The Power of Chi! - Katana Magazine
March 30, 2011
By Alonso Rosado F, Photos by Alex Cuevas for Katana Magazine
(Scroll down for English Translation)
It's not every day that you have the opportunity to have a conversation with a Shaolin Monk, and on top of that joke with him at a private dinner. But that's exactly what happened at the end of 2010 after Shi Yan Ming visited our studio. So Alex Cuevas was able to take the splendid images that go with the interview. To hear people talk about him is one thing, but to see him in action is completely different, and no show on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic could prepare us for it. Flexible to a super human level with thunder-like explosive movements, in addition to a magnetic personality and extreme vitality Shi Yan Ming puts the "aura of power in a class all its own" abilities of a Kung Fu Master that have been talked about through the generations and all martial arts lovers look for from TV and Kung Fu Movies. It was in 1992, while being on a tour with the rest of his peers of an elite selection of the Shaolin Temple in the United States when Shi Yan Ming decided to to desert and stay in New York. It's needless to say that that action cost him the disapproval of his nation for many years. The road was not easy, but his charisma and abilities opened the way and soon he had a legion of disciples in the west willing to follow his teachings, among them is Daniel Corona, director of the Shaolin Temple in Mexico and who has invited Shifu Shi Yan Ming to our country nine times to teach seminars. In the following interview, we talk with Shifu about his training at the monastery, his views of martial arts, about chi, and the mythical Bruce Lee with whom he shares the astrological sign of the dragon. It also include a unique new years message, not only for the first trimester of 2011, but for each and every one of the rest of the days in the life of planet earth. Let's read what this is all about.
Katana: In your recent visit to our country, we were in the welcome ceremony that the Shaolin Temple students dedicated to you. You greeted them saying "Merry Christmas!" and they answered "Happy New Year!" Is this about an attitude in life?
Shi Yan Ming: Yes, life is beautiful, precious; every day, every moment is a beautiful gift, we should appreciate it. A lot of times people forget what that means. In the 21st century everything is really fast, we fly, we drive, we send messages by text, fax, email, people forget what it means to have a beautiful body and beautiful mind. Those two simple phrases remind us of the importance, the meaning and the beauty of life. "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year" is something that helps us celebrate every day and reminds us of the attitude we should have, life is beautiful. Most of the people want to celebrate our beautiful life only two days a year, why not every day?
Katana: What is the most profound meaning of the term "wushu"?
Shi Yan Ming: Wushu, besides martial arts, means "stop the use of arms", "be in peace", on the other hand Kung Fu means to obtain mastery not only in martial arts but in any activity we get involved with.
Katana: I understand that you have been in our country 9 times, what do you think of Mexico?
Shi Yan Ming: Mexico is beautiful, I love Mexico!, Mexico is a beautiful country, its people are fantastic, it has a lot of love. I would like people to realize that to who do you pray? Jesus Christ, Moses, Buddha, Allah; all of them are beautiful spiritual guides that teach people to love one another, the difference between right and wrong, to bring peace and understanding to the world.
Katana: Tell us more about your relationship with the students in Mexico, and the way the study Kung Fu.
Shi Yan Ming: I'm very proud, my name means Shi (like Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, we all have the same last name, that includes the Mexican students). I'm very proud of the hard work of my students, their dedication, this brings hope to the world which is akin to Chan philosophy (Zen). I can see how much they have improved and I'm very happy to see new students, new students who follow this path.
Katana: What is your goal in life regarding martial arts?
Shi Yan Ming: To impact the most people - that's my goal. I travel a lot around the world to different countries and many times you don't need to talk because the way of Chan teaches us to communicate "Mind to Mind, Heart to Heart". There are different roads, different doors to expand the Chan philosophy through martial arts to the rest of the world.
Katana: How do you define Chi?
Shi Yan Ming: Chi means life force (vital force). When we eat we need chi, to speak, to walk two blocks... In martial arts we have forms that allow us to accumulate chi. However there is no way to see the chi, but it exists. Action speaks louder than words.
Katana: How did you decide to move to the USA?
Shi Yan Ming: In 1992, we were giving a demonstration in the USA. The last stop was in San Francisco, at the end of the exhibition I decided to stay in the United States and share the knowledge that I have with the rest of the world. I defected and had a lot of problems with the Chinese government. The leader of the group was the president of the Chinese Martial Arts Federation, Zhang Yao Ting. Time has softened the situation, they understand that I have a role in spreading Shaolin martial arts to the world.
Katana: How many countries do you have schools in?
Shi Yan Ming: The first is in the United States and the second in Johannesburg, South Aftrica. We also have schools in Austria, Trinidad, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina. In the near future we will have temples in Barbados, Russia, and Amsterdam.
Katana: Talk to us about your roots in the martial arts. How did you start training?
Shi Yan Ming: I started my training at five years old at the Shaolin Temple. I had a sickness that was difficult to cure and my parents sold everything to be able to give me treatment and save my life. That's why they took me to the Shaolin Temple at 5 years old and from then until now, I have never gotten sick again. I have a beautiful life and I'm handsome (laughs). All that thanks to the Shaolin training, not only for the body but mind and spirit through the meditation and philosophy.
Katana: Can you tell us what a normal day in your life in the Shaolin Temple was like?
Shi Yan Ming: We woke up at 4 AM and trained until 6:30, after that we had a 30 minutes breakfast, then rest from 7 to 8; we could wash our clothes, sleep or meditate a little and then we trained again from 8 to 11:30. After that we ate and then another resting period from 12 to 1 and back to train from 1 to 5:30 in the afternoon, and had dinner from 6 to 7 at night. Then we would either rest or train more until we went to bed. That was our daily routine.
Katana: What martial arts style did you practice in Shaolin?
Shi Yan Ming: We train Shaolin Kung Fu, born 1,500 years ago. Fu Yu, the abbot at the beginning of the Song Dynasty, was the first to invite all of the martial artists in China together and combine all of the styles. We have free style forms, weapons, animal forms, Qigong, etc. But we should not confuse the origin of martial arts with Shaolin. People get confused and believe martial arts began there. That is not true - martial arts are much more ancient than the temple. Martial arts was born when man was born. Shaolin was the first place where a variety of styles was combined together.
Katana: Did you study the ancient philosophers?
Shi Yan Ming: Yes, all of them.
Katana: Was your food regimen vegetarian?
Shi Yan Ming: Before the 80's we ate meat, but in that decade the temple started to open to the rest of the world and we started to have contact with other monasteries, it was then when the regimen became vegetarian, however around the temple there were a lot of restaurants and we could eat everything.
Katana: Did you meditate inside the temple?
Shi Yan Ming: That's a good question, meditation is action and not action. For example we're talking, having a conversation; eatings, drinking water, we can go play tennis, swim, we can go outside the restaurant and climb a tree like monkeys 10 or 20 times until we feel good. That is meditation. We don't need to sit down in order to meditate, we live in the 21st century and as I said at the beginning we live so fast and we don't hvae time to sit down and meditate for hours. We can be laying head up or head down and meditate even while making love, there is not one unique way to meditate as there is not one unique way to live life.
Katana: Behind everything that you are telling me, is there a technique to meditate through all of these daily routines or an attitude in life?
Shi Yan Ming: The technique is to resume being yourself, find yourself, be yourself, trust yourself. For example in this room, look around - everybody is beautiful, just different, there can't be just one way of being for everybody, you have to find yourself. Even when you can sit in a lotus position you can meditate and be yourself. We should have an open mind and open heart.
Katana: What is your opinion of Bruce Lee?
Shi Yan Ming: Bruce Lee was fantastic, a legend, a philosopher, he said that we should be like water, that clear. He was very smart, when he trained in Hong Kong he learned from everyone and he combined and developed his own way to do martial arts - Jeet Kun Do. People get confused and try to train like him, that doesn't make any sense, there was only one Bruce Lee, all the styles are fantastic and that's why we have to have an open heart and open mind, so we can combine them with the way we are. I have great respect for Master Lee because he gave a message to the world.
Message: Amituofo, all of us brothers and sisters who practice martial arts, open your hearts and your minds, all the styles are beautiful, learn the different styles and combine them to create your own, be yourself. Try to avoid fried food, eat healthy, discipline yourself and master yourself, don't use excuses in life to not exercise - is there any excuse not to drink water or eat? Can we find time to go to the bathroom? Get up and exercise. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. Amituofo...
The professor Daniel Corona who represents Shifu Shi Yan Ming in Mexico told us how he met Shifu: The first time I saw Shifu was on tv on a show named People & Arts titled "The top ten martial artists in the world". They were name from bottom to top and my friends and I wanted to know who was number one but there were a lot of commercials, finally they arrived at number one and it was Shifu Shi Yan Ming. When I realized he lived in New York, I got really excited because I have family who lives there and I recognized the streets, the first thing I did was to call my relatives, which was embarrassing because I hadn't seen them or talked to them in a long time. It was like "Hi how are you? Can I go and live with you in New York?" I called Shifu's school and explained to them that I have a Martial Arts school and that I taught a different style but that I would like to go to their school and learn from them and invited Shifu to Mexico to do seminars. He gave me a long list of conditions among them go to train regularly to the main school and to cover the cost of bringing him which was a lot of money for me at the time. That was 2004. I didn't know how to do it and then I stared at the car that my dad bought me (a Derby) so I decided to sell it to achieve my goal. With that money I went to New York to train with Sifu. It was hard because my dad had worked very hard to give me that car and I sold it five months after I got it. That was how I was able to meet Shifu in his Temple. Since then I try to visit as much as I can, sometimes I go 3 or 4 times a year, sometimes only one; it depends on the economy and depends on how the peso is doing (laughs). I thought I was going to be able to recuperate my old car but I haven't been able to have a new one since then (laugh). The effort and the decision was worth it though, to be able to have a Temple in Mexico.