Thursday, May 10, 2012
Musician and Filmmaker The RZA Brings Blessings and Beats to New USA Shaolin Temple Opening Ceremony
The five year journey that brought students, instructors and their families & friends to this event, actually began in 1992, when Shifu - founder and Chief Abbot of the Temple - defected while on the first-ever Shaolin Temple Monks tour of the United States. A unique and sometimes dangerous journey from San Francisco to a basement in New York City, somehow helped to forged a desire to share the ways of Shaolin with anyone who wanted to learn. Over the years, that list of eager disciples has grown to include a number of notable celebrities, such as Rosie Perez, Bokeem Woodbine, John Leguizamo and countless others. Also on that list is Wu-Tang Clan co-founder The RZA, who was able to attend yesterday's celebration, bringing with him positive words, and even an impromptu jam session.
Other than the fact that this was "The RZA" walking around the grounds of the 88 acre campus, what intrigued me most was that, this was not the RZA from Ghostdog - cool, camouflage-wearing urban samurai. Nor was this the musician who has scored more than 35 movies and produced hundreds of records. Nor was it the director who just wrapped a major Hollywood martial arts film, where he shares the screen with Russell Crowe, Lucy Lui and Pam Grier. The person I shook hands with - who gave my friend Alvin a pound after graciously posing for a shot - was Robert Diggs, a student who came to show his support for an instructor he obviously respects tremendously.
It's clear that what's stressed at USA Shaolin Temple, along with many other martial arts schools I've visited for this ongoing project, is that what's taught is much more than the physical aspects of fighting. In fact, one student from Brooklyn mentioned to me that the most difficult aspect of his training is the "inner" rather than the "outer." I also sensed after seeing the near-pristine condition of the 7 buildings that make up the newly-opened Temple, that discipline is key to successful training at USA Shaolin Temple. Much of the work on the previously dilapidated structures was completed by volunteer students and "Shihans," who made the 2 hour journey on weekends, where they cleaned, cleared, built and painted.
The cultural practices of Chan Buddhist philosophy has successfully adapted itself to Western traditions and ways of life, through the school's cultural diversity and Shifu's approachable persona. Through all of the lion dancing, gymnastic flips and kung fu, it seems that Shi Yan-Ming is creating a new type of American dream, but one based on thousands of years of tradition.
Future plans for the location include a summer camp for kids as well as an extended stay training program.
Photos and Article written by Rene Carson - and Alvin Pettit