6/04/2009

Shaolin mach II







You cannot always say good things about your workplace, but when a minibus marked 'Shaolin Warriors', full of little monks from China, pulls up outside the front of your office windows, it surely has to be a good place to work. At least for me it provoked a rush of excitement that saw me abandoning my duties (fortunately my manager had gone on his lunch break when I dropped a pile of faxes, yelling 'The Monks!'), and running outside to greet the Monks as they disembarked on their latest stopover on their new(ish) Seasons of Life production around the UK. It's a pretty hectic tour, as they have nightly shows in a different city for about 4 months in a row. I'm suspecting that there are different groups of Monks who divide the tour schedules up between them rather than having a single group covering all the venues.

Lamentably, there were only 2 of us in the street who noted the new arrivals and gave a greeting. Again, the Monks were soooo friendly, and were really delighted to have even just this small piece of recognition. I did not recognize any of the Monks in this group that I had met on their previous visit to the city. I tried to explain in Chinese that I had met some of their members before and that my prayer beads that they had presented me with last time were bound by elastic that was about to snap. I quickly had an interested crowd of just about the entire troupe gathering round me, they being apparently - although strangely to me - just as excited to see me as I was to see them. I think they were more baffled by my poor Chinese, but as soon as they recognized my pronunciation of '2008' (I've grasped the tones of Mandarin numbers - just about the only vocabulary that I know the tones of!), they twigged on to what I was telling them.

I asked if I could take some photos of them, to which they were only too pleased to do so. I rushed back into work, and persuaded a colleague who thought I had gone nuts to took some photos on his cellphone camera. As soon as my colleague said 'fighting pose', the Monks automatically knew what to do. (So did I, and obviously, I went into silly pose mode.) It was incredible, as I felt that they would have been prepared to do any pose in front of the camera. They really seemed to enjoy the attention and photographing opportunity so much. However, in such a circumstance, I always feel a bit embarrassed to point a camera at people touristy style just to exploit them for my own personal gain/interest, particularly when it comes to a subject matter as honorable as the Shaolin Monks. I also felt responsible in that I was holding them up from their all important preparation to their very physically demanding gig.

Again, I am still uncertain as to the political element of the Shaolin Monks, and it's strange that there seem to be no obvious observers who travel with them to keep an eye on how they behave and what they say in public. However, it is undoubtable that they have genuine acrobatic and martial arts training, and they gave another very fine performance. Seasons of Life was different to Wheel of Life in terms of backdrops and less obvious story telling, although a lot of the same routines were there. I noted that they had some very good floor level spin kicks. They also had some Hapkido style breakfalls, but I had seen quite a few students in Korea who achieved much greater height and technique to these falls. The Monks seemed to rely landing on their feet a lot when doing a jump and fall, whereas the Hapkido falls tend to land on the forearms. Matthew Ahmet, the Britmonk and Abbott Zhuang were not there this time, however. They also incorporated a routine which had audience members involved. Overall, it was very good, but I still wonder about some of the appeal elements of exhibiting martial arts in this way. There was a feeling after a certain number of skull somersaults that it has a limited viewer attention span even though it is certainly a very talented feat.

Go go Monks!