Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kung Fu Fighting

As a kid, I watched "Kung Fu Theater" every Saturday on TV. For many Americans, this was our first exposure to martial arts and Chinese Kung Fu. During the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of English-dubbed kung fu and ninja films produced by the Shaw Brothers, Godfrey Ho, and other Hong Kong producers were shown on American TV. Here is a classic scene from a Kung Fu movie:

Through these movies, Americans learned that there were different "styles" of Chinese Kung Fu. One guy might be using the "crane style" while another was using "Earth technique". Of course, none of this was any match for the guy using "eagle claw" and they all had to fight to prove it.

In Chinese Kung Fu, there are many styles and traditions. Kung Fu masters with legendary and refined techniques are aging and their artistry is starting to disappear. Martial arts expert Master Lam Kam Chuen says that modern distractions (like video games and computers) are sapping young people of the ability to focus on demanding martial art forms.

From the early to mid 20th century Hong Kong provided refuge to thousands of immigrants from Mainland China. These people brought diverse skills and knowledge as well as capital to Hong Kong. Among them were some of the most prominent martial artists from China. Continued political instability in China from the late 19th to mid 20th century triggered several migration waves to Hong Kong, which engendered the development of Hong Kong’s unique culture, including Hong Kong martial arts. This ultimately led to the rise of the Hong Kong film industry and martial arts stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li.

To preserve this heritage, the International Guoshu Association (IGA) is collaborating with City University of Hong Kong to build The Hong Kong Martial Arts Living Archive.

The project encompasses the first-ever comprehensive digital strategy of archiving and annotating Hong Kong’s diverse and rich Kung Fu styles and traditions using state-of-the art data capture tools.

The groundbreaking project plans to develop a sophisticated methodology for the complete four dimensional analysis of martial arts which will also be applicable to numerous other performance-based activities (e.g. all other marital arts and performing arts). It builds upon extensive work carried out in dance annotations.

Using high-definition and high-speed 3D video capture of sequences, the activity of annotation itself will be transformed to include such physical data for: speed, torque, torsion and force (momentum and acceleration). 4D analysis of these Kung Fu techniques also includes time. Data capture types include:

  • 3D motion data (MOCAP
  • Stereoscopic video (panoptic from six points of view) 
  • Panoramic video 
  • Still photography
  • HD high-speed video sequences
  • Spatial audio

Most of the funding for this project has come from The City University of Hong Kong. They have made good progress since 2013 but, they are running out of money to continue their work. They have started a crowdfunding campaign on FringeBacker which runs through October 2014. They hope to raise about $47,000 to hire a dedicated motion capture specialist and pay for data clean up.

They are offering a lot of cool perks like: iPhone cases, t-shirts, posters, and signed books. Large contributors can even get a behind the scenes tour, a custom made sword, private tours of Hong Kong, or even dinner with a Kung Fu celebrity.

This project is important because it's helping to preserve Hong Kong’s cultural heritage. There is an urgent need to document the authentic Chinese martial arts styles before they disappear.

Check out the video: