Last night I watched a documentary called Shaolin Ulysses, Kung Fu Monks in America. It profiled five monks from the Shaolin Temple in China, who had decided to bring their Kung Fu to the US.
Monk Guolin is out to spread Buddhism and Kung Fu to the United States. Zhang Li Peng is a former monk, who married a nice Catholic American girl and named his son Matthew. He says if you want to learn about Buddhism, go find yourself a teacher. There are hundreds of them all over the world. If you want to learn Kung Fu, come to his school. Li Peng seems to have what Americans call "issues" about having been brought to Shaolin Temple when he was five years old. His family lived in a cave for a while, outside the temple. Then he was taken on as a disciple and his entire education was Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. He was the only monk who spoke English in the movie.
All of these guys seem pretty young. One of the two monks who started the Texas academy said that one of the differences in working with children in the US and in China is that at Shaolin, they would train ten hours a day, while in Texas they can only train one hour a day. The guys in Texas are training Americans in the hope that Kung Fu will become an Olympic sport. They figure if Americans become interested in Kung Fu, they stand a better chance of getting it into the games.
They showed some kids at Shaolin, who looked to be about 7 years old, who had weird bald bumps on their heads. That's from all the headstands and head flips. After seeing that, I noticed that all the Shaolin monks have a weird crest of bone along the tops of their heads. Some monks can break metal plates on those freaky bone growths.
Shaolin Temple is, according to legend, the birthplace of martial arts. It's current fame began after Jet Li made a few very succesful movies about the place. Wushu is the type of Kung Fu done at Shaolin. The documentary included some footage from a previous documentary called, This is Kung Fu which looked pretty interesting.
Dance-like performance seems to be a major part of this martial arts practice. One of disciples, Jamel Brown, is a former professional hip hop dancer. The Shaolin Wushu Festival is a huge, televised spectacular event. One of the guys in the movie I saw said of the festival, "As cultural propaganda, it is pretty good." In 1996, the Shaolin Monks toured with the Lollapalooza.