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Tommy Yang joins club wushu with performance background

Oregon club wushu newcomers usually fit into two categories: They either come in with a martial arts background or they join with no relevant experience whatsoever.

Freshman Tommy Yang doesn’t quite fit the mold of either. He has experience—in dance.

Although dance isn’t typically associated with martial arts, wushu is a little different. The sport contains punches, kicks and blocks, but there’s no sparring. Everything is completely performance-based.

Performing is something that Yang knows well. Not only is he well-versed in multiple styles of dance, but he was involved in drama, theatre and music before college. He’s used to putting on a show.

That said, Yang says wushu is different from anything he’s ever done. With acting, he puts out a character. With dancing and wushu, he puts out a sensation. The type of atmosphere and aesthetic he creates varies with what he’s doing.

“With Waltz, it feels high class,” Yang said. “With tango, it feels sensual. With salsa, it feels lively and fun.” He paused, thinking. Then his voice deepened and his words slowed. “With wushu, it feels intense.”

Yang struggled to put the intangible differences between dance and wushu into words, but stressed that the two feel entirely different. Freshman Kasey Sullivan – having joined the team this year with an aerial dance background – could relate to what he meant.

“The fact that it’s a martial art – even though it’s performance martial art – you can see the power and the potential in [the moves],” Sullivan said. “Obviously you never hurt people with it, but you can feel the potential to.”

Wushu veteran Elirissa Hui could tell right away Yang had an advantage, more than others, coming into the sport. His overall muscle control was higher than other beginners and his ability to manipulate his facial expressions during his forms was impressive.

“If you tell him to move a certain way, he can catch on that day,” Hui said.  “A lot of time, when [beginners] don’t know what they’re doing, it takes them a month to figure it out.

“The details that relate to the performance aspect of wushu, he’s really good at catching onto those.”

Yang’s quick to emphasize that he’s only a beginner. When asked what he had to work on, he immediately said, “everything.” It was an answer that not only showed his perfectionist nature, but his desire to improve. It was an answer that Hui also believes indicates a deeper understanding of the sport.

“I think the people who are really dedicated to wushu say that,” Hui said. “Even my coaches [in Portland] say that.”

Despite being new to the sport, he’s already showing promise. Last Saturday he won first along with this teammates at the Chinese Martial Art Tournament with his beginner staff form. And, although his future with the sport is still undecided, he has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“I like wushu. I’m in it. I like it. Why not stay in it?” Yang said. “I like the people, I like the exercise and it looks cool.”

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Anne Yilmaz

Anne Yilmaz

Anne is a senior sports reporter for the Emerald. Her beats are ACHA hockey, NCAA women's tennis and club sports.
You can reach her on Twitter @anneyilmaz.