Martial arts hobby leads to new opportunities

January 21, 2016 — by Jenny Qian and Neehar Thumaty

Junior Richie Sun has been practicing Wushu, a form of Chinese contemporary martial arts, at Shaolin Martial Arts for five years.

Freshmen and sophomores mingled in the open space of the weight room as they finished their workout of the day in P.E. teacher Yuko Aoki’s class. After relentless prodding from his friends, then-sophomore Richie Sun finally gave in as he proceeded to execute a flawless backbend kickover. He looked up and all eyes were fixed on him. A student, awestruck, asked him how he learned to do that. Sun chuckled nervously and answered, “Wushu.”

“My parents just wanted me to learn self-defense in case of [dangerous] situations,” Sun said. “I was just doing it with a few close friends as a hobby, and I never expected to one day be attending competitions.”

Now a junior, Sun has been practicing Wushu, a form of Chinese contemporary martial arts, at Shaolin Martial Arts for five years. He practices at least four hours every week at the academy.

Sun began competing at age 12, when he entered the Tiger Claw Tournament in San Jose and placed first in three categories — first, staff and broadsword. He also qualified to compete in the Grand Champion competition for his age group but did not attend.

“The different categories you can compete in make it really fun and interesting,” Sun said. “‘First’ is punches and blocks, while ‘staff’ is done with a large weapon, [and] you use the weight of the staff to spin with your body. The sword is similar to the staff motion-wise, except you use a sword.”

Although Wushu is not a common sport for American athletes, Sun said Wushu is a more traditional and older form of martial arts than kung fu.

“When you compete, the movements are more stationary and you focus more on your expressions,” Sun said. “Competitions are [like] performances in that [they] test your own greatest capability, whereas other sports test your skill against varying teams or players.”

Sun was able to place first in the Golden State Tournament in San Jose last October. His victory qualified him for the Ninth Annual International Martial Arts Championship in Anhui, China — his first international competition.

On Sun’s first day in Anhui, an inauguration was held for all the attendees, and competitors from many different countries were able to meet each other. Contestants were then given two days to practice and prepare for the competition.

“Since there was no beginner, intermediate or advanced levels, everyone was grouped together,” said Sun. “This made everything a lot more competitive as everyone was against each other.”

The competition lasted two days, and Sun ended up placing third in the first category and second place in sword.

“It made me realize there are a lot of people who are like you and share the same interest[s] from around the world,” Sun said.

While Sun has accomplished an exceptional amount in his five-year Wushu career, he still hopes to improve and do well in other competitions.

“Practicing a new move and perfecting it is one of the biggest challenges in Wushu,” Sun said. “However, it is people with playful personalities and my optimistic and supportive coach who push me to continue and make Wushu fun.”

Although unsure whether he wants to pursue Wushu professionally, Sun wants to continue competing and participating in various events.

“I have heard of clubs in colleges, such as one in UC Berkeley, that host Wushu competitions and events, and I think I would be interested in participating in them,” Sun said.