The dissemination of gong fu from China into the world was not a singular event, tho it had quantum periods when many or even nearly all shao lin or other monks fled the country.
It is those who made their way to the Western continent that I am focusing on, tho there is a history in most places. Those monks who left during two of the later great suppressions, including the Boxer Rebellion and found refuge here, when there were other than natives present. Few people knew of aisian martial arts at all in the west and the explosion of interest in the late sixties and early seventies in America was the result of a few people who had their “15 minutes” at just the right time. The hippie interest in all things contemplative and mystical helped foster the awareness later of all things aisian and pugilistic. A mysticism of a religion attached to direct physical action couldn’t have more American appeal. Time and tide the tsunammi, as Americans sought a sense of authenticity then, after the stellar and disorienting years that pretty much ended with the “Summer of love”. Cosmic living had begun to lose its luster and a more down to earth grasping for the less wordly, more authentic self and identity was what the people were most hungry for. To identify, culture and propagate all things human that made us American. A quiet golden period when the American statement was the comfort of the clay of each others feet, more than the starryness of everybodys mind.
But this new exercise in the rightness of life came with its own clothes, traditions, ethics and social code which would also be reinterpreted in time and culture. A half a century later, we look back and see that nature took its course in manifold ways. Like the East, we have both temples and pai houses, examples of each end of nearly every scale and a present, if completely informal hierarchy. If all persons “of kung fu” were called in America, it would be a multitude as astonished with itself as the world would be with its size and span, from one end of the continent to the other.
David Carradine in his book “Spirit of Shaolin” defines gong fu as:
“Kung fu is an ancient fitness program through which humankind realizes its full potential through better understanding, learning to set higher limits and standards, transcending rigid and false values and achieving harmony with the laws of nature and the universe. Kung fu is training with a useful purpose, and leads to the learning of refined skills, which will remain with the student for a lifetime, and, perhaps, even longer.” and “The drills of Shaolin kung fu serve to put us in touch mentally with our physical selves, so that we no longer remain strangers to our own bodies”
Unable to interpret gong fu in its original place and time, the West was forced to interpret it and give it relevance in our society and world. The steps of all those people were the raw forging, the wild stewardship and evolution of that emergence, that tangible body we now call Western because by law, we have all been violently dissociated from Hunan. The eastern temple accredited with our origens is in one of its periods where it neither receives nor rejects it’s orphans – it forcibly denies them. (Larger thought might see that in this lies a great truth affirmed and a natural course of good seeds which took root and multiplied hundreds of fold.)
The half million dollar monastery will still take another half million to prepare and maintain, but it’s quite a bargain comparatively and even more evidence that the Western tradition is housed in its monks and stylists and documented, preserved, honored in its monastery. From that point Western gong fu itself will take care of its temporal home and be a resource to its members.
The Western Temple is more than a cultural foundation. It is the compilation, recognition and factual dignity that should be given the Western Continent, in a monastery that is the current culmination of the highest tradition. Not one from which the Western history came, (because it didn’t) but one which documents and honors it, having arisen from a hundred years of natural development on this side of the Pacific. From the teachings of unknown numbers of monks and practitioners to eventually return to a place of hui, of recalling, of bringing together. A meeting place where one meets more than ones own memories and realizes the largeness and importance that has been bestowed on all of us. A point of reference from which to draw all things gong fu, as we all forge together what will be later known as the Western continent’s origens and tradition.