When I hear the word Shaolin, I automatically imagine monks dressed in orange-yellow garments, doing flips, one finger push ups and handstands, breaking iron bars with their heads and lying on a bed of nails (Iron Body). Other things that come to mind are Jet Li, The Wu-Tang Clan and "shadow kicks". Unfortunately, these days I also associate Shaolin with the term "sell out" since it seems like the Shaolin Temple (少林寺 - "Shaolin Shi" in Mandarin, Siew Lum Si in Cantonese) is more concerned with making money than reaching enlightenment (as a proper temple should aspire to).
The writer of the Battle for the Soul of Kung Fu appropriately sets a morbid feel right off the bat, reflective of the current sentiment of Shaolin, by describing the final moments in the life of a Shaolin master. Then he goes into the dichotomous description of two monks. One with the dilemma of whether or not to accept a leading role in a kung fu movie that will further feed the over-commercialization backlash but at the same time bring the much needed funds and publicity for Shaolin (not to mention his kung fu school) and the other, a prodigious recluse trying to revitalize the traditional ways.
Recently I came across an article featured in National Geographic Magazine (March 2011 issue, available on newstands) titled "Battle for the Soul of Kung Fu" (click link for online version). There is a saying in Chinese (天下功夫出少林) that "All martial arts come from Shaolin". These days with the popularity of the UFC and mixed martial arts along with the rising popularity of Wing Chun, Shaolin has suddenly become the grandparent that no one visits but yet still commands some, although not a lot of, respect (especially from the younger generation).
|Commercialization at its finest|
I believe that this article is trying to convey hope for Shaolin but like the host of Reading Rainbow always said, "You don't have to take my word for it". I was able to get an interview with the writer of Battle for the Soul of Kung Fu (Peter Gwin, writer for National Geographic magazine) and here are some of the highlights: