Scobel Wiggins Photography
Written by Jason Cox and published in the International Ultimate feature of www.the-huddle.org.
Ultimate in mainland China began over 10 years ago and back then there were very few, if any, local Chinese players. Fast forward to today, and the difference is obvious. Ultimate has begun taking root locally and the number of teams has grown exponentially. Small Chinese teams appear out of nowhere throughout China; but the powerhouses are still the expatriate teams, mainly Beijing, Hong Kong, and also Shanghai, who has made a name for itself in recent years on the Asian ultimate circuit.
These ex-pat teams usually have more resources to attend tournaments in countries such as Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, The Philippines, and our own international tournament held in Shanghai. Since it is difficult for Chinese citizens to travel, their only opportunity to play competitively is in Shanghai, where Glenn McCarthy has done an outstanding job organizing one of the most competitive Asian tournaments outside of Japan year after year, not to mention his efforts in helping local teams, such as Tianjin Speed and Ningbo UFO, find ways to participate in this tournament.
There is no national governing body for ultimate in China, so support, sponsors, and organization are often hard to come by. Lack of field space is also a common issue and we usually have to settle for hard turf since "real grass" is quite coveted and comes with a hefty price tag. Nevertheless, with a lot of local help and enthusiasm, this past May saw the second annual China Nationals take place in Beijing under my guidance of Jason Cox. This year's nationals yielded the biggest turnout yet of Chinese citizens all playing ultimate together and saw eight competitive Chinese teams make a run for the title of national champion.
The final game was a spectacular one. Watching the Central University for Nationalities' "Air Kazak" face off against Tianjin Sport University's "Speed" in an UltiVillage worthy game that ultimately went to universe point was utterly breathtaking. It's no surprise that their respective captains, Happyrat Baterbek and Edward Wang, are two of the leading roles in the development of ultimate among locals. Their flair and passion for the sport have taken the community from "a few foreigners throwing plastic" to full blown competitive teams.
It may be their lack of "ultimate knowledge," or maybe it's their incredible athleticism, but the top teams in China play with a "run n' gun" style of spread offense. What this means is it's all about disc movement: quick conversions on turnovers, fluid give-and-gos, plus big upline cuts leading to even bigger deep hucks. These teams also run caveman-like defense with little mental game and all physical ability. They get stops purely by being faster, jumping higher, and playing harder than their opponents, and it helps a lot when your team is led by a former pro-basketball player (Happyrat) or a national sprinting champion (Ed). Their "lack of style" style is like Bruce Lee in philosophy and appearance, and it provides a fast-paced and exciting game that attracts even more interest from among the local Chinese people.
Although these teams may have the cream of the crop when it comes to athletic players, most Chinese people enjoy ultimate as a recreational game. After being enlightened that discs are not just for dogs, many are actively engaged in local leagues which are available in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, or some choose to host their own weekly pick-up games. Surprisingly, the interest from Chinese women is much greater than men, but all of them enjoy cultivating the idea of a team and being a part of something. Zahlen Titcomb and 5 Ultimate have gone the distance in helping with that. From attracting and teaching new players to getting jerseys on their backs to getting discs in their hands, Zahlen has been instrumental in helping players discover the joy of ultimate and has been one of the key contributors to the explosion of ultimate within mainland China.
A lack of sports and a focus on academics makes ultimate (and all sports) harder to develop among the youth; however, the next step that needs to be taken is getting ultimate programs into more universities. As demonstrated by the results of China Nationals, that will be the real key in taking China Ultimate to the next level.
If you are interested in more articles about International Ultimate, or the strategy of the sport, you can visit www.the-huddle.org for more.