For a moment, time seems to stand still. Molly Yuan (12) launches off the ground, flipping, her back shunning the ground beneath. Sticking the landing, she regains balance and embodies her powerful pose, ready to nail the rest of her routine.
Molly Yuan is part of Memphis Wushu: an organization that teaches the Chinese martial art Wushu to local children and adolescents. Many join this physically-demanding martial art when they are young and continue through high school. Recently, Memphis Wushu has taken a different shape, adjusting to the pandemic.
“[Memphis Wushu] was an established team with an established master and teacher, but due to COVID-19, right now we’re not able to officially meet as a class,” Molly Yuan (12) said. “A few of the students are volunteering to teach kung fu, practice together and generally making sure we have a practice while still following social distancing guidelines.”
Molly Yuan and her sister Nancy Yuan, a junior at Vanderbilt and a White Station Alumni, have participated in Memphis Wushu since they were little. They fell in love with the martial art, but they noticed a problem: students’ time at Memphis Wushu ended once they graduated, with their only option to move on. Instead of dropping it, Nancy Yuan dug her heels in and created Wushu Transcend, a martial art group that goes beyond age and location.
“Wushu Transcend is this club with the idea to transcend time and space,” Nancy Yuan said. “I was able to round up all these people who hadn’t touched wushu in years. Transcending time and space, you don’t really need to be in the physical location of Memphis or Nashville.”
In Wushu Transcend, Memphis Wushu and the Nashville branch meet once a week to review and practice, but the community communicates, critiques and encourages online. Each member sends videos of progress, writes critiques of other videos and communicates with their fellow members no matter how far away.
“In addition to a-synchronous video compilations, we hold regular in-person practices,” Nancy Yuan said. “We learn from online resources, and we relay our learning through video recording to others in the club. Members are also tasked with critiquing each other’s regular practice videos.”
The Memphis Wushu branch holds weekly practices at Shelby Farms Park. Students spend an hour applying advice and critiques from members or pushing themselves by going through multiple forms, kicks and stances.
“A regular practice starts off with some various stretching… then we break off into different groups with the more advanced people and the more novice people,” Allen Xie (9) said. “The novices work on some of our more basic forms, such as the five basic stances, and then we go into some more specifics like… some kicks, some new forms or just some general stretching and other helpful advice.”
In a normal year, Memphis Wushu’s work would earn them a highly anticipated performance at the Memphis Chinese New Year Festival. According to Molly Yuan, it is always a high-energy event, whether you are watching or performing.
“Everyone is looking forward to it, and when you’re walking out on stage you know that all eyes are on you,” Molly Yuan said. “It’s your moment to shine because the work is really grueling beforehand.”
Without this year’s festival, this group finds motivation elsewhere through structure, communal support and enthusiastic leadership. These components bring passion and most importantly, growth to the students.
“Helping maintain this level of passion and not turning them away from [Wushu Transcend is important],” Nancy Yuan said. “I’m really happy that my presence, maybe my teaching this organization [or] something about Wushu Transcend is able to help them continue to fight the hardships or the newness of it.”