International Tai Chi Competition

A team of 7 competitors represented Australia at the 5th World Wushu Championships held in Hong Kong in November 1999. This is an international standard event run by the International Wushu Federation the organisation that has gained Olympic standing for Tai Chi. Wushu is expected to be a demonstration event at the Olympic Games in 2004 and a full Olympic event in 2008.

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Demonstrations at the Opening Ceremony

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What are the Events?

Wushu is the term used to cover all Chinese martial arts. The competition covers a number of events, two of which are Tai Chi:

  • Taolu (demonstration events)
  • Bare Hand Changquan, Nanquan, Taijiquan
  • Short weapons Daoshu, Jianshu, Nandao, Taijijian
  • Long weapons Qiangshu, Gunshu, Nangun
  • Sanshou (contact event)

The Taijiquan event is the Combined 42 Competition forms. The Taijijian event is the corresponding 42 sword forms. Both are combined forms representing the 4 major styles of Tai Chi (see the article "Tai Chi Competition and the Competition Forms" by Dr Paul Lam in the December 1999 issue for more information).

How is a Tai Chi competition conducted?

Tai Chi is judged in much the same manner as other demonstration sports, such as gymnastics. The participants must perform the prescribed forms within 6 minutes, and they are awarded a mark out of 10:

There are separate events for men and women, and competition is conducted two at a time. Both competitors perform the same forms, starting at the same time, but are judged individually. The pairings are the result of a ballot.

The Competition

The 5th World Wushu Championships attracted athletes from over 50 countries. In general the Tai Chi events had around 25 competitors, with the following countries being represented Armenia, Australia, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Macau, Netherlands, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taipei, USA, Vietnam, Yugoslavia.

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Competitors preparing for competition.

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The event was held at the Hong Kong Coliseum over a week. The initial few days were for preparation with an Opening Ceremony held mid week, followed by four days of competition.

Australia was represented in the Tai Chi events by Heather Bass and Anne Graham (from Melbourne) and Julie King, Ian Etcell, Edric Hong, Kam Lau Fung (from Sydney) and ably supported by Robyn Nicholls and Han Jing Song. Most of us had very little experience at competition, and only Kam and Anne had experience of competition at this level.

On observation, the competing countries fell into four major tiers.

The top echelon of performers were notably young late teens or early twenties. They exhibited mastery of the forms, of the internals, and their athleticism was amazing. Heel Kicks to shoulder height, Toe Kicks above the head, and Lower Movements scraping the ground were commonplace. This group consisted entirely of Asian countries, led by China. The performances were breathtaking.

The next layer of performers were also very young, very athletic and had a good grasp of the forms but were lacking in depth of expression and competition experience. This group included countries such as Great Britain, USA and Canada and in all instances had dedicated coaches trained in Beijing.

The next group was basically European. On the whole, these competitors were older and less athletic. However they generally had a sound grasp of the forms, and showed varying levels of internal expression. While Im not sure that they had a lot of competition experience, it was obvious that they were very well prepared, and in most instances had Beijing trained coaches.

Australia and New Zealand fell into the final tier. Here the competitors were definitely older. Australia had the distinction of the most mature male competitor, and New Zealand took out the honours for the ladies. The quality of the forms was certainly worthy of the company we were in. However, what really stood out was the lack of competition experience (New Zealand did a little better here), and the inability to meet the strength and flexibility of the younger competitors.

The scores in the ladies Taijiquan competition ranged from 9.58 (China) to 8.2 with the three Australian ladies scoring 8.38, 8.3 and 8.2. The mens Taijiquan competition ranged from 9.55 (China) to 8.26 with the Australians scoring 8.81, 8.66, 8.63.

The next World Wushu Championships will be held in Armenia in 2002.

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A little more relaxed. 

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Being there

The first thing that struck us on arrival was the number of people all from different countries, speaking different languages, all looking professional and preparing to do their best at their individual events. Without doubt, a highlight of the trip was the opportunity to meet and mix with so many people sharing a common interest.

Most of us didnt have the slightest idea what standard to expect from the other competitors. Without having seen a top competitor, it is nearly impossible to understand in what ways their Tai Chi is different. Our first view of the individual teams practicing was enlightening (or terrifying, depending on whether you were just watching or competing!). The sheer strength and flexibility of the competitors is just inescapable. It takes some time to get past the showmanship and the performance to assess the real Tai Chi. Once this is done, you see a range from complete mastery to a purely physical performance - like gymnastics. Australia has a good grounding in the form and in the basic principles. What we lack is youth and professional competition preparation.

Being a member of the Australian Team was an experience never to be forgotten. The camaraderie and support amongst team members was the best part of the entire experience. Marching into the Opening Ceremony wearing the green and gold, amongst all those other athletes, will remain a special memory.

Competing at that level takes a special type of person. Even for the Australian competitors who participated with no outside pressure or expectations, the event itself was a mental and physical ordeal. The strength of character and mind required for the top performers is difficult to comprehend.

For me, the best part about the competition was that my event was the very first. I was then able to relax and appreciate the privilege of being there.

Julie King


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