Recently, I caught a show on eqHD TV up here in Canada called The Path to Shaolin. The story is a documentary of a Canadian, Timothy Mrazek, who travels to China with his master, Chi Wai Lee, to discover the roots of Shaolin Kung Fu. He is taking this journey as part of becoming a recognized warrior monk, supposedly the first Canadian and Westerner of European descent to be ordained by the Chung Wah International Shaolin program.
The show itself was interesting, seeing the scenery and beauty of the places they travelled. Unfortunately, I did find at times the tone and awe that Mrazek exhibited to be almost too cliché. It’s the wide-eyed foreigner who attempts to understand the culture but has really only scratched the surface of the complex relationships that can be found in many true Chinese backgrounds. I do give him credit for trying as there are components of the culture that are surely very foreign to his Western way of thinking and difficult for even I to explain to those outside the culture.
The most interesting part of the movie for me was the discussion he has with his master about the future of Martial Arts. Their discussion focused primarily on Shaolin Kung Fu, but it could easily be applied to almost any Martial Arts out there.
This discussion takes place after they have finally made it to the legendary Shaolin Temple. To his disappointment, Mrazek finds it nothing like how he fantasized from all the books and stories. Visiting the temple, one does not find very many monks actually practicing kung fu (or very many monks in general). The temple has become quite commercialized.
This sparks a comment from Master Lee that when Martial Arts becomes commercialized, it loses its essence. However, if Martial Arts were to stay as it did in the past, one could not live and it would never survive. A balance must be found in order for Martial Arts to continue.
Martial Arts, as it existed a few hundred years ago, was a necessity to survive. It was much less a sport and more a way of life to defend yourself and your family. The changes in the last hundred years have drastically altered how we view the world. For instance, a few hundred years ago, we might have honored and respected someone walking around in a breastplate and chainmail. He was probably a warrior, knight, or noble. Today, we'd probably call that person insane. Our suit of armor these days are well-tailored business suits and tuxedos, both signs of wealth and prosperity.
In the past, Martial Artists could make their training their full focus. It would not seem so odd for someone to go and actually live with the master and almost become their endentured servant. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who could devote that much time to Martial Arts and expect that much burden and dedication from a master to care for them. Even those that teach Martial Arts must think beyond the training towards marketing, campaigns and advertising in order to survive.
Don't get me wrong. I'm by no means a romantic. Life was challenging for people then as well, just a different type of challenge. It is the type of hardship that formed much of what we see in Martial Arts. As the times have changed, we have seen Martial Arts change as well, losing some of the hardness just as we have shed the armor for cloth.
This dilution has led to extremes. Some Martial Arts systems are very successful monetarily because they have figured out how to adapt all they do to the environment we are in. But many times, these successful businesses have lost the essence of the Art and you'll find students with a lack of understanding of the basics. Some Martial Arts systems have remained completely pure and quickly disappeared because it could not earn enough to maintain training.
The future of Martial Arts hangs in the balance. As stated in the movie by one of the masters in China, we as enthusiasts are the future to Martial Arts. The lifespan of each of us as an individual is far shorter than the life story of Martial Arts. If Martial Arts is to continue in the future, we must find a balance between the two worlds.
The future is in our hands.