By Nick BeJeaux
Students from Baton Rouge’s White Crane Kung Fu Studio competed in the US Karate Alliance Tournament and all but swept the competition.
The Tournament took place on June 26-29 and hosted teams from around the country. Of the six martial artists representing White Crane, four won recognition in their chosen competitions.
Simon Vixathep took first place in the masters’ division forms competition, second place in weapons and sparring. Also taking places were Kevin Chin (second in masters’ forms, fourth in masters’ sparring, and third in weapons) and Kayci Mullins (third in weapons and forms). Arja Turunen-Red, also a professor at University of New Orleans, took fourth place in both weapons and forms competition.
However, as successful as they were, they didn’t compete for the trophies.
“To a spectator, a martial arts tournament probably is the ultimate ‘external’ event: It appears to be about measuring athletic skill against others and being able to dominate in physical strength and mental determination,” said Turunen-Red, a purple sash, or one of White Crane’s more advanced students. “But, as taught by Sifu Illar, the test that a Kung Fu student actually experiences in a tournament is about one’s inner state, the ability to maintain focus and composure under stress and scrutiny. On this measuring scale, I experienced both success and failure at the recent New Orleans event.”
Sifu (Cantonese for “teacher”) Lou Illar heads the White Crane Studio and saw the success of his students, particularly the women, as an opportunity to highlight the fundamental principle of Kung Fu: the union of opposites.
“Two things explain women in Kung Fu: their style of uniforms and how they approach forms, which is completely different from men,” he said. “Women think differently and have different needs and wants because they think differently. They balance the class, and the art, with there different perspective.”
After decades of teaching Kung Fu, Illar has seen that male students want physicality, status and competition; but with the women it isn’t so. They merely want to build themselves.
“They don’t have that ambition to dominate,” he said. “But when they have the confidence, they can easily outperform men. They’re outside the male paradigm of competition – they compete without competing. Instead of conflict, they produce peace.”
According to Illar, because women operate outside of this paradigm, they are often questioned and met with suspicion in male-dominated environments. However, when men and women share their perspectives, the true power of kung fu is unlocked.
“There is a real beauty in seeing grace and elegance transfer from a woman to a man who learns from watching females and realizes his art is beautiful,” said Illar. “Hostility or distrust for women in males is replaced by respect, and from that respect comes intelligent functional and organizational patterns – everything we do in life is based on those patterns.”
Turunen-Red pointed out that Kung Fu has empowered women for centuries, and in fact, would be very different (and incomplete) without their influence over the years.
“Kung Fu is often misunderstood as a solely young-male pursuit,” she said. “This is unfortunate because women of all ages can learn confidence and self-mastery through Kung Fu and some important historical contributors to Kung Fu have been women. For some, Kung Fu study can also serve as a conduit of spiritual advancement.”
Turunen-Red, who came to kung fu later in life, was barely able to walk when she started studying forms due to arthritis. Now, she is able to hold stances, throw people many times her size to the floor and competing and placing in national tournaments.
“Kung Fu practice requires and develops both strength and flexibility, and in flexibility (Nei Kung yoga practice), women actually have an advantage,” she said. “Kung Fu is probably the best way to gain lower body strength and reshape legs and hips. For those of us who are older, Kung Fu can take off years both from our bodies and our minds.”
For more information on White Cran Kung Fu in Baton Rouge, visit www.whitecranestudio.com.