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Kickin' It

Battling for Buddha: the Shaolin Monks.
courtesy of House of Blues

Hip-hop thespians Wu-Tang Clan might want to put their litigation counsel on retainer; the real monks of Shaolin Temple, from whom Wu-Tang borrows extensive imagery, have been on the swarm this year fighting the appropriation of their sacred Shaolin name. Across the globe, companies have used the Shaolin tag as a marketing tool, causing the monks to attempt registration of "Shaolin" and "Shaolin Temple" as trademarks and to set up a firm to protect the temple's name.

While trying to remove misleading references to Shaolin, the birthplace of kung fu, from store shelves, the monks are rolling out the genuine product, as it were, for Western audiences to observe, via their touring stage show, Shaolin Wheel of Life.

Shaolin Temple was founded in A.D. 495 as a Buddhist monastery, and upon the arrival of teacher Ta Mo in 574, became the epicenter of Ch'an, or Zen, Buddhism. Its monks were adept in fighting techniques and slowly refined the fighting style known as kung fu.

Shaolin Wheel of Life depicts the legend of the Five Ancestors, which goes something like this: The monks are asked to defend the Emperor's palace against an invading army, which they do with complete success courtesy of their kung fu skills. Impressed, the Emperor asks them to serve as his bodyguards. The monks refuse, which throws the Emperor into a rage. He immobilizes them with poisonous incense and slits their throats, taking his own life when finished. The monks are not obliterated, however. Five young monks -- the Five Ancestors -- rise from the pile to propagate Shaolin's teachings (and ostensibly put an eventual end to the sale of Shaolin-brand canned ham).The stage show is a nonstop montage of impossible-seeming physical feats, including t'ai chi, hand-to-hand combat and fighting with weaponry. Keep your eyes on the prepubescent monks -- they often steal the show with their incredible flexibility.


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