by Gene Ching
Fifteen hundred years. Seven and a half times older than the United States of America. Three quarters of the time since the birth of Jesus Christ. We are living in a most interesting time, my brothers and sisters. In two years, Hong Kong will return to the People's Republic of China. In five years, the Gregorian calendar crosses a millennium. While these are significant dates affecting our global community, this year marks another historic landmark for our family. This year marks the 1500th anniversary of the founding of Shaolin temple in Henan, China.
On such an auspicious year, we cannot help but wonder what tomorrow will hold for Shaolin. Our 1500 year history is so fragmentary that it is difficult to determine where we have been, even more difficult to determine where we are going. We can only observe where we are now and project our possible futures.
China, hungry for American money, now exalts the once disbanded Shaolin temple as a tourist area. "Renew your vigour in tourism" is the slogan. Train with government-supported Wushu champions, and "real" Shaolin monks. Invest in one of the five martial academies at the base of Mount Song, in the shadow of Shaolin. It seems that the land of our legacy has been resurrected as a political and economic statement. Indeed, Shaolin sees one million tourists a year. Will it be burned down again by commercialism?
Today, in America, modern technologies have certainly had their effect upon our precious Kung Fu. Only a few decades ago, merely one or two percent of Shaolin's illustrious history, the idea of creating an international videotape correspondence program was beyond our imagination. Now videotape has become a crucial medium for the preservation our endangered traditional arts.
Our children are inundated with martial images. They are everywhere: on video games, in movies about video games (starring our flashiest martial arts stars), and on POGs (if you don't know what POGs are, don't ask). These representations are mostly some sort of caricature, with racist "Fu Manchu" villains, and heroes in vinyl "Ultraman" pajamas. What kind of image are we giving our youth? How will this mold the expectations of the next generation of martial artists?
Lam Kwoon has gone so far as to merge onto the information highway. Now we can disseminate knowledge and receive information internationally by simply turning on our computer. As a martial artist, I cannot help but be amazed by the effects of these new technologies upon our tradition. Secret texts and techniques, once closely guarded by their esoteric schools, are readily accessible to everyone. Researchers argue about various technical aspects of Kung Fu on rec.martial-arts over the Internet. I imagine that the old days were simpler. Back then, if there was a theoretical disagreement in the martial arts, both parties could face each other on a fallen log over a muddy river, for a revealing bout of push hands.
As traditional martial artists, we face more and more questions with each passing moment. Can we overcome the overwhelming glut of information from multimedia? Can we overlook the flowery performance of modern Wushu or the surreal Hollywood image of Kung Fu? Can we impress upon our youth the value of hard work and practice? Can we still honor the birthplace of our noble tradition?
To the true practitioner, these questions are interesting, but not nearly as important as the real challenges. The real challenges remain the same as they ever were. How fast is your punch? How strong is your kick? In the realm of martial arts, it does not really matter what you might think or say, it will only matter what you do. The theory is meaningless without practice. Be honest with yourself when you might engage in these sorts of discussions, since they certainly seem to be increasing. Be true to Kung Fu, the "skill that is acquired over time and hard work". After all, which is a more convincing argument to a real Kung Fu person, flowery speech or a strong horse stance?