Legend of Shaolin Warriors

23 June, 2023

Gene Ching

shaolin kungfu, kungfumagazine, shaolin warriors, 2023 tiger claw

Author: Gene Ching
Reproduced editor: Xue Yuan 

The article was first published in Kung Fu Magazine
URL: https://www.kungfumagazine.com/ezine/article.php?article=1688

It was sometime in March when the Shaolin Duanpin was put on the TCEC plate. Duanpin (段品) is new for Shaolin. Duan means ‘section,’‘piece,’or ‘division.’ It’s the same term as Dan, used in Japanese martial arts to mean ‘rank.’ Pin means ‘article,’‘product,’ or ‘commodity.’ We’ve covered the advancement of the Duan system in China extensively – for example, see my NOV+DEC 2010 cover story, Making the Grade. It’s been a fascinating journey for Chinese martial arts, another attempt to standardize and formalize the diverse systems and style of Kung Fu.

This would be the first time a Shaolin Duanpin was held in North America, a historic event that was impossible to ignore for KungFuMagazine.com. Here is the initial list of the Shaolin delegation: Yan Pei (延沛), Team Leader; Yan Chong (延崇) aka Qian Daliang (监院), Manager; Yan Ti (延体) aka Piao Chenghua (朴承华), Manager; Yan Li (延理) aka Mao Shuangxi (毛双喜), North America Shaolin Kung Fu Union Secretary; Yan Ye (延烨) aka Liu Taotao (刘涛涛), Envoy; and the rest are all wuseng (warrior monks 武僧): Yan Xuan (延炫) aka Huang Jiahao (黄家好); You Meng (游猛); Zhao Jiale (赵佳乐); Wang Ziyang (汪紫阳); Li Xiang (李想); Feng Yapeng (冯亚鹏); Yu Tianci (于天赐); Li Xilong (李锡龙). I include this for researchers that might be in my wake, as like I said, it was a historic event. We were to receive this entire delegation, and then more than half of them would return to Shaolin, whilst a few would press on to some local Bay Area schools, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and beyond.

Legend of Shaolin Warriors

I had to leave the Load-in before it was done to chauffeur some VIPs, and dear friends to the Welcoming Banquet and the show. Riding in ‘Darth,’ my trusty 2016 CRV that got broken into at the Welcome Banquet years ago were my dear friends Grace Wu-MonnatChristopher Pei, and Violet Li. It was truly a delight to catch up with them on the ride from San Jose to Fremont. We shared how we fared during the pandemic – all three of them teach and they each maintained their schools by adopting different strategies under the Shelter in Place orders.

We held the banquet at World Gourmet Buffet again, which is close to Tiger Claw, the former HQ of our dearly departed newsstand magazine Kung Fu Tai Chi. A buffet might seem indecorous if you’ve never been to World Gourmet. It offers a delectable spread ranging from common comfort foods to exotic Asian food. I must always be careful not to overeat there. The TCEC Welcoming Banquet is always a good party.

However, this year was different. Everyone had to eat quickly so we could head over to Resonate Movement, a Christian Church right next door to Tiger Claw, before the show started. When Resonate first moved into the neighborhood, prior to the pandemic, they held a welcoming party and invited all the neighboring businesses. It was a very neighborly and Christian offer, and Tiger Claw employees seldom refuse a free lunch. Resonate provided a wonderful meal and they weren’t at all preachy, something we were leery of going into it. They were truly neighborly and that gesture was exemplary and appreciated. When we learned that they rented out their hall, we kept it in the back of our minds because we are often called upon to do performances like this. It was the perfect fit for Legend of Shaolin Warriors.

The last big show that TCEC held was our epic 25th Anniversary show Grandmasters LIVE!. We staged that at San Jose’s magnificently restored California Theater, an 1100+ seat house. We were far from filling it. The Resonate Hall is much smaller, with only a few hundred seats. We worried that we might not be able to fill that. But our worries were misplaced. The show was completely sold out – SRO as we say in the biz – standing room only.

I need to confess something here about Legend of Shaolin Warriors. Although I am a Shaolin disciple and made a vow to help spread Shaolin dharma (as they say Shaolin Kung Fu to survive must now be taught to more young men’) I did very little for this production. Since the pandemic, I’m only part-time at Tiger Claw, and I work remotely. Now I have a full-time job with YMAA Publication Center, which demands a regular work week. I only visit the office in the flesh every once in a while, because most of my work is online – keeping KungFuMagazine.com alive here and updating social media. For Legend of Shaolin Warriors, I was just a copy editor and a sounding board. I wasn’t ‘hands on’ with this show or the Shaolin Duanpin at all. My only interaction I had with the monks was to teach them how to assemble puzzle mats for the load-in. So, I had no idea what to expect. And I must commend my coworkers at Tiger Claw because they pulled it off with panache.

A few masters that did plenty more than I did to make Legend of Shaolin Warriors happen. Yu Zhenlong, the 2013 WildAid Champion and headmaster of his champion-producing school, Kung Fu Dragon USA, and Wayne Peng Wen, headmaster of Zhao Bao Taichi Kungfu school, were integral in bringing the warrior monks out. There’s a lot of logistics, paperwork, housing, feeding and chauffeuring required for visiting guests and they played a significant role in that. Leon Zhang, headmaster of Shaolin Mountain KungFu, who helped manage our 25th Anniversary show Grandmasters LIVE! stepped up once again as stage manager for this show.

One of the tasks I did oversee was the translation of the Legend of Shaolin Warriors program. Again, for the sake of future potential researchers, here is the program:

Legend of Shaolin Warriors Program 少林武僧节目单
May 5th, 2023 – Fremont, California
Demonstration from Bay Area Shaolin Schools:
Shaolin Warrior, Kungfu Dragon USA, Shaolin Temple

Act 1:

Eight Section Brocade (Baduanjin) and Group Shaolin Fist Forms 八段经&集体拳
Traditional Shaolin Fist Form (9 different styles) 传统拳
Qigong: Two Finger Handstand 气功二指禪
Drunken Fist Form, Drunken Staff and Drunken Sword 三醉
Qigong: Breaking Steel Bar over Head 气功开钢板
Shaolin Animal Style Fist Forms 象形拳
Intermission 下半场

Act 2:

Wooden fish and Zen Practice 木鱼+禪功
Qigong: Iron Throat against Spears 气功双枪刺吼
Traditional Weapons Forms 传统兵器
Qigong: Five Spears against Iron Body 气功五枪刺身
Group Cotton Fist Form 集体棉拳
Qigong: Break the Staff 气功开棍
Qigong: Iron Crotch 气功铁裆功
Big Battle Finale 大比武
Curtain Closes for the End 闭幕结束

When I worked on that, I thought it was a fairly standard Shaolin show. I have no idea how many Shaolin shows I’ve seen over the years. I can’t even begin to count that. I tracked every show that came through the area and beyond since when they first started coming. Plus, I saw countless more when I was at Shaolin Temple itself. This line-up didn’t impress me. Nevertheless, this was the first official Shaolin monk tour to come through the SF Bay Area since 2015, and it was an intimate venue. I was confident it would be satisfying, despite the major seen-it-before factor.
Unbeknownst to me, our Publisher Emeritus Gigi Oh requested that the program present more traditional Shaolin forms. Most Shaolin performances, even at Shaolin Temple, focus on more theatrical performances that focus on acrobatics and modern Wushu forms. It’s theater after all, so it must be more theatrical. However, this was a discerning audience – grandmasters, masters, champions, competitors, and Kung Fu aficionados. Astonishingly, they listened. Legend of Shaolin Warriors had more traditional demonstrations than any other show I’ve seen presented in America.

Another factor that might have contributed to a more traditional presentation beyond Gigi’s request was the narrow stage. Master Yu Zhenlong generously lent two of his wushu carpets to TCEC. Each was a two-piece and one of the halves was used for the stage floor. With an additional pipe-and-drape backdrop, the stage was only half a wushu carpet wide. This didn’t allow for as much running, which limited the amount of jumping. Those glorious ‘big air’ flying kicks that are so showy aren’t traditional. By taking those out of the equation, the monks had to adapt and restrict themselves to more classical forms. They still got off a few big leaps, but this was severely limited due to the shortened landing strip.

Even the opening acts were entertaining. When demonstrating Kung Fu amongst fellow practitioners, it is customary for both the hosts and guests to share their practice. Three local SF Bay Area schools took on that responsibility to honor the visiting monks. Three schools presented short dazzling showcases: Master Zhao Hai Chuan’s school Shaolin Warrior Martial Arts, the aforementioned Master Yu Zhenlong’s school Kung Fu Dragon USA, and Shi Yanran’s school Shaolin Temple USA. All three of these schools know how to put on a show. Most schools will present their best students doing a line-up of forms. These three schools put on tightly choreographed shows that dazzle and entertain, showcasing their best pupils in an impressive performance. Each was an exciting opening act for the warrior monks of Shaolin Temple.

Legend of Shaolin Warriors had more traditional Kung Fu than I ever witnessed in a theatrical show. When the Traditional Shaolin Fist Form section opened with Qixingquan, I thought to myself “Nice, I really need to relearn that form.” It was once part of my curriculum and I loved it, but it has fallen to the wayside. I caught myself trying to recite the form in my head when the next form came out, and true to form, they demonstrated nine traditional Shaolin forms. I’ve never seen more than three traditional forms in a live theatrical Shaolin monk performance before. The monks added a little flair and drama to their performance, but the rooting and power were clearly visible. The Traditional Weapons form section had a few typical acrobatic performances with the basic weapons, and then there was a beautiful traditional rendition of my favorite Shaolin weapon, the Bodhidarma Cane. I need to relearn that too. I relearned it during the pandemic, but I’ve let it fade again. The show left me so inspired that I wanted to train more, and that’s the heart of the true Shaolin mission.
Legend of Shaolin Warriors was outstanding. And I wasn’t the only person impressed by the show. The traditional showcase wasn’t lost on the audience either. Many other masters commented that it was refreshing to see some more authentic Shaolin Kung Fu, instead of the typical theatrical stuff.

The other act that stood out was Qigong: Breaking Steel Bar over Head. I’ve seen the steel bar break so many times. Usually it’s soft iron, not hardened steel, which can still be tough but not as impossible to break as it might seem. When the monk walked out with three bars, I raised an eyebrow. Sometimes performers will break two bars over their forehead. I’m told that it’s exponentially harder with each bar you add. Most do one. A few do two. I’ve heard of masters that can do three, but I’ve never seen one. This master only did the two on his forehead, which is always impressive but nothing I haven’t seen dozens of times before. But he did do something I hadn’t seen yet. He broke the extra bar across the back of his head. Wait…what? How does that work? The front of the skull is naturally hard. That’s how head-butting works. The back of the skull has some major vulnerable points, like the base of the spine, and some knock-out points behind the ears. I’m still a bit baffled by the physics and anatomy of that break. I need to see it again.

And we may. Legend of Shaolin Warriors was filmed professionally to be simulcast on the large video screens next to stage, as well as in the lobby. Tiger Claw has that footage, as well as the rights to it. However, when the print magazine folded, so did the video department, so I don’t know what might happen to this footage. It would make an excellent DVD someday if we can find a video editor willing to take it on. We shall see.
But what about the tournament? Stay tuned for the next installment - 2023 Tiger Claw Elite KungFuMagazine.com Championship and Kung Fu Tai Chi Day.

About Gene Ching :
Gene Ching is the Publisher of KungFuMagazine.com and the author of Shaolin Trips.