The Shaolin Scribe
Shi Deqian and the Shaolin Encyclopedia

By Gene Ching

Christians, Jews and Muslims are all bound by the Old Testament. In contrast, Buddhism does not have a single Bible per se. You'll find The Buddhist Bible on the web, the free access version because the copyright expired. It was created by Dwight Goddard in 1924 and inspired the Beats like Jack Kerouac. But it's only an assemblage of four major Zen teachings. And Zen is only one branch of Buddhism. Different Buddhist lineages center on different teachings, just as the unique sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam differentiate. These teachings in their written form are called sutras. The word sutra comes from Sanskrit. It literally means "thread" or "rope" and is the root of words like "suture" and "sew." Given all the branches, the number of Buddhist sutras is countless, with new ones being created by enlightened masters even today, so Goddard's title is misleading.

Derived from Buddhism, Shaolin kung fu uses forms for its sutras. For the Shaolin disciple, the practice of forms is no different from the recitation of sutras. Through the repetition of forms, we change our bodies. Through the chanting of sutras, we change our minds. This is reflected in the name of archetypal form, yijinjing (易筋經). This is conventionally translated as "Muscle-Tendon Change Classic," but "classic"' is a clunky. The last character jing is actually the Chinese word for sutra.

As a microcosm of Zen (or Chan as it is called in Chinese), Shaolin kung fu lacks a single Bible too. Numerous kung fu lineages have spread around the globe, with countless forms like the countless sutras, and new ones are being created by masters all the time. It's impossible to contain within the covers of a single book. However, one work comes the closest. In 1992, Shaolin monk Shi Deqian (釋德虔) completed the Shaolinsi Wushu Baike Quanshu (少林寺武術百科全書), known informally in English as the Shaolin Encyclopedia. It consists of four volumes, each a wrist breaker of a book, containing four thousand pages, a thou(over ) sand diagrams and drawings a(over )nd nearly four million characters. Not only is it the largest single publication ever done on Shaolin martial arts, it may well be the largest ever done on any martial art.

The Monk Who Wrote the Book on Shaolin
Monk Shi Deqian was born in 1943 with the childhood name of Wang Shengyin (王省印). He later adopted the name Wang Changqing (王長青), which has been translated into "evergreen" previously. He also went by a typical artist's nickname Shaoshi Shanren (literally "Shaoshi Mountain man" 少室山人). In China, where mountains are venerated as the source of wisdom, it's not uncommon for painters and poets to adopt a name that reflects their birthplace if it was on a sacred mountain. Shaoshi is one of the major peaks of the Songshan range, where Shaolin Temple is located.

Young Wang, second of three brothers, the never-ending string of began to study Shaolin kung fu at natural disasters that brought age six. One of his many uncles was death to livestock and locals. the head farmer in charge of planting crops for Shaolin Temple. That uncle took his nephew to study under the Venerable Shaolin Monk Shi Suxi (1924-2006 釋素喜). Wang eventually became Suxi's disciple and took the monk name Deqian (31st generation "sincere" 虔). He excelled in yijinjing, xiaohongquan (red fist boxing 小洪拳), hehuquan (black tiger boxing 黑虎拳), monk spade and eight-faced hammers. He also studied Shaolin medicine under the Venerable Shaolin Monk Shi Dechan (1907-1993 釋德禪). Medicine, qigong and bone setting became Deqian's Shaolin specialty, and that served him well during the war years.

In 1955, Deqian left Shaolin to go to medical school. He became a military doctor for the People's Liberation Army and was shipped off to Xinjiang in 1969. The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is a vast distant expanse that occupies the northwest corner of China and accounts for one sixth of her territory. In this harsh land, all of Deqian's Shaolin skills were tested by the constant high-altitude hardships of a country doctor. He rode on horseback, carrying medicine to the dozens of diverse minority groups that populate the region. In winter, he provided relief for the never-ending string of natural disasters that brought death to livestock and locals.

His nickname of "evergreen" became more meaningful than ever. Deqian was like a heroic figure out of some martial arts novel ? a Shaolin healer wandering a mystic mountain range to help those in need. He even went on a quest for the legendary snow lotus (xuelian 雪蓮), a powerful herb used in some of the most potent medicinal concoctions, scaling the icy Tianshan range with his local disciples.

In 1980, Deqian retired from the military and returned to Shaolin to work beside his master, Shi Suxi. He was one of the earliest promoters of Shaolin kung fu to the rest of the world and on that first U.S. demonstration t(was )our in 1992 alongside Shi Guolin and Shi Yanming. He has been decorated with the National Wushu Contribution Award, the Great Contribution Award from the 1991 Zhengzhou Wushu Festival, and the Best Thesis Award from the First International Shaolin Academic Symposium. He's been involved with the production of thirteen feature films and television series such as Zhonghua Wushu (Chinese Martial Arts 中華武術), Shaolin Xiongfeng (Shaolin Hero Wind 少林雄風) and Shaolin Nuheshang (Shaolin Nuns 少林女和尚). But matter how many achievements Deqian has accrued, (no )he is most recognized for his Encyclopedia.

From Out of Shaolin's Ashes
According to many historical resources, Shaolin once claimed the most voluminous martial library in the world. All was lost in 1928 when a warlord set fire to Shaolin. They say the library burned for forty days and nothing survived. Nothing, that is, but some notes. "The first hand material (for the Shaolin Encylopedia) is from monk Yongxiang (永祥)," reveals Deqian in Mandarin. "Before 1928, he copied the books of Shaolin. He left in November of 1927 because his father was sick. Then the big fire was in 1928. In 1981, Yongxiang passed the whole collection to me and asked me to reorganize it. I have finished that now." After the movie Shaolin Temple was filmed on location, Deqian was inspired to begin publishing his research. Today Deqian claims authorship of nearly seventy books, and the Shaolin Encyclopedia was is masterwork.

Beyond the notes bequeathed to him from Yongxiang, the Shaolin Encyclopedia also included Deqian's own extensive research. He traveled across China and the world to further his studies of the arts. "I forget to eat and sleep," reflects Deqian. "I visited Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, 17 provinces! I traveled over 50,000 miles to visit a lot of folk masters." That research never stopped, and Deqian continues to publish. Being an expert in yijinjing, he was very excited about the National Body-Building Qigong Center's selection to promote that method. "Shaolin has six major qigong," states Deqian. "Yijingjing, baduanjin (eight-section brocade 八段錦), fengbailiu (風擺柳), taiheqigong (太和氣功), xinyougong (信游功), and jingchangong (靜禪功)." According to Deqian, the People's Sport Publishing House is planning to publish all six forms in a slim volume to further the promotion of Shaolin qigong.

Sadly, the Shaolin Encyclopedia has not been translated into English. Deqian has had many offers, but estimates that it would cost around 600,000 RMB (nearly $75,000 USD) to have a translation done. No one is willing to invest that much on something that has such a narrow market. What's more, Deqian has had some problems with previous English translations. He claims one of his books was translated unscrupulously, a book on secret Shaolin medicinal formulas. Not only was this done without Deqian's blessing, he's never even seen a copy. "I want a copy," says Deqian expectantly. Furthermore, the Shaolin Encyclopedia may not be reprinted, even in Chinese. The most economical estimation for a reprint is over half a million RMB (around $70,000 USD), so those few editions that were made are true collector's items.

Ever Straight, Ever Tolerant, Evergreen
Today, Deqian oversees his own private school in the west side of Dengfeng, the Shaolin International Wushu Institute, where he's been teaching for the last decade. It has around five hundred fulltime students, which is modest by Dengfeng standards, where several schools boast student bodies well into the thousands. It's off the beaten path of most Shaolin tourists, in the shadow of Shaoshi Heroes Memorial Park.

Deqian still travels and dons robes for formal occasions, but most of the time he can be found dressed casually at his school, teaching and researching, living life as a layman disciple. A firm believer in literacy and education, Deqian donates much of his income from writing to restore the school in his hometown.

Deqian remains a force within the Shaolin order. Although he's still very active with research, he's now venturing into the world of fiction. "I'm working on a long kung fu novel," reveals Deqian with twinkling eyes, "biographies of Shaolin heroes. It's a hundred chapters. More than fifty are done. About eighty percent are based on real legends. After I finish, do you want to translate it?"

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Shi Deqian has passed on

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About Gene Ching :
Shi Deqian can be contacted at his school: Shaolin Temple International Wushu Institute, Dengfeng City, Henan Province, People?s Republic of China, postcode 452470. Phone: (0371) 2880694.

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