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Soul music - Shaolin style
By Chen Jie (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-15 08:41

After a whirlwind tour of the United States, the Shaolin monks will present their exciting dance numbers, Buddhist music, true-to-life sets and dazzling lighting in a show called "Soul of Shaolin" at the Beijing Exhibition Hall Theater April 23-24.

The monks used both traditional and modernized Chinese Buddhist music to accompany Shaolin kungfu, a unique form of martial arts practised at the Shaolin Temple, in Central China's Henan Province.

The Shaolin Temple, located at the foot of Mount Songshan, has been famous for its profound version of Zen Buddhism and its legendary Shaolin kungfu for more than 1,500 years. And it still appeals to today's urban dwellers, firing their imaginations with the Shaolin monks' life style and martial arts skills.

Now, there is an opportunity for people to get close to the masters and watch their performances without having to go to the temple.

The breath-taking performances of the 40 monks in the "Soul of Shaolin" at the Beijing Exhibition Hall Theater are based on the monks' daily lives and training regimen.

China has an old saying that goes: "All kungfu comes from Shaolin." It underlines the important role Shaolin kungfu plays in Chinese martial arts heritage.

Shaolin kungfu is not simply a genre of martial arts, but a comprehensive Buddhist system composed of Zen and its unique form of kongfu. Shaolin kungfu offers people a chance to see great health and fitness and superb fighting skills that some say is as exciting to watch as the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Compactness is a feature of the Shaolin kungfu. The moves and ricks are short, simple and succinct as well as rich and varied. While fighting, Shaolin monks advance and retreat in short, straight movements. They need only a small space to execute their style of fighting. Attack and defence are blended together seamlessly.

Shaolin kungfu is powerful and quick with rhythmic rising and falling body movements.

It stresses hardness in its actions, but it also balances this hardness with a corresponding softness. When jabbing or palming, the arm must be neither too bent nor too straight, a blend of external and internal forces.

Shaolin kungfu takes its name from the Shaolin Temple which was built during the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534) and is one of China's most famous ancient temples.

Many of the monks knew martial arts before joining the temple. They taught each other what they knew and helped each other improve their skills. Gradually, they developed their martial arts skills into the unique system of the Shaolin school.

However, it did not become well known until the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when the Shaolin monks saved the life of Li Shimin, founder of Tang Dynasty.

At the end of the Sui Dynasty (581-618), Li Shimin fought against other strong forces for the imperial throne. He was cornered by his adversaries and would have been killed if it were not for the Shaolin monks who stepped in and helped him.

After establishing the Tang Dynasty, Li rewarded these monks according to their military merits and contributions. The Shaolin Temple was given large grants of land and money to expand the temple complex.

The Shaolin Temple was allowed to organize an army of monks, who acted as soldiers in times of war and as monks when there was peace. Shaolin kungfu was developed and tempered through battles and wars.

It developed through the Tang Dynasty and gradually formed its own complete system of Zen Buddhism and martial arts in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

By the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Shaolin Temple had more than 2,000 monks, all of whom were masters in the martials arts.

In 1553 of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Shaolin monks took part in battles against Japanese invaders and accomplished many military exploits.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), people living around Shaolin Temple were very active in practising kungfu, and in the early 20th century kungfu underwent further development. Kungfu clubs were established all over the country, most of them practising the Shaolin style. But as time went on, Shaolin kungfu gradually began to wane.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of literary and artistic works about Shaolin kungfu appeared. These works greatly aroused people's interests in Chinese kungfu, particularly after the movie "Shaolin Temple," starring Jet Li, was released in the early 1980s. Today, the Shaolin Temple and Shaolin kungfu are well known all over the world.

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