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Smithsonian Folklife Festival Features Asian Martial Arts - 2002-07-05

The Smithsonian Institution's annual Folk Life Festival focuses this year on The Silk Road, the historic route that criss-crossed Asia to ancient Rome beginning in the first millennium B.C. More than 400 musicians, artists, sportsman and other cultural specialists from 23 countries are participating in the festival, which runs through July 7. Onstage under the massive white tent called the Xian Tower, a group of young men and women from the San Francisco Bay area demonstrated Asian Martial Arts in America.

As the martial artists kick and box at their opponents, in motion that more resembles intricate choreography, East Asian Theater specialist, Dr. Susan Jain watches the show from behind the stage. Dr. Jain, who represents Asian artists working in America, talked with Robin Rupli about their ancient art.

Reporter: "Tell me about the martial arts demonstrations that we're seeing right now. Where is this from exactly?"
Susan Jain: "These are groups that are representing different East Asian martial arts traditions Akido, Tae Kwon Do, Hop-Kido, Chinese Kung Fu, Chinese Wushu, and these are artists based in the Bay area."
Reporter: "When you think of martial arts, you think of self-protection. But it seems deeper than that."

Susan Jain: "The martial arts traditions throughout Asia into the Silk Road, have always been this balance between the inner self and the development of the outer. Traditionally, the martial arts have been used to protect, to hunt, to protect family, to protect themselves from wild animals. But it also later became a spiritual tradition where people used this physical training technique to help to develop the inner self and the spirituality."

Reporter: "Can you give me a few examples of the different styles we are seeing today?"

Susan Jain: "Some of these martial arts forms here are Korean, you'll see Japanese, then we move around into the Chinese mainland and also into eastern India. But also, following this presentation is a performance of Beijing Opera. Now, now many people think of Beijing opera as a marital arts tradition, but this is where we get into the borders, the border crossings. In Asia there has always been this kind of continuum between movement, theater, martial arts, acting, spirituality, it all kind of comes together. So Beijing Opera is part is part of its performance vocabulary. So many people don't realize that Jackie Chan, the famous Kung Fu film star from Hong Kong is actually a Beijing opera actor."
Reporter: "When you say opera, do you mean singing?"

Susan Jain: "They sing, they move, they act and they fight. And also, you'll see in a Chinese theater, you'll see the martial arts presentation here where we'll have several women representing the Korean traditions, the Kung fu traditions, the Chinese Wushu traditions. It's always been a male and female training and art tradition in Asia."

Reporter: "How popular is Asian Martial Arts in the United States?"

Susan Jain: "Oh, it's growing and growing. It's becoming so much more popular. It was brought back, particularly in World War II, with the U.S. occupation in Japan, many servicemen at the time learned the Japanese traditions and brought that back. And then after the Korean War, brought that back. And now we've seen Hong Kong in the 1960's with Bruce Lee, bringing the whole Kung Fu film back here. and now, the popularity of the films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon we're seeing Wushu, which is the national martial arts tradition of China, again, finding a home here in the United States. And what we're also seeing is the immigration of many of the Asian top artists coming into the United States and becoming American citizens. And that's something that makes this place very unique."

Reporter: "The man who is onstage narrating and explaining this, who is that?"

Susan Jain: "His name is Doug Kim and he is a Black Belt in Korean martial arts in the Bay area. And he is a scholar of martial arts and has been writing and doing research and he's able to discuss very intelligently with the overlaps of the distinct qualities of each of these traditions. So he's assembled this group, curated it from the Bay area to show you the richness of this martial arts tradition in one part of the United States. And has these artists all working together and collaborating, so it's actually a learning experience for the artists onstage and for the audience and for the rest of us."

Reporter: "It's fantastic, Ms. Jain, thank you very much."