Chengdu Universiade champion Ma Yigu transits intrinsic love into power for top podium

In the men's Sanda 60kg final of the Wushu event at the Chengdu World University Games in August, China's Ma Yigu overwhelmed Indonesia's Nada Guitara with a blast of rapid kicks winning 2-0 and claiming his first gold in an international multi-sports event.

China dominated the Wushu event with 11 golds and one bronze out of 20 golds on offer at the Chengdu Universiade. Indonesia demonstrated their growing enthusiasm about wushu by clinching four golds.

Hailing from a poverty-stricken family in Longjiagou village of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, Ma, 20, told the Global Times after the game that wushu changed his life. 

"I would not have been able to become who I am if not for wushu. Sports have changed my life. No matter where you are from, you can work hard to chase your dream. I hope sports will attract more kids to explore the possibilities of life," said Ma. 

Living deep in the mountain, Ma had to help the family with herding cows and farming since early childhood. His intrinsic love for wushu came from a traditional sport of the Yi ethnic group. 

As the favorite sport of the Yi people, wrestling is prevalent in the life of the Yi ethnic group, from wedding ceremonies to local festivals. In Meigu county of the Liangshan prefecture, all of the 180 villages hold traditional wrestling activities throughout the year. 

Known for his ability to wrestle above his weight, Ma's father signed him up for a local amateur wushu school. But he was handed a reality check on the first day at the school, when he was beaten black and blue by his opponent.

Rapid progress

Failures lit up the fire in his heart and put him on a fast track to hone his kickboxing skills. His determination and perseverance paid off as he was scouted and made it to a prefecture-level wushu school. 

In a friendly game with the Sichuan provincial team in 2015, he was spotted by the provincial team coach for his potential and tenacity. 

He made his mark by snatching the gold in the 56kg Wushu event at the 2nd National Youth Games in 2019 and was recommended for admission to the Chengdu Sport University to pursue his dream. He went on to win 5th place in the 14th National Games in 2021.

In the third major multi-sports event of his career, Ma triumphed in the Sanda 60kg competition of the Chengdu Games. 

Ma told the Global Times that he was nervous at the beginning but learned to cope with stress game by game at the Universiade.

"Against tough adversaries, I gained match experience and learned to stay positive. I need to improve my strength and coordination," he said.

After a short break to reunite with his family, he has set his sights on the national trials in October. Winning the trials will qualify him for the World Wushu Championships in November.

"I dream of representing China in international competitions. The Chengdu Universiade is gone and I will go all out to fight for national glory in the world if possible," he noted.  

Fight for excellence

Wang Xiangquan, coach of Ma at the Wushu School of Chengdu Sport University, told the Global Times that he is proud of this intrepid and assiduous boy who cherishes every opportunity to fight for excellence. 

"Technically and mentally, he has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. He is skilled in wrestling and kicking, having a knack for counter-attacking. He is a self-disciplined fighter who is keen on following through a challenging training regime," said Wang. 

The coach expected him to stay composed and ramp up his offensive "weapons" for consistent performances. 

"He is building strength and improving his boxing to vary his offensive options. Sometimes he gets overexcited in competitions. He will learn to keep composure whether getting an upper hand or facing difficulties," Wang noted.

The end of the Chengdu Games marks the beginning of a new cycle of training as the focus has been shifted to the upcoming World Wushu Championships and the 15th National Games in 2025. 

Wang wished his apprentice to strive for more national glory and showcase Chinese wushu on the international stage.

The 16th World Wushu Championships, hosted by the International Wushu Federation (IWUF), is the highest-level international Wushu event. 

About 1,000 athletes from more than 80 countries and regions will participate in the biannual championships to be held in Texas, in the US from November 14 to 22.

Zhang Qiuping, secretary general of the IWUF, said that the IWUF has 158 member associations, and the Wushu World Championships is the first highest-level martial arts event held after the pandemic. 

"We look forward to seeing old friends and new athletes. I wish all the athletes have a good performance in the championships and make friends through martial arts," said Zhang.

IWUF has endeavored for years to try to make Wushu an official Olympic event. In 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Wushu event will be included in the Dakar 2022 Youth Olympic Games (which have been postponed to 2026). 

This is the first time that such an event has been included in the Youth Olympics, a milestone in the development of the sport.

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