Most of us have experienced Kung-fu through the lens of martial arts cinema legends such as Chow Yun-Fat in the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Jackie Chan in director Lau Kar-leung’s Drunken Master.
The 1993 film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story by director Rob Cohen popularized the East meets West narrative of the Chinese immigrant experience through martial arts.
On July 29 and 30 Yukoners will have the chance to experience a live Chinese martial arts performance. We’re in for a treat as the world renowned Shaolin Wushu Masters visit Whitehorse this weekend.
For Stephen Kwok Wai-Kan, Director of Yukon China Business Services, owner of 38 Famous Video Store in Riverdale and the Riverdale Neighbourhood Pub, bringing Chinese culture to the Yukon is a labour of love.
Two years ago he made the connection with Liu Fei, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Vancouver. She offered to help bring the Shaolin Wushu Masters to Whitehorse.
“They are the original Shaolin Kung-fu artists from China,” says Kwok Wai-Kan. “The event will be eye opening for Yukoners. You will get to experience real martial arts.”
This will be the second time (the first time was in 2015) that the famed Kung-fu show comes to the Yukon and it can’t be confirmed when they will be here again, if at all.
“It’s very seldom that we have real performances like this in the Yukon,” he says.“It’s a very special opportunity for Yukoners to learn about Chinese culture and see a real martial arts performance. Watching Jackie Chan movies doesn’t count.”
The Shaolin Wushu Masters hail from a monastery in Dengfeng County in the Henan Province of China that was founded 1,500 years ago (give or take) by Fang Lu-Hao.
Shaolin has a long history, with roots dating back to before the founding of the first Shaolin Temple in 495 AD according to historical records. Although the first to teach at the Shaolin temple was a monk from India named Buddhabhadra another monk called Bodhidharma is often credited with training the first Shaolin monks in martial arts. Shaolin developed more concrete forms during the Sui and Tang dynasties (581–907 AD). The martial art underwent a period of growth during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) because of unrest in Henan province. Shaolin is considered by many to be one of the external Kung-fu styles as opposed to internal styles like Wing Chun.
There are currently over 5,000 students studying Kung-fu with the monks at the Shaolin Temple, says Kwok Wai-Kan. “They are very disciplined performers.”
Although they are not technically monks themselves, “When they are training with the monks they follow the monk’s rules and wear the monk’s uniforms. They don’t have to follow the rules [such as not eating meat and being celibate] when they’re outside of the monastery.”
The boys at the monastery practice a unique regimen from early childhood. Their daily schedule includes meditation and external exercises to invigorate the circulation of blood and Chi (life force).
All Shaolin disciples must pass a rigorous, age-old graduation tournament. They need to prove their proficiency in 18 weapons, the 18 Arhats (martial arts forms) and defeat their Master.
Once they have graduated they are considered Shaolin disciples and “spreaders of philosophy.”
According to the Yukon-China Community Association many aspects of their training will be on display at the Arts Centre.
Shaolin Zen Boxing is called The Soul of Shaolin Kung-fu as it personifies a combination of Zen Buddhism and martial arts that is unique to Shaolin kungfu. The kickboxing style is a symbol of this combination and incorporates traditional Chinese medicine.
Shaolin Hard Qigong is the ability to break hard objects by putting parts of the body into a stress state. This practice is acquired through years of training, meditation and mind regulation.
Shaolin Weapons include blades, double spears, swords, double hammers, whips and more.
Shaolin Imitative Boxing consists of forms inspired by the animal kingdom. The forms imitate the movements of animals, such as frog, scorpion, tiger, eagle and the praying mantis.
The group needs a lot of space to put on the show in order for it to be safe for the audience because they perform with swords, broken glass and so on. The last time that the Shaolin Wushu Masters came to Whitehorse Kwok Wai-Kan says that people were, “shocked and amazed to see real Kung-fu for the first time.”
He points out that now is an important time for cultural exchange between China and the Yukon.
“More and more Chinese tourists are coming to the Yukon to see the Northern Lights because they’ve realized that it’s closer to B.C. than the Northwest Territories and it’s easier to access. It’s a short trip to Whitehorse,” he says.
Kwok Wai-Kan sees this as an important step towards promoting Chinese culture in the North.
The performers will be on a tight schedule during their visit. They will hold a rehearsal at the Arts Centre, take a short city tour of Whitehorse and perform on the weekend before heading to British Columbia.
The Shaolin Wushu Masters perform at the Yukon Arts Centre on Saturday, July 29th at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available through the Yukon Arts Centre, Arts Underground and YukonTickets.com. For more information contact YukonChinaCommunityAssociation@hotmail.com