Kung fu is about more than kick­box­ing, a mas­ter says

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Contact the writer at junechang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com.

Wear­ing a long black robe and a stern ex­pres­sion on his face, Jake Ren stood rock still in the cen­ter of the stage, un­armed and empty handed.

Four op­po­nents wield­ing sticks and swords charged at him, slash­ing and stab­bing at his chest, back, stom­ach and legs.

“Wow!” the au­di­ence gasped, some cov­er­ing their eyes, sure that Ren would suf­fer blood­shed or fa­tal in­jury.

Seem­ingly shielded by in­vis­i­ble steel ar­mor, Ren fended them off, with even the bat of an eye­lash, as the sticks shat­tered and the swords were twisted and bent.

“Wow, un­be­liev­able!” the au­di­ence burst into shout­ing and cheers. “Bravo!”

For many, Ren’s kung fu demon­stra­tion at a large-scale va­ri­ety show in Hay­ward, Cal­i­for­nia, was an eye-opener.

Ren, bet­ter known as Shi Yany­ong shifu, or mas­ter, op­er­ates the Sil­i­con Val­ley Shaolin Cul­ture Cen­ter in Cu­per­tino, where he teaches youth and adult kung fu classes.

Ren said kung fu was his des­tiny. “One of the in­tan­gi­ble trea­sures of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, kung fu has been play­ing an in­te­gral role in dis­sem­i­nat­ing the artis­tic essence and Chi­nese val­ues at home and abroad,” said Ren.

He be­lieves that kung fu can em­power an in­di­vid­ual phys­i­cally and men­tally, and that kung fu con­nects peo­ple from var­i­ous back­grounds.

The youngest child in a ru­ral fam­ily in He­bei province, Ren has a grand­fa­ther and mother who are both lo­cally renowned kung fu ex­perts. When he was 5, Ren nat­u­rally chose to in­herit the fam­ily le­gacy and started rig­or­ous mar­tial arts drills, which he’s been do­ing ever since.

He was sent to his grand­fa­ther’s mar­tial arts school, which was lo­cated at the vil­lage’s gra­nary.

“Train­ing was car­ried out through­out the year, even on the hottest and cold­est days,” Ren re­called. “Skip­ping classes would re­sult in se­ri­ous con­se­quences — spank­ing, kneel­ing and meal de­pri­va­tion un­til I pledged to never make the same mis­take.”

These “pris­tine doc­trines have taught me to grow from ad­ver­sity, to face chal­lenges with equa­nim­ity, to learn wis­dom from hard­ship,” Ren said, “more im­por­tantly, to let fail­ure strengthen your willpower.”

Af­ter five years, Ren de­cided to con­tinue his kung fu train­ing by go­ing to the Shaolin Tem­ple in He­nan province, which is re­garded to be the cra­dle of Chi­nese mar­tial arts and the Mecca of kung fu fans world­wide.

Among the many schools or gen­res of fight­ing and de­fense styles that have de­vel­oped over cen­turies in China, kung fu is of­ten clas­si­fied based on the com­mon traits and cat­e­go­rized into sects. The most well-known prob­a­bly is Shaolin style, one of the first in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized Chi­nese mar­tial arts, with a his­tory more than 1,500 years old.

An um­brella name for var­i­ous kinds of quan­shu, Shaolin kung fu con­sists of dif­fer­ent sets of skills such as Xiao Hong box­ing, Big Hong box­ing, Se­nior Hong box­ing, Arhat box­ing, Mei­huazhuang box­ing and Can­non box­ing.

“I was 10 years old then, lit­er­ally learn­ing ev­ery­thing from scratch, at Shaolin,” said Ren. “Over my 10 years stay at the Shaolin Tem­ple, I kept cul­ti­vat­ing my char­ac­ter and hon­ing my kung fu skills to be a well-rounded per­son of per­sis­tent spirit with a gen­tle heart.”

Ren was hand­picked by He­bei province to rep­re­sent the province com­pet­ing in na­tional and in­ter­na­tional kung fu tour­na­ments.

“Mean­while, I grad­u­ally, in my own way, in­te­grated tra­di­tional Chi­nese mar­tial arts with mod­ern kick-box­ing, kung fu yoga, tai chi and qigong,” he said.

Ren has earned more than 20 cham­pi­onship ti­tles and gold medals at home and abroad and is re­garded as a top level ref­eree in mar­tial arts com­pe­ti­tions.

He also was in­vited to be the mar­tial arts de­signer, di­rec­tor and stunt co­or­di­na­tor for Hong Kong and Chi­nese main­land block­busters.

“Fame and for­tune are both at my fin­ger­tips,” said Ren, “but it makes me un­com­fort­able.”

In 2006, Ren im­mi­grated to the United States to start teach­ing Shaolin kung fu to the mixed pop­u­la­tion of Amer­i­cans in the Bay Area.

“Western, mod­ern mar­tial arts train an in­di­vid­ual to quickly win, but Chi­nese kung fu strength­ens minds and teaches the art of bal­ance and har­mony,” said Ren.

“That’s what the essence of kung fu is in my opin­ion, and what I want to spread.”

Chang Jun San Fran­cisco Jour­nal

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