Friday, December 14, 2007

Shaolin Temple: The Fist of Love

(((Shaolin Temple; Buddhism and kung fu/wushu; trash talking with monks; could have and maybe should have been quote of the day, but it's not)))

China is trying to organize a wushu competition parallel to the Olympic Games and is all miffed that the Shaolin monks won't participate. The Chinese government, which of course wants to divorce the practice of kung fu completely from any spiritual anything, can't understand why Buddhist monks won't play along? The article quotes one of the monks:

Clad in saffron Buddhist robes, Dechao insists that real kung fu monks don't fight. They meditate and practice kung fu to reach enlightenment. "Every fist contains my love," says the 39-year-old Dechao, also known as Big Beard.

There are many interesting things about this, but at the moment, I want to focus on the dispute about the spirituality of kung fu practice, and about the bizarre attitude of some of the purely athletic practitioners, who insist that "Our goal is the medal[. . . . ]The monks in the temple do it as a hobby." This is mainly ignorant, but also an odd sort of denigration of tradition in the form of taunting Buddhist monks. For what, exactly? That they think kung fu as spiritual practice is different from kung fu as athletic competition aiming at honor? You can say they're wrong, you don't "believe in" Zen, or whatever, but to say that they practice as a "hobby" is just stupid.

The author of the article notes that the Shaolin abbot declining to participate in the competition organizes his own shows with ticket prices at $32. But I honestly don't see the contradiction. The point is not just that it's not about violence. The point is that it's not about competition.

Let's admit that if they did participate, we would all note that even the great monks of Shaolin came to hand out the smackdowns at a competition. If they lost a lot, we would say how they're pretenders. If they won, we would say they just wanted to show off, and the fact that they participated shows that there's nothing spiritual about it. So even if we don't buy the distinction made by the abbot (which I admit I do), I don't see anything in here that's incentive for participation.

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