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Kung Fu Videos

The United States National Chinese Martial Arts Competition

Beginning in 1985, an extraordinary series of events sparked American practitioners of Chinese martial arts. That year, Sifu Jeff Bolt of Yang’s Shaolin Kung Fu in Houston, Texas, instituted the Southwest United States Kung Fu/Wushu Exposition. The exposition was unique in that it showcased Chinese martial arts exclusively. Bolt continued the event the following year, and it proved so popular that, in 1987, he expanded the geographic scope to include the entire United States, dubbing the new event the U.S. National Kung Fu/Wushu Competition.

The event was, at the time, an ambitious and radical move. Other martial arts, such as karate, judo, and taekwondo, had long enjoyed national as well as regional competitions, but until 1987, Chinese martial artists either competed strictly at a local level or entered into competitions whose judges, though expert in karate or taekwondo, knew less about the Chinese martial arts. With the inception of the United States Kung Fu/Wushu Competition, Bolt forever changed the parameters of competition in the Chinese martial arts in America.


After a fallow year of planning, Bolt returned in 1989 with an even more ambitious version called the United States National Chinese Martial Arts Competition. With this event, for the first time, practitioners of the Chinese martial arts from around the country could meet, exchange ideas, and begin to develop standards for competition. Just as important, the competitions at this event determined the first national-level rankings ever given to Chinese-style martial artists in the United States. Even better, the USNCMAC proved itself international in scope, drawing competitors, judges, and kung fu masters from around the world.


The USNCMAC was held in Houston into the early 1990s, and after that, it moved locations a few times before the organization finally disbanded. Since then, other organizations have grown from the ashes, each indebted not just to the structure and purpose of Bolt’s original competitions but to the spirit of community it fostered among practitioners of the Chinese martial arts in America. Although relatively short-lived, Bolt’s organization left a lasting legacy that cannot be discounted.


Part of that legacy is a series of videos—long out of circulation—that document the rise and development of these historic competitions. I briefly attended the first year of the Southwest United States Kung Fu/Wushu Exposition, and when I later learned that Jeff planned another event for 1986, I approached him with a proposition. I’d recently forsaken my original professional love—publishing—for video production, and I suggested that my partner and I videotape Jeff’s tournament, or some element of it. We settled on taping the event-capping demonstration by judges, visiting masters, competition winners, and others.


That worked out pretty well despite deficiencies in equipment, so we taped Jeff’s event the next year, this time with improved cameras. There were still just the two of us, so we couldn’t cover all the competitions, but we did manage to get eight of the finals on tape as well as the evening masters’ demonstration.


Jeff took a year hiatus to organize his next event, which was even bigger than before: the first United States National Chinese Martial Arts Competition, which happened in 1989. This year, we had two cameras on each of the three competition rings throughout the event finals, and we had multiple cameras for the evening masters’ demonstration. This footage, along with footage of judges’ meetings and interviews with kung fu notables, also was worked into a two-hour documentary about the event.


In 1990, however, we just taped the Masters’ Demonstration using multiple camera angles. And that year proved to be the end of our association with the event, primarily because I left the video business to return to my first love, publishing. And I also lost touch with Jeff. I believe he ran the tournament for another year or so, then turned it over to others. To my uncertain knowledge, the USNCMAC ceased to exist soon afterward.


I’m pretty proud of having made this video documentary series possible, even if the production values are relatively modest. Jeff’s tournaments were extremely important during their day and helped spark the careers of a whole generation of current American kung fu masters and notables. It also was the site where the first U.S. National Wushu Team was selected.


I wish I could say that, now, Phosphene Publishing Company is pleased to make this historically important series available once more, but it just ain’t so. I managed to rescue the images from the dustbin of video tape to the ether of digital files, but just barely. It took considerable effort over the course of a couple of years, and unfortunately, right now, I just don’t have the time to figure out what to do with them, or how, or where to get the time. So, I’m putting this info about the videos here simply as an interesting historical note. Maybe I’ll eventually decide what to do with them.


—Christopher Dow




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