Kung Fu as a World Heritage

According to Xinhua News, Shi Yongxin, a monk and abbot of China’s Henan Province Shaolin Temple is seeking UNESCO’s World Heritage status for kung fu.

Being granted this status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization would elevate Shaolin kung fu to being a recognized thing within our world that has universal value to all the world’s people.

“…monk Shi Yongxin knows only too well strength, flexibility, sensitivity, grace and endurance are important components of kung fu.”

I would say these qualities are certainly universally valuable to the people of this planet, especially considering our recent decent into cultural, intellectual and spiritual darkness.

Anyone who is fortunate enough to study kung fu from a sifu rooted in the Shaolin tradition recognizes the value inherent in the art, the least of which is martial skills.

To gain the listing with UNESCO, China itself will need to offer up the request to the United Nations. Then, UNESCO’s World Heritage Organization will approve or deny the request – and this request must meet at least one of ten criteria. Listed below is my interpretation of the criteria kung fu would meet:

1. To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.

Shaolin kung fu began in Buddhist monestaries after Buddhism was brought to China by a wandering monk from India. Around 500 AD, another holy man from India arrived in the Henan Shaolin Temple who was versed in Yogic concentration – spirit and breathing, which he taught to the monks as an aid in their long meditations. This began the practice of Chi Gong – the building and control of the energy and breath within.

Through the combination of learned techniques, the study of spiritual scriptures, Zen (the Way), the observations of the movements of animals and the exploration of the human body and its spritual and physical energies, the monks created a elaborate and beautiful system of devotion to the elevation of the human mind, body and spirit.

2. To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.

Nearly all Chinese would agree that kung fu is central to their cultural identity. The Shaolin temples were repeatedly attacked and destroyed by various governments throughout the centuries for their strict adherence to their disciplines and religious beliefs that were not always subject or in line with the current rulers.

Even with the destruction of their temples, the monks perservered, returning to their devotions. They were an inspiration to the many Chinese people who faced similar hardships inflicted upon them. The monks helped give them hope, strength, and the determination at times to even resist their oppressors.

The monks are still greatly respected in Chinese culture, representing the best that Chinese spirituality, strength, compassion, individual enlightenment and mutual respect have to offer.

3. To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

Many of the points in #2 above apply here. Also, many chinese medicines and medical practices, both internal and external can be traced back to the monks. Their discipline has spread out across the world, being adopted by practicioners from many diverse cultures, and their adherence to the oftentimes paradoxically-seeming values of strength with humility, absolutes with compassion, and spirituality with physical focus, bring a wonderously new perspective to most people unfamiliar with the Shaolin way.

Kung fu is practiced around the world, as are its many derivatives, like tai chi, by the young and old, weak and strong, smart and stupid, enlightened and searching – with mutual respect at the very crux.

4. To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

Anyone who has witnessed Shaolin kung fu can see the incredible beauty, art and study that has found its way into the forms, and the form of the practitioners. Its use as a martial defense is not the focus. The attunement of the body, mind and spirit to each other is the goal. The attunement to the world and the life within to the practitioner is the goal. Not to dominate, but to become one.

This is reflected in nearly all movements – which are graceful, lightning fast, impossibly slow, impossibly terrible in their force, and movingly delicate in their outcome.

I wish Abbot Shi Yongxin good fortune in his dealings with the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the UNESCO World Heritage Organization. And may his home always be lucky with oranges.