Italy’s newest wushu sensation, Alfonso Barbarisi, comes from Baronissi, a small town in southern Italy. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is also the home of his coach Michele Giordano, Italy’s most famous wushu star. From his first senior international wushu competition in 2019 World Wushu Championships in Shanghai to the silver medalist at Jianshu & Qiangshu combined event in 2022The World Games in Birmingham, his love of wushu is beyond wining a medal and he enjoys the continuing experience itself of being an wushu athlete. Now he is preparing the 16th World Wushu Championships in 2023, and his goad is to rank among the top 8 in the world to compete at the next Taolu World Cup.
Alfonso, now 22, remembers watching a Bruce Lee movie when he was a very little boy and falling in love with kungfu. “For that reason,” he says, “I started with wushu at the age of 4. At the beginning I was very young and it was like a game. But step by step my passion started growing.” His first coach was Bruno Giordano who he trained with until the age of 12, alongside some of Italy’s foremost top champions.
“My first competition was when I was 7,” says Alfonso, “and I remember I was very excited. On the carpet I was a little nervous, in front of the judges and people all around watching me. But I knew for sure after that competition that I wanted to practice wushu and improve myself more and more. I saw the Italian wushu scene, and watched the top athletes which gave me a goal to achieve.” Alfonso says that the thing that made him grow the most was having two of the strongest athletes in Italy as coaches, Michele and Domenico Giordano (Bruno Giordano’s sons.)
“My first international competition,” recalls Alfonso, “was at the age of 11 at the World Childrens Games in Ankara in 2011. I finished with second place in the qiangshu (spear). I remember that I was really happy, and euphoric to compete and compare myself with guys from other countries with the same passion as me.”
A Champion Emerges
As he became a teenager Alfonso started training more intensely with his coach Michele Giordano, who led Italy’s high level wushu team in national and international competition. By 2018 Alfonso was to compete at the European Wushu Championships in Moscow, where he won two silver and two gold medals. He says, “it was great to be a European champion and hear my national anthem on the podium.”
This championships qualified Alfonso for the 2019 World Wushu Championships in Shanghai which would vault him to the next level as an athlete. “This experience in Shanghai was really formative,” he says. “It was my first senior international wushu competition, my first time in China, and the competition was full of emotion because I was on the same carpet with the best athletes in the world. They were athletes I had watched only in videos before, and competing with them was an unforgettable experience.”
The Shanghai WWC not only offered Alfonso a wondrous wushu experience, but his performance also would ultimately qualify him for the elite 2022 World Games in Birmingham. After suffering through a terrible Covid-19 pandemic, with greatly reduced opportunities for competition, Italian wushu was ready for a win. Alfonso’s three long years of dedication and training since the Shanghai event paid off – and after a fierce battle of talent and determination amidst a field of champions, he emerged victorious as the jianshu and qiangshu combined silver medalist, and the Italian flag rose proudly over the podium in the Bill Battle Coliseum.
“The World Games experience was, and will always be, one of the most important experiences of my life,” states Alfonso. “The training was hard, especially the last weeks, but at the same time fun. The journey was tiring because I couldn’t wait to get there and be on the carpet. The competition was full of adrenaline, and I tried to keep my mind clear so as not to make mistakes. The podium, on the other hand, was unexpected — and I really felt a lot of joy in getting on it — but also it created a new determination in knowing and hoping that this is a starting point and not an arrival point.”
Wushu Beyond Winning
Alfonso is happy for his medals, but a greater reward comes from the continuing experience itself of being an athlete. “Training with the Italian team is already a great satisfaction in itself,” he says. “They are all determined to improve and get involved; in fact, even seeing a simple improvement of one of their teammates shows the desire to never stop learning. Receiving good results and prizes for the Italian national team is always an honor to bring the colors of my country all over the world.”
Alfonso adds,” One of the best parts of competing in wushu is to meet a lot of people from all around the world. We are all friends, even someone who is a direct competitor in the same events. I enjoy connecting on social media, and I often speak with wushu friends from France and all Europe.”
“The best thing about any competition for me, apart from being on the carpet, is training at the event the day before the events, and then you can see how the other teams train and try to watch, and learn, as much as possible from the best athletes of the world. I don’t think I can have a better experience, in fact, and I remember all my international competition with joy — anxiety and fear was only momentary before going on the carpet.”
Alfonso reflects, “I think that at competitions everyone has offered me something to improve my wushu with. My biggest challenge in wushu has always been not to stop at my current level but to try to perfect my every move during it for the next competition. It’s nice to end a competition without a mistake – it means I am starting to be a solid athlete for the future competitions.”
Wushu Career and Goals
Of his wushu specialties, Alfonso remarks, “With sword and spear I like the movements not only of the body but also of the weapons themselves. I think they are suitable for me simply because of my body type; I started with them when I was young and I never changed.”
Alfonso also credits much of his success to his coaches, and also to his family. “I consider my coaches to be real mentors, the whole Giordano wushu family, even off the carpet. Training with them and seeing their passion for this sport, from an early age, they are a source of 100% inspiration. My family is also a big support. Let’s just say that my passion was so contagious that my family has even come to love to wushu. They always the come to watch my wushu competitions around Italy, and my father went to a lot of my international competitions. “
Alfonso describes his training and future goals. “Usually,” he says, “when I don’t have to work or study, I like to do 2 sessions a day of training – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I try to push my body to the limit, focus on what can be improved for the next competition, and take care of myself so as to prevent injury as much as possible. I’m studying sports science at Campobasso University, and they gave me the opportunity to work as a wushu instructor at the University Sport Center, where I have different wushu classes from kids to adults. My future goal in wushu is to participate in the next World Wushu Championship in 2023, and be able to rank among the top 8 in the world and so have the opportunity to compete at the Taolu World Cup.”