- Master Yon Lee of the Harvard University Tai Chi Tiger Crane Club and Shaolin Cultural Foundation organized the event with the monks and Jim Leach. Master Lee translated as well. The training room was full of Tai Chi [taiji] and other martial arts enthusiasts as well as acupuncturists and alternative health and healing practitioners.
- My guess is there were anywhere from 75 to 100 people in attendance, not surprisingly. GM De Li is the current martial abbot of the Songshan Temple, the 31st generation successor in lineage from Bodhidharma — considered the traditional first patriarch of Ch’an (or Zen) Buddhism.
Master Lee started with some background on the Harvard club and some history on Damo Zen. Master Lee spoke about a special form that GM De Li teaches called Tongzigong – which translated means to return an older person back to a child. The GM wants to examine the medical benefits of this qi gong and has a passion to share this practice as far and wide as possible.
Master Lee then gave us a koan:
Kung Fu [gong fu] is basically Zen.
Zen is also medicine.
Medicine is also Kung Fu.
Zen is also music.
Music is medicine.
Music is Kung Fu.
Music helps to heal.
From this the Grand Master and his teaching monk were joined by Jim Leach in a ritual to bless the training space and Leach. Leach was presented with a mala blessed by the GM.
Jim Leach, GM Shi De Li and Monk at ritual.
Then the demonstrations began. The training monk sat at an 8 stringed zhang and began to strum. GM De Li began to demonstrate his form to the haunting music.
Thereafter, the training monk took up a wind instrument and played upon it. When he finished the simple melody, he bowed and began a martial form using the flute – quite heavy, made of red wood [which we were assured floats in water] as a club.
After the impressive and energetic form, he followed with a fist form and the demonstrations were ended.
The GM made himself available for questions and answers out of which I only include some interesting points:
He said there were only two conditions to someone wishing to join the Temple and learn the martial art: 1. They must attend Buddhism college and 2. They must have the gifts to learn martial arts.
When asked about the daily routine at the Temple, the GM said they eat at 11 am and practice until 3 am. Then the master seemed to balk, or Master Lee did. Lee apologized. Apparently it was/is a secret that the Shaolin practice at night.
The GM gave a demonstration of breathing in the cosmos, with hand gestures and posture.
Finally, when asked about weapons he said that sticks were the most common training weapons at the Temple, but that there were 30 plus weapons and the young, training monk with him was an expert in 20 different kinds – including an umbrella.
After the questions/answers we were given a lesson in three forms by the training monk. Many of us participated, while the shy among us hugged the back wall and watched.
It was a fun form and invigorating and not at all complicated – though I’m sure it would take years to perfect. Too soon, it was all over.
For me, I was able to watch the GM do his daoyin or qi gong before the demonstrations and saw the similarities to some of the Daoyin I practice as well as learning and moving in a ‘hard style’ martial art, anchored in Buddhism. Taiji is a ‘soft style’ or ‘internal’ martial art, anchored in Daoism — China’s indigenous faith. And of course it was fun to get to know the martial arts community in my new hometown. Whether we all got that kung fu was music and medicine, and Zen I can’t say. But I left there feeling grounded and happy to be alive.
Me and GM De Li
The GM is in the US for another week and will be teaching again at the Shaolin Center in Quincy, Mass on Dec. 12. Master Lee will also give a talk on Kung Fu Medicine and there will be a dinner and dance at the China Pearl Restaurant. Contact Master Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets and details.