or "Feel the power of the Bear Claw System!"

by Raffi, 2/20/99

[Liu Qing Hua demonstrates the power!]
Liu Qing Hua demonstrates the effective wushu of the California Golden Bear
This is another one of those things that doesn't fit into one article, but I'm going to do it anyway. This article pretty much captures my experience at the 3rd annual Collegiate Wushu Championships including pre and post tournamet activities. Also like most of my tournament reviews, I have included my opinions on the success of the tournament and things I think could be improved. Please understand that these are my opinions and views based on the information as I have understand it (which is not necessarily the whole picture).

Getting There

As faithful readers of this page will know, I took off for Irvine the day before the tournament with a couple friends in my '67 VW Bus (affectionally known as SherpaMobile2000. Many people doubted whether she would make it all the way down to Irvine, a good 400+ miles from the SF Bay area... but she proved her roadworthiness too all that day. Severely overloaded with luggage, we managed to hit the highway with 6 people, a cooler filled with Safeway Select's Mountain Breeze (Feel the Breeze!), an assortment of weapons and a collection of disco mix tapes. Our top speed was below the 70mph speed limit, but we made pretty decent time despite a lack of synchronization of all six of our bathroom pit stop schedules.

The highlight of the trip came at about the 400 mile mark when we hit the scourge of I-5... the grapevine! This part of the highway is really steep and turns many a vehicle into a molten pile of slag. But under my masterful piloting, the Sherpamobile managed to pass a few tractor trailers as we averaged upwards of 35 miles per hour up the steep inclines.

The big excitement came as we suddenly faced some road debris in our lane as we were coasting down the other side of the Tejon pass. Luckily we only ran over this big metal bar that was in our lane, without puncturing the tires. By about 10pm, we found our wonderful accommodations for the weekend, the Motel 6 in Santa Ana, and were informed by the woman behind the bullet proof glass that we needed to pay for our room upfront. Well, definitely no frills, but it was cheaper than staying in Irvine!

Ultimately our group at the Motel 6 consisted of 14 people, most of whom were competing the next day at the competition. Several more of our competitors were staying with relatives in the area and were meeting up with us the next day. We tried to hit the sack early, as we had to show up to Irvine by 8:30 AM the next morning. But we couldn't turn in before laughing to Max Weinberg's "Punch my steel hard abs baby!" skit on Conan O'Brien, remind me to reinact it next time you see me.

The Competition

[Nhan caught in flight]
Nhan Tu caught in the middle of executing a jump front kick. Check out those cool shoes man!
Well we pretty much made it there on time, only to find that we could have probably slept another hour or so and it wouldn't have mattered. They were still taping down the carpet and setting stuff up as we checked in. That didn't stop the usual "OH! I gotta warm up!" rush onto the floor. At tournaments I usually try to perfect my ability to warm up as late as possible, but this time I decided to at least stretch out a little, even though we were informed that advanced competitors weren't going to go til after lunch.

By the way, Cal Wushu brought two teams as well as several extra people competing as individuals. Cal's "Gold" Team was our surefire champ. It was stacked with Superstars Nathan Tong and Mae Hsu, of US Wushu Team fame, as well as Brandon "I own the internal divisions" Sugiyama. Also on the team were Elan Hom, Inyork Wong and Nhan Tu.

Cal's "Blue" Team was also a definite contender! The team was made up of Peter "Too tall for this sport" Pebler, Sam Hsu, Dennis Wong, David Chang, Susanna Wang and myself. Other schools in attendence included U of Oregon, UCLA, Stanford Wushu (making their Collegiates debut as a newly reformed club!), Cal State Fullerton and the hosts, UC Irvine.

The competition stared with beginner men's changquan in one ring and intermediate in the other. Yes, thats right, there was a seperation between men's changquan and women's changquan for all skill levels. This fact wasn't told to anyone beforehand (well, at least not til we asked about it after we set our teams, that is). Oh, but wait, I was going to save the issues like this for later in the article...

The divisions went well except for a few things, there was a definite disparity in set difficulty in the beginner division, on one hand you had guys doing basic straight back and forth sets, and then at the opposite extreme you had guys doing the compulsory changquan form. While they were doing it poorly, they were still executing jump insides and butterflies, making it hard for a guy who's lucky to have a two step jump front in his set. Unfortunately the judges (did I mention that the judges for this whole shindig were the Beijing Wushu Team, in sharp blue blazers?) were a bit swayed by more difficult, albeit imperfectly executed moves. Despite that set back, Hhan from Cal Wushu's Gold Team managed to get 3rd and Sam from Cal Wushu's Blue Team managed to get fourth, out of about 10-15 competitors!

[Elan busting a move!]
Elan busts out his three section!
The seriousness of the tournament was broken up by the performance of Elan "The Iron Man" Hom. Elan was competing in four intermediate divisions, as well as participating in the group set division. First up he did traditional handset, then shortly thereafter he competed in staff, and almost immediately after that he had to perform his three section staff in "other weapons." But he wasn't done there! Still winded from his two sets in the span of five minutes, Elan had to go out again and perform in whipchain in "open wushu."

This is where the funny turned absurd. Elan was so tired that he could hardly do the ground work required in his whipchain set (I was surprised he could even do a flower!) So Elan is trying to do that thing where you're sitting on the ground and bounce up and down on your butt letting the whipchain pass under you as you bouce up. (you know what I'm talking about right?) Anyhow, between his baggy silks, the carpet and him not bouncing very high, it just wasn't working!

But not to give up easily, Elan decided to try again. Opps, didn't work! One more time! (signalled to his adoring fans by the "#1" finger sign). And of course one doesn't get less tired as the set progresses, so after three failed attempts to get the move off, Elan decided to skip it and proceed to finish the set. But the funny thing was that not only did the audience really enjoy Elan's competitive drive in the face of adversity, but so did the judges and coaches watching on (see photo of many important peoples cracking up, below). After the whole thing was over, Elan was nearly exhausted, as evidenced by his emaciated appearance. Luckily he was done for a few hours and could regain his strength before needing to grace the ring again. (oh, and just to make matters worse, his number pinned to his back came off during this whole deal too!)

[He is amazing!] [Where is the Oxygen?]
From right to left, that's former Beijing Wushu Team member Zhang Hong Mei, Phillip Wong, Beijing Wushu Team coach Wu Bin, Judge and Beijing Team member Li Qiang, and some random UCI guy, all getting a good laugh out of Elan's competitive spirit! Yes, check out the blue lips on "The Iron Man" after three sets in a few minutes.

[My god, such power!]
Brandon's practice of the internal arts has reached a whole nother level!
Elan's memorable feat was a fitting end to the beginner / intermediate divisions. At this point there was a brief break so the judges could eat and then it was on to the advanced! First out of the gates was Brandon "Taiji Pimp-daddy" Sugiyama. With his flaming golden hair, he made his transformation from an Oregon Duck to a Cal Bear complete. Some of you may wonder how Brandon was eligible to compete as a member of the Cal team. Actually Brandon is taking a class at Berkeley through extension, so under the rules as they presently stand, he may represent the school he is a student at. Unforuneately due to apparent abuses of this "loophole," this probably won't be allowed to continue.

Brandon's chi was in full effect as he lit up the floor during yang taiji, defeating UCLA's Rob Collins and Debbie Chen. No one could deny him is multiple golds, as he continued on his path of destruction, taking out poor Raffi debuting his Xing Yi Quan in "Other Internal." But Brandon's Bagua Zhang could be denied. He's been practicing it a lot in the past few months. We both learned our "other internal" sets from the same instructor, Zhang Hong Mei. But Zhang Hong Mei was a champion in bagua, not xing yi... so I guess there was no way I was going to beat him! Luckily he didn't bust out any external wushu this day, so he only cost me one medal this day.

Brandon also got a first in the "other taiji" with his 42 combined form. Definitely watch for him to be a contendor for "internal man" on future US Wushu teams!

[Anne and Mae taking home the metal]
Anne and Mae Hsu after Women's Advanced Changquan
Meanwhile on the main ring Men's changquan was starting. Nathan grabbed first in Changquan then in Women's changquan it was the classic "Anne vs. Mae" battle for first and second (not just because they are so good that no one could beat them, but also because they were the only two women in the division!) I practice with both of these top notch competitors, and I know how hard they train, so it kind of sucked to watch them train really hard only to end up competing against only their sister. Also Cal State Fullerton's Phillip Chen took first in Nan Quan over Rob Collins and Wyatt of the UCLA team.

After that we went to the short weapons, there were two upsets here, first of all Debbie Chen beat out Mae Hsu who is defending Women's All-Around Champion in straightsword. Secondly Matt Emory beat Nathan in Broadsword. Broadsword wasn't the same without Erick 'I'm still the Goldensilk Pimp Daddy' Louie though, maybe he didn't come this year after the humilation of his deduction at last year's competition for making extraneous noises during his set?

After the short weapons were the long weapons, no big surprises here, Nathan took first place in staff and Mae took first in Spear, beating out Cal's Blue team members David Chang and Raffi, who had to settle for second and third respectively. Let the record show that I haven't actually practiced spear in several months, so the fact that I did the whole set without messing up (more than a little) is a significant achievement for me.

[Raffi busting a move!]
Your webmaster caught in action
After the "regular" weapons we got to the "other" weapons, my favorite division. In the division with me (doing three section staff), were Phillip Chen doing whip chain, Rob Collins doing Southern Staff and... Cindy doing Taiji straightsword? Yes, thats right, taiji straightsword. Well, it ended up that there was a miscommuncation between her and Irvine or something and she ended up missing the "other taiji" division so their solution was to put her in with the "other weapons." Ok, well I'll save the editorial part of this for my opinion section, so just remember this when I refer to it later. The results were Phillip Chen grabbed the gold, Cindy from Wang Zhen Tian's school got second, I got third (without major injury or droppage of weaponry this time!) and Rob Collins got fourth.

Last up in the regular competition was "open wushu." I don't even remember anything about this division except for the fact that Dennis Wong of the Cal Blue team got first with his drunken fist. Dennis' drunken is pretty good, he has lots of great jumps and falls in it, all performed well. The really great part came at the end when they were handing out medals and Dennis didn't respond to his name being misprounced as Dennis Wang, so he stood still in front of everyone as "Dennis Wang" was repeatedly called and everyone was staring at him. I think he said he thought there might have been a Dennis Wang and he didn't want to accept the medal for that guy by accident. Better safe then sorry I guess, right? But then again, I'm used to people misprouncing my name.

[Dennis hits the split!]
Dennis hits the split in his Drunken Fist!

The last and most anticipated part of the competition was the group set competition. As you probably know, every team is required to enter in this division and it counts double towards your final score. After a bit of a ruckus (see below), it was decided that the order would be UCB's Blue team (thats my team), CSUF, Stanford, Oregon, UCI, UCLA and then UCB's Gold Team. Let the record show that the results for this division are nearly inversely related to the order. Which means the team that went first got the worst score, and the team that went last got the best score, and the team that went second to last got the second best score, etc, etc. Was that the just because they were actually better? I don't think so. I really disagree with the judges on this one. Our team wasn't perfect, but neither were some of the other teams who scored much better than we did. All the teams messed up a little, some more than others, but some of the stuff was just wrong. I don't think that my team's performance was that great, but I definitely think we weren't the worst. We were kissed by the curse of going first. Unlucky you say? well if it was random order, I could say that, but since it wasn't, I can't. I'll have to explain that in my "issues" section, but lets just say that here's a little sample of the way things went down.

Although I have yet to see the tape of the group competition, I understand that one of my team mates fell, also we had some definite synchronization errors, but aside from the fall, I don't believe we made any major errors. Compare that to Cal State Fullerton. They went right after us, also competing with a five man group, but they didn't march out in an orderly fashion, they all sort of walked in a random pattern to their spots on the floor and slowly fell into place, then stood there for like 2 minutes waiting for their music to start. They used a 2-1-2 pattern for their set, which is four guys on the corners and one guy in the middle. Except the guy in the middle for the CSUF team was all over the place, I mean he was making it a 3-0-2 pattern on one kick, and then a 2-0-3 pattern on the next. Furthermore they had serious synchronizing problems throughout the set. And when they finished, it wasn't an orderly march off the carpet, it was like a randomized strut in five different directions with fingers pointed to friends in the audience. I really shouldn't make a big deal out of it, but when you work pretty hard on something, it really bites to get jacked. But I guess when you're so far out of contention, it really doesn't matter, right?

One team that stunned everyone was Stanford. This team made up of relatively new wushu competitors (some as little as a month and a half!) came on REAL strong with their first movements. Their synchronization was tight and their kicks, falls and slaps pretty good. Furthermore their set was AWESOME. When I realized that they were busting out some fighting in the middle of the set I was flipping out! The highlights included a "flip the guy over your back" and a "Captain Kirk" (the fall on your back and kick the guy over you into a roll). Mind you this was performed by all six members of their team too! There was a definite disparity between the jump kicks performed by the more advanced members and the newer members, but they were all out there doing it! Unfortunately their hardwork only got them third place in the rankings.

Oregon's group set was good, but also with several syncronization problems. UCI did a group taiji form for their set. This was really an off beat move. How do the judges compare people doing jump side kick falls with people doing taiji? There were no hammerfists or wheeling arms in the taiji set... the things that REALLY show how together a group is. (how much harder is it to synchronize a taiji set than a changquan set?) I think the judges really scored this one too high considering the competition (kind of like with the taiji straightsword in "other weapons"), but then again, when in doubt, the judges invariable will "stick them in the middle somewhere" which is exactly what happened.

UCLA's group set was another oddball set of sorts. It wasn't really a group set, as much as it was a group basics routine for performance. The six members of the team all performed a REALLY long and tiring group of kicks and jumps and combinations. My issue with this was that YES it was hard, but since it was so much longer, there were so many cases where they had synchronization problems. The differences in timing between the more and advanced and beginner team members was dramatic in a number of instances. Furthermore there were a number of errors where people did the wrong move, etc. One thing that also got to me was in a couple of occasions, they "reconfigured" their formation on the carpet, but it was like they just all stood up and walked over to the other side of the carpet and then started another combo... as if the set stopped and they walked around, and then started again. I guess my major issue is that this came across more as a "demonstration" than a "group set" at least by the definition in my mind of what a group set really needs. It was most definitely different than anything used in any group set division I've seen anywhere (previous Collegiates, Berkeley Tournament, Nationals, etc). UCLA got the Silver with this set, although personally I liked Stanford's set more (and not just because their coach is my coach).

Last up was UCB's Gold Team. I know for a fact how hard these guys practiced this set. They worked on it in class three times a week for the two weeks proceding the competition, but also held extra workouts to get more practice in. Also this team contained the best athletes present that day, so one would expect their group set to be totally high caliber.

One thing that I noticed most that set them apart from the rest was the power. They were all sharp and quick, no weak moves anywhere. Furthermore they were almost totally in-synch

[Elan busting a move!]
Elan busts out his three section!

This Jet Li Webring site owned by Raffi Kamalian.

[ Previous 5 Sites | Skip Previous | Previous | Next | Skip Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]

Do you have a Jet Li related site? Interested in joining the Jet Li Webring?

Kung Fu Superstars Web Ring
Raffi's Wushu
Want to join the KFSS Webring?
[Skip Prev] [Prev] [Next] [Skip Next] [Random] [Next 5]
[List Sites]