Martial Arts in China: An Insightful Chat with Sascha Matuszak
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When we first came across ‘The Last Masters’, a blog focused on sharing information and insights about martial arts in China – from Taiji, Kung Fu to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), we were instantly hooked. As we dig deeper, we found out that the man behind the blog, Sascha Matuszak, has been travelling around China to meet as many Kung Fu masters and practitioners as he can as a part of his documentary film, ‘The New Masters’.
We became deeply intrigued by his project, so we reached out to Sascha hoping to find out more. Lucky for us, he was more than willing to share his interesting stories and insights with us on everything from his own martial arts journey, his trip around China, the documentary film and even his thoughts on two of our favorite martial arts: Kung Fu & MMA.
Interested in what he has to say? Read on!
When did you initially become interested in Chinese culture & martial arts? Is it something you’ve loved since you were a child or something that you acquired as an adult?
Image credit: Sascha Matuszak
I think every boy wanted to be a Kung Fu master at some point in his life. I did too, but I never really internalized it or understood anything about Kung Fu or what my dreams really were. I think the idea of being invincible, being able to control your body and power, and fighting for righteousness was something I as a boy felt really strongly. Also, the image of a man who was silent but strong, wise and kind, but could also whoop the bad guys was just, for me, the ultimate in manliness.
My interest in Chinese culture came first and bounced in and out of my life from I don’t remember when. The point when I knew I had to go to China was at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts when I saw a jade sculpture from the 19th century of a mountain covered in trees, sages, and tea sessions and on one side was an inscription from Qianlong, the Dragon Emperor, and on the other was an ancient poem discussing the beauty of timeless friendship, reaching out to me over the ages to let me know that, once, there were sages on a mountain laughing together and they wanted me to remember them.
When I saw that I knew I had to visit the country that produced such sublime art.
Do you practice any martial arts? If so could you tell us more about your practice?
I dabbled for years, but now I am fully addicted and dedicated and it is the greatest thing I have done most recently, to fully give myself to the martial arts and the grind it takes to move my skills even a centimeter forward. I train Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) now, those two arts have really grabbed me. I know I will get into more as time goes on. I am not a young man anymore, but I can still hang and compete and learn and my body is responding. My mind is too, learning a new technique blows me away every time and I can’t wait to try it out, even on my little sons.
Image credit: Sascha Matuszak’s Facebook account
Could you share with us what is the main idea of ‘The New Masters’ documentary film?
The idea has shifted over time. It began as a discussion on traditional Kung Fu and modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and how the two interact in the cradle of martial arts. Right now that is still a component of the story, but the team has since focused on specific people and their journey through the landscape of competitive martial arts in China, be it Kung Fu, Sanda, MMA, or other arts. So the background is still this interaction between the old and the new, but the focus has landed on combat sports athletes as opposed to the traditional Kung Fu masters.
This documentary is a crowd-funding project and it’s listed on kick starter, feel free to check it out to find out more about it!
A sneak peek to “The New Masters” documentary. Video credit: Christopher Cherry’s YouTube account.
What is the main lesson your trip around China during ‘The New Masters’ project has taught you?
That I needed to practice the martial arts with dedication and stop playing around.
What is your most memorable moment from this trip?
Well, it was more than just one trip; it’s been my life for more than 10 years. There are hundreds of moments that stick in my mind, and even more that I have forgotten. I think one that will always stick with me is my Master Li Quan telling my “your Kung Fu is in your pen” …
Another would be sitting with another teacher of mine, Master Zou Fan on the mountain and listening to her speak of the Tao and her journey from brawler to sage.
Sascha in China. Image credit: Sascha Matuszak’s Facebook account.
What is the most ‘annoying’ myth (misconception) about Chinese martial arts that you’ve encountered?
That they are ineffective.
In one of your stories, you referred to MMA as “The new martial art proving ground for anyone who considers themselves ‘The greatest warrior on the planet’". Are there current fighters in the MMA world whom you’d give this title to?
That title is constantly being passed on because if a fighter would tell you anything about competition, he would say that anyone can be beaten. There is a Chinese saying that I always found to be really interesting and relevant, roughly translated, it goes:
“I have no opponent under Heaven, lonely, I desperately seek defeat.”
Why do you think MMA is so popular around the world? What sets it apart from other martial arts?
I think MMA is popular with fans because it strips away a lot of the things that make combat sports less of a “fight” and more of a “race to the most points.” The gloves are really small, so people bleed and get knocked out easier than with boxing gloves; the grappling and submission components mean anyone can be submitted at any time; and the ethos surrounding MMA right now is one of pure combat. It really is a sport that demands so much from athletes that the ones who make it and compete are true, no hyperbole, warriors.
You dedicate a lot of time to exploring the growing popularity of MMA in China and meeting Kung Fu practitioners who are willing to introduce Kung Fu to MMA. In 2014, you wrote about the first Shaolin monk who was about to fight in the same ring with MMA fighters. How would you describe the situation for 2016? Has Kung Fu entered the MMA world?
Image credit: Sascha Matuszak.
Kung Fu has been in the MMA world for a long time now. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that Mixed Martial Arts is somehow separate from traditional arts, or something new that sprang up in 1993. Not true. There is a clean, straight line leading from Kung Fu as we knew it in the early 20th century to the Kickboxing that was on ESPN in the early 1990s to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) today. The kicking techniques, elbows, and stances, even locks and grips are all techniques that can be found across any serious, developed martial art. Kung Fu included.
If you were to explore MMA training camps like you did with Kung Fu schools in China, what destination would you choose?
Probably California. I am heading there (in May) to train. I am a novice, so I am just looking to not get thrown out of the gym really, but Cali is the epicenter of MMA, really where a lot of martial arts from the East found a toehold and then expanded and grew. New Mexico and Vegas are also big MMA hot spots, but for me, a 38-year-old writer who practices a bit of martial arts, going to Vegas or Albuquerque to train is silly.
What would you advise to a beginner who is interested in going on a Kung Fu training camp in China?
Travel. Have a backpack and straight up wander and let people know you want to train. The Chinese will bring you to where you need to be. And if you are serious, you will find a master to guide you through your very own Kung Fu journey.
Inspired by Sascha’s story and interested in starting your own martial arts adventure? Browse through a vast selection of great martial arts training camp at BookMartialArts.com!