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November 24, 2009

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Two martial arts schools contend

A monk stretches himself out on five sharp spears, with two against his breast, another two on his legs and one on his belly, but when he gets up from the spears, there's no mark on his body.

A Taoist priest dashes to a three-meter-high wall. His right foot hits the wall, then his left and his body vaults over.

These sound like magic shows or kung fu movie stunts, but they are the very real "iron skin" kung fu of Shaolin Temple in Henan Province and the "levitation skill" qigong of Wudang Taoist Temple in Hubei Province.

All kung fu fans know these seemingly enchanted skills from movies, and they will be able to see live demonstrations at the Shanghai World Expo next year.

Demonstrations of the two biggest and most famous martial arts centers in China will be staged throughout the six-month Expo that opens on May 1.

Kung fu masters will also teach visitors some basic skills -- in both Chinese and English.

Shaolin kung fu is known for rapid and powerful strikes; Wudang kung fu is known for its inner power.

The Shaolin site became famous as the Indian monk Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism, meditated there for nine years in a cave. The fame reached its peak in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) as the first Tang emperor and his son (later to be emperor) were rescued from a warlord by 13 Shaolin warrior monks.

With considerable imperial support, the temple became known as the "No. 1 Temple Under Heaven."

At the Shanghai World Expo more than 50 Shaolin monks, both young and senior, will demonstrate Shaolin boxing and hard qigong four times a day at outdoor squares on the site. Qigong involves deep breathing "iron skin" exercises that are said to make the belly or the top of head impervious to weapons.

Many martial art skills that are seldom performed publicly will be demonstrated, including some of the Shaolin 72 Skills, the magic-like martial arts that can smash wood and stone with the fists and palms.

"Iron skin" is one of the 72 skills. Many Shaolin monks practice this because it can protect them so they do not need to fight, which accords with the Buddhist essence of mercy.

It takes at least five years to develop "iron skin," says Shi Yanlu, chief trainer of the Shaolin kung fu monks. Shi will also attend the Expo.

A monk with the highest level of "iron skin" skill can lie on a single spear tip without being injured, he says.

Shaolin kung fu is do-able but requires years of continuous practice, he says. A monk practices an average of two hours a day and also does Zen exercises for many hours.

Shaolin has 708 kinds of kung fu skills. Some disable opponents by attacking vital body points; some can dislocate bones with little force.

It is also famous for its qigong, especially yi jin jing, which means "bone-changing skills." It is said to maintain healthy life and enhance the power of attacks.

In kung fu movies, anyone who acquires yi jin jing will soon become one of the most powerful masters.

The legendary yi jin jing will be demonstrated at the Expo.

In July and August next year, Shaolin will present a 45-minute stage show of martial arts and acrobatics, demonstrating daily lives of monks.

Shaolin kung fu helps people maintain healthy lives, which is in line with the Expo theme, "Better City, Better Life," says Shi.

Taoist essence

Wudang in Hubei Province is the origin of tai chi boxing. It is as significant as Shaolin but is lower profile.

While Shaolin kung fu was developed as a way to protect Zen Buddhist books, Wudang was known for practicing the Taoist essence through martial arts. Thus, the Wudang Taoists live in seclusion and seldom perform publicly.

From July to September, Li Guangfu, chief master of Wudang, will lead 60 Taoists, 20 to 30 years of age, to the Shanghai World Expo.

Wudang aims to promote its "harmony" concept by showing its kung fu to visitors from around the world, Li says.

The Taoists will combine boxing, swordsmanship and stick fighting into a stage show that will tell the legend of Zhang Sanfeng, who founded the Wudang Taoist Temple in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and is believed to have achieved immortality.

While Shaolin is famous for its powerful attacks, the soul of Wudang kung fu is to conquer the strong by soft power, to resist rapid attacks by very slow movement and shifting heavy weights with minimal force.

Around the world many people practice tai chi for exercise and at the Expo the most authentic Wudang tai chi boxing will be demonstrated. It has never before been "released" to the public, Li says.

Wudang swordsmanship is said to be "No. 1 under heaven." Seven Taoists will stand in the shape of the Big Dipper and demonstrate. The formation is said to be able to defeat all kinds of kung fu skills.

They will also fight each other with special weapons such as fans and horsetail whisks.

The Shaolin monks and Wudang Taoists may also compete for mastery of the Expo, according to Li.

Wudang sees the Shanghai World Expo as an opportunity to communicate with Shaolin not only by fists but also with minds, he says. Two magnificent shows "Legend of Shaolin Monks"

Date: July-August, four performances daily

Length: 45 minutes

Venue: Pudong section of the Expo site

It tells the story of how a young Shaolin monk becomes a kung fu master. It has four parts -- spring, summer, autumn and winter. The monk practices many skills and finally will fight with the 18 Bronze Monks. Zen philosophy is expressed.

"Wudang -- The Philosophy of Tai Chi"

Date: July-September, three performances daily

Length: 30 minutes

Venue: Public squares in Pudong and Puxi sections of the Expo site

It tells the story of Zhang Sanfeng, who is said to have created tai chi boxing after witnessing a fight between a snake and a crane. Zhang is believed to have founded the Wudang Taoist Temple in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and achieved immortality.


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