CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Henan | Art & CultureJanuary 30, 2012

Learning from Shaolin

Share this post:

Pin it on Pinterest Share it on Google Plus

" All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small"

Lao Tzu

My first trip to China was 29 years ago.

I remember Chinese people  using dark blue and green military uniforms. There were almost no cars and most would move around with black bicycles making a hell of a noise with their bells, that made our nights impossible to sleep.

I also remember at them staring at me with absolutely no manners which I found terribly uncomfortable and somehow scary. Later our guide explained that they had never seen blue eyes and fair hair before coming across with me, that they were as surprised as me guarantying that it was a completely innocent look.

When having a Chinese breakfast in old Peking (now Beijing) I asked the  hotel housekeeper why I would only find military propaganda on TV , no love stories, soap operas , and reinforced  the concept asking a second question " Where do you keep your libido, your desires  after all?"  The answer had been very clear: Pointing a finger in her forehead, the young woman replied in a dry authoritarian tone "  We keep it  here, side by side with the revolution!"

I was very young at that time, and watching early morning Tai - Chi Chuan practices everywhere we went, left me a strange sense of these people lack of individuality, manners, and powerless cultural imprisonment. Never in the whole world I would even imagine what could have been instead a message of automated spirituality.

As I grew older, on my way back, life knocked at my door with different challenges, harsh adjustments and a bowl plenty of dissatisfaction.

The dreams I though were easy to reach needed more work, the people that I thought would be easy to live with turned to be sometimes unmerciful opponents, the surrounding cultures I assimilated  during the years were far from familiar with the one I grew up with.

For several years, trying to understand the laws of life, and of my own , I cultivated my home garden like Voltaire,  on a hilltop of the hectic city where I lived,  as a sort of temporary retirement every afternoon up to sunset.

Tai-Chi Chuan became my  ultimate raison-d'etre ;  I  slowly started  to get more acquainted about the Inner and subtle movement of mother Yin in conjunction to Yang ;  Suddenly it was all strangely fitting into place, awareness of the present moment made true physical sense to me.

While witnessing birds sang among trees, and  fresh hilltop breeze caressed my face, I found myself   " Waving Hands Like Clouds " ,  "Tossing , Shaking and Parting the Horse's Mane" , " Spreading Wings like the White Crane" " Piking the Needle for the Bottom Of The Sea " " Flashing  the Arms like a Fan"  " Stepping Back and Repulsing Monkey" "Hitting the Opponent with Two Fists",  reconnecting at last with my apparently lost Oneness and  inner Emptiness. The city heavy traffic from  far,  was surprisingly no longer,  a threat to me.

Several years have passed since that fresh glimpse of  ' Temporary Eternal enlightenment" .

this weekend in Shanghai , I decide  to download  the movie remake  Karate Kid  Grabbing headlines, the film has been a huge hit since its release last week.

Bullies have their eyes and fists on 12-year-old Dre (Jaden Smith) after he and his mom (Taraji P. Henson) move from Detroit to Beijing. Luckily Dre’s maintenance man (Jackie Chan, who shouldn’t be fighting kids) is also a kung fu master willing to teach Dre discipline and the art of defending himself.

The Karate Kid” maintains the original’s sense of loneliness in a new place and the mental and physical oppression of bullying . Of course, isn’t out to acknowledge—and reinforces Asian stereotypes when Dre says, “It’s China, mom; everybody knows kung fu.”

The movie takes place in China. Some beautiful scenes are shot in normally inaccessible locations as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City but the ones in the stunning mountains landscape of the old Province of Henan, located in the eastern central part of the country caught my breath.

The moment you arrive in a monasteries peak where" real Kun Fu"  was thought by  Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) 's father,  you  come to learn about the secret of victory over the world , now physically at your feet.

The form of meditation is called "Chan" or "Zen".

Meditation also allows one to focus his inner energy into his actions. The Japanese call this Chi, and many Westerners have heard of it. The Chinese, however, call it Kiai. Kiai allows a Kung Fu student to do things their physical body alone cannot do.

Developing control over your Kiai is a matter of intense mental strength and conditioning. While some people may scoff at the idea of Kiai, and it is true that it might be more of a mind over matter application than an actual force, but Chinese Kung Fu masters has demonstrated their control over their Kiai by doing physical feats that would otherwise be impossible. Shaolin monks would prepare their minds to withstand the most terrible conditions so that when faces with those conditions in the real world, they would be prepared instead of shocked. Knowing that you have the mental toughness and readiness instills a confidence that allows you to go into any situation ready to act without hesitating. Self doubt is the number one way to be defeated before the enemy has even thrown a punch. Shaolin Kung fu is not just about defending yourself against an attacker or inflicting bodily harm. Shaolin martial arts also stress discipline, respect for yourself and others, patience, and being humble even in victory. The mental training of Shaolin martial arts helps prepare the student for any events that may come.

Being physically prepared for an alteration is good, but if you are not mentally prepared you will not be focused enough to use the tools that your body has. This is why Shaolin meditation is such an important part of the Shaolin martial arts training. Meditation may not be literally practicing your physical tools, but it allows your mind to make better use of those tools.

Keeping cool in a self defense situation is one of the best ways to ensure you will survive. Tough mental preparedness allows the body to be pushed beyond its physical limits.

Out bodies can only do so much, but our minds allow for much greater feats. I am sure you have heard of "mind over matter" and the truth is that it works. When the Shaolin added mental training to their physical training the result was that their martial arts system obviously surpassed all others in application and practical results.

Kung fu Shaolin monks practiced Chinese martial arts not just for self defense , but as a way of life intended to benefit them on a physical, mental and spiritual level. In times of hardship, such as the financial crisis that we are facing now, this knowledge helps us cope with our modern fast paced lives that lead to stress and anxiety.

The legend of the Shaolin temple and its Shaolin martial monks was first born around the year 540 AD, when the Indian monk Bodhidarma traveled to China to see the emperor. Bodhidarma introduced to the Shaolin monks eighteen movements derived from traditional Indian Yoga.

This was designed to increase their physical and mental strength as well as the flow of Chi energy. It was these eighteen movements that would become kung fu (KF) as we know it today, after being perfected and expanded for nearly 1,500 years.When Bodhidarma introduced Kun Fu to the Shaolin monks, it was to build their mental and physical strength to prevent them from falling asleep during meditation.

When we look at the story of Shaolin, we see the benefits that Kun Fu was originally intended to give us.

KF has been constantly perfected and built upon over the centuries, creating the vast array of styles and variations that we know today. One of the most popular styles today is called Hung Kuen, which is a style based upon the original Southern style of Shaolin Kung fu.

Although KF has changed over time and often become more focused on the ‘martial’ side of things, the core messages and philosophy remain the same as what Bodhidarma taught the Shaolin monks nearly 1,500 years ago.

Kung fu incorporates not only Buddhist philosophy, but also the philosophy of Taoism (pronounced ‘Daoism’). The teachings of the founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu and his manuscript the ‘Tao Te Ching’ have been incorporated into the teachings of KF, teaching us how to live in harmony with nature and within ourselves.

Over the centuries, Shaolin monks incorporated many different animal styles into their KF, On his journey from India to China, the Bodhidharma developed a fighting system based on his observations of the way animals fought in the wild. Arriving at the Shaolin Temple, he put the monks to work learning his fighting system. The animal styles became so numerous that the virtues of all animal styles had to be summed up, hence the five animals of Kung fu. These are:

The tiger , representing power and ferocity Shaolin tiger style kung fu is direct, powerful and decisive. Since tigers have no predators, tiger kung fu is all offense. The crane , representing speed and fluidity, relies on elegance, patience and evasion. Crane kung fu allows an opponent to use their energy to defeat themselves. The snake , representing speed and accuracy, strikes are lightning quick, like a snake biting an enemy. The leopard , teaching us to use our heads and to think in our fighting , and the dragon relies on internal strength and power. It utilizes soft, circular motions that coalesce into sudden destructive power, representing the mastery of all styles, thus making them one.

Through mastering the different animal styles one can achieve a balance in our training. A balance between power and speed, between soft and hard, between ferocity and calmness. This balance is carried forth into our daily lives, helping us to create a perfect harmony between ourselves and others in our lives.

Kung fu training is designed to not only help the individual with his self defense, but to build our fitness, focus, discipline and confidence.

Through KF training, eight wisdoms of KF are thought : respect, loyalty, tolerance, perseverance, patience, dignity, humility and honor.

These wisdoms  are of help not only for the training, but also to be successful in everything that we do In our  fast paced lives  that often  cause us  stress and anxiety - goes without saying in times of hardship such as the financial crisis that we are facing now.

I look nostalgic at old photos taken almost 30 years ago in particular one of myself  in a light green scarf and a red sweater visiting a communist China before the Coca Cola regime.  Such a long ago....

I stare inquisitively at those pictures depicting children with colorful coats wandering what else I could learn from their country, such a giant player with a voluntarily an erased past...The answer to my question comes almost instantaneously as my eyes in disbelief are reading an article from last week  Telegraph  that says- quote: "

" The temple in central Henan province, famous as the birthplace of kung fu, has established an eBay-style store selling Shaolin branded merchandise on China's TaoBao auction site. The site is operated by Shaolin Zhiye, the temple's commercial arm, which is behind an array of ventures exploiting the Shaolin legend, including film productions, touring martial arts shows and even a reality-TV program.

The site does not offer the secrets of immortality but for 10,000 yuan (1,450 dollars), fans can buy a three-volume set of kung-fu and medical secrets. More modest offerings include a wristband and environmentally-friendly chopsticks. Despite their name, critics say, the temple's current occupants are not genuine Shaolin monks because the spiritual side of their art has been replaced by crass commercialism.

The venture into the world of e-commerce is the latest involving Shi Yongxin, the abbot of the monastery who has developed a reputation for clever financial dealings.

He has been criticized for accepting a brand new luxury car for his services to the local tourist industry but supporters say he has done much to popularize the town, which has more than 80 martial arts clubs and schools with around 50,000 students."

Amused I finally reflect on my past fears, the ones that unconsciously haunt my sleep and the Shaolin monks unusual fresh marketing activities...

Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) , the karate Kid's master would respond about the ghosts in my mind:  " Face them, fight them, friend them!" . And, no doubts my dear friends.... this is real Kun fu!

Joelle's Tips:

Sources: The Daily TelegraphE-how / Golden Lion Academy of Kun fu / Shaolin Gun Fu Institute / China Travel /

The Movie: The Karate Kid

The Academies in China: Travel  Study Kun fu at the The Shaolin Temple Study Tai Chi Chuan Taijiquan (tai chi or taiqi) or Shaolin Gongfu at Buddhist Temple

The Academy in India :  Study Yoga in the Hymalaya

My thanks for the contribution of All Right Reserved  copyrighted pictures courtesy of: Rick Archer ( landscape) ,  2010 Sony Pictures Digital Inc. (Karate Kid ) ,  About.com Can Chu Getty Images , Wikipedia Coomon rights ( Pagoda) /Larique ( Chaolin Kun Fu)    Sanmenxia & Luoyang, (Burn Incense) ,

Subscribe to the Joelle Magazine Newsletter
About the newsletter