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Thread: Searching for Kung Fu

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    Fremont, CA, U.S.A.

    Searching for Kung Fu

    A new documentary

    China Daily Global / 2020-12 / 22 /Page003
    Award-winning film explores essence of kung fu
    By LI WENRUI | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-12-22 00:00
    Kung fu, a quintessential part of Chinese cultural heritage, continues to hold strong charismatic appeal worldwide-with an award-winning documentary now offering a fresh perspective on understanding some of the concepts that are profoundly Chinese, yet surprisingly universal.

    The documentary film, Searching for Kung Fu, produced by the China Daily Website, discusses the core aspects of kung fu by following the historical footsteps of its masters. Directed by acclaimed US filmmaker Laurence Brahm, the Searching for Kung Fu production comprises one documentary and two short-video series: Searching for Kung Fu-Thirty-Six Strategies and Searching for Kung Fu-12 Traditional Chinese Values.

    "I hope to share with global audiences the values learned across four decades in China. Kung fu is a mirror of Chinese culture," Brahm said.

    "Everything from traditional medicine, calligraphy and tea can be understood by looking through the kung fu looking glass."

    Mainly featuring on-location scenes, Searching for Kung Fu allows viewers to embark on a kung fu pilgrimage, traveling to cities in China and the United States, including Shaolin Temple-the birthplace of Shaolin kung fu, Chenjiagou village-the birthplace of Chen-style tai chi, and Jingwu town-the hometown of kung fu legend Huo Yuanjia (1868-1910).

    The documentary offers an insider's view of a unique cultural heritage that has grown into a nonverbal, universal language and delves into its underlying philosophies, adding a new dimension to contemporary cross-cultural dialogues.

    "In some ways kung fu is a common language that can bring people together. Everyone loves a great kung fu movie. This is a time on our planet of great social divisiveness. We need to find common cultural values that can bring us back together. This is where Searching for Kung Fu comes in."

    Brahm has devoted himself to kung fu practice for more than 40 years. In Searching for Kung Fu, Brahm acts as the truth-seeker who interviews a roster of Chinese and foreign kung fu masters. He looks into the close relations of kung fu with Chinese philosophies and its influences upon martial arts in other countries, as well as its value and significance for today's world.

    "We are witnessing decoupling of trade, business, finance, economic and even political-social systems across the world today, rolling back decades of globalization. When everything breaks down, culture is that last medium of exchange," he said.

    "Maybe Searching for Kung Fu can serve as a bridge in deepening real people-to-people communication to restart a fresh, more positive era of China-US relations. Certainly there are so many Americans like myself who love the martial arts as a way of improving body-mind-spirit. In the end, we are all searching for kung fu together."

    The full-length documentary won the Best Documentary Film Producer award at the 5th Canada Golden Maple International Film Festival. Brahm clinched the Documentary Film Director Achievement award.

    The film festival, held every September in Vancouver, screens shortlisted films throughout major cities' movie theaters. It also holds film forums and other activities for movie fans and professionals to promote, inspire, interact and exchange at an academic level.

    A total of 585 films from various countries and regions participated in this year's event, with Searching for Kung Fu and 34 other films winning awards.

    The documentary was shown in Beijing on Dec 19. The public screening, co-hosted by the China Daily Website and CHAO Art Center in Sanlitun, included a meet-and-greet with the creative team.

    Laurence Brahm, director of documentary Searching for Kung Fu, interacts with Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do master Johnson Phan during filming. The poster of the documentary film. CHINA DAILY
    Gene Ching
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    Fremont, CA, U.S.A.


    A foreigner's search for Chinese kung fu
    22:42 UTC+8, 2021-01-12
    What comes to mind when you think of kung fu? If your mind is filled with images of Shaolin monks, Bruce Lee, jaw-dropping stunts or Kung Fu Panda, you wouldn't be wrong. But for Laurence J. Brahm, an American documentary filmmaker, the first thing that springs to mind is the concept of non-violence.

    "Wushu, the official Chinese name for kung fu, has been translated into 'martial arts' in English. Martial means military," Brahm told a roomful of people attending the premiere of his latest work, "Searching for Kung Fu."

    As Brahm explained, if you break down the character "wu," it consists of two characters: one is "ge," meaning dagger-axe; the other is "zhi," meaning to stop. So, the meaning of martial arts in Chinese is not the "art of fighting," a notion that many people take for granted. On the contrary, he said, kung fu is the art of stopping fighting, the art of non-violence.

    In the movie, Brahm takes the audience on a kind of pilgrimage, inviting them to accompany him as he travels to a host of historically important locations in search for the origins of kung fu.

    Beyond that, Brahm delves into the principles and values embedded in this Chinese cultural legacy, which dates back thousands of years but retains its enormous influence and attraction to this day.

    Get to the root

    The decision to produce "Searching for Kung Fu" was not impulsive. Brahm has a fourth-degree black belt in karate and has been practicing various Chinese kung fu styles for more than 40 years. The movie is the culmination of his passion, insight and discoveries.

    Brahm's relationship with kung fu dates back to the 1970s when he was a karate student in Hawaii.

    "My master always told me that if you want to fully understand karate, you have to go to Shaolin in China. That's where the origin is," Brahm said. "Karate was developed in Okinawa under the influence of both Northern and Southern Shaolin. I wanted to get to the root of it."

    This intention, to go to Shaolin and learn about martial arts, saw Brahm travel across the Pacific Ocean to China.

    In 1981, two years after China and the United States established diplomatic relations, Brahm landed in Tianjin, north China, becoming a student at Nankai University. Later the same year, he managed to visit the Shaolin Temple for the very first time.

    Today's Shaolin, situated at the foot of the Songshan Mountain in central China's Henan Province, is somewhat of a shrine to kung fu. Hundreds of thousands of martial arts practitioners, fans and other adventurers visit every year.

    "But at that time, very few people were there training in martial arts. I discovered that there were many masters out there, but they were quiet. People were learning, but it was very hidden. People were just beginning to reawaken to their own culture and the martial arts," Brahm reminisced.

    He retreated from the mountain, a little disappointed at not finding the martial arts paradise he expected. But his passion for kung fu and his desire to find out more were stronger than ever before.

    Over the following decades, he spent time as a lawyer, government advisor, explorer and film director, actively participating in and recording China's development.

    Throughout the years, there remained one constant: his commitment as an avid student of kung fu, spanning tai chi, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, among a host of other forms, learning under some of the best kung fu masters in China.

    "I trained in many different styles over the years to understand all of them," Brahm said.

    The thought of making a documentary about kung fu had been in the back of Brahm's mind for years. In 2018, he found a producer, and the dream became a reality.

    American Laurence J. Brahm is an avid fan of Chinese kung fu.

    Filming started in May 2019, with Brahm and his team traveling to several locations: Shaolin Temple, the origin of a large variety of forms of kung fu; Chenjiagou Village, the ancestral home of Chen-style tai chi; and Jingwu Town, the hometown of kung fu legend Huo Yuanjia. He also took in several other locations around China that have some significance in the story of martial arts.

    "I think, to me, what's really important was going back to Shaolin," Brahm said. "There was almost a reason for not wanting to go back. I had to wait for the right time."

    This time, he said he was "really happy" to see Shaolin rebuilt and martial arts thriving. He spent time with Shi Deyang, the 31st lineage holder of Shaolin kung fu.

    "You know, to be with him over those days in Shaolin, to be able to train with him, work with him, talk with him, and look at the origins -- we went up to the Bodhidharma Cave and practiced up there -- this is a really important moment in my life," Brahm said.

    "We found out that taekwondo, karate and many many different styles all recognize that Shaolin is the source, and it goes back at least to the Yuan Dynasty," Brahm said, citing written records in the Pagoda Forest at Shaolin Temple showing that people came from other countries to visit hundreds of years ago.

    Values of kung fu

    Daily kung fu practice has long been routine for Brahm; it is the way he greets the day.

    He recalled how he could not use one of his legs for about two years around 2010, and had to walk with crutches and a cane. However, by practicing martial arts, "very, very slowly" at the beginning, he was able to recover step by step.

    "Martial arts can help us connect our body, connect our neural system, connect our blood flow, and also help connect us into our environment to increase our awareness. Martial arts is moving meditation," Brahm said, his eyes bright and piercing.

    But to him, Kung fu's charm and values are far more than that.

    In making his film, Brahm has looked into a dozen different forms of kung fu, interviewing many masters and scholars in the process. He has combined this knowledge with his own experience as a practitioner and tutor to extract 12 key principles and values of the martial arts: perseverance, roots, loyalty, respect, harmony, change, balance, centering, emptiness, flow, pragmatism and non-violence.

    Kung fu movies have a massive fanbase around the world, not just because of the fight scenes, but also because of the wisdom, philosophy, morality and strategy within the movies, according to Brahm.

    "I'd like to share these values and wisdom with the whole world, because I believe that they are universal and can be used to handle the challenges people face today," he said.

    Brahm hopes his movie can help build bridges and understanding across nations and among people.

    He makes use of vivid examples to illustrate the values that he has identified. "Of all the martial arts I've learned, all styles, we always start with a defensive move, never to strike. And I think that's the essence of it. It's not about hurting someone. It's about preventing violence," he said.

    "Kung fu practitioners salute with 'baoquan,' literally meaning 'fist wrapping.' The common etiquette shows two things at least. One is you have a fist, but you're also not using it. And then you're showing 'I have no concealed weapons. I have nothing to hide.' It's trust."

    "Whenever a person goes to a martial-arts dojo, they must abide by the values -- respecting teachers, classmates and heritage. The martial arts community has this concept of loyalty and respect. It's a very high standard," said Brahm.

    "All of the martial artists, the ones that are really, really good, are very peaceful people. They will not pick a fight. They will avoid a fight at all costs. When you know how to use force, you are the last one to use force, because you know the outcome of this thing."

    Mirror of Chinese culture

    "Kung fu, in my eyes, is a mirror of Chinese culture," Brahm said. "The traditional values of kung fu, actually, are in the minds of all Chinese people."

    "China adopts a policy of not wanting to have conflict with other countries. Why does China want to be in harmony with other nations? It's part of the psychology of the Chinese people. It's also national psychology."

    Brahm also believes that today's world urgently needs to restart equal exchanges between countries without stereotypes, and that culture and sports, such as kung fu, can serve as a great channel and platform.

    "In the same way, ping pong as a cultural and sports exchange opened relations for China with the west in the 1970s, kung fu can become the new cultural diplomacy of our time, bringing people together in mutual sharing of skills and culture, and furthering respect and understanding."

    Source: Xinhua Editor: Liu Qi
    This project has PRC support.
    Gene Ching
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    More on the doc

    US martial artist in China sees kung fu as preventive medicine and meditation, and documents his search for its origins
    Elaine Yau 12 hrs ago

    Lawyer and government adviser turned documentary maker Laurence Brahm has studied many forms of Chinese martial arts to help overcome burnout
    His latest film documents his journeys across China to find the origins of kung fu, at the Shaolin Temple and beyond
    As someone who practises kung fu for four hours every day, former New Yorker and international lawyer turned filmmaker Laurence Brahm is well-known in Beijing's wushu community. He has studied under masters from various schools of Chinese martial arts, including 81-year-old Liu Hongchi, chief of the Beijing Wushu Association.

    Practising kung fu is a form of meditation in motion for him, Brahm says. And it has helped the global activist, political economist and author develop enduring life skills.

    "Kung fu trains your mind to think about opening up to opportunities, protecting yourself, avoiding conflict and getting hit, and creating situations where you can access where you want to be," he says.

    Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

    The 60-year-old reels off with pride the list of martial arts he practises, starting with a nod to his highly regarded teacher.

    "Liu is very respected by every martial artist [in China]. During the Republic of China period, Liu trained under really old masters from the Qing dynasty. He teaches me Zhang family kung fu, an esoteric style of Beijing kung fu that dates back to the Ming dynasty, and the five traditional animal styles of Shaolin kung fu - the dragon, the snake, the tiger, the leopard and the crane."

    Brahm also practices qigong, wing chun and jeet kune do. He holds a fourth-degree black belt in karate and is a disciple of karate grandmaster Kenneth Funakoshi.

    Provided by South China Morning Post Brahm (right) practises in Beijing with Hawaiian wing chun master Wayde Ching.
    Not satisfied with simply learning kung fu, he delved into its history. He has just completed the documentary Searching for Kung Fu, sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party-owned English-language daily newspaper China Daily, in which he traces his journeys across China in search of the origins of kung fu.

    The film follows Brahm's pilgrimage to places including Chenjiagou (Chen village) in Henan province, where tai chi is said to have originated; the Shaolin Temple, also in Henan province, the cradle of Chinese kung fu; and Jingwu town in Tianjin, the hometown of Chinese kung fu legend Huo Yuanjia.

    "At the Shaolin Temple, I was received by monk Shi Deyang who is the 31st Grand Master of Shaolin. We discussed martial arts and did meditation together," Brahm says.

    Kung fu taught a boy to walk. That was 60 years ago. Look at him now
    "It was like returning home for me. I first visited the Shaolin Temple in 1981.

    "There was hardly anybody there at that time. Most of the buildings had been burned down in 1928 by warlords. There was only the main hall, main gate and a statue of Bodhidharma. But it was a very important event for me as [I saw myself] going to the root of all of the martial arts."

    Provided by South China Morning Post Brahm is received by monk Shi Deyang who is the 31st Grand Master of Shaolin at the Shaolin Monastery, while making his documentary Searching for Kung Fu.
    Brahm first visited China in 1981, when he studied Mandarin at Nankai University in Tianjin. A law graduate from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and with a master of laws from the University of Hong Kong, he went on to serve as a lawyer and Chinese government adviser on monetary policy and state-owned-enterprise reform.

    He stopped commercial work in 2002 and started making documentaries. His first documentary, Searching for Shangri-La, was released in 2004, recording his hitchhiking quest across Tibet, Qinghai and Yunnan in western China to find the meaning of life.

    His other documentaries explore Yunnan's Tea Caravan Trail, Himalayan culture and the Shambhala Sutra, a manuscript written over 200 hundred years ago (Shambhala in Tibetan Buddhism is a spiritual kingdom).

    Back pain, can't sleep, feel chained to a desk? It's burnout
    Eating and drinking too much at corporate dinners and poor sleep took a physical and mental toll, leaving him drained, exhausted and frustrated, Brahm says. This prompted him to seek healing through Eastern philosophies.

    "For Asian traditions, whether they are Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist or Confucian teachings, they are all about yin and yang (the idea that opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent). Everything is about harmony, trying to find balance and attain oneness," he says.

    He eats healthily - a lot of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and fish. Still, Brahm says it is his kung fu practice that has cured him of many ailments, including arthritis.

    If we could get everybody in the US Congress to do tai chi every morning, they would have made much better decisions than they are making now
    Laurence Brahm
    "From 2010 to 2013, I had very bad legs and difficulty walking. I was even disabled at one point. It got much worse when I filmed at very high altitudes. But I was able to recover entirely through doing martial arts."

    Kung fu is a kind of preventive medicine, he adds. "Many martial arts teachers are also Chinese medicine teachers and are very aware of their body's condition. Chinese medicine and kung fu share one key thing, which is the importance of keeping your body fit and mind clear to prevent sickness."

    Brahm notes that the Beijing Wushu Association is working with the Chinese government to include daily tai chi every morning for government staff.

    Provided by South China Morning Post Laurence Brahm pays his respects at the tomb of Chinese kung fu legend Huo Yuanjia in Tianjin.
    "If we could get everybody in the US Congress to do tai chi every morning, they would have made much better decisions than they are making now," he says.

    While wushu, the Chinese name for kung fu, is translated as "martial arts" in English with the word "martial" meaning military, Brahm says wushu is actually an art of non-violence.

    "There are multiple values inherent in martial arts - including loyalty, respect and the Chinese concept of ren or endurance. The Chinese character ren is made up of a knife over a heart with one more mark [on the knife] signifying blood."

    Provided by South China Morning Post Ren, the Chinese character for endurance. Illustration Shutterstock
    "What it really means is that you put your heart under enormous duress, but you are still able to endure. It is about consistent perseverance over time, which is a character of Chinese culture."

    He learned the value of "grounding" through Chinese kung fu, he says. "One of the key things in all martial arts is your stance or footwork. It's not about upper body movement. The most important thing is your grounding. Culturally, too, we have to be grounded and understand our identity."

    Brahm's goal is to film kung fu dramas which explore its underlying philosophy.

    Brahm and his film crew in Beijing.
    Provided by South China Morning Post Brahm and his film crew in Beijing.
    "Many feature films on kung fu today are about fighting. This is very artificial ... I hope my drama features can reveal kung fu philosophies and reach a broader audience than a documentary."
    Seems like he's trying to cover too much ground. That's a sure way to lose your storyline...
    Gene Ching
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

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