One Chilean's effort to promote Chinese martial arts in his homeland
By Magdalena Rojas  ·  2023-04-28  ·   Source: NO.18 MAY 4, 2023
David Bobadilla poses for a photo after winning first place in the double weapons category at the Eighth World Kungfu Championships in Emeishan, Sichuan Province, in June 2019 (COURTESY PHOTO)

Through a lifetime of effort and dedication, young Chilean David Bobadilla has established himself as a wushu champion and now dedicates himself to training the next generation of athletes who love traditional Chinese martial arts.

Popularly known as kungfu, wushu, which translates as "martial technique," integrates the range of Chinese martial arts, where not only the physical skills of the practitioner come into play, but also philosophical vision and martial ethics. It features two modalities: the taolu, which refers to the set routine practice, and the sanda, in which two athletes compete.

Bobadilla owes everything he has achieved so far to wushu. For him, it is not just a physical activity that he has been practicing since he was 13, but rather a lifestyle that has taught him many lessons over the years and propelled him to go to China.

China connections 

At 16, Bobadilla became part of the Chilean Wushu Federation, which allowed him to compete nationally and, a few years later, internationally. At the same time, he was delving into the fascinating but complex universe of Chinese characters when he began taking classes in standard Chinese at a Confucius Institute in Santiago. Confucius Institutes, named after ancient Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius (551-479 B.C.), serve as nonprofit public institutions to help foreigners better understand China by teaching Chinese language and culture at universities in their host countries. Chile now has three Confucius Institutes at the Santo Tomás University (launched in April 2008), Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (launched in May 2009) and La Frontera University (launched in December 2020).

"I first set foot on Chinese soil in 2014 thanks to the Chinese Bridge competition, in which I took second place in the listening competency category; in 2015, I competed again," he said. Chinese Bridge is an international Chinese language proficiency contest hosted by the Beijing-based Confucius Institute Headquarters.

It was then that he received news he'd won a scholarship to study in China. His first destination was the city of Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, where he did a year of intensive Chinese language studies at Nanjing Normal University, before moving to Shanghai.

"I chose Shanghai because it is a very big and beautiful city," Bobadilla recalled. "In addition to being a multicultural city, it has the highest academic, athletic and commercial standards."

During his five years in the megalopolis of more than 24 million inhabitants, Bobadilla studied international trade and economics at Shanghai Maritime University. Some of his most cherished memories stem from that chapter of his life, during which he made great friends. His time at the university was always linked to wushu, which the Chilean describes as a highly demanding practice that requires dedication from Monday to Sunday. "We train many hours a day to achieve a level of mastery in one of the many branches that wushu has, ranging from full-contact combat to the use of weapons—e.g., swords and sticks," he explained.

The Eighth World Kungfu Championships in Emeishan, Sichuan Province, in June 2019 and the 15th World Wushu Championships in Shanghai in October 2019 are part of the extensive repertoire of competitions in which Bobadilla has participated. He won first place in the double weapons category at the Emeishan event.

In fact, the Chilean competed in more than 20 matches at the international, national and university levels during his time in China, taking him across the country. Wushu has instilled in him a high degree of discipline and self-control, which has helped him grow personally and professionally. "Wushu made me a better student, a better person, a better friend; it also helped me build my business," he said.

Bobadilla practices tai chi, also known as shadow boxing, a form of Chinese martial arts (COURTESY PHOTO)

Back to the roots 

After finishing his university studies in China in 2019, Bobadilla returned to Santiago; but when he wanted to go back to China, he couldn't. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 altered the plans of billions of people—Bobadilla included. However, this didn't stop him from moving forward.

With the knowledge acquired in China, added to his unwavering love for wushu, the young athlete began to import modern items for those dedicated to the Chinese martial arts in Chile. By doing so, he helped the Chilean Wushu Federation and many related schools and clubs obtain the necessary equipment through his business, Imperio Marcial (Martial Empire). "I would have loved to have had someone with wushu gear to help hone my skills when I was 15 or 16; so now I make that available to many athletes and young amateurs," he explained.

Bobadilla has also been teaching wushu classes since his return. Last year, he went a step further by founding the Wushu Center, which is located in the same commune where he lives. The center aims to spread the word about this sport, Chinese culture, the Chinese language and the knowledge he acquired in China while training with the finest wushu athletes and teachers.

Bobadilla says that in Chile, wushu isn't very well known yet, but at least the Chinese martial arts have seen some degree of progress. He pointed out that the sport still has to tackle "several pending challenges before it will receive the recognition it deserves." For instance, related organizations and promotional activities cannot apply for funding from Chile's Ministry of Sports or be part of the Chilean Olympic Committee. In this sense, he stated that the main task "is to modify or repeal the statutes that regulate our sport so that wushu can gain official recognition from the Chilean Olympic Committee and its athletes therefore can have access to the resources and infrastructure necessary to train."

The road ahead is long and winding, but Bobadilla knows how to hit the right spot when it comes to combat. Already having contributed more than his fair share, he plans to continue training to be able to compete, grow his business and return to China to participate in more international competitions.

(Print Edition Title: A Kick-Start) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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