‘The Wisdom of Shaolin’ is a martial arts performance written, produced and directed by Shi Yanming, a 34th generation Shaolin Monk. It is inspired by the basic teachings of Zen Buddhism and begins by informing the audience of the trials of Prince Siddhartha, a privileged man sheltered from the challenges of the world. Upon realising his dependency and attachment to superficial objects he overcomes his vices and eventually achieves enlightenment. Shi Yanming holds that this story of ‘self-understanding and cultivation’ can serve as inspiration for others to achieve this same balance.
The audience is given insight into the daily occurrences of the monks and the lessons they encounter on their journey to enlightenment, from their rigorous weapons training to the meal times – more subtle moments which prove to be enriching experiences that can harmonise the mind, body and spirit. Throughout the show the audience is treated to authentic Shaolin fighting sequences with such traditional weapons as the Shaolin chain whips and the tai chi sword, pleasantly accompanied by the original music of Sebastian Wild. The similarly impressive stunts, a notably memorable one, include the ‘Qi Gong Bed of Nails’, where two monks lay between a bed of nails, a brick is laid on top of them and smashed with a sledge hammer.
The performance was produced by the UK Shaolin Temple founded in 2003 and celebrating their 10th anniversary as a registered charity. The organisation strives to teach all aspects of the Shaolin message improving the ‘whole being’ by heightening oneself mentally, spiritually and physically. Shi Yanming strives for the West to experience Shaolin culture in a personal way, and therefore avoids the common choice to use experienced Chinese monks. All of the actors and many of the stage hands are volunteers , some with no prior knowledge or experience of the Shaolin culture. As a result, aspects of the performance are amateurish – the stunts are not always performed perfectly with complete precision, however it is clear that it is performed with great enthusiasm and passion.
For those interested in learning more about the Shaolin culture, you can volunteer with the UK Shaolin Temple, or sign up for a free lesson at www.ukshaolintemple.com