It’s every working stiff’s fantasy: saying goodbye to the daily grind and embarking on an exotic journey involving movie stars and occasional bodily harm. That’s exactly what Alhambra resident Alfred Hsing, 27, did two years ago. He left his finance job to focus on wushu, an athletic sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts.
So far, the risk is working out. In 2009 Hsing became the first American to win gold in the taolu (套路) category, which focuses on form, at the World Wushu Championships. Now he’s jet setting around the globe to choreograph fight scenes for feature films (he’s even landed a small role in Jet Li’s latest project). He’s incurred a few bruises along the way, sure, but as he tells The Alhambra Source, it’s all part of a hectic life spent in airports, foreign countries and movie sets.
It doesn't seem like a lot of people are familiar with wushu. What makes it unique? Physically and philosophically, what sets it apart from the other martial arts?
First I would like to clarify the definition of wushu. Directly translated from Chinese it means “martial arts.” In the definition most used today, “wushu” or “modern wushu” is a particular style of martial arts created by China as an athletic sport. Modern wushu as a style is characterized by speed, grace, and power. The art form requires high acrobatic ability, flexibility and precision.
I think it’s one of the most physically challenging martial arts styles in terms of basic training. In competition, a standard form must be at least one minute and 20 seconds and have a combination of jump front kicks, aerials, jump inside kicks and more. These difficult moves must be performed precisely and without any extraneous movement.
My philosophy on wushu is that it has pushed me in regards to physical limits, but it has also helped enhance my mind. I believe that when you train in a repetitive motion—the same punch or kick a hundred or thousand times—it is a form of meditation and helps you grow. Wushu’s focus on rhythm and flow help make it a physically challenging martial art, as well as a meditative art.You've recently landed some roles in action movies and short films. When you're performing your own stunts and fight scenes, are you put in a lot of dangerous scenarios?
I have done high falls, wirework, fight choreography, et cetera, but I don’t think my response can do justice to the situations that many working stunt men and women face. There are many dangerous scenarios out there and that’s why the stunt profession is not for everyone. I have had bruises, fractures, and occasional injuries from my 15 years of martial arts and film work, but I believe I have been very lucky to have remained relatively safe.
I think the important thing is to know what you are capable of and have good control of your body. If you know how to control yourself and minimize risks then I think it’s possible to maintain your health in the field.
You've worked with the likes of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Did anything about them surprise you when you met them? Or were they what you'd expected them to be like.
Yes and no. There are elements of their on-screen characters that really seem to match their real life personalities, but movies are still movies.
One thing that was surprising: Although I knew they were both incredibly successful and hard working people, until you see it in person, it’s hard to fathom the charisma, intensity and drive of both Jet Li and Jackie Chan. They have their own personalities, but one thing they both have is a special drive. Although they are of course physically skilled at martial arts, there is something special they have that has made them standout among the millions of other talented martial artists out there.
Do you follow a certain regiment in diet and exercise?
I don’t have a strict diet. In general the food I like just so happens to be relatively healthy. I am pretty much always happy with chicken and vegetables. I don’t have a strict rule with this either, but I usually avoid soda, red meat, and sweets.
As far as exercise, I used to work out twice a day six days a week when I was training for competitions, but now that I am working in Asia with a demanding schedule I work out whenever I have downtime from work.
You had a job in finance before switching to an entirely different career. Were you hesitant while making that transition?
Leaving something stable is not easy, especially considering that I had great co-workers and a good paycheck. At the same time the stability made the answer very clear to me. One path I knew exactly where I would be 10 years from now; the other path was uncertain—it offered opportunity, hope and excitement. I knew that I didn’t want to be behind a desk my whole life with a couple extra dollars in my pocket when I died. After that became clear, the decision was simple.
You travel a lot, but it seems like you return to Alhambra for downtime. Do see the city as a safe haven? Does it help you retreat from your hectic career?
I fly on average almost once a week—sometimes short flights, sometimes long flights. Traveling wears a person down after a while. It’s definitely nice to have some consistency and a home base. Even though I currently work in China, Alhambra is where my home is and it’s nice to look forward to coming back home. I really think Alhambra is a perfect blend for me—a combination of local businesses, good Asian food, proximity to main street, good location to downtown and Hollywood without being too close to the traffic, and great neighbors.