Where art and combat collide

The Wushu club was founded in 1999 and is a form of Chinese martial arts that developed in the 1940s in an attempt to systematize martial arts as a sport and bridge the gap between combat and art. Credit: Wesley Collins

Natalie Lucas had been doing kung fu since she was 12 years old, but she had never encountered a challenge like this one.

After a nearly 12-month hiatus, the Dragon Phoenix Wushu club at Ohio State returned to practice in March, training outside on the basketball courts adjacent to the RPAC.

Lucas, a fourth-year in neuroscience, said that the return excites her and marks a big moment for the club as they move toward future competitions, a new practice space and the next semester.

“I was so happy,” Lucas said. “Martial arts has been a part of my life for a really long time and I had been sedentary for too long in the quarantine so I was really excited to come back and practice my skills, you know, stretch out, work on my cardiovascular abilities “

The club, founded in 1999, provides the opportunity for students to engage with wushu, a form of Chinese martial arts that developed in the 1940s in an attempt to systematize martial arts as a sport and bridge the gap between combat and art.

In late March 2020, in-person meetings were suspended as members of the club and other students were forced home to shelter in place during the early parts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The club had to get innovative to keep their skills as sharp as a straight sword, one of the many weapons that members can practice with.

Lucas said that moving meetings to Zoom wasn’t easy, but it was better than the alternative: no practice.

“Zoomshu” allowed members to practice within their own homes prior to returning to campus.

“We tried zoomshu, which is where our coach set up a camera in his living room and we followed along that to the best of our abilities in our little apartments and in our dorm rooms,” Lucas said. “With a limited space and limited quality technology that we had, we just tried to keep practicing.”

Members of the club can select from a bevy of weapons to practice with and hone their skills. All of these items are intended to be flashy, making for a better show in performance and competition.

Wesley Collins, a third-year in atmospheric sciences, said he chose the straight sword when he joined the club, looking to practice a new kind of martial arts. The challenge of something starkly different than his previous experience in martial arts was enticing.

“I have done various kinds of martial arts for, I want to say, 12 years now. I started with Taekwondo. I did karate. I’ve done jujitsu, Filipino stick and knife fighting. I’ve done Muay Thai and kickboxing,” Collins said. “So when I came to OSU, I wanted to do a new martial art, something that I’ve never done before that’s really different from what I’ve done previously. And so when I saw that we did Chinese kung fu with the wushu team, I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never heard of wushu.’ So I walked up to them at the Student Involvement Fair. And I started coming to practices that same day.”

Mitch Seiple, vice president of the Dragon Phoenix Wushu Club, said that getting weapons distributed to members is relatively affordable, with fans starting at about $10 and spears costing about $30.

Brian Kao, the club’s coach and a member of the United States Wushu team, has assisted the students in training with the show-items and helps them prepare for competition when in-person tournaments resume, hopefully later in the spring semester.

Before student organizations were able to meet on campus due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the university, the club was able to meet in the gym that Kao trains at, the Ohio Wushu Academy, in small, socially distanced masked groups.

Seiple said that despite the struggles and challenges of the past year, he is excited to meet again, even in limited fashion.

“We kind of just had to roll with the punches for that and do the best we could and I think we did as well as we could,” Seiple said. “We’re just glad to be able to be back out here together now.”

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