I recently came across a great article on the National Geographic Magazine website about the modern state of kung fu and the Shaolin Temple. The author, Peter Gwin, follows the path of two disciples of the late folk Grandmaster Yang Guiwu, who was a disciple of the Shaolin Temple. The first disciple is Hu Zhengsheng, who was the last disciple that Grandmaster Yang Guiwu took.
Hu Zhengsheng operates a small school on the outskirts of Dengfeng city located a few miles from the famed Shaolin Temple. Hu discusses the difficulties that his school, which sticks to a very traditional curriculum, faces in light of the apparent commercialism of the modern Shaolin Temple and other martial arts schools in the area. His school has only 200 students as opposed to the 25,000 of the famed Tagou Academy and barely makes enough money to sustain its operation.
The second is the famed Shaolin monk Shi Dejian who lives in a Buddhist retreat that he and his disciples have worked to restore in the Song Mountains. In modern times and with renewed interest in kung fu, Shi Dejian often experiences many distractions in his dedication to the three treasures of Shaolin, namely Zen meditation (Chán 禅), martial arts (Wǔ 武) and traditional Chinese medicine (Yī 醫). Even though he has many responsibilities and entertains many visitors he still finds ways to practice kung fu through all of his daily activities.
The article does a fantastic job of exploring the modern-day Shaolin Temple under the guidance of Abbot Shi Yong Xin. Much of the Shaolin Temple grounds have been turned into a tourist attraction and the temple has come under criticism for its methods. Many traditional practitioners of kung fu feel that the Shaolin Temple is concerning itself with material gain and fame rather than keeping true to its ideals. Shi Yong Xin, however argues that this type of promotion helps to foster new interest in Shaolin kung fu as well as spread awareness of Buddhism to new generations all around the world.
Please take a moment to read the article, ‘Battle for the Soul of Kung Fu’.