Competitors show state of their arts

Hunt Valley plays host to kung fu championships

July 28, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Clad in a sparkling white silk uniform, Collin Lee took a deep breath and prepared to win another wushu weapons title.

The 12-year-old from Berkeley, Calif., then whirled a wooden staff around his head and kicked off a routine that sent him sprinting around a carpeted hotel ballroom, repeatedly slicing the weapon through the air and smacking it against the floor.

"This is why I practice every day," said Collin after he had finished, proudly sporting the gold medal for his long-weapon age division. Last year, he took the short-weapon title.

"It's a lot of practice, but it's worth it to win."

Collin and hundreds of other practitioners of the Chinese martial arts have descended on Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn this weekend for the 2002 U.S. International Kuoshu Championship Tournament, turning its ballrooms and hallways into a giant kung fu academy. The competition ends today.

More than 500 competitors from more than a dozen countries entered this weekend's tournament, considered to be one of the largest and most prestigious in the nation.

"All of the other tournaments build up to this one," said Glenn C. Wilson, a grandmaster who runs an academy and a tournament in Orlando, Fla. He brought a team to this weekend's competition.

Countries represented include the Germany, Brazil, Canada and Taiwan.

"It's a great competition," said Thomas Schumann, 20, of Neu-Ulm, Germany, who was entered in several adult men's divisions. "I see very good people and learn a lot from them."

A growing art

More commonly known in the United States as kung fu, kuoshu focuses on a Chinese style of martial arts that is different from either Japanese martial arts, which include karate and judo, or such Korean martial arts as tae kwon do, said Jonathan Miller, secretary general of the U.S. Chinese Kuoshu Federation in Owings Mills.

"This is a martial arts style that isn't as well-known," said Miller. "But the U.S. is slowly becoming the premier place for Chinese martial arts. So many teachers from China have come over here that there are a lot of opportunities to learn from the very best."

The federation was begun by Huang Chien-Liang, a grandmaster who runs the U.S. Kuoshu Academy and is head coach of the U.S. National Kuoshu Team. He started the tournament in 1988 and has been holding it in Maryland ever since.

"The main thing is we try to build on peace by bringing people together," he said. "It's a competition and everybody tries to win, but when you look at the losers, they are also happy."

In the ring

In a dozen rings scattered across the hotel, children as young as age 5 and adults ranging into their 60s competed in a variety of divisions such as tai chi, pushing hands, wushu and pa kua chang - at times with kicks and punches, and in weapons contests with staffs, spears, swords and daggers.

Many of the events are similar to figure skating or gymnastics competitions, calling on entrants to perform carefully scripted routines and be scored by panels of judges on a scale of 1 to 10.

Some events call for entrants to compete in pairs. Only adults are permitted to compete in lei tai full-contact fighting events, in which the goal is to land punches and kicks.

"When I'm old enough, I'll try to do that," said Paris Preston, 16, of Harrisburg, Pa., who finished fourth in a two-person set event for youths.

Paris said he first became interested in martial arts through his father, who runs an academy.

"Now I'm just hooked on it," he said. "A lot of kids my age play sports. I like to do this instead."

First-time jitters

Even though this weekend's event is billed as an international championship, there's still room for those that don't have a lot of competitive martial arts experience.

Youth forms division entrant Michael Anderson, 10, of White Hall admitted that he was more than a little nervous before his first-ever competition. He has studied for about four years at the U.S. Martial Arts Academy in Timonium.

Michael's mother, Karen Anderson, seemed pretty nervous, too, as she helped tie a yellow sash around his waist.

"I think I need to calm my nerves more than he does," she said. "I'm sure he's going to do fine."

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