Interview with Colvin Wang: A World Wushu Triple-Medalist Reveals His Secrets For Success

“Not only did I find Lucas’ passion for Wushu to be inspiring, but also the kindness and respect he showed toward everyone were particularly admirable. He has a delicate patience with kids that fosters both fun and effective learning, and he is one of the most likable people I know.”- Colvin Wang, Olympics Games Competitor (2008 Games, Beijing), USA Team 2007-2013, Silver/Bronze Medalist at both Adult and Junior World Championships.

To share a podium with elite professional and semi-professional athletes is a rare honor, and not an easy feat. To do so three times at the same sporting event makes it an unforgettable achievement. Such happened to Colvin Wang at the last World Wushu Championships held in Ankara, Turkey. Colvin is a young and energetic American athlete who has been steadily working his way up into World Wushu’s top rankings in recent years, setting a great example of dedication and perseverance. In the following interview, Colvin reflects on his life and what contributed to his remarkable accomplishments.

Emilio Alpanseque: Please tell us when and how did you start training wushu?

Colvin Wang: It all started around twelve years ago. An Nguyen, the national champion at that time, taught a weekly wushu class at the local Chinese school. I enjoyed the class, and at the end of the semester, he suggested I start practicing at O-mei Wushu Kung Fu Center in Virginia because I was one of the more serious kids in the class.

EA: Looking back all these years, who do you consider as your main coaches or influences?

CW: Shifu Lu Xiaolin is my coach. I have been with her since the very beginning. I am extremely grateful for the direction she has given me in both wushu and in life. To this day, I still cannot comprehend how often she is right about almost everything. I came into O-mei as the older generation was at their peak. I didn’t learn any particular thing from any one specific, but just growing up with all of them to look up to – I absorbed so much. Shout-out to: An Nguyen, Anita Lopez, Rizqi Rachmat, Jason Lui, Luis Lee, Sarah Chang, Jessica Zhang, Jennifer Sun, Lucas Geller, Chris Sexton, Justin Ma, Zach Caruso, Paula Amidani. A special shout-out to a few of that generation who took out time specifically to help me grow as an athlete and a person: Stephon Morton, for his incredible guidance through my early teen years;; Mario Martinez, for his expertise on weight training; Anthony Sims, for being there to support me wherever I go; Tai Le, for his patience with me as a young kid; Virginia Mullin, for being there throughout my growing up; Bee Lee, for helping me develop deeper thinking about wushu.

For each of the three world championships I have attended, I have been accompanied by great training partners. Tenyia Lee in ’07, Max Ehrlich in ’09, Alan Zhao in ’11. I couldn’t have improved so much had it not been for these three people, who are each stars themselves. An extra shout-out to Rachel and Adam Margalit, with whom I had the pleasure of training with briefly before the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

A shout-out to the rest of my generation at O-mei, the people who I would normally train with, who have influenced the way I think and practice: Eugene Moy, Donovan Hui, Pengyu Fan, Simon Ho, Jonathan Sun, Claudine Tran, and all the other awesome folk who have come and gone throughout the years.

Colvin and his mother in the stands at the 11th WWCAnd finally a few shout-outs to some random people who have helped me immensely along the way like Yu Te, who taught me my first straight sword form in ’06; Lu Mei, who taught me my first spear form in ’07; Li Yingkui, who taught me my first Long Fist form in ’05; Fang Jian, who kindly helped me for the short two weeks I spent in Anhui, China this past summer.

Lastly, I cannot talk about my influences without mentioning my mom. Not only does she provide the money, time and effort that was needed to get me to practice and pay my wushu tuition, but she also genuinely cares about me and the sport, and has been there to support me at every practice and competition. It has been 12 years of my wushu practice, and thus, it has been 12 years of her support.

EA: What have been the major roadblocks, if any, for you to achieve the international competition level?

CW: I have to be thankful for the fact that I haven’t been taken out of the sport for any serious injury, although I have had my fair share of them. I’d say the toughest thing I have to deal with is pushing myself beyond anything I can see in front of me. For the past few years, many of the students at my school have learned from my wushu and the way I practice. However, for me to learn I have to really think and constantly search for new sources of greater understanding – and these are hard to come across. The better you get at something, the harder it is to get better. But I still have to push myself and that is a great challenge to this day.

EA: How many hours do you train per week, and how do you divide your training schedule prior to a big event?

CW: In high school, which coincided with the most important years of my wushu career, I usually got 6-10 hours a week. In college, maybe 3-5 hours. Before competition those numbers would also significantly rise. You have to plan well. Say you have 3 months before competition. First month, get strong with extra conditioning while finishing any changes in choreography. Second month, get familiar with your forms by running lots of sections. Last month, build up to two or three sections at a time, and then full sets – lots of them. And then throughout the 3 months, you need to maintain stretching, practicing hitting all the difficulty moves or nandu, and persistent reflecting.

Coaching fellow students at the University of Virginia Wushu Club

EA: What changed in you that made the difference between your performances in 2009 and 2011 which allowed you to make the podium?

CW: It would have to be becoming more mature as an athlete. I had a much better understanding of who I was up against, what I could have done better from last time, my ideal training plan, how I warm up, what parts of my form needed fixing, etc. And all that came together as having significantly better mental control. Honestly, the training and coaching were better in 2009 before I came to college since I could train often at my wushu school. In 2011, I don’t believe I was in that much better physical condition. It was just the additional experience and maturity that enabled me to bring everything together better.

Rachel Margalit, Tenyia Lee and Colvin Wang living in the Olympic Village during the 2008 Beijing Wushu Tournament

EA: What advice would you give to others as far as training with weights, food supplements, etc?

CW: For my conditioning, I mainly worked on lots of plyometrics and supplemented my conditioning workouts with core strengthening exercises. My best advice to others would be to first find out where your weaknesses are and start there. Eat a well-balanced diet. Honestly though, these areas haven’t really been a major focus for me. They are necessary but wushu should come first. In my opinion, U.S. athletes (non-professionals) should be spending at least 80% of their training time on the actual wushu.

EA: Do you feel you could step up and compete with High Difficulty movements of the C Level like in the China national championships?

CW: No, I think it is probably best to keep the current nandu system. Putting in more High Difficulty movements will retract focus from the actual wushu, and as US athletes, we already have comparatively little time to train. In order to be able to consistently hit C level nandu, U.S. athletes would have to spend a whole lot more time on practicing it, and I would expect the quality of movement would suffer. Essentially, I don’t feel there is a need. Nor are we at that level yet.

EA: Who finances the American wushu athletes? Are there any major sponsors?
CW: A big shoutout to Tiger Claw for their support to the U.S. Wushu Team. They have continually and reliably done a great job providing us with well-designed team shirts, jackets, and sweatpants to represent the country in. That said, it would be hard to say U.S. wushu is well-financed. There is hardly any money in the sport. U.S. athletes and even coaches have to pay for their own travel costs when going out to represent the country in international competitions. Other countries’ wushu athletes and coaches often get reimbursed for their travel costs, while some countries even reward their athletes with a sum of money if they medal. Moreover, it’s not like martial arts doesn’t have the capacity to be big in the U.S. There are other martial arts in the United States with much better recognition and are financially supported by various organizations – take taekwondo for example. I believe more people need to get involved in the improvement of wushu in the U.S. Whether it is doing local performances, helping out at competitions, teaching classes, training hard and being an enthusiastic athlete, or whatever else, it all ends up working toward the common goal of improving the sport and getting more people to practice wushu. With more popularity, there can be more support. And that can help our financial situation.

EA: Do you think that wushu in the West has “caught up” with the technical level of Asian countries and China?

CW: The medal counts from this past World Championships and the previous ones make it clear that the West isn’t up to speed with the rest of the world. It’s not too much of a surprise given that many of the Asian countries train professionally, whereas, as aptly put on the back of Canadian Wushu Team sweaters, “We do Wushu for fun.” If the West wants catch up to rest of the world, both the athletes and the coaches need to get more serious about training. Because all U.S. wushu athletes have busy lives outside of the sport, the level of priority given to wushu is highly deterministic of their skill. Serious athletes should dedicate a lot of time and effort towards wushu. Wushu ain’t easy; you have to train every day to really improve rapidly. Moreover, I feel many U.S. wushu coaches focus on the business aspect of their school over the quality of their best athletes. I would argue that with higher quality comes more business. I feel coaches need to pick a few students who have potential to reach an advanced level and crack down on them extra hard. This creates more business and helps to improve the level of wushu at competitions in the U.S. The most accomplished athletes are the serious students with the serious coaches.

During the Long Fist competition at the 11th WWC

EA: What is next in the wushu career of Colvin Wang? How do you plan to participate in the improvement of wushu in the U.S. once you retire?

CW: I’m 19 now. I know many people who start wushu at my current age. In other words, I have no physical excuse for retirement right now. However, I have been in the game for 12 years now, and have had quite a lucky and fulfilling career. So as for whether or not I will continue to compete, I’d like to leave that undecided for now.

Throughout my years in wushu, I have gained so much understanding of the movements, the sport, the politics, and the people involved. As a responsible individual, there’s just no way that I could just leave and not give back to the wushu community. In the future, I will definitely be involved in judging, organizing competitions and demonstrations, and, most of all, coaching.

EA: What are your thoughts on the future of the competitive wushu, especially after being shortlisted for a potential spot in the program of the 2020 summer Olympics?

CW: Wushu doesn’t need to be in the Olympics for it to be a worthwhile sport. American athletes two decades ago practiced wushu before World Championships was even big. You gotta like the sport, you gotta be able to see what you can get out of devoting yourself to it, and you gotta like the people. Wushu being in the Olympics would be a nice touch, but wushu is still a great sport even without Olympic standing. Whether wushu in its current state deserves to be in the Olympics is another story, and I feel it is beyond me to comment on that matter. I definitely think there are many things in the organization, the politics, and the way competitions go that could be changed to increase fairness and improve standardization. However, the power to help make those changes is currently beyond me in my current role as an athlete. In addition to improvement in the ways of competition, wushu has a lot of room to grow in terms of popularity as well. Too many people in America still don’t know of the existence of wushu. I hope that through the efforts of our community, wushu will become a better known and respected sport in the U.S. Currently, wushu is not much of a spectator sport. In other words, only people who practice it can really enjoy watching competitions. If wushu can be a more entertaining competition sport to watch for any regular person, then the sport would have an easier time in becoming better known.

During the straight sword competition at the 11th WWC

EA: Do you have any final comments you would like to pass on to our readers?

CW: Personally, I want more people to be able to have the largely positive experience that I have had with wushu. I only wish that more people could see the opportunity this martial art provides for both physical and mental development. The movements you train in wushu allow you to be adept at any physical activity. The people you train with become your best friends throughout life. The focus and concentration you can develop through training can help you obtain and accomplish anything. The thrill and fun of competition become some of the finest moments in your memories. The numerous parallels between wushu and life provide material for some of the best reflective thinking, making you wiser in general. And the last thing I would like to point out is that wushu isn’t about winning. In fact, nothing in life seems to be about winning, although that is what we all commonly strive for, understandably. It is about the journey, not the destination. Set yourself goals, kill yourself to obtain them, and whether you meet them or not, I hope you can still walk away with a positive attitude, thinking: hey, I learned a lot from that experience, I bonded with awesome people, I am better prepared for such-and-such in the future, and that was a lot of fun and forever memorable. That’s how I see it. Good luck to everyone out there in wushu and in life. Jiayou! 🙂

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