Wushu Comes to Whitehorse

Last November, Whitehorse entrepreneur Stephen Kwok Wai-Kan was in Vancouver in his

part-time role as liaison officer between the Yukon and Chinese governments.

When Her Excellency Lui Fei, China’s consul general in that city, asked if he’d be interested in having some Chinese performers come to Whitehorse to help celebrate the Chinese New Year, Kwok didn’t hesitate.

“She said, ‘What’s your idea for a show?’ and I said, ‘First thing I need is martial arts. Everybody loves martial arts,” he reports.

As luck would have it, one of the world’s top martial arts troupes was already scheduled to be in Vancouver to help usher in the Year of the Sheep in the Chinese lunar calendar, which starts on February 19. Fitting in a couple of Yukon shows would not be a problem.

“It is just a celebration, and an opportunity to give the Yukon an open eye to this kind of big event,” Kwok says.

“Even myself, I have never seen a real martial arts performance in my life, so I’m not going to pass up this opportunity when I have Chinese government support, plus Yukon government support.”

The 19-member group known as Shaolin Wushu Masters will appear at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on February 15 and 16, starting at 7:00 p.m., presented by the YukonChina Community Association.

The name Shaolin Wushu, also known as Shaolin kung fu (or Shaolin quan), refers to the style of martial arts first adopted more than 1,500 years ago by Zen Buddhist monks at the temple of Shaolin at Songshan Mountain in the central Chinese province of Henan.

Born from necessity, as a way for the monks to protect their monastery and its extensive grounds from marauders, it has since gone on to become the dominant school of kung fu, with an extensive repertoire of both barehanded and weapon styles of engagement.

According to some sources, an old Chinese saying has it that “All martial arts under heaven arose out of Shaolin.”

Monastic life at Shaolin still involves a rigorous regime combining several hours a day of martial arts practice (“quan”) with regular periods of religious study (“chan”), as well as the routine domestic and administrative chores of communal life.

According to Kwok, the Shaolin Wushu Masters coming here next week performed before world leaders at Beijing’s “bird’s nest” stadium during last year’s APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit last November.

“The school has performed in over 80 countries all over the world, and the famous actor Jet Li is from the same school, so they are very high profile.”

In Whitehorse, they will perform on a 40-foot-square area that will use up nearly half of the cultural centre’s floor space.

The performance will include a variety of techniques, including pictographic animal boxing, knife and whip group boxing, variations of hard qigong (involving pikes and steel nails), and use of the 18 weapons developed by Shaolin monks over the years.

Kwok admits he has no direct experience with traditional martial arts.

“None. I love Chinese food. Does that count?” he jokes. “But I don’t use chopsticks, I use a fork and knife.”

Still, the owner of 38 Famous Video and the nearby Riverdale Neighbourhood Pub recently uncovered a possible tie-in between the kung fu presentation and one of his other businesses, the city’s only bowling alley, which is scheduled to close in April.

Referring to Stephen Chow’s over-top comedy, Shaolin Soccer, filmed in Hong Kong in 2001, Kwok says some customers suggested a way of raising money to avoid the bowling alley’s closure.

“When they found out I was bringing these guys in, they said, ‘Shoot a movie called Shaolin Bowling,'” he laughs.

“If the ski hill needs money, or the curling club needs money, maybe we could all put on a sequel.”

Tickets to the Shaolin Wushu Masters presentation are $30, available at 38 Famous Video on Lewes Boulevard. 

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