Don’t ask Sarah Chang whether she can fly or beat you up--because she probably can.
Chang is a five-time USA National Wushu Team member. “It’s what Jet Li does,” Chang explained of the Wushu sport, a modern form of standardized martial arts practiced in China, including the spear, which single-handedly ignited Chang's passion for Wushu at age 12.
“I like its fluidity and movements,” Chang said, adding that a person has to build a relationship with his or her weapon. From the way it’s taped to how it’s carved, she said it changes the balance of the spear. “There’s a lot of creativity and you can incorporate a lot of your own style into it.”
Born in McLean, Virginia, and now based in Beijing, Chang is focused on being an actress with martial arts skills, and not just the other way around. Chang grew up with a kung fu-loving father, which meant that family movie nights would consist of either a Bruce Lee flick or a Jackie Chan blockbuster.
Growing up, every Sunday morning after Chinese school, Chang and her older sister would don white T-Shirts, black pants, and white Keds, and learn Wushu from Zhang Guifeng, her first coach who was also Jet Li's teammate on the influential Beijing Wushu Team.
This was Chang’s first foray into Wushu. In addition to Wushu, Chang dabbled in the Chinese yo-yo, Chinese dance, and Chinese knotting class--all extracurricular activities at Chinese school. When Chang started training more intensely, she spent at least four days a week immersed in the world of Wushu, at two hours each session. Her mantra of “eat, sleep, Wushu” adequately described how much Wushu occupied her social life and how rigorous the training was.
Yet Wushu was her secret. “I thought Wushu was manly and what girls were not supposed to do,” Chang said. Chang’s white lie that she was at ballet class seemed to appease friends who questioned why she couldn’t hang out after school.
But Wushu was also the quiet identity that unexpectedly catapulted Chang into becoming the coolest kid in school overnight. In 10th grade, Chang was asked to portray the character of Mulan while the school orchestra performed the animated film’s score.
To everyone’s surprise, Chang didn’t just “do a couple of kung fu moves,” as per the request of her teacher. She performed Wushu, the sport she had been practicing for the past decade and had committed countless hours of training to.
After that, she no longer hid her "other life."
Chang’s first foray into the film industry was an action choreography gig in Taiwan. Soon her network expanded and she was introduced to Jimmy Hung’s action team, where the Taiwanese mini drama series “The Crossing Hero” had her acting and performing straight sword.
Although Chang is used to the disproportionate male-to-female ratio in Wushu, she hopes to one day make a “Sarah version of a Bruce Lee movie, because he always acts like himself.” Chang, who spent a semester at the prestigious Beijing Central Academy of Drama, is currently starring in her first musical in Beijing.
“What’s also important is that you need to create opportunities for yourself,” she said.
Chang adds that she wants to spread Wushu as a culture.
“It’s not all about the fighting,” Chang said. “It’s about cultivation of yourself and your mind.”