"The Toughest Tournament in the World" - Shun Wu Tang | Durban Kung Fu

“The Toughest Tournament in the World”

The following article is an excerpt from the August 1992 issue of Inside Kung Fu Magazine…

“The World Kuoshu Championship has earned a reputation as the most violent and bloody martial arts event known to man. But with the years has come a mellowing in the traditional attitude, and with it a relaxing of the rules.

They fought wearing gardening gloves in 1986. Mostly, it became face punching, but any attack was legal, from kneecap kicks to wrestling throws. The only rules were, no strikes to the eyes, throat, back of the head, or testicles. Anything else…

The legend of that clobbering, gory 5th World Chinese Kuoshu Tournament in Taiwan echoes today, six years later. It’s what too many people think of when groping for an image of Taiwanese-style competition. Privately, its sponsors blame the 1986 fiasco on an unprecedented number of green fighters fronting wildly unequal abilities. But that does not explain why there were also so many charges of rampant favoritism in the judging.

In fact, what was happening was that a triennial event first held in 1955 (for 168 fighters competing without benefit of weight classes or rounds), which had gone international in 1975, was by 1986 in danger of being declared outlaw—an intolerable affront to kuoshu’s proud heritage. What had gone wrong? From 1975-to-1983, nothing like the overwhelming brutality and controversy of 1986 had ever occurred.

Even so, things had to change. But how, especially within an émigré organization whose conservative passion for “the way things used to be” was so strong that at times, for the International Chinese Kuoshu Federation, the past of kung fu has seemed almost more important than its future.

“Kuoshu” means “national art,” and is a politically charged way of saying “kung fu,” by being democratically opposed to its rival Communist sibling, the better-known Mainland Chinese wushu (“war art”), “Kuoshu” was the patriotic term adopted by the Central Government of China back in 1928, in recognition of kung-fu’s unique cultural value. A Central Kuoshu Instituted was founded in what was then China’s capital city, Nan Ching, where prospective students had to take an entrance exam sufficiently stiff to have flunked even run-of-the-mill regional champions.

The decade that followed, we are told, is fondly nicknamed “the Golden Years of Chinese martial arts.” Then, after the Civil War and Communist  Mao Zedong’s 1947 triumph, the Central Government fled to Taiwan, R.O.C., bringing kuoshu along. Since being cast out, Taiwan has maintained its kung-fu with that ferocious purity which often distinguished the nostalgic arts of exiles.”