Change comes slowly for the age-old Chinese martial art of wushu. But this year, it’s joining forces with the swoosh.
In an unlikely move for a U.S. footwear company, Nike is joining the small Chinese market of wushu shoemakers. The modern version of the sport, a close cousin of kung fu, emphasizes aesthetic and athletic performance over basic fighting. While it isn’t an official Olympic sport, an Olympic-sanctioned tournament will take place this summer.
That was enough for Nike to jump in. The shoes would have to survive a host of punishing moves: rapid accelerations and braking; 720-degree gymnastic-like spins; and the use of weapons including broadswords, staffs and double-edged swords.
In a Beijing park, a four-person Nike team sought out septuagenarian Master Wu Bin, who was teaching hundreds of students, for his help. He agreed, and work eventually shifted to Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., campus, where researchers slapped scores of reflective markers onto U.S. wushu athletes and their weapons while 16 high-speed video cameras recorded data. “Reflective markers were flying,” said Jeff Pisciotta, who studies athlete biomechanics in the Nike lab. Researchers from the University of Beijing and the University of Shanghai eventually pitched in.
The final shoe, to be sold for $80 at Nike.com, uses sturdy kangaroo leather instead of the typical canvas and a lightweight gum rubber for more-precise pivoting during moves. An unexpected problem: painful shoelaces, because wushu athletes traditionally hit their shoes with their palms as part of their performance. Nike created pockets to hide shoelace tips for easier slapping.
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Nike Shaolinquan (Mandarin for “Martial Arts”)
Wushu is an exhibition and full contact sport with roots in traditional Chinese martial arts and a 3,000 year history. In Chinese, “Wu” means military while “Shu” means art.
Nike respects the past and represents the future with its new innovative spin on footwear for Wushu. Nike gained important insight from several world-class athletes and coaches. The result is the very light and supportive Shaolinquan, Mandarin for Martial Arts. It has been embraced by top athletes in the world, as well as by fashion icons, for its traditional yet innovative styling. It is premium crafted footwear, designed to blend functional excellence with simple, stylistic beauty. Weighing a mere 4.75 oz, the Shaolinquan shoe is constructed from a rich, premium kangaroo leather and includes a modified herringbone pattern, which optimizes traction between the athletes’ feet and Wushu mats. A soft, flexible, lightweight gum rubber outsole was created to allow for better pivoting on the forefoot. The shoes have a pocket on them to tuck laces into and extra short aglets for safety.
On one side of the shoe is the character “Wu,” which means military in Chinese. On the back of the shoe is lettering that, when translated, says “Hero inside. Release it.”
• Weighs 4.75 oz
• Constructed from kangaroo leather and a modified Herringbone pattern
• Gum rubber outsole allows for better pivoting
• Back of the shoe is inscribed with Chinese letters that read: “Hero inside. Release it.”
Pant and Jacket
Like taekwondo, wushu has centuries of tradition and strict uniform requirements, important considerations when it came to updating the classic silhouette. When Nike designers started talking to the wushu team, the athletes were hesitant to change. However, when the designers brought the team samples of a new uniform that was more breathable but preserved the traditional look and feel of silk, the athletes were thrilled. Designers worked to find a material that had both the look and feel of silk, but that was a Dri-FIT fabric to help sweat evaporate. Stretch paneling in the pant makes it easier to move, and mesh venting in the jacket sides helps keep athletes cool. The jacket’s traditional mandarin collar and cuffs have a mesh facing to draw moisture away from the skin surface. The wushu uniform has all the characteristics and tradition of the original but with Nike’s unique performance technology enhancements.
See Nike’s Making of the Wushu Show Interview Video Clip Here – NIKE WUSHU SHOE