What I’m Researching Now: Qing Gong & Freerunning

Warning: This post may be a time suck

For my current work in progress, I was inspired by the fact that Jackie Chan and the other Seven Little Fortunes had trained in Peking Opera as well as the historical tidbit that sword dancing was a popular form of entertainment during the Tang Dynasty, the most famous reference being Du Fu’s poem, Observing the Sword Dance Performed by a Disciple of Madam Gongsun. I formed this idea of a heroine who had been similarly trained, who was wanted for some crime, and the thief-catcher hero who would have to track her down.

With that premise and the promise of Jackie Chan style action scenes, I started brainstorming my plot for working title: THE SWORD DANCER. I think my editors were very, very eager for me to put a sword into another heroine’s hands, but this is tough for me because in wuxia it’s accepted and expected for everyone to be kung-fu fighting, but I think in historical romance, you have to build a reasonable backstory and world around that. In fantasy stories like EONA you can have heroines fighting and possessing special abilities that you can attribute to mystical powers, but in historical romance, readers expect more basis in reality before suspending disbelief.

I didn’t want my efforts to come off laughable like the Three Musketeers remake with ladies doing misplaced Matrix-like action moves in ridiculous gowns.

As I started to write the book, the chase and escape scenes became integral to the plot. I started researching online and got absorbed for hours at a time watching videos.

First, a nice tribute to the Seven Little Fortunes which include Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. This highlights their acrobatic training in the Peking Opera before making the move to martial arts stunts:

In wuxia stories and Chinese action movies, depictions of qing gong, lightness kung fu, are a given. Qing gong was actually practiced as one of the basic tenets of martial arts and the principle was picked up by authors and movie-makers and displayed to fantastic extremes with depictions of characters “walking on walls and flying over eaves”. I found a two-part sub-titled documentary on Youtube that explored the historical basis and actual practice of qing gong.

And of course, got caught in a few snippets of Fight Science which tied modern day Parkour and Freerunning to the “ninja moves” of old:

And a little detour into martial arts tricking, where I learned that Taylor Lautner was actually a pretty intense competitor in the martial arts world before his break in Twilight. New respect. Put me squarely on Team Jacob!

Ok, this video of a tricking throwdown, You Got Served style, is too good to pass up. Inspiration here more than research.

And then finally I figured I was watching so many videos, why don’t I seek out someone who does Parkour/freerunning and interview them? I wanted to know how much training it took, what was going through their minds, and details about what it took to navigate an urban landscape to add to my hero and heroine’s POVs and backstories as they chased and fought over the rooftops and walls of Tang Dynasty China.

I had interviewed Luci Romberg of Team Tempest in the past for my Warrior Women series. But I wanted someone local to interview in person and hopefully see a few demonstrations. Giovani Dambros and Phillip Puzzo of Team Trickset in St. Louis graciously made themselves available. My critique partner, Amanda Berry, and I went out to Forest Park to meet with them. A short demo here (I apologize for the shaky cam):

They provided so much fascinating information, not to mention some great demos, so I feel that the interview deserves its own post which I’ll put up as soon as I get my notes and videos together. I left the interview very excited and inspired and wishing I could run up a wall and do a backflip.

Inspiration: Tang Dynasty Poetry

Someone recently asked where do you get your ideas. It’s one of those questions that changes every time I answer it, but currently the answer is that I do historical research and pray that some idea starts to form. It’s the one thing I envy other writers: their surplus of ideas and ability to plot in series. I also read translations of Tang Dynasty poetry to get a feel for how the use of language and word choice when interpreted in English. For my current WIP, the seed of the idea began with this Tang Dynasty poem:

Observing the Sword Dance Performed by a Disciple of Madam Gongsun

by Du Fu (712 – 770 AD)

Years ago there was a beautiful woman called Madam Gongsun.
When she performed the Sword Dance,
She would cause a sensation throughout China.
The audience seats would be elevated like mountains.
They were amazed by the flashes of reflected sword light accompanied by her agile movements.
Even heaven and earth moved in tuned with her rhythm.
The sword flashed like Yi’s arrows that shot down the nine suns.
She moved quickly and spiritedly like the dragon ridden by gods.
When her dance began, her movement was rapid and fierce like furious thunder shaking heaven and earth.
When her dance ended, her swords slowed down
Invoking thoughts of a mighty river or ocean regaining its shiny reflection.
Now her red lips and ornamental sleeves are gone.
After her death her disciple carries on her legacy.
In Bai-di City, the beautiful woman from Lin-ying City
Gracefully performed the Sword Dance in high spirits.
After I learned that she studied dance under the tutelage of Madam Gongsun,
The dance scene brought back my memory.
I lament that time ruthlessly replaces old with new.
Among eight thousand courtesans in the palace during Emperor Xuanzong’s reign
Madam Gongsun was the best at performing the Sword Dance.
Fifty years has passed away like the turn of a page.
The chaos resulting from rebellions seriously depleted the strength of the Tang dynasty.
The students in the Royal Music Institute scattered like dust.
All that remains of the Royal Music is a female dancer’s swords reflecting the cold sun.
Every tree in front of Emperor Xuanzong’s Mausoleum has grown so large
That it requires a person’s two arms to embrace it.
Ju-tang-shi-cheng City looks bleak and desolate as its grass withers.
As grand banquets and fast flute music ended,
Joy passed its zenith, grief took over, and the moon rose in the east.
I, an old man, am unaware of my destination.
My soles have become thickly callused
As I drift aimlessly on the bare mountain with a heavy heart.


Translation from this website: http://www.littlefairies.org/Articles/classical-chinese-poetry/sword-dance.php