Yi Long (一龙) - First Warrior Monk of Shaolin
Original Chinese Language Article by: Yang Donghua [杨东华] Henan Business Daily
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
Translator’s Note: The man known as ‘One Dragon’ (一龙 – Yi Long) is also described as the ‘First Warrior Monk of Shaolin’ (少林第一武僧 – Shao Lin Di Yi Wu Seng) and the above picture shows him at the peak of his powers. This English translation of an original Chinese language article explores Yi Long’s presence in the modern boxing ring, and considers the implications this might have for Chinese marital acts. Yi Long has very good martial arts skills that have earned a number of high profile victories, but in his first appearance in the West – he was knocked-out after dominating the fight. This event caused much consternation in China, and led to a number of bizarre racially motivated attacks against Chinese martial arts and Chinese culture emanating from Western martial arts forums and even reputable magazines. The point is that this ignorance does not even penetrate the surface of the rich cultural tapestry that is Chinese martial arts, and despite the shock defeat of Yi Long, he would go on to clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of the Shaolin martial arts even when used in a sporting capacity. Many of his victories have been stunning and his presence in the West has led to a re-examination and re-invigoration of interest in traditional Chinese martial arts the world over. Racism and martial arts are incompatible. Yi Long has tremendous courage to travel to the West and take on and beat some of its best fighters. However, as the article stipulates there is a distinction to be made between sporting martial arts (defined through the rules that limit their use), and the truly spiritual martial arts that are methods forged in war to kill the enemy quickly, and which are used to develop the mind and body, build health and prolong life. Having paid my respects to Yi Long, I must also point-out that as remarkable as his skills seem in the West, within China they are viewed as only being very ‘basic’ and of the lower levels of attainment. This is not a harsh judgement as Yi Long makes no claims to being special, but it should demonstrate to all practitioners in the UK of Ch’an Dao, that the mark for progression within authentic Chinese martial is very high indeed, and that greater efforts must be made to progress.
Yi Long is Knocked-out
Yi Long has recently attracted negative attention from his participation in a full contact mixed martial arts competition in Las Vegas (USA) where he was knocked-out by his American opponent in just 44 seconds of the 2nd round with a lacklustre left hook to the chin – despite having technically dominated the bout throughout. When the video of this match went viral on the internet it caused an immediate controversy in China and throughout the Chinese diaspora. Questions began to be asked; who is this Mainland Chinese martial artist and is he really an ordained Shaolin Warrior Monk? Is the spectacle of an apparent ‘Shaolin’ monk fighting and losing in a Western boxing ring indicative of the demise of authentic Shaolin Temple Boxing? Are Chinese martial arts on the decline? The fight in question happened on November 13th, 2010, at the famous Harris Hotel Casino, and was billed as the ‘Martial Arts Battle of Las Vegas’. The Chinese fighter was introduced as ‘Yi Long’ and described as a Shaolin Fighting Monk, and that this was his first appearance in the West.
The internet was abuzz with posts sharing the video variously entitled ‘Shaolin Monk KO’, and ‘Henan Martial Arts’, asking people to watch and pass it on. People flocked to watch this martial arts tournament that pitted US fighters against Chinese fighters – a tournament incidentally that the Chinese contingent won over-all 5:3 in a nine-bout competition. As it was filmed by Henan TV the results were immediately available in China. Generally speaking, the Shaolin Tradition of Warrior Monks is greatly respected, but some foreign martial arts have no respect for it, and many US fighters in the past have turned-down the opportunity of competing with its practitioners, but this was not the case with American Adrian Grotte, who bravely stepped-forward to face Yi Long. Adrian Grotte was introduced as a US Police Officer, and former US Marine. After the introductions, there was a display of Chinese martial arts by four men who escorted Yi Long into the ring. These men were dressed as Shaolin Monks and this gave the impression that they were representing the Shaolin Temple – which it turns-out was incorrect. Yi Long dictated from the start, throwing a dazzling array of kicks and punches all of which found their mark. The US fighter found it very difficult to defend himself, and was repeatedly tripped and thrown to the ground. However, as Yi Long moved in to land a combination of kicks and punches – the desperate Grotte tentatively threw-out a left jab/hook which seemed to have no power behind it. It made contact with the point of Yi Long’s chin and he immediately fell backwards onto the floor with his arms and legs spread. He was unconscious for a couple of minutes and the Chinese support in the crowd was stunned into silence. Yi Long eventually recovered and graciously congratulated his opponent.
Is there a problem with Shaolin martial arts?
When martial arts are used just for sport there will always be a winner and a loser because that is the limited nature of the game. This type of competition has little relevance or meaning for self-development, and once the Las Vegas tournament was over, the events contained therein should have gone into memory and become a thing of the past. Who could have envisioned that a month later the video of Yi Long’s defeat would become world famous? In Youku the video quickly amassed 40 million views and attracted numerous comments. Many people were strongly concerned because this episode appeared to involve the Shaolin Temple and reflect badly upon its martial arts and monks. In 1982, the movie entitled ‘Shaolin Temple’ propelled its star – Jet Li (李连杰 – Li Lianjie) – to international fame. The Shaolin Temple became world-famous and the fact that it is one of the most important centres for martial arts practice in China became well-known. Although competitive martial arts tournaments are a common-place occurrence in China, many people expressed concern about the Shaolin Temple actively appearing to participate in such contests when their monks were supposed to be studying not only advanced (and secretive) martial arts, but also seated meditation away from the world. On the June 19, 2010, Yi Long took on a Thai Boxing Champion in Thailand and narrowly won the fight on points, but was covered in blood by the end. In that fight Yi Long was announced as being a ‘Shaolin Temple Warrior Monk’. After this Yi Long had one easy victory after another, taking on all comers and either beating them easily on points, or knocking them out with a single kick or punch. He has set a very good example for Shaolin Temple martial arts and has done much good for the reputation of Chinese martial arts abroad. Then suddenly this ‘First Warrior Monk of Shaolin’ was knocked-out himself in the USA, what went wrong? One comment typical of many stated that ‘The US fighter was quite ordinary and was being beaten in all areas – even his punches and kicks seemed to lack power. How could he have beaten a Shaolin fighter like this?’ Others thought it was a disgrace of a Shaolin fighter to lose in any manner, and some even questioned the integrity and effectiveness of Shaolin martial arts.
The Shaolin Temple in Henan, China
It transpires that Yi Long is not an ordained Buddhist warrior monk at the Shaolin Temple in Henan. His recent defeat has drawn attention to the Shaolin Temple and questions have been asked. Why is Yi Long referred to as a ‘Shaolin Warrior Monk’, and where did he learn his Shaolin martial arts? On the 24th of December, 2010, an official at the Shaolin Temple, after viewing the video of Yi Long’s defeat, issued an internet statement confirming that ‘Yi Long is not an ordain Ch’an Buddhist monk at the Shaolin Temple, and has not been granted the designation of First Warrior Monk of Shaolin by anyone in authority at the Shaolin Temple of Henan.’ Later, an official at the Shaolin Temple spoke to the Henan Business Daily stating that ‘Any claims that Yi Long is officially associated with the ordained monks of the Shaolin Temple are obviously false.’ He added ‘The notion that Yi Long has any ordained association with the Shaolin Temple is untrue, and allegations of this kind have the potential to adversely affect the good reputation the Shaolin Temple possesses.’ However, he added that ‘It seems Yi Long is not guilty of lying, or making any untruthful statements. The reality seems to be that he has been erroneously described as an ‘ordained‘ Shaolin Monk by the organisers of the fight events that he has participated within. Although not an ordained Ch’an Buddhist monk at the Shaolin Temple, it could well be that Yi Long is a lay disciple of one of the many outreach programmes in Buddhist studies and martial arts practice that the Shaolin Temple provides throughout China. Anyone can join these programmes and correctly associate themselves as a lay-disciple of the Shaolin Temple and a lay-practitioner of Shaolin martial arts. If this is the case, than Yi Long has not committed a crime, but has been misrepresented by those who perhaps do not fully understand traditional Chinese culture.’ He finished by saying that even in the West there are many lay-disciples of the Shaolin Temple, and that this whole affair is probably a misunderstanding.
Who is Yi Long?
Yi Long has made the following public statement: ‘I can categorically confirm that I am not an ordained Shaolin Buddhist monk, but that I am a lay-Buddhist disciple of the Shaolin Temple.’ So who is Yi Long and where is he from? An insider has said that Yi Long is 24 years old and his real name is Liu Xingjun (刘星军). He is from Dezhou City in northwestern Shandong province, but has spent most of his recent life training in the Shaolin Schools around Zhengzhou City in Henan – not far from the Shaolin Temple itself. This is where he has gained his skills in Shaolin martial arts. When explaining his recent defeat, Yi Long explained to the Henan Business Daily that his opponent was bigger in stature and had a longer reach, and that he lost because although Yi Long technically dominated throughout, he misjudged the rhythm of the fight at a crucial single moment, and that this lapse in concentration allowed his opponent to land a lucky shot that caught him off-balance. In fact Yi Long further explained ‘I fell back onto the floor completely relaxed and totally aware of what was happening. However, when I got back-up, the American referee would not listen to me when I said I was alright and able to continue. He stopped the fight to protect my US opponent from the defeat he was undoubtedly heading to.’ When asked why he is introduced as ‘First Warrior Monk of Shaolin’ he replied that he has never made that claim for himself, but that those who publicise fight venues say anything to hype-up fights and make participants seem larger than life. Yi Long explained that he has studied Shaolin martial arts for 2 to 3 years with a very good Shaolin master who does not wish to be known to the public, and so out of respect he does not mention his name. As Yi Long profoundly respects the Shaolin Temple he is concerned about any propaganda that is used against Chinese culture, and so has pledged to be more careful in future bouts and make it clear that he is only a lay-Shaolin discipline.
A genuine person cannot be known through superficiality, and superficiality does not reveal a genuine person. The world of genuine martial arts has many layers, and it has very profound and sublime levels of mastery, and it also contains very basic levels of understanding and attainment. Today, Yi Long’s sudden and dramatic defeat has touched a nerve throughout the Chinese nation, but common sense and reason must prevail. There is no need to overly sentimentalise this situation. Professor Qian Fengjie (乔凤杰) of the Wushu Cultural Research Centre of Henan University has said that there is no reason to equate Yi Long’s recent defeat in a modern boxing ring with the effectiveness of Shaolin Temple martial arts to develop the mind and body for spiritual and health related purposes. In regard to this matter, a spokesperson for the Shaolin Temple Outreach Department has said that ordained Shaolin Ch’an Buddhist monks are trained to such a high degree of refinement, that a win or lose in a modern boxing ring is irrelevant and of no importance in the greater scheme of things. True Shaolin martial arts is the product of an intense concentrated practice and worldly events do not affect its efficacy. Professor Qiao further clarified the situation by explaining that there are two types of martial arts practice in China, namely competitive sport martial arts, and traditional martial arts. Sporting arts look superficially like traditional martial arts but reduce everything to winning and losing in a competition defined by rules that deliberately limit the martial encounters in the ring or on the mat. As these rules are purely arbitrary, they constantly change to alter how the outward manifestation of the sport looks to fee paying spectators. Sporting martial arts are superficial and designed as a form of entertainment, and do not care for spiritual or health development. On the other hand, traditional Chinese martial arts are the product of thousands of years of military and spiritual development that equally develops the mind and body. With regard to human conflict, the traditional arts are more realistic as they do not limit reality with arbitrary rules and prepares the practitioner psychologically and physically to cope with any eventuality. This is why traditional martial arts emphasis the idea of ‘one hit must kill’ (一击必杀 – Yi Ji Ba Shi), although generally speaking this level of ability and commitment is not easily found amongst ordinary people. The true masters of Chinese martial arts do not participate in ordinary society and are not interested in pointless competition. Professor Qiao went on to say that traditional martial arts require long periods of isolated practice away from the trivialities of ordinary life, for the self-cultivation to work. Chen Peiju (陈沛菊) – the Assistant Director of the Military controlled Henan Sports Centre – says that ‘A genuine person cannot be known through superficiality, and superficiality does not reveal a genuine person. This why true martial arts masters do not court publicity, but remain hidden from view. Therefore we may conclude that those who make themselves known to the public are not true martial arts masters in the traditional sense.’
The Government of China has declared that ‘Traditional Chinese Martial Arts’ are to be protected and preserved as a matter of great importance. The Yi Long affair has had the positive affect of drawing the Chinese people’s attention to the importance of their martial arts, and to distinguish between superficial sporting arts, and authentic traditional martial arts. The over-all academic opinion on this matter can be summed-up by Chen Peiju and Qiao Fengjie who are both of the opinion that although Yi Long’s example will not directly negatively affect the traditional Chinese martial arts, such publicity could potentially trigger a decline. An example of this can be found by examining the case of the style of martial arts known as the ‘Xingyang Chang Jia Quan’ (荥阳苌家拳). When it was unknown to the public, it was a very good traditional Chinese martial art, but when it was known in the media, this led to a watering down of its principles in order to court popularity. The Xingyang Chang Jia Quan was comprised of Shaolin martial arts and Taiji and was also known as the ‘Three Great Fist Style’ (三大拳派 – San Da Quan Pai), but all that exists of it today is a number of instruction manuals that no one really understands. Qiao Fengjie is of the further opinion that traditional Chinese martial arts are in a similar situation to that of traditional Chinese medicine and that we as a nation must organise ourselves into helping the older people who retain the traditional knowledge, to preserve and teach it to the younger generation. Chen Peiju said that in Henan, traditional Chinese martial arts tournaments have been established (with prizes and awards) that operate through honour and virtue rather than brute force. It is hoped that young people will be drawn toward a deeper commitment to the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts and away from the egoism involved in sport martial arts.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2015.
Original Chinese Language Article: