Catching a glance of a Wushu fighter with their electric movement and physical domination of a sword, one might not first suspect giggly Joana Pei, 17, to be a Wushu Champion.
But this girl knows how to wield her taolu – that’s the customary broadsword used on occasion in the popular Chinese martial arts called Wushu.
Wushu is a combat sport that uses a flat sword, staff or bare-hands to defeat others in the ring.
Pei sliced her way to the summit of the U.S. Wushu Team and earned 5th place in women’s Taolu at the 10th World Wushu Championships held in Toronto, Canada on Oct. 23 – 29.
As the only American female to place in the top fifth percentile at the competition, Pei’s score was .15 points away from the first-place victor from Hong Kong. However, she beat out nearly 1,500 other competitors from over 85 countries.
“The Chinese rules are tougher and more complicated than the international rules,” said Pei.
Competition is broken down into sparring and individual routines. Pei mainly focuses on the latter. The motions are sometimes more artful though, and they can be rehearsed and set to music.
A member of the Falls Church U.S. Wushu Academy, Pei attributed her success to countless hours of training under her mother and coach, Zhang Guifeng.
Pei first picked up the broadsword at the age of six, following in family footsteps, and now the teenager trains two hours a day. For the past five years, she has traveled to China to train with the national team during the summer.
When preparing for a competition, she adopts a disciplined regimen for a sport that requires both mental and physical preparation.
“I can’t go out to parties or stay up late because I need to focus,” said Pei. “It goes Homework, SAT’s and compete. Or visa versa?” she continued, laughing.
Both of her parents have experience in various Chinese martial arts and have turned it into a career, owning the Lakeforest and Falls Church U.S. Wushu Academies.
Pei graduates from Winston Churchill High School this May and is applying early to colleges, her sights set ultimately on UCLA, UC Berkeley or James Madison University (JMU).
“My parents want me to take over the business, but I want to be an environmentalist, or maybe a researcher for auto-immune disease,” said Joana.
According to Pei’s mother, Guifeng, children as young as 12 months have responded to the mental training Wushu provides.
Guifeng is a former champion of the Beijing Wushu Team, her husband, Christopher Pei, said, who, at 11, proved that a woman could not only move as fast as a man, but could be faster, he said.
In 1984, Guifeng said, she moved her talents to the U.S. and started a family.
“Wushu is a family tradition. I look forward to doing it the rest of our lives,” said Diana Pei, as the female family members turned and laughed at each other.
“It’s so ingrained,” Joana added.