet the second anyone heard we were from the CWRU Kung Fu Club, we were welcomed with large smiles. In addition to the club’s instructors being CWRU graduates, there were plenty of other club alumni present as well. Many CWRU alumni continue to stay connected with this martial art after college. For example, one alumnus had come down from Chicago with his wife to compete, while another alumnus had even helped organize the competition and facilitate shuai jiao matches.

All in all, students from the CWRU Kung Fu Club had an excellent time at Great Lakes, winning several categories, sweeping another and placing highly in others. As students of both academics and kung fu, we look forward to learning and stretching our boundaries even further when we return to the competition floor.

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