Shao lin has become prominent on the western continent from end to end.
Chinese priests and their disciples have spread the tradition in free lands over the last 115 years, irrefutably demonstrating the embrace of the way of the Dragon in the West.
“the unthinkable” in the only available terms there are: truth. Coping with what has happened in a more honest and strong legged fashion by first acknowledging all that has, not just the “quantum” moves.
I am second generation American and my master grew up in Taiwan. We are both immediate lineal products of the more recent post boxer diaspora and the highly faithful and patriotic fleeing for their own lives and refusing to let tradition die. When shao lin has been suppressed in China (every time) monks have migrated to less hostile places and taken the powerful way of the ancient Chinese with them. Though we have never heard of him, there was more than one “Kwai Chang Caine” in the American West and it is a certainty that marks of honor can be found in the railroad graveyards that line tracks across this continent.
The obvious spread of Shao lin in other cultures shows that only distinctions can be made for honest conversation and those distinctions must be honorable. Those born and trained on this continent have a young and prosperous heritage. The Western diaspora has characteristics that differ from the European and though both have the cultural variances of the region, all originated none the less from the same tree and being cut found root and grew on. The Martial Arts Association, International, has been recording members since 1964 and tho not US based, will have in its records numerous shifu and members of the way of the dragon with Western postal codes. Lines here in the West preserve their lineage and their records combined would create a portrait of the Western diaspora and find the tracks of the priests who brought shao lin here and their descendants from the most Northern point to the Southern tip. Shao lin has thrived in free lands and knows it’s duty and homage to it’s origens. There is in this millenia basis for the archetypes of five “continental” monks representing the time and culture affected by shao lin on each continent. Just as there are five elders and five fathers. But whose history occurs in other parts of the world. Five “immortals” effectively born at different times in China’s history and the life of the ancient temples still standing and gone. Each one brought into being by a severance and cast into a foreign land.
The plight of the Chinese monks of yhe last century has been eased considetably by mainstream health pursuits here “on” America and all over the world. The vast adoption of gong fu and tai chi by Westerners and Europeans has summoned many containers of Asian goods and many centuries of Chinese knowledge and wisdom. Chinese monks will hopefully see that things are now a matter of regional terms and making accurate distinctions. Let lines of this last century preserve what they were bequeathed and remember they are not the product of the Hunan of the last hundred years, no, they are descendants of those before and during 1900, who have not been in China these last hundred years. They have not modernized in the same way as Hunan and their ideas of tradition, however limited or imperfect they may be, come from over a century ago. Most are not communists, many of them are not buddhists, though all regard tao te ching, Buddhist symbolism and teachings. They all know the concept of yin&yang and “right use”. They are not “gu er” (orphans) and many are not Miao xian (the “unshaved”, lay monk) but Western history shows it has accepted both.
These Western devotees are the simple result of the outrages of the world against the temple and order at various times in the vastness of Chinese history.
Dealt more than one of what most would think a mortal blow, the order did the only thing it could. Flee for its life in the lives of priests who have been escaping China more frequently since China became not China anymore. Over a hundred years.
The burdens of honor and tradition are priveleges to uphold. Increasing awareness and cohesion among Western and European descendents remind all of where they ultimately come from and where, ultimately, their way originates.
Because of all Shao lin of all times, there has been great light in the world and a continuing presence of the human and divine without demand of which seems more important. Because of all Shao lin of all times, sanctuaries for both remain in the world.
May these words give awareness, grace, joy and peace ~
Shao lin gong fu is a living system that seems very much like a religion, although opinions vary on defining that. Master Don once said “Kung Fu is everything, yet it is nothing” and he was being quite literal. The salute of honor, of the book and the fist are direct signs of the extensive knowledge of shao lin priests. (A sign of many meanings see: https://sites.google.com/site/utsjingwu/articles/origins-and-meaning-of-the-kung-fu-salute-by-shuai-zheng-2012 )
The nature and content of this knowledge is placed under three acquired masteries that create the fourth, which as you will see, nature creates anyway and a monk’s time is short to vast accomplishments.
From time immemorial and all over the earth, the 3 traditional priestly schools, called the “School of Life” by the Egyptians, have always been Theology, Agriculture and Medicine.
In shao lin, these are to attain shifu, nongfu & daifu. Mastery of the body, mind and spiritual awareness, mastery of agriculture and also wild foods and mastery of medicine, the knowledge of blood and dust.
Even tho these studies are vigorously pursued and attained, they are continuous and life long, for they are wells that exceed us no matter how much we learn and grow. After this life time of study, practice, mastery, the priest has become finally Lao-fu, which is sometimes called “a wild tree” but generally means “old/good at it”. Laofu is the last title of the fulfilled monk which as I already pointed out, will be awarded by nature of its own accord one day and it is the priests challenge not to attain the status, but rather to prepare for it’s coming, as powerfully as he is able.
Venerable is a title of respect for brothers past 75 and most commonly used. A monk’s laofu is a deeply personal, individual and in that universal way, sacred journey. Nobody calls anyone laofu lightly ever, lest it provoke “venerable wushu”. None the less, the monk in his priesthood becomes laofu at the last of his terrestrial career, even tho he may qualify for it quite young. It is an honest title that can not be taken out of it’s time, nor can it be denied in it’s time and it is the culmination of devotion and the record of a price paid. Monks strive so that it is also a testimony of wisdom, strength and grace, a good value for the price of life, paid anyway by all, whatever else they may find.
So this is the life of a shao lin “compartmentalized”, a less than desirable concept which goes against the grain of the truth he knows. He knows there is not shifu, not nongfu, not daifu or laofu, there is only he and all in a great continuation and communion. It is the life of those who must follow it. Gong fu is in the monk before he is one. A priest is of shao lin, his acceptance an acknowledgement of that. His performance and success falling to him.
In the highest realm of earthly gong fu, the one who approves is the self, as is the one who guides. A man after a great journey, finds his self at one, bearing the natural and obvious title he did way, way back before his training began – “he who is most his self”.
May these apologetics give grace, wisdom and peace.
I was 8 years old over 40 years ago when I looked at the TV Guide to see what our “Movie of the Week” was going to be. Two words that took me a moment to process – “Kung Fu”.
I could not believe my eyes and was there glued to our dad-built-it television the first time we saw Rademas Pera standing out in the rain (cool!) waiting to be denied entry to the place of honor (and way cool stuff!) I was a fan. I never missed an episode except when they changed it at the end a couple times. I could not believe when it was gone (the series ran for three seasons between 1972 and 1974) I was disappointed but knew “Nobody wants to be right”. There were perfectly reasonable reasons given for ending the show, but I was 8 and “Grasshopper” was my personal role model. You couldn’t fool me.
What a lot of people did not know was that “Kung Fu” was real, or rather, authentic. When the idea for a martial arts western came up, the producers contacted every Asian actor in Hollywood and by all accounts, they had a lot to say and were understandably touchy about the show and David Carradine. The result was enormous contribution and high authenticity in the show.
Even the “supernatural” episodes were drawn from gong fu and chinese myth and legend. There were variations, like the big fire pot that branded Kwai Chang Caine’s arms with the marks of honor – it was true, but in the temple in China it was actually an iron ball that sat on a small fire and was lifted up bestowing the brands. According to Shao Lin (not of Hunan) today, the marks of honor are coming back. In China, the temple is still heavily repressed and monitored. Almost everything except necessary tourism is forbidden. You actually have to leave China to be a Shao Lin these days. A true diaspora that has been happening since the boxer rebellion and suppression of the order over 100 years ago. Today we look back, as all our cultures, foundations and ancestors lay in ruins bearing insult and say “The boxers were right. The true defenders were defiled”. But the condition of japan, Europe, China and the US today speaks for itself. We learn to filter polluted waters.
But I have digressed – “Kung Fu” was replaced by the Era of “aren’t we all feel good losers?” TV shows which somehow people of the time gobbled up, greatful to be rescued from reminders of conscience. We have gone crazier and zanier trying to block out our conscience ever since.
But I didn’t. Not me. I followed the Grasshopper. Amazingly enough, 4 years later when I was twelve, there appeared a sign one day on the side of the highway, pointing around to the back of a building and the sign said “Kung Fu”.
There were karate schools in Independence, judo, jujitsu and maybe others, but i could not get the funding for those. When master brought the Shao Lin school to town, my parents brought it up to me. Another “couldn’t believe it” and the immediate intimidation that I was hurrying as fast as I could go to a pass or fail interview. I grabbed the reigns on 50,000 volts of spaz and we walked up to the door. It said “Brothers of the Dragon Shao lin” I did not have to wait in the rain like the Grasshopper, we went in the door and I could not look at one place for all the looking around. Not only that, the master was from Taipei and he was a half breed too.
The rest is history and I had my master Kahn, Po and Caine all in one guy that I pretty much immediately placed on the highest pedastal and engaged enthusiastically in his challenges. I became the youngest after a slightly younger boy left and like my hero on TV, I was surrounded by older students and learned every detail I could. In my mind, I would not fail to keep up with them. How great and generous they were. How fascinating. Even though it took me awhile to believe it, every time I went, I got in. Still. “…and life couldn’t possibly, not even probably, bet-ter be!”
All the older guys were going around being like David Carradine, “Caine”, talking to mean dummies and giving out foot when they could, but I was in the cat bird seat. I was the “grasshopper”. It was not nearly as perfect as the TV set, but neither was I and one day master called me “Weedhopper” and the joke I will not give up for the world. Put it on my tombstone and eat your heart out Jackie Chan. I was in the middle of the dragon circle, happy to admire these fine and mystical beings and my job was not to mess it up.
The rest is a long collection of many tales, but I will mention the dreadful bed of nails. Master being retired to his weaponeering these days most likely won’t see this, but yes yes, that horrible device I was not about to back down from in front of everybody. I watched master precisely measure and place all those nails, all perfectly straight and was mighty impressed. Then he flipped it over and invited us all to hop on. I suppose it is obligatory and how else to learn that….but I have to say my least favorite is bed of nails. When I finally put one in, those fellas will do it and I suppose so will I again. The deadliest thing a monk can do to his self is get soft in the hard spots or hard in the soft ones.
But I am getting older and in my complete piggish ingratitude, I have never once wrote “the role model that became real” and thanked him for a way I had to find on my own. A fan letter that says “you made it out of real stuff, so it isn’t my fault it became real for me – but it has been my blessing.” I owe my health and even life to Shao Lin, which is why I have retired to teach it now. Like we did. Back when Bruce Lee had just hit the silver screen and “everybody was kung fu fighting” like Carl Douglas said. I always imagined Grasshopper was way too cool for me – he was nearly too cool for planet earth! I don’t know what I thought the Grasshopper did in the world? But it was full of lights, space ships and meeting kings, I can remember I was sure of that. At our age now, it looks like my role model had his self a pretty good life too.
He has aged better than me, but then again, his temple was lots fancier in the show. He was from somewhere wonderful far away and Weedhopper was living it out in Independence, leaving too much to pursue medicine that I have begun to reclaim now. Things that have waited long enough are getting done and one of them is my fan letter I haven’t figured out how to write. I watched a conversation with Mr. Pera, David Carradine and others where he asked Carradine “when you met fans, did you ever feel like you had to live up to the character for them?” Honest good ‘ol grasshopper. Everyone else gave stylish, completely safe Hollywood answers. They were not Shao Lin ~
Grasshopper already lived up to Rademas Pera for me. I am the one that would be hoping I had lived up to something if I ever met him. But I have often thought about how to write just to say “Thanks for something better to live up to Grasshopper” Because in the case of “Kung Fu”, you actually could believe the television ~
On the Burden of Rademas, and joy ~
Man, It is pretty simple to me. You recreated from authentic material, in an authentic vocation which, in so far as mankind is concerned has always had significant positive social impact. A vague sense of responsibility that was satisfied in “I was a plausable representation of a chinese/American orphan in 1800’s China. It is difficult to immerse oneself in such a powerful creation without feeling like you honor what you represented no matter what part any of it may be in your own life.” You are, if not disciple, then ambassador to the almost completely contemplative and ethical part of gong fu. You always answered the questions, but weren’t so much giving out footy.
I think your words on it showed me that and express that you understand that may be your one sociopolitical burden.
Thank the powers you didn’t have a job recreating some little furtive monster or malicious alien! Then all “those” guys would think you were cool and want to be thanking you and hanging out and oy! 😉
I sometimes contemplate the concept of destiny and quiver at the thought…any of them really, because that’s all we get. Wondering if wonderful things are true, or we created them because of the better of us.
But if within you are your deepest ethics undenied and generous spirit toward all life, you did snatch the pebble. Pretty sure you already know all that sorry. I have always wanted the chance to say it.
In my mind, you had a rare chance to do something wonderful for the world and you did. You did it well. Who goes ill after the way of the Grasshopper?
Thanks man. Bravo! Got to check out your music ~
“Hard and soft, light and heavy, inner and outer, kung fu is flowing through all these things in a continuous, dynamic state of desire for harmony. A harmony of forces is a priest’s power; the power of the whole earth because he rightly cooperates with the harmony of all power.” A priest has power over the whole earth because he accepts it’s demands and pays it’s prices, rather than seeking to disregard it by trying to overpower what men do not have the strength to. Can anyone overpower their life? No. If they seem to, it was the life they attained that was them. It was their cooperation with power.
If all persons loved the true technology of nature more than man made and faulty aberrations, a priest would not be discernable from anyone else and everyone would share in living power and joy. At one time not so long ago, but far back, we did. We have seen and been so much in the last 100 years, it has brought us back to a place where to some “speaking from the heart” is a too rare and even more desirable trait. In every generation, people are sold a deal that never turns out like it was supposed to be. However in these accelerated times, having had so much that is artificial shoved forcefully upon us, returning to ourselves as humans would seem like an edifying thing. A foot on the earth can still stand tip-toe as it reaches for stars. Having no foundation or net at all, we can’t recover too easily from the falls life is subject to. From the heights we have sailed to, the down is pretty far. Hopefully, we can glide closer to the earth ourselves before we have to drop.
It is a legend of priesthood that one day man will, despite all the most impossible odds, join all life in the sky and in the earth creating a haven for souls where now a wasteland and a battle ground exists. The Jews call that “tikkun olam”, to repair the world and the species thereby. Others simply call it right living and repair now all that can be, piece by piece, not waiting for a great day or movement that rarely seems to come. When it comes if it does, we will already be there. If it never comes, then it was there in us all along. Because of this, any monks simple actions seem large when they are small and things which are small seem as large as them. They exhibit the equanimity of life. “Such is the manner of heaven ~ “
I have never managed the isolation and austerity many have. I have patched my own way along, towards the home I was taught to make. Someday. The serenity of a shao lin cottage. Each piece, even the pegs therapeutic. A circumference within which harmony and happiness resonates. It will be a long time. I may never, like many, make it.
I have friends littler than me and clients older and weaker. I have not been alone in a long time and G-d’s grace holding it will be some time before I am alone again. There is nothing that makes me live for the Glory of the Divine or I am sure I would protest it. I do what my nature demands. When I heal or comfort others I am healing and comforting myself as well. It is not always so, but if we do it anyway, we know it matters beyond our self and we contribute. When I heal or comfort myself, what is around me is healed and comforted too. If one heals and comforts yet feels only loss and does it only for “alms” they rob their self. Even giving alms to another is a two way street. A temporary purchase of “alright” between both parties. But those who withdraw from that get no gain and expend until their own resources go dry. If we follow our nature, we only lose the battles we were going to, not a thousand more we invited going against our own self. My nature is towards these refugee creatures and those who aid them. In that respect, I am already in a very fine shao lin cottage. Even if I never make it, I will have made it anyway.
Some things in life are not so vague, ephemeral or mysterious. Anyone can think about what “self defeating” may mean in their life. Even a child knows what is wrong to it and makes crucial decisions about right and wrong, truth and less than. The harder road will always be worth the journey. As we see more and more in America, the easy road never ends up being worth the time wasted on it. Nonetheless, many choose. Choose your road for your own happiness now and at the end of your life. Good travelling, Self friend ~ KL