For over a decade Lebanon’s premier wushu star Patricia Nseir, 30, has brightened wushu arenas around the world with her graceful taolu performances and her welcoming, friendly smile. As an amateur athlete from a small team from a small country, she may not have won a handful of gold medals as some of her contemporaries have, but nevertheless she embodies all the top qualities of a true champion. And how many athletes can say that they’ve participated in 6 World Wushu Championships?
Patricia’s effortless sportsmanship, warm camaraderie, and a steadfast dedication to her sport, are always paired with a winning attitude, win or lose. She can count dozens of longtime friends from international teams, and when she performs elegantly on the carpet cheers from her fellow athletes spur her on. In turn, she offers selfless support to her team, her fellow athletes, and now to young junior athlete students of her own. For some decades Lebanon has known many political and economic struggles, but through it all Patricia, and her father Georges Nseir who founded the Lebanese Wushu Federation, give all their efforts to promoting wushu in Lebanon, and continue to build the sport with few resources but plenty of soul.
A Passion for Wushu Grows
Patricia’s wushu journey started when she was 5 years old. “Today wushu fills an important part of my life,” she says, “it shaped me into the person I am and most importantly, built a special relationship between my father and me.” As soon as Patricia turned 5, her father, who has helped build a wushu legacy in Lebanon, brought her to a youth class he was teaching. She recalls, “As a little girl, it was for me a fun activity. I wanted to play and do like my siblings. I didn’t take it seriously, I was just happy to be in daddy’s class.”
But her passion for wushu grew. “As I was growing up,” she recalls, “I wouldn’t miss any class. By the age of 10, my father saw in me, and 4 other teammates, a lot of potential. In this same year there was the 1st European Wushu championship in Anvers, Belgium. My dad insisted that we participate despite all the obstacles we faced; the idea of travelling for sports as juniors in general was quite new and impossible in my country. The Lebanese government supports financially only few types of sports and athletes still have to pay for their own participation in international competitions. Wushu was not one of them, and our wushu federation was growing and building itself with very low financial resources. Moreover, we had little knowledge about competition rules and techniques, and we had to train several times per week, while still attending regular school and passing exams.”
Despite all of this, thanks to his passion and perseverance, Patricia’s dad did everything to realize this important goal. “We trained hard,” says Patricia, “and mastered new techniques and learned all the competition rules. And then it happened! On top of all the fun and excitement, I earned a bronze medal. And that was it. It was the real start. I fell in love with the game, and wanted to continue on this path and go very far. I kept training year round, twice a week, and my father, my number one fan, kept paying for my international competition travel every single year.”
Patricia’s first World Wushu Championships brought her to Toronto, Canada in 2009. “It was the biggest event I ever attended,” she remembers. “It was my first time outside of Europe. To be honest, I felt strange. Everyone knew each other. They were comfortable. I didn’t know a lot of people, it made me feel kind of lost. In addition, I was shocked by the high level of athletes; but I wasn’t demotivated. I really did my best. I left super happy and proud, and I felt I was entering the ‘adult’ world, and I really wanted to go to the next one. And this feeling, of absolutely wanting be part of the next WWC always came back to me after each championship.”
Challenges and China
When Patricia was 13, a former Chinese wushu coach named Chen Chao Yong visited Lebanon for business purposes. Patricia’s father met him by chance at the Chinese embassy in Beirut where they made a deal – the coach would teach and train the young wushu team and in exchange the Lebanese Wushu federation would take care of the legal papers and fees to allow him to stay in Lebanon.
Patricia remembers, “That was a great amazing opportunity. He started with the basics and then taught us the compulsory taolu forms, the grading system and most importantly introduced us to Chinese culture. He is one of my strongest mentors and played a huge role regarding my performance and knowledge about this sport. I started being passionate about Chanquan, Jianshu and Qiangshu. I think that the event that suits me the most is Qiangshu; it makes me feel in harmony with myself, body and soul. I also trained a lot with coach Avedis Seropian who is today an international judge and Lebanon’s pride. It was a great pleasure and he gave me a lot of confidence.”
Patricia adds, “Despite Lebanon going through tough years of war, financial crises, revolutions, and lack of funds we wanted to keep on representing our nation on the international scene. My father, as the president of the federation, made sure to always be aware and informed of latest wushu’s international news and made the impossible happen to attend the international wushu events. As I grew up I started realizing where this sport was taking me, and also appreciate how it gave my life another “path.” It shaped my personality, my behavior and also my lifestyle. Wushu is my way of life, it gives me perseverance and self-esteem. It runs in my blood.”
For many years there has been the excitement of Patricia’s travel to many countries around the globe, of meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and of sharing this unique wushu experience with her dad. However, there were many challenges too. “It was never easy,” Patricia says, “to compete internationally against professional athletes flying on the carpet and having incredible techniques. They were dedicated fully to wushu while I had to balance school, training, society and culture. But,” she continues, “what kept me going is my passion for the game, and of course, my dad. He never gave up on me. Not even one day. He pushed me every single day, in every training he reminded me why we are here, what really matters and what we want to achieve. He always had this big picture in mind, ignoring my failures and praising my ups and successes.”
As Patricia’s wushu improved her father believed she should go train in China. It was an opportunity filled with both wonder and challenge for a young Lebanese girl. She recalls, “A story I always tell is how I felt on my first days in China. It was a cultural shock at so many levels. Training was hard, the coach was extremely strict and tough, especially after I fell down twice doing an aerial. I called my parents, telling them I want to quit. And I still hear my father saying: ‘when you want to learn a culture you have to take it all in. You’re going to be ok. Hold on.’ He was right indeed. I kept on doing my best. I wanted to make my parents proud. I trained hard and improved gradually. I started to enjoy every training and make the best out of this experience.”
Wushu for Life
Patricia is philosophical reflecting on her long and winding wushu road. “Wushu made me who I am today,” she muses. “It let me travel the world, it let me meet people from all over the world, people who became friends throughout the years. It made me learn and see and experience, and be part of huge sports events.” She notes that one highlight of her wushu career is learning Mandarin for seven years in order to be fully immersed culturally, and to get all she could out of doing an intensive training camp in China for 6 months. “I also went to Russia twice for 3 weeks,” she adds, “where the Moscow Wushu federation hosted us like family and helped us learn and train intensively.”
Patricia notes that her approach to competing has changed greatly since her first World Championships. “My perspective changed completely,” she says. “My objectives changed. I gained maturity, I gained confidence. Every time it was better than the one before. I passed from a discovery phase in Canada, to the excitement and adaptation (Turkey, Malaysia), to clear ideas/ better understanding of my body and clearer objectives (Indonesia, Russia). And then, I went to Shanghai by pure passion, I wasn’t training as I would love to because of many factors, but I did it, and I was proud that I did.”
Patricia also reflects, “I gained a lot of maturity during all these years of practice. I was seeing the world from another perspective in every step I took. The inter-cultural openness wushu gave me has opened doors to many opportunities I couldn’t dream of. I got accepted in International programs about leadership, dialogue and negotiation skills in the US, Switzerland, Olympia in Greece and many other places.”
Today, Patricia is very active in the Lebanese Wushu Federation doing a myriad of tasks and projects alongside her father. “We went this far and cannot stop here. I am convinced that this wushu practice is beautiful and beneficial at so many levels that I want to spread it in my country and in the Middle East. In my country, I was nominated as Athlete of the Year many times, and I am famous in the sports world here. I became well-recognized on the national and Arab sport scene. I need also to mention how my parents, brother, sister and friends are proud of me and my achievement.”
In Lebanon, Patricia now coaches and manages the junior taolu team, and remarks, “Everything I learned in my wushu career is transferred to the students I am teaching.” She is also using her connections to other international athletes and coaches to offer more opportunities to her federation. Besides continuing her own training, and teaching wushu, she helps organize national championships, she judges, and helps coordinate all the events. “Our federation’s biggest achievement,” she notes with pride, “was in Shanghai during last World Wushu Championships where we made history. We earned 5 medals and Lebanon ranked 11th worldwide. For the first time in its history – all sports included – Lebanon received a gold medal in a world championship. I was extremely proud to witness it and seeing my father and the team dream come true.”
Shanghai marked Patricia’s sixth World Wushu Championships participation, which alone is a deeply impressive achievement. Wushu has also influenced Patricia’s professional career.” It made me want to stay close to sports as one day I’ll stop competing,” she says. “I graduated with a double degree in sports physiotherapy, and physical education and sports management.” On top of opening her own sports therapy clinic, teaching sports to students between 6 and 17 years old, coaching wushu and continuing to regularly train, she also started a PhD program just before the beginning of Covid pandemic. Her thesis, she says, “Wushu in Lebanon: the Story of an Identity Construction” will sum up all the years, experience, and knowledge I gained practicing this sport on a sociological, cultural and historical level.”
Today, Patricia devotes most of her time to her academic research and writing on wushu. “It’s going really well now,” she says, “I am in my 2nd year. I put all my jobs on hold for now and am focusing on my thesis. I am at the phase where I am writing the history of martial arts in Lebanon, how it arrived and developed. So I am interviewing a lot of people, pioneers in wushu, as we have no written data related to this field. It is very interesting.”
As for the pandemic, “It did affect us a lot honestly,” Patricia says. “We came back from Shanghai with a lot of motivation, plans, and dreams, and then suddenly everything stopped. On top of Covid, the Lebanese situation was getting worse each day on so many levels. So we stopped for almost a year.
We managed to do some home workouts/training. I organized a once per week zoom training with the junior team, sending them exercises to do alone at home. We tried to adapt, as I guess as all athletes in all sports have done. Now, however, we are back on track, thankfully.”
Even so, the situation in Lebanon brings great challenges to wushu. “Unfortunately,” Patricia notes, “I will not say there is great optimism, honestly. We, as coaches and as a federation are trying our best to make it work. But the basic conditions we used to have are lacking these days. Our Lebanese Lira has lost all its value. So traveling abroad, participating in competitions will be extremely hard with no financial aid.
We are trying to find solutions, but it’s going to take some time. This is our actual situation in Lebanon.”
“I hope to see better days,” Patricia says. “With Lebanon winning 5 medals in 2019 we made history as a country. With a very short history in this sport, with zero state/financial help, I think this is huge. Unfortunately, we came back from Shanghai in the middle of a revolution that started in Lebanon, so we couldn’t promote and celebrate this win as we would have loved to.”
Despite facing daunting challenges, the spirit and perseverance of Patricia Nseir, her family, and the family of the Lebanese Wushu Federation remains a vivid inspiration in the world sport. Her work to help make wushu history in her country, spur its progression, and chronicle its history displays an extraordinarily deep commitment, focus and passion. In whatever role she decides to take on next, we look forward to Patricia Nseir’s helping write yet another page of wushu history for Lebanon.