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Echoes of Jingwu

As the RVTKD partners prepared to release our new self-study program, Matt Roncone mentioned that the ambitious scope reminded him of the Jingwu school, an influential Kung Fu school in China in the early 20th Century. RVTKD members who participated in our reading group several years ago may remember our discussion of Jingwu: The School that Transformed Kung Fu and understand why he’d have this interesting insight.

It could be argued that Jingwu was one of the most important individual martial arts schools in history, since it not only had a skilled and respected founder, it also influenced Chinese society far beyond the walls of the training floor. Huo Yuanjia1 may not be as well known in the US as Ip Man2, but he was a true legend in China and had a far more profound effect on China as it began its transition into a modern nation.

Although rooted in martial arts, students at the Jingwu Institute could also pursue a wide range of interests beyond Kung Fu. Because of its breadth of curriculum, its ranks grew to many thousands of members in cities and towns throughout China. In some ways Jingwu filled a societal role not unlike the YMCA does in the US—it was a community social center, catered to a wide age range, and offered intellectual pursuits, crafts, and leadership opportunities. Other Jingwu innovations:

  • It was one of the first martial arts schools to teach women and men together. At the time, the few that accepted women at all tended to isolate them in their own classes.
  • In this time period, martial arts were usually taught as tools for combat or as secret societies. Jingwu opened the study of Kung Fu to anyone as a means of self improvement rather than as vocation.

It probably goes without saying that RVTKD’s self-study program has much more humble ambitions than Jingwu. Our school is small, and our goal is to celebrate the Korean origins of our practice, foster a greater understanding of Korean culture among our students, and to give our students a way to become both well-rounded and wise in a way that’s not typical of martial arts schools in the West, or really anywhere. We don’t hope to have the reach and influence of Jingwu, but there are certainly worse models to aspire to.

For those interested in learning more, read Jingwu: The School that Transformed Kung Fu.


1 Portrayed by Jet Li in the 2006 film Fearless.

2 Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun instructor.

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