Martial monks vow to bare 'iron vests'

By Wang Zhenghua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-20 10:11
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It doesn't matter what threads you wear to the Shanghai World Expo, China's ceramics-smashing Buddhist monks will have you wearing an "iron vest" in no time.

Martial monks vow to bare 'iron vests'
Shaolin monks perform martial art shows. [China Daily]
Martial monks vow to bare 'iron vests'

To learn some of the cloistered kungfu moves that have not yet been immortalized on celluloid, you don't need to shave, turn vegetarian or head butt columns of neatly stacked tiles; you just need to show up.

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China's fabled Shaolin Temple, one of the birthplaces of kungfu, will send up to 80 of its martial monks to stage performances and teach some of their dastardly defensive moves at the May 1 to Oct 31 expo, despite brewing controversy over the temple's commercial activities that saw its website fall prey to an embarrassing hoax last week.

Visitors will learn how breathing is as important as punching and kicking in terms of delivering power, as they see the monks meditate on two fingers and make themselves invulnerable to strikes with ritualized breathing exercises (known as the "iron vest").

There will be four demonstrations of Shaolin boxing and fighting techniques each day at various squares. The temple has even produced a 45-minute stage play with Australian and German artists featuring modern dance, acrobatics and multi-media art. The performance, Saga of Warrior Monks, will run through July and August.

Shaolin Temple Head Abott Shi Yongxin said his organization fits hand-in-glove with what the expo is aiming to promote.

"Shaolin pursues the harmony between the body and soul, which well responds to a harmonious lifestyle," he said, making reference to the Shanghai Expo's theme of "Better City, Better Life".

Wudang Taoist Association has also signed an agreement with Expo organizers to present its peculiar brand of martial arts. Wudang, which specializes in tai chi chuan (shadow boxing) and is known as a holy land of Taoism, has prepared a 30-minute show and plans to send 60 Taoists to the expo.

From July to September, the Wudang Taoists will perform several times a day, said Li Guangfu, president of the Wudang Taoist Association in Hubei province.

"It will be the first time that Taoist culture, which advocates the idea of harmony, will have a presence at a world expo. I hope through Wudang Kungfu, we can show the world our traditional and harmonious Chinese culture," he said.

Meanwhile, critics question whether Shi deserves to be leading Shaolin into Shanghai.

Shi, who has been accused of over-commercializing the temple and thus breaching the fundamental discipline of Buddhism, fell victim last Wednesday to an online prank. This saw the front page of the temple's website replaced with a fake letter of remorse that had him allegedly apologizing for his 'crimes'.

Shi has made a name for himself and the 1,000-year-old temple over the last decade by copyrighting its name, establishing various business enterprises under this patent, befriending Hollywood stars and even organizing a reality TV show.

However, Shi claims he is merely the modern face of Buddhism.

"We live in modern times and as such we need to do things in line with the rules of the current game," he said. "Buddhism had its way to spread the word in the past. But today things are done differently."

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