It seems since people began to take notice of Chinese martial arts (generically known as "kung-fu") that a huge myth concerning kung-fu's origins has spread like a virus. It has spread so far and wide that few even try to debate it anymore. This myth states quite emphatically that "all martial arts come from Shaolin". Unfortunately most of what people think they know about one of Buddhism's most famous temples they actually learned from either Shaw Brothers films or Chinese pulp fiction novels. To add to this confusion is the plethora of "kung-fu historians" who are actually only perpetuating the myths of their chosen kung-fu style's folklore of choice. Rather than applying actual history research methodologies they artfully fit square pegs into round slots to make their history fit.
The good news is that many myths can be debunked, or at least looked at critically by applying simple logic. In fact, I am not trying to offer any type of counter-history to refute Shaolin advocates, rather I'm simply trying to offer food for thought. We don't need to swallow any "history" that is shoved down our throats, including anything I have to say. Question it all! If you love something be critical with it!
I'm going to offer my first myth counter here. Please read it and give it some thought.
Myth 1: "All martial arts come from Shaolin."
Well anytime the word "all" is applied in any statement regarding any history, a red flag should immediately be raised. Many Shaolin advocates really do believe that all martial arts come from the Shaolin Temple. In fact, I even heard this used yesterday at an open demonstration by a Shaolin kung-fu school. Oddly enough, this Shaolin school was simplying demonstrating "modern wushu" forms which were actually developed by the communist Chinese government in the last century. Even their so-called Shaolin kung-fu is nothing more than martial dance routines which are fun to watch, but certainly not battle-worthy. At the very least, certainly not original Shaolin if such a thing exists.
But regardless of whether what is taught as Shaolin kung-fu today is actually the original Shaolin kung-fu or not is not the point of this article. It is also completely irrelevant whether we are talking about a "northern Shaolin" and/or "southern Shaolin" temple as my points of logic do not necessitate either one or both being the "true one".
Point 1 - Chinese Martial arts pre-date the existence of the Shaolin Temple and even of Buddhism.
For most of its history China has had a very large border that it was forced to protect against the many invading tribes of other lands. For this reason, the original Chinese folk had to develop various war arts to protect their rather vast wealth of land. Some of the earliest weapons found by archaelogists in China come from the Hsia Dynasty which is around 2205-1766 BC. These weapons, many of which are now known as "Shaolin" weapons, were mostly spears, lances and other long pike-style weapons. As far as bare-handed fist-fighting, there are records in the "Hsiao Ya" (Book of Odes) that mentioned fist fighting - and this was about 3000 years ago. The first records of formalized bare-handed fighting comes from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 24 AD) and mentions techniques of wrestling, straight-sword, broadsword, spear and lance. For reference, the Shaolin Temple was built around 495 AD.
Mind you I don't believe that even the most fervent "Shaolinophile" would claim that fist-fighting did not exist in any form before the Shaolin Temple. However, many of the fighting arts that they claim to be their creation were already in existence before the temple (and Buddhism itself) even existed!
Stay tuned for Part 2 "Do Buddhists really fight?"...
Ha, I feel like I'm being a big tease. Always promising the Fight Quest story but always delaying. For those of you who are eagerly waiting for it, I apologize. I do promise to write it, it is just that I know it will take my a lot of time (lots of backstory) and I have simply been too busy lately. Coming soon - promise!
Well, this past week was quite eventful. I was part of the insane tournament of efficiency and endurance (eh... not race!) known as the 2904. This is a Canonball Run style...uh tournament (not race!) that pits teams against each other all driving in cars from NYC to San Francisco with a budget of $2904 (2904 is the number of miles between NYC and SF). I'm very excited because this year the team I was on not only won, but broke the record. We did this crazy journey in a replica of the A-Team van in 37 hours and 8 minutes! For more info on our crazy race...uh I mean tournament, check out www.the2904.com
While I was in the Bay Area I had the chance to visit my Si-Pak, Elmond Leung. Sifu Elmond Leung is one of the most senior WT instructor worldwide - he actually began in great grandmaster Yip Man's class in 1967. When great grandmaster Yip Man retired and handed over his class to a young Sifu Leung Ting, Elmond Leung continued his training under Sifu Leung Ting's tutelage. In any case, it is always an honor for me to do training with Sifu Elmond as he teaches me WT in the more old-school and stripped down fashion. Always an eye-opener for me and truly a blessing to have such a resource available to me! If you are ever in San Francisco Chinatown, please visit Sifu Elmond Leung! His website is www.eleungwingtsun.com
The day I arrived in SF I was immediately carted off to San Jose to teach a workshop at Studio WingTsun (www.studiowingtsun.com). Sifu Haw Kuo was kind enough to invite me to teach a special fighting workshop at his school. I only had two hours to teach the beginning of my special progressive fight training. Hopefully I will have the chance to teach them the second part in the future. Sifu Kuo's student's all trained very hard and I was pleased that I could show them a new way of improving their fighting game.
The next stop on my trip was Los Angeles. I had the extreme pleasure to be hosted by my good friend Dr. Mark Cheng (www.chung-hua.com), who did such a fantastic job making my first trip to LA in 20 years so very memorable. Not only did I get the grand tour of LA, but I also had the chance to do some training of my own outside of WingTsun. We visited the Inosanto Academy where I was able to meet the legendary Bruce Lee protege and have a taste of his brand of Kali. It was very cool to be in the mecca of Bruce Lee and to see the tremendous accomplishments Sifu Inosanto has made in his own right. Additionally, Doc Cheng set up a private introduction to the French art of Savate with Professor Salem Assli. I am very blessed to have such amazing connections in the martial arts. If I am ever interested in the theories and techniques of any given style, I seem to have a knack to have the best people in the world teach and introduce them to me. The knowlege of other martial arts has deepened my understanding of the fighting application of WingTsun.
On the last day of my trip I had the opportunity to teach WingTsun privately to three high profile VIP's (who shall remain nameless!). It seems that LA is very ripe for WingTsun Kung Fu. Who knows what the future holds?
It irritates me only on a very small level to hear about what some very misinformed and politically-slanted individuals are writing in the Internet about the Fight Quest episode. Its been years (five years to be exact) since I gave up reading and participating in Internet "wing chun" forums. The amount of time I gained for my own practice and teaching was immense and I heartily recommend anyone who is serious about their own WingTsun (wing chun et. al) training to give up this practice of following online wing chun forums. You won't find any answers there, at least not any answers that matter. The truth is not posted on those threads and only your own hard work (kung fu) and experience (mistakes) will lead you anywhere close to the truth. Online forums are filled with two types of people - those who are ignorant of their own ignorance and just post to incite others for their childish pleasure; the other are the "wise" armchair sifu's who pretend to be humble and open while secretly spewing the same garbage to their own students as the first group. This always reminds me of one of my favorite quotations of "Humility is the worst form of conceit". But I digress...
I say I'm only mildly irritated because sometimes my students, particularly newer ones are upset when they read this kind of misinformation. In the case of the Fight Quest episode I feel it is my duty to finally report to the public what went on in the background, when the cameras were off. This episode had all the potential to be the best episode ever, especially after my initial meetings with the production company. When we arrived in Hong Kong the production team completely ruined what could have been gold. My good friend Valantis Stamelos of Crescent Street Films laments the fact that his company could have made something so spectacular with WingTsun and Fight Quest and the world would finally see this great art as they should. Sigh.
OK, I rambled on too much and ran out of time... I will blog again shortly with the details of what went wrong. You honestly have no idea what a debacle this was...
Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan recently wrote a blog about the Five Deadly Venoms kung fu film recently. That cult classic was one of the biggest international hits for Shaw brothers and one of Grandmaster Leung Ting's most famous films as fight director. Bey blogs about the film and Grandmaster Leung Ting's influence on it. You can read it here: http://www.dragondynasty.com/blog/show/111