Friday, December 14, 2007

meaning of kungfu

There was a New York Times article about disagreement between sanshou organizations and the Shaolin Temple over fighting monks. Now I don't know if the monks that perform out there are the true Shaolin Monks of the true lineage but why all this fuss over fighting?? If you believe that martial arts is for fighting and that fighting is for sport, then go do your sport and compete or whatever you want. If you believe that martial arts is simply a way of life and that it can be used for fighting (but not necessarily), then you don't have to fight. I mean, why compete? Shaolin is famous not because they ever claimed to be the best. They became famous because they've been around for a long time and many skills were developed from students of the Temple. How about challenging WuDang people in sword fighting? Not nearly as much mention for them, at least not in the western world. Shaolin also became famous because of western interest in kungfu. If a Shaolin person actually does fight with a sanshou champion (or UFC or whatever) and loses, I suppose the winner can exploit the wrong mentality that the world has of Shaolin that Shaolin martial artists are the best. Depending on which school of thought you belong to, that may or may not be good for the winner. From the "kungfu is sport and can be used for entertainment" school, a win will mean fame and fortune. From the "kungfu is meditated and practiced in Buddhism" school, a win means exploitation and another reinforcement that kungfu can be used for entertainment over religious devotion.
As important as money is for anybody, no matter what spiritual or secular pursuit you may have, I am ready to believe that a true martial artist really does practice martial arts as a way of life and not because of money. Yes, the temple facilities are getting old and funds are required to maintain them. And yes, the monks do need to eat too. What are the ways that the temple can raise those funds? Are they becoming more business-minded? Are they becoming more secular? We can never judge them. Also, is money the only thing of issue? What about preserving the history - is that of importance? So, if losing a fighting match will affect cash flow on the Temple, how will it affect the history preservation efforts? And what about simply just the plain old practice of buddhism? I had dinner a week later with a friend and he mentioned this. He pointed out that the original guy (sorry, don't remember the name... Boddhidharma or something) came up with a bunch of exercises that were meant to help keep students awake during meditation. If Shaolin was based on this, then competition had no place. Do you ever see a Shaolin monk compete in wushu competitions and dance/jump around in front of judges for that championship medal?
It takes a higher order of thought to understand that martial arts isn't just about fighting. Yet, most of us seem more ready to view fast & flashy fighting action rather than somebody doing forms. And even less interest if you were doing slow breathing exercises. Thus while people may be willing to pay to see a Shaolin rep do a form, what about those who really feel that martial arts means nothing (or isn't complete) if you don't use it in a fight? Perhaps there is potentially a bigger audience for the latter. If you were a student of the temple, would you choose fighting as an additional means to raise funds? I won't.


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