Wushu’s long and winding history

SMAA exponents showcase their skills.

Yung Dak Looh

SIBU: When Yung Dak Looh first got involved with wushu in the 1970s, little did he know that wushu would become one of the core sports in the country.

It was definitely the survival of the toughest, as the wushu master had to go through trials and tribulations, twists and turns, ups and downs to ensure that the sport remains relevant here.

Today, wushu ranks as one of the biggest sports in the country and is featured in the SEA and Asian Games.

The Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) is also working with other national bodies to get the sport recognised in the 2024 Olympic Games.

“I may have played a minor role in ensuring the success of the sport in the country but I feel proud of myself for getting involved. I feel that this is a big fulfilment in my career and my pursuit to help bring further glory to the sport in the country, “ he told thesundaypost during an exclusive interview.

Temenggong Datuk Vincent Lau (left) greets to the Singapore team during the wushu championship.

Early history

Yung, who is now 67, said it all started when, as a 20-year-old, he became “addicted” to wushu which traditionally comprised a combination of kung fu and martial arts, including an earlier version of the wushu discipline.

Wushu, which is commonly referred to as kung fu, is the collective term for martial art practices which originated and developed in China.

Over its long history, wushu had developed into numerous distinct styles and systems, each incorporating its own techniques, tactics, principles and methods, as well as the use of a wide variety of traditional weaponry.

Yung said his grandfather had brought in the sport from China and he practised the sport nightly at their detached wooden house in Salim.

Everyday, after returning home from school, Yung would follow his grandfather to wherever he travelled.

“At night, when he is free, he will teach me some of the kung fu manoeuvres and movements at home which I found really interesting and captivating,” Yung recalled, still vividly remembering his grandfather as a friendly and disciplined man of strong character and humility.

Being an inquisitive teenager, Yung would often ask his grandfather about the history and other aspects of the sport.

“I was so curious about Chinese martial arts and, day to day, I got myself closer to wushu, eager to learn more about its long history believed to date back to 5,000 years.”

In the later half of 1960s, Yung’s family moved to stay in Sibu and his involvement in wushu gained momentum.

“In Sibu, it happened that there was a group of people who also practised wushu nightly. Unlike badminton, basketball or swimming, wushu is never a popular game and it was hard to get people involved due to the nature of the game which puts more emphasis on self discipline.”

That did not deter him as he continued to practise the art with a group of friends.

Nightly, the few of them would gather to conduct their own training at shophouses and just any place they could find. It was more of a leisure exercise which did not generate much interests among the population.

As the 1960s drew to a close, the fate of the wushu movement took a twist due to the Communist insurgency in Sarawak reaching its height.

Because the sport had its roots in China, the government feared that the people here could be influenced by Communist ideology. A clampdown followed and many people involved with the wushu movement were roped in for questioning by the Rejang Area Security Command (RASCOM).

“After thorough investigation, RASCOM officers could not find fault with us. Anyway, there were nothing really to charge us as we were all genuine wushu players only interested in the sport and nothing else. But we were told to train and practise under the name of an association,” Yung revealed.

Birth of SMAA

Hence, in 1975, Sibu Martial Arts (Guanshu) Association (SMAA) was born.

Ling Chee Huah, former managing director of Ling Hup Choon Motors was elected the first chairman followed by former Sibu Municipal Council Chairman Kong Sien Han.

Other chairmen included Tiong Hock Kien and Ngu Moh Ngi before Yung took over as the 7th chairman in 1990.

Yung said the formation of SMAA in 1975 signalled the dawn of a new era for the wushu movement in Sibu.

“It was such an elated moment, a day which all those involved with the wushu movement all those years had been waiting for.

With a new association to look after the interests of its members, things were looking brighter for them. At least, there was this belief that the members would not have to practise their favourite sport in fear since the government had already recognised the sport.”

When he took over the helm, Yung admitted that SMAA was not all rosy.

“It not only faced membership problems but also leadership and administration woes. The biggest headache was its financial woes,” he added.

In 1976, Yung said a noble idea cropped up.

“Why not make use of the lion dance to raise funds for SMAA?” Yung asked himself during a routine lion dance performance at the opening of a business centre.

Incidentally, Yung had also been involved in lion dance activities during those difficult years with SMAA playing an integral part in the local lion dance scene.

The SMAA lion dance teams were widely popular among the Chinese community. The more affluent ones from the Chinese community would invite lion troupes to perform at their home with the traditional belief that the lion dance would cleanse the house of bad omen and wade off misfortune.

Yung and his disciples occasionally travelled overseas to learn further and spruce up lion dance skills during the time.

By the 1990s, wushu as a whole has developed into various forms of practice, each with its own focus and goals.

Some highlighted health and wellbeing as their primary goal while others stressed traditional culture and skills.

Wushu also developed into a global competitive sport attracting thousands of people worldwide.

Wushu as a sport is categorized into two main categories namely taolu (routines competition) and sandas (free-fighting competition).

New dawn

A new government policy changed the course of wushu’s history in Malaysia.

In 1999, the Education Ministry recognised wushu taolu (routine competition) as a school co-curricular activity.

“It sparked the frenzy over the sport and, almost overnight, many associations surfaced to embrace the sport. It was also a big bonus to SMAA as the recognition rendered the sport a lifeline,” Yung recalled.

“Over the next few years, more than 21 schools including primary and secondary schools, kindergartens and later even students from University College of Technology Sarawak (UCTS) took up wushu lessons with our membership rising to an all-time high at about 5,000.”

With more schools taking up the sport, Yung said it became easier to organise competitions at the local and national levels.

“In addition, we also sent some of our good exponents for international exposure and many returned with medals.”

SMAA was cruising comfortably until internal bickering among its leaders exploded into the open, almost tearing the association apart.

“Yes, even till today, I admitted that those were the times when my morale was at its lowest. At times, I thought of giving up the sport but then, looking back, thinking of all the hardwork and relentless energy that I had invested into the sport, all these acted as a clarion call to me to continue to play my role in the wushu fraternity,” Yung recollected.

The leadership rivalry within SMAA eventually led to a breakaway group which formed the Sibu Wushu Association.

Despite those setbacks, Yung continued to lead SMAA energically, producing both national and international champions.

Yung is not too concerned about what others may gossip about him. To him, it’s the results that counts. He takes adversities in his stride as he continues to be driven by passion and dedication.

“Let bygones be bygones and the only way to achieve greater success is to look forward and bring greater development of wushu in the state,” Yung reflected philosophically.

Coming a long way

Two years ago, Yung retired from active involvement in SMAA as his son, Gilbert Wong, took over the baton. Currently, Wong is also SMAA chief coach.

Yung, however, still provides advise and counselling behind the scene.

The 6th Dan wushu exponent constantly upgrades himself. He has also received numerous awards, both local and overseas. He is an international wushu referee and a lion and dragon dance coach.

He is also vice president of the Malaysia Chenshi Taijiquan Association, president of Sarawak Chenshi Taijiquan Association, vice president of Sarawak Lion, Dragon and Wushu Association and adviser of Sibu Division Schools Lion, Dragon and Wushu Association.

SMAA is an active participant in international wushu events. These included the 12th and 14th Hongkong International Wushu Festival, 4th Beijing International Wushu Cultural Conference and 5th Singapore International Martial Arts Tournament in recent years.

The association has produced a long list of outstanding exponents such as Law Kiing Fu, Frankie Hii, Ling Kwong Leong, Chua Hock Hua, Racher Hii, Goh Zi Juan and Oscar Sii … and more recently Anglyn Wong Cia Ing, Esther Ngu Khoo Sing, Yoyo Lim and Wong Siew Zhi … and then Hii Wei Bai, Nicholas Kho, Edson Wong Ba Liang, Monica Goh and Sia Ming You from the lion and dragon dance section.

“SMAA has indeed come a long way with a colourful history as it all started from zero. Today, I am greatly indebted to all those who have contributed their roles to ensure the success of SMAA.”

Its rich history culminated in the 40th anniversary celebration and the 5th anniversary for Sarawak Chen Style Taijiquan in 2015.

“It was a grand celebration whereby more than 500 wushu exponents from throughout the country, including some kung fu masters from China, were invited to take part in the celebration,” Yung said proudly.

Of all the persons who helped him, the former lorry driver said he was most grateful to his former boss for giving him time off to attend to his personal matters.

‘If he does not allow me to do things I like to do, then, today, SMAA will not exist,” he added.

SMAA’s lion dance captivates the crowd at the annual Borneo Cultural Festival show.

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