Taijiquan Triumphs in Bulgaria -- The 3rd World Taijiquan Championships Solidifies Its Identity
Perched at the edge of the tumultuous Black Sea, Burgas, Bulgaria was host to the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships (WTJQC), which saw nearly 600 participants from 34 countries and regions from September 25 – October 2, 2018. A myriad of taijiquan styles made for a compelling four days of championship and demonstration events. Both youngsters just discovering the thrill of this sport and silver lions exhibiting their decades of dedicated practice harmonized between two competition carpets with a rich and varied display of taijiquan. The Bulgarian Wushu Federation and Burgas Local Organizing Committee offered warm and welcoming hospitality to the athletes, families, and officials from around the globe.
By the end of the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships China had scored a perfect 10 -- taking 10 gold medals in total of 10 categories, while Hong Kong, China proved equally impressive in garnering 8 gold, 7 silver and 5 bronze medals for a total of 20! The ever-ebullient Malaysia team seized third place in the overall rankings, with 7 gold, 6 silver and 1 bronze for a total of 14; and the USA chased fast and furious, ranking fourth, with a total of 12 medals, 5 of them gold. Rounding out the top ten was Vietnam ranking 5th with 11 medals (4 gold); Indonesia ranking 6th with 5 medals (2 gold); Egypt coming in at 7th place (9 medals, with 1 gold), Russia taking 8th place (7 medals, with 1 gold), and Macau, China and Chinese Taipei tying for 9th place each with 1 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze for a total of 5 medals.
With this third edition, most will agree that the World Taijiquan Championships has indeed created its own identity. (The first championships were inaugurated in Chengdu, China in 2014, and the second edition had its European debut in Warsaw, Poland in 2016.) Now, the IWUF’s signature taijiquan event has updated rules, refined judging protocols, and seen, in only six years, a significant increase in participation and a noticeably heightened level of competition. To put it simply, the Championships has come into its own.
A Lively Opening Ceremony
On the evening of September 27, taijiquan athletes, officials, VIPs and spectators were engaged by the dynamic opening ceremony of the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships. An ethereal choir set the mood with the Bulgarian national anthem, followed by a regal march in of the participating countries hoisting their national flags, accompanied by upbeat Bulgarian folk music.
IWUF Executive Vice President Anthony Goh welcomed the athletes and audience, and noted how popular taijiquan is around the globe. He remarked, "Here in Burgas we will greatly enjoy watching the world's top taiji athletes display their outstanding talents...and this championships will help us move the sport of wushu forward in a unique and special way." He thanked the Bulgarian Wushu Federation, the Burgas LOC, and the city of Burgas for their dedication in hosting this event and for their excellent hospitality.
Bulgarian Wushu Federation President Stefan Kolev gave a moving speech in which he recounted his wushu journey since 1992, underscoring the development and growth of wushu in Bulgaria over the past several decades. Regional Governor of Burgas, Mr. Vulcho Cholakov, also welcomed guests and thanked the IWUF for helping Burgas showcase taijiquan to the world. Then, the Mayor of Burgas, Mr. Dimitar Nikolov, gave a short speech and officially opened the 3rd Taijiquan World Championships to cheers and applause from the audience.
After a lively and energetic display of traditional Bulgarian dance, the athletes' oath was given by Petar Dragoev, Vice President of the Bulgarian Wushu Federation, and the judges' oath was given by Iranian judge Hamed Katoozi. Then the audience was treated to a beautiful and dazzling display of taijiquan from the athletes of the Chinese national team.
Earlier in the day the IWUF and LOC held a successful press conference in Burgas’ Municipal Hall, attended by the Vice Mayor of Burgas, Dr. Malikyan, IWUF Executive Vice President, Mr. Anthony Goh, IWUF Secretary General, Mr. Zhang Qiuping, President of the Bulgarian Wushu Federation, Mr. Stefan Kolev, and Vice President of the Bulgarian Wushu Federation, Mr. Petar Dragoev.
A Strong Competition Reaches Higher
On the first morning of competition of the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships we witnessed some of the highest levels of wushu ever seen at this event over the past half dozen years. Impressive scores for gold medalists topped the rankings, and even younger A-group athletes competing for the first time internationally showed splendid performances. USA came out strong as Nathan CHOU from the USA grabbed a gold medal in Men's New Chen Style Taijiquan C (A group), and Alexander YU’s Simplified 24 Movements Taijiquan C (A group) also saw him on top of the podium. China blew down the doors with super high scores -- Jingshen WANG won big with a 9.63 in Men's Optional Taijiquan C (B group) and Li ZHANG’s 9.70 was a golden moment in Women's Optional Taijijian C (A group.)
The second day of competition of the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships kept the energy rolling, and new champions emerged to top the podium, although China definitely kept the heat on. In Men’s optional Taijijian (Group B) China’s Dewen LIU crushed it with a score of 9.71, while his teammate Fangfang LIU gave a glorious performance in Women’s Optional Taijiquan (Group B), scoring 9.70 for gold. One of the day’s highlights included the gold medal performance by Malaysia’s Jack Chang LOH in Men's 42 Movements Taijiquan C (B group.) Loh, a respected and well-liked athlete and longtime wushu gold medal champion, was retiring after this event. “Every moment here is precious,” he said, “I want to enjoy it.” One might say that almost no one enjoys a wushu event more than the Malaysia wushu team – a group of consummate athletes who are always full of smiles, encouraging words to other competitors, and inevitably laden with medals at an event’s end as evidence of their immense wushu talent and meticulous training.
The third day of the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships saw excellent performances by athletes in exciting Yang and Chen style showdowns. Loh grabbed another gold in Men's 42 Movements Taijijian C, and Hong Kong, China came on strong to seize three gold medals. Egypt also proudly stepped onto the podium for silver and bronze, and Iran, Russia and Canada made extremely impressive showings.
The last day of the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships wrapped up the action on both competition and demonstration carpets with stellar performances, but it was Bulgarian taiji that won the hearts of the hometown crowd. Petar Dragoev, Vice President of the Bulgarian Wushu Federation, coach, and a previous taiji champion, clinched team Bulgaria’s first gold medal in Men’s Yang Style Taijiquan Traditional Routine. The crowd roared, and cheers filled the Mladost arena to the rafters.
The demonstration events, in fact, were hugely popular both among athletes and spectators. This sport-for-all aspect of the Burgas event offered an arena for longtime practitioners to display their accumulated wealth of taiji knowledge and technique. As well, the social aspect was significant, as so many seasoned athletes with a shared passion for taiji got to connect, share knowledge, and further bond the global taiji community.
The wider age range that spanned the concurrent championship and demonstration categories (A Group is 14 to 17 years; B Group is 18 to 39; C Group is 40 to 65) also created fine opportunities for families to travel and compete together; the event spanned generations in the most inclusive way possible, and this mingling offered many positive benefits for both younger and older athletes.
Experiences at the 3rd WTJQC
Speaking of taiji generations, a bit of event buzz was created by the presence of former world champion and Chinese taiji “superstar” Gao Jiamin. who came as the USA team coach; she also was nurturing the taijiquan of her son Alex, 17, and her daughter Ava, 14, who both gave beautiful performances and won championship medals. As far as taiji goes, Gao has seen a lot after being a world-class athlete and coach for almost 40 years; she is, naturally, deeply interested in the development of wushu sport internationally, and of this World Taijiquan Championships in particular. Gao remarked on this, “I feel the global development of wushu is going well, and taiji is going in the right direction. Taiji is a great way to grow and expand the sport. It’s good to see all ages from the young to the elderly – it’s a sport for everyone.” She smiled, and added, “For older athletes it’s especially good, because age does not necessarily make you worse!”
Gao’s teenage son, Alex Yu, added, “This was not my first World Taijiquan Championships, I was in Poland two years ago. This second time it feels like I’m now part of a big, international family, we all know each other. It’s great to interact with the different athletes from other countries – and even if we can’t communicate with language we all have a shared goal in common, and that helps unite you. Also, it’s great to be here with my mom. A lot of people here know her. We’re enjoying getting to know other teams, and spending time together.”
The invisible threads of taijiquan can also seem to spin coincidentally across time and space. We chatted with Caroline Roblitschka, the Germany taiji team coach, and she exclaimed, “Actually, today my hero Gao Jiamin is here as the USA coach – I first saw her perform taiji in 1991 in Shanghai. I was a student. But her performance inspired me to do taiji. I never met her until today!”
Roblitschka also commented about her team’s experience at the event. “Germany,” she says, “won the bronze medal on the first day in Chen style – this is very good. In Germany it’s difficult, we don’t have support from the government, but the people in Germany love to do taiji. For us it’s great here to have both the championship events and the demonstration events together. More opportunity. When we go back, we have a lot of work to do to keep developing taiji in German culture, but it is slowly rising up.”
For Great Britain, creating a cohesive taijiquan team has also proven challenging, but the success of the WTJQC has been both an inspiration and a beacon according to GB athlete Barry Phelan, who came to Burgas to compete in Sun style. “We just formed a new taiji team in Great Britain,” he informed us, “and we’re hoping to build more momentum in the next few years for taijiquan.” Phelan reunited with his GB teammate Jackson Chiu after participating together in the first Chengdu championships. Chiu added, “It’s nice to see a lot of people with similar passions and interests all gathering together here in Burgas. It’s also good to see a lot of youngsters coming up in the ranks. In the UK we live pretty far from one another, but hopefully with our new taiji team we plan to have the opportunity to train together more. In two years at this event, we will come back stronger.”
In other countries, where there is either more wushu tradition in the culture, or support from the government’s sports ministry, the story is different, yet still shaped by the momentum, inspiration and goals created by the WTJQC. In Iran, for example, the Iran Wushu Federation created a separate Taijiquan Committee to oversee taijiquan development. Hamed Katoozi came to Burgas as a judge; in Iran he has also been the Secretary General and Vice President of the Taijiquan Committee for 5 years. He shared some observations about the Burgas event and about the development of taijiquan in Iran.
“There is,” Katoozi observes, “an improved level of athletes here in Bulgaria, much higher than Chengdu and Poland. In Chengdu I was a coach, in Poland I was a judge. The number of athletes and quality of the competition is higher this time. I see a lot of familiar faces from the last two events, but there’s a lot of improvement in their performances, they have practiced a lot. I love taiji, I love to watch the great performances in competition.
“In Iran,” Katoozi continues, “we have more than 10,000 taijiquan athletes and 500 taijiquan coaches. Many are not so young. But I see a lot of improvement in younger people in taiji recently. This Iranian team is much better than the past two championships. The competition aspect is effective for attracting youth to taiji. Seeing athletes getting medals is motivation. In Iran we have a committee to find talent from 6-7 years old. We make clips with cartoons to help motivate them, and explain the philosophy behind movements. Social media helps a lot too. Everyone follows the competition events on WushuTV and Instagram. All the athletes put a lot of photos on Instagram, and it’s very motivating. Our Federation also produces a video every day of the WTJQC event to post to our own website and channels for followers to see. We have a special dedicated website for our Iranian Taijiquan Committee. One person is in charge to post videos and news every day. Many people follow us. At our National Taijiquan Championships in Iran 400 athletes attended the event. For the ones competing here in Burgas, they are proud to be an Iranian athlete on this team.”
The maturation of the WTJQC event has also inspired Russia – well known for their high level of wushu champions in taolu and sanda – to refocus on building a champion taijiquan team. Team coach Mikhail Kozhemiakin noted, “Our Russian taiji team is very young, and we were not counting on too many medals, but now at the end we are very happy – we have 7 championship medals – and every member of the team won a medal. Our team comes from all over Russia – Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan. Wushu inspires them. This level of competition is much higher than previously; the new rules were unexpected, which made competition more of a challenge, but we will continue to keep abreast of rule changes. In Chengdu our athletes were older, but now we have more youngsters in the official championship events. They are looking forward already to the next taijiquan championships in Italy in two years.”
Lim Yew Fai, the Malaysia national team coach, is always cheerful, but the fine success of his team in Burgas made him even more upbeat. He says, “Our taiji team competed for the first time in Poland, and now in Bulgaria it’s our second time. These championships are very good for wushu. Many people love traditional wushu. I see Hong Kong, USA, a lot of athletes come for these games.”
Lim adds, “When I was an athlete my first wushu coach told me, wushu competition is second, friendship is first. I learned the sport, and I came to know the whole world through wushu. How many people can do that? This experience in Bulgaria is special for the athletes, and for the coaches. I see people working hard here too, even during the competition. I saw one Italian athlete train continuously from the first day to the fourth day. I hear he got the gold medal in demonstration forms. Very hardworking.”
IWUF Executive Board Vice President Sherif Mostafa talked with us about the effect of the establishment of the WTJQC on taijiquan development in Egypt. “I think this event really keeps growing and inspiring us. Now that we are at our 3rd World Taijiquan Championships we have very good taiji athletes from Egypt. And I also notice from many more countries. This is good for wushu. I think that Bulgaria is an excellent host, and they have done a good job.”
Mostafa continues, “We have been building the Egyptian team for five years. We brought over a Chinese coach. Of ten athletes here, seven are old and three are new. In Egypt we have a separate taiji team, separate from taolu and sanda. We want to promote taiji as a sport for health also. Taiji is really growing in Egypt. I practice taiji in the morning now too!”
The IWUF Executive Board has been deeply involved with the creation of the World Taijiquan Championships and with its continued development. IWUF Executive Board Member Petru Grindeanu comments, “Here in Burgas, compared to the previous editions of this championships, I see much greater participation from more countries, a bigger number of athletes, more independent judges, and a lot of improvements. The LOC is hospitable, the accomodations are good, the food is delicious, and the volunteers are very nice. Stefan Kolev has fine support from the city and especially the mayor – they care about the event. This matters.”
“In Europe,” Grindeanu adds, “taiji has a large number of people practicing for health, but a smaller number for competition. It’s hard to afford training for high level competition. For taiji competition, we’re in the process of transformation, which is good. We’re dynamic, elastic, we can resolve issues of judging peacefully. I think the Executive Board will continue to take care of matters to benefit wushu and this event will continue to grow and evolve.”
3rd WTJQC Concludes in Celebration
Stefan Kolev, President of the Bulgarian Wushu Federation, was smiling on the last day of the event as the last medals were being presented. He said, “I’m very happy, not just because this is a successful competition, but also because I’ve had a wonderful experience with the IWUF, the judges, the team leaders, and of course the athletes. The Bulgarian Wushu Federation voted in a new Executive Board in 2015, and in 3 years we have organized the World Junior Wushu Championships and now the World Taijiquan Championships here in Burgas. We have shown that we can do events in Bulgaria. We wanted to show the world we have a team, we have management. And the support of the IWUF. Now, we will move forward to build a stronger Bulgarian national wushu team, and we will also build our sports center, which we hope will be a true international sports center, for people to come train in from all over the world.”
Kolev adds, “This event would be difficult or impossible to organize without support from our municipal government of Burgas. I feel the unflagging support of our mayor, and of our city council. I am myself a council member of Burgas municipality, and I feel support from everyone to make this 3rd World taijiquan Championships a success.”
The closing ceremony bid farewell to the 3rd WTJQC and opened the door to the next championships which will be held in two years. Countries participating in the Burgas championships marched in. Speeches were given by Anthony Goh, Executive Vice President of the International Wushu Federation, and Stefan Kolev, President of the Bulgarian Wushu Federation. The IWUF and the Organizing Committee of the 3rd World Taijiquan Championships exchanged gifts.
It was then formally announced that in 2020 the 4th edition of the World Taijiquan Championships will be held in Catania, Italy. Mr. Ettore Spoto, Secretary General of the Italian Wushu Kungfu Federation, came to the stage, and received the IWUF flag passed from Mr. Kolev from Bulgaria. A preview of the future hospitality of Italy included an Italian promotional video and a wonderful Italian team taijiquan demonstration.
After the closing ceremony Executive Vice President Anthony Goh reflected happily on the event. He remarked, “I think the success of this 3rd World Taijiquan Championships signals that the IWUF has now actively created a platform to entertain the needs and interests of taiji practitioners globally, whether on an elite competition level or under the umbrella of sport for all. Most importantly, I think everyone in the taiji world now has a place to gather together, exchange and learn from one another. I’m also very pleased that the Bulgarian Wushu Federation has continued to work hard to develop its infrastructure, grow a solid events team, and that it maintains a staunch commitment and resolve to promote wushu and taiji, particularly here in Europe.”
Looking Ahead to Catania
Throughout the 4-day Burgas event, Ettore Spoto, Secretary General of the Italian Wushu Kungfu Federation, was watching closely, and already he was full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm to start organizing the 4th World Taijiquan Championships in Italy two years hence. He shared some of his thoughts on the continuing evolution of this event. “I think this Championships is a relatively new event. From Chengdu to now we have more participants, more countries. This event is creating its own identity. Even if we cannot level the field between Western countries and Asian countries this event can help reduce the gap. Europe has a big taiji community, but it is sometimes disconnected from competitors. This kind of competition – with all styles – will make people open their eyes. It’s a benefit for the practice of taiji, and affirms it as a sport. Promoting this event in Europe helps this evolution greatly here.”
Spoto continues, “In Italy at the end of October we will have our Italian Taijiquan Championships – we will be copying this event in format. The taiji community in Italy is very interested in this. We want to promote it. In 2 years we will organize the 4th edition of the World Taijiquan Championships. Our goal is to have all the traditional community be part of it. One thing we are learning here is that we cannot compete without knowledge of correct regulations. In the next two years we will work with our National Olympic Committee to prepare seminars and teachings for this. The problem in Western countries is the lack of sport instructors. It’s different to practice for health than for sport. We will ask the IWUF to support us to improve our level for competition even more.”
He adds, “I believe the WTJQC will undoubtedly raise the level of taijiquan in Europe. The goal for the Catania championships is to have even more participation. Already this event has solidified its identity as the most important event for taijiquan in the world. We want to strongly promote that the WTJQC is the key event for taijiquan competition. Likely things will still evolve over the next two years, and the Federation will still suggest changes to some regulations. We will consider how to create more visibility, to encourage more people to join. In Italy athletes want this. Italy fully supports this event. It will be a revolution for this sport.”
Championship Events of the 3rdWTJQC:
- Optional Routines (with Degree of Difficulty)
- New Standardized Routines (without Degree of Difficulty)
- Yang Style Taijiquan
- Yang Style Taijijian
- Chen Style Taijiquan
- Chen Style Taijijian
- Compulsory Routines
- 3rd Set IWUF Compulsory Taijiquan (39 Movements) – (with Degree of Difficulty)
- 3rd Set IWUF Compulsory Taijijian (36 Movements) – (with Degree of Difficulty)
- Yang Style Taijiquan (40 Movements)
- Chen Style Taijiquan (56 Movements)
- Wu Style Taijiquan (45 Movements)
- Wu (Hao) Style Taijiquan (46 Movements)
- Sun Style Taijiquan (73 Movements)
- 42 Movements Taijiquan
- 42 Movements Taijijian
- Simplified 24 Movements Taijiquan
- Simplified 32 Movements Taijijian
Demonstration Events included:
- Compulsory Routines
- Simplified 24 Movements Taijiquan
- Simplified 32 Movements Taijijian
- 42 Movements Taijiquan
- 42 Movements Taijijian
- Traditional Routines
- Yang Style Taijiquan
- Chen Style Taijiquan
- Wu Style Taijiquan
- Sun Style Taijiquan
- Yang Style Taijijian
- Chen Style Taijijian
- Wu (Hao) Style Taijijian
- Sun Style Taijijian
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