or "Feel the power of the Bear Claw System!"
by Raffi, 2/20/99
|Liu Qing Hua demonstrates the effective wushu of the California Golden Bear|
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.
|Nhan Tu caught in the middle of executing a jump front kick. Check out those cool shoes man!|
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 busts out his three section!|
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!)
|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.|
|Brandon's practice of the internal arts has reached a whole nother level!|
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
|Anne and Mae Hsu after Women's Advanced Changquan|
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.
|Your webmaster caught in action|
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 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 busts out his three section!|
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