Wu-Tang Enters Wudang (1 of 7)
Travels through Shaolin with RZA
by Gene Ching
Intro: Bring Da Ruckus
It was September of 1999. Seven years after his defection to the United States, Shaolin Monk Shi Yanming returned to Shaolin Temple leading the largest entourage ever to participate in the International Shaolin Festival. Yanming risked everything to bring his students to China; it was to be a powerful lesson in kungfu. His "Return to Shaolin" Tour was reported in our Shaolin Temple Special Collector's Edition in Spring 2000, and even received attention from some pop magazines like Details and Blast. And yet, those articles only sampled a few tracks off a much larger compilation of warrior travel tales. This death defying journey followed in the footsteps of its leader Shi Yanming - unconventional, unpredictable and unapologetic - and set to a blasting rap beat.
Accompanying Yanming's "Return to Shaolin" tour was his most notorious student, RZA, the musical mastermind behind the quadruple-platinum rap group Wu-Tang Clan. RZA built his multimillion-dollar music empire upon the mythology of the "old school" kungfu movies. Alongside his Shifu Yanming, RZA made it to the source - for real - standing on the rugged soil of Shaolin Temple. But that was just the beginning of his journey, there was much more to come. Next stop was China's other famous martial monastery, the cradle of Tai Chi and the very inspiration for RZA's music, the real Wu-Tang Mountain - Wudangshan.
Track 1: Protect Ya Neck
Yanming and RZA's journey was straight out of an old Shaw Brothers kungfu movie. Just like in the 36th Chamber, before they could leave Shaolin Temple, they had to pass a test. As they prepared to go, Shaolin's festival atmosphere shifted from a welcoming celebration to a hung-over after-party clean up. Ever-present sounds of kungfu practice - the backbeat of Shaolin - covered the dwindling sound of confetti sweepers and breakdown stagehands, while the milieu of international languages, heard just days before, was drowned out by the noisy chatter of native Mandarin. And the few remaining foreigners were in a hazy post-climax mode with thoughts drifting towards moving on - a vulnerable state for travelers lax enough to drop their guard.
While Shi Yanming's penchant for the extreme has won him many accolades never before bestowed on a Shaolin monk, it has also earned him some jealous detractors. And Yanming was not in the strongest of positions, traveling in China with only a U.S. re-entry visa but no U.S. or Chinese passport. Political intrigue, so common in Communist China, forced Yanming, RZA and their companions to leave Shaolin village a few hours before planned by producing a skeleton from Yanming's closet, his estranged wife. Conspicuously, Yanming's detractors could have moved against him at any time, but they waited until the moment when it would have the least impact - the very end of his stay. It wasn't so much of an attack as it was a warning shot.
Considering the events that followed at Shaolin Temple, Yanming was not the last person to be forced to move by the powers that be. In August of 2000, almost a year later, the government ordered the evacuation and destruction of most of the private homes, schools and stores that surrounded Shaolin Temple. This could be perceived as a violation of human rights, but an international watchdog group would have to take notice. When it comes to China, their attention is elsewhere. At this writing, the result of this forced relocation edict remains to be seen, but a few thousand residents have already been profoundly affected. Time will tell. In a strange way, Yanming's expedited exit was an ill omen of things to come.
About Gene Ching:
Gene Ching is the Assistant Publisher of Kungfu Qigong Magazine & KungfuMagazine.com