Mirror Mirror - 2019

Seeking Cultural Unity Through Commonalities

By Jennifer Allen

As I've mentioned in a past article, I decided to increase my fitness and be in much better health by participating in Chinese Martial Arts. Now with learning almost two years of Tai Chi and a year of both Meditation & Shaolin Kung Fu, I've noticed that there are a lot of similarities between East Asian and South Asian Martial Arts. It's been mentioned through various classes and discussions at the School I attend how Yoga, Tai Chi, and Shaolin Kung Fu have much in the way of crossover moves and skills.

To understand why this is so, we have to look back at the history of how this tradition started. Legend has it that the crossover began when a Buddhist Monk known as Bodhidharma traveled to China to teach Mahayana Buddhism during the 5th or 6th century. During his travels he came to a Shaolin Monastery and taught the monks what would later be known as Shaolin Kung Fu. His teachings included Yoga, Meditation and the Lankavatara Sutra. He was often called a “Blue-Eyed Barbarian" monk and is thought to have been the third son of a Pallava King from Kanchipuram.

While the stories have been scrutinized as to their authenticity of Bodhidharma's life, there's no denying that his teachings have made an impact. The systems of Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Shaolin Kung Fu do have their similarities and to fully understand it's best to actively practice all of them, if possible.

As my School, The Peaceful Dragon in Charlotte, NC does have all of these (and more) available in classes, I asked one of their teachers, Sifu George Lu a few questions about this:

Saathee: Let's start with a little background first. What specific types of Martial Arts do you have experience in?

George Lu: Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Xing Yi, Be Kua, and Shuai Chiao.

S: Some think that Yoga and Chinese Martial Arts have very little in common. Where do you think this misconception comes from?

GL: Rock, country and blues are quite different but they all share the same musical roots. Kung Fu and Yoga both focus on mind, body and breath. Those misconceptions came from the observation of fighting vs holding postures.

S: Unlike some other programs for fitness, often Martial Arts Schools focus not only on physical health but also mental and spiritual health. Can you explain why?

GL: Physical training goes only so far and even top athletes retire by the time they are 40. Internal arts can take you all the way to old age.

S: The Peaceful Dragon offers various Yoga & Martial Arts programs. What would you consider a good starting platform for a new student?

GL: All of our programs focus on mind, body and breath, so any program is a good starting place.

S: While Martial Arts and/or Yoga may not be for everyone, what do you think are a few good ways to stay motivated and continue your practice as a student?

GL: There is meditation, sports, music and plenty of other activities that people can choose from.

S: There is quite a mixture of Asian and non-Asian students & instructors at the school. Do you think this amount of diversity is surprising or no?

GL: Welcome to America! Anyone who is willing to learn and qualified to teach is always welcome.

S: Finally, is there anything else you would like to mention about practicing Yoga and/or Chinese Martial Arts in the long term?

GL: After 20 years of training, I'm in better shape now than when I was 20 years old!

I'll add that I'm also in some of the best shape I've been in since my 20's thanks not only to the classes offered at the school but also having the perseverance to want to continue learning as many aspects as I can.

The Peaceful Dragon has quite a few South Asian students of all ages not only learning Yoga, but also Tai Chi & Kung Fu, so don't feel intimidated about wanting to try something different with whichever Martial Arts School is near you that you've been wanting to try.

Perhaps you'll even find a deeper understanding of how all of our cultures are really not all that different, and also have a chance to find that perfect balance of mind, body, and spirit you may not have realized was missing before.


Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer & Graphic Artist.