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Title [Martial Arts Globe] How the Martial Arts Community Adjusts to the Pandemic: Virtual Tournaments and Online Training

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* Photo provided by author.

How the Martial Arts Community Adjusts to the Pandemic: Virtual Tournaments and Online Training

By Gene Ching

Gene Ching is the author of Shaolin Trips, a Staff Writer for YMAA.com, and the publisher of KungFuMagazine.com. He is a 32nd generation layman disciple of the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China, a certified Provost at Arms in Fencing, and served as a weapons expert for the TV show Man at Arms: Art of War.

The global pandemic had a profound effect on everything including the martial arts. Quarantines shut down countless small businesses resulting in a devastating impact upon martial arts schools. What’s more, all manner of in-person events were cancelled, including tournaments.

The Emergence of Virtual Tournaments

Eager to support their communities, many event promoters pivoted to producing virtual tournaments. These ranged across the many diverse styles that populate world martial arts such as Capoeira (Chunichi Shimbun, 2021), Taekwondo (Richter, 2020; 2021 Silicon Valley Virtual Open), Kung Fu (1st International Online Kung Fu Championships), Wushu (New England International Chinese Martial Arts Championships), Tai Chi (2020 Tiger Claw Elite KungFuMagazine.com Online Championship), as well as cross-discipline opens (The Ultimate Warriors Cup - Virtual Tournament; 2021 Online World Martial Arts Masterships and WMC Convention 2021).

Virtual tournaments require competitors to submit videos demonstrating forms such as kata (Japanese), poomsae (Korean), and taolu (Chinese). Usually, these videos had to be a continuous single shot so as not to exaggerate the competitors’ skills with judicious video editing. Unlike with a live tournament, competitors could submit their best video take, allowing for untold ‘do-overs’ but that courtesy was extended to everyone, so the playing field remained level.

A few virtual tournaments offered other unique contests that were more problematic, such as breaking (Richter, 2020; 2021 Silicon Valley Virtual Open). In-person tournaments have standardized boards, but in a video, a competitor could use a weakened board, making fairness dubious. Sparring wasn’t possible in an online platform. The close quarter interaction of sparring is the opposite of social distancing.

Nevertheless, virtual tournaments have many advantages. There are no costs for renting a venue, and some promoters parlayed into providing higher quality awards. More significantly, online tournaments do not incur prohibitive travel and housing for competitors. Anyone could play from anywhere because the web is worldwide. The 2021 Online World Martial Arts Masterships propounded the pandemic era slogan “No visas, No passports, No borders, No COVID-19’ and boasted the participation of 3,300 people from 100 countries in 10 martial arts categories including Olympic events such as Judo and Taekwondo, as well as some rare styles like Kurash (Lee, 2021; Nguyen, 2021).

A Successful Global Virtual Tournament: World Shaolin Kung Fu Online Contest

Notable was the World Shaolin Kung Fu Online Contest, promoted by the Shaolin Temple of China, the symbolic cradle of martial arts (World Shaolin Kung Fu Online Contest Rules and Information 2022). Held in honor of Lunar New Year, the ceremony was webcast on five continents: Asia/Oceania, China, Europe/Africa, North America, South America. Shaolin that 5368 competitors from 94 countries registered to participate (Press Statement by Shaolin Temple, 2022). The temple also stated that leaders from all over the world including UNESCO ambassador and New York Mayor extended congratulatory messages to the organizers. Even Jackie Chan endorsed the event (K-STAR Training Academy, 2022).

The World Shaolin Kung Fu Online Contest also had some novel events such as ‘Shaolin Kung Fu “one move”’ where competitors only demonstrated a single move whilst speaking out the name of the move and “hitting, breaking and knocking down the target.” Another innovative category was ‘Family events’ where 2 to 5 generations of blood-related family members competed as a unit.

Prior to the pandemic, Shaolin Temple hosted the Zhengzhou International Shaolin Wushu Festivals every other year (Ching, 2010). These were massive, one of the largest martial arts gatherings in the world, combining mass demonstrations, exhibitions, cultural exchanges, and an enormous international competition. While there is no comparison between the gargantuan in-person experience of a Shaolin Festival, Shaolin’s Online Contest presents its own unique outreach program to the Shaolin community. With such international reach, it has the potential to be perpetuated beyond the pandemic as its own stand-alone event.

Martial Arts Training Continues from a Distance

Beyond the cessation of in-person tournaments and gatherings, many schools were forced to close during the pandemic worldwide. Most martial arts school are independent ventures with no support from the government or large corporations. Without the regular tuition from their students, many school owners could not afford their mounting bills and had to move on. Like with tournaments, some instructors migrated online to perpetuate their teachings to their student body.

For example, Sifu Kurtis Fujita had to close his Tiger Crane Kung Fu, established in the summer of 2010 (Fujita, 2021). Concerned for his students’ health, he closed his studio before the government mandates were issued. However, despite applying government loans, the pandemic went for too long for him to continue to make rent. Fujita closed his beloved studio, placing all his equipment in storage.

Fortunately, Fujita had already established a YouTube channel (Tiger Crane Kung Fu, 2008) and quickly pivoted to producing online lessons. At first, he shared content for free to support his students so they might continue their practice while sheltered in place. His lessons progressed to private videos live streamed on Zoom where he now cultivates a new online studio.

Martial Arts in the New Normal Era

When some of the quarantine restrictions were lifted, martial arts schools that survived were able to continue classes outdoors. Social distancing and masking presented some awkwardness to training because it significantly impedes any sparring. However, with some creativity and reframing of lessons, practitioners found ways to adjust (Forest, 2020).

Some nations now allow mass gatherings again, so a few in-person tournaments are being held again. Many schools have reopened too. However, for many, the pandemic rages on, so its ultimate impact upon the martial arts has yet to be seen.

After all, the cornerstone of martial arts tenets is overcoming obstacles. Although the pandemic presents tremendous challenges, martial artists found creative ways to circumvent problematic issues and persist with their practice and prevail.
1st International Online Kung Fu Championships (2021) Available at https://www.agtkf.com/1st-iokfc (Accessed 1 May 2022)


2020 Tiger Claw Elite KungFuMagazine.com Online Championship (2020) Available at https://www.kungfumagazine.com/info/tournament/2020TCECP.html (Accessed 1 May 2022)

2021 Online World Martial Arts Masterships and WMC Convention 2021 (2021) Available at https://www.wmc-convention.com (Accessed 1 May 2022)

2021 Silicon Valley Virtual Open (2021) Available at http://siliconvalleytkdopen.com (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Ching, G (2010) Shaolin Trips. 1st Edition. Fremont, California: TC Media International, pp. 138-140.

Ching, G (2020) ‘2020 Tiger Claw Elite KungFuMagazine.com Online Championship: Social Distance’ KungFuMagazine.com, 19 February. Available at https://www.kungfumagazine.com/ezine/article.php?article=1580 (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Chunichi Shimbun (2021) ‘Ishikawa student gains victory in world capoeira championship’ The Japan Times, 29 January

Forest, K (2020) ‘Sanshou: Partner Practice in the Age of Quarantine’ Reelingsilk.com, 22 May. Available at https://www.reelingsilk.com/academy/2020/05/22/sanshou-partner-practice-in-the-age-of-quarantine (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Fujita, K (2021) ‘Closing Doors, Open Arms Part 1’ KungFuMagazine.com, 5 May. Available at https://www.kungfumagazine.com/ezine/article.php?article=1593 (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Fujita, K (2021) ‘Closing Doors, Open Arms Part 2’ KungFuMagazine.com, 3 June. Available at https://www.kungfumagazine.com/ezine/article.php?article=1595 (Accessed 1 May 2022)

K-STAR Training Academy (2022) Jackie Chan Message to Shaolin Online Competition [online video] Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF0c1OT1jeU (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Lee, S (2021) ‘Chungcheongbuk-do to Host the 2021 Online World Martial Arts Masterships and WMC Convention 2021’ Businesswire, Available at https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20211019005016/en/ (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Nguyen, H (2021) ‘Vietnam bag gold medals at world online martial arts tournament’ VN Express International, 3 November

New England International Chinese Martial Arts Championships (2021) Available at https://newenglandchampionships.com/ne-championships (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Press Statement by Shaolin Temple (2022) ‘Online Kung Fu Competition Concludes with Participants from Five Continents’ Available at https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/online-kung-fu-competition-concludes-with-participants-from-five-continents-301488227.html (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Richter, E. (2020) ‘Butler County martial arts academy training for unique national competition’ Journal-News, 20 October.

The Ultimate Warriors Cup - Virtual Tournament (2021) Available at https://ultimatewarriorscup.myuventex.com (Accessed 1 May 2022)

Tiger Crane Kung Fu (2008) Available at https://www.youtube.com/user/tigercrane805 (Accessed 1 May 2022)

World Shaolin Kung Fu Online Contest Rules and Information 2022 (2022) Available at http://www.shaolin.org.cn/newsinfo/196/197/23872.html (Accessed 1 May 2022)

IMAGE (9113_TCEOC2_Lead.jpg): Image from 2020 Tiger Claw Elite KungFuMagazine.com Online Championship, courtesy of KungFuMagazine.com ©2020

Views in this writing are the author's own.