Laughter and Tears at the Shaolin Poetry Night

On August 6th 2011, a Saturday like no other, the Temple hosted a different kind of training. One of Shifu’s oldest disciples, Heng Fo, returned from his home in Chicago to the Temple for the first time in many years to share some love. He was the host to the first USA Shaolin Temple poetry night fundraiser, “Snake Spits Its Tongue”, to benefit the new Shaolin Temple in upstate New York. Accompanying Heng Fo, aka Fo Flight 69, were the Five Deadly Spitters: Amorpoesia, Drunken Monkeee, and Choir Boy, who had come from Chicago with Fo to perform. Vadim Galperin and the USA Shaolin Temple Demo team rounded out the rest of the line up.

The Temple is and always will be a place to express oneself; to express both the good and the bad, the painful and the euphoric. Everyone who has trained there knows that in the movements that we perform during class, we are laughing, crying, loving, hating, and exploring the feelings that make up the kaleidoscope of emotions that effect how we live our lives. We don’t talk during class, but our bodies and movements are telling our stories loudly. We are all sharing our own personal stories. And these stories show us that we are all at times good, we are all bad, we are all ugly, and we are all – most importantly – always beautiful.

We say “Amituofo” as a greeting for many reasons to each other, but in this instance, the main reason would be to acknowledge the person and their story. The story of their experiences and journey that lead them to stand in front of you and say “Amituofo”. On that Saturday, Fo Flight 69 and the 5 Deadly Spitters gave us their stories. Heng Fo loves and respects Shifu, and with Shifu’s reflected love shining back onto him, he and his group of Spitters dived head first into an unadulterated world of human heartache and love.

Wearing a Chinese straw hat which he had bought on one of the first USA Shaolin Temple trips to China in 2001, Heng Fo spoke of life that happens when people collide. The Spitters spoke of what happens when people question each other, when people love and hurt each other, when people are affected by one another, and when people take a stand and start telling their own stories. The evening started with Fo describing his journey back to the temple and the rush of emotions that it entailed. During his readings, the USA Shaolin Temple demo team performed qigong in the background. In another piece, “Woman”, Amorpoesia expounded on the strength and spirit of women while the female members of the Temple’s demo team performed staff form in unison. Another piece demonstrated the combination of physical and mental inherent in Shaolin philosophy with Heng Fo and Heng Xu, a member of the demo team, performing different but similar styles of taiji quan. Another action piece had Vadim Galperin, another long-time temple student, performing a beautiful African dance routine.

The performances flowed into each other like a river of consciousness, often taking a phrase from the previous story to build a new scene. In “Ghetto Diva” the phrase “mother’s daughter” was used as a cruel put down, but it blossomed into pride and triumph in the next piece, “Mother’s Daughter”.

The USA Shaolin Temple Demo team performed staff, sword, and free hand forms to a piece called “Peace Be Still”. Just as the temple students try to “flatten their hearts” while training, moving away from their own emotional stories to practice gongfu purely propelled by qi, this piece reflected that peace and stillness within action meditation. The stillness that reciting the sutra brings. When we share our stories over and over again, whether during training or in a poetry performance, we are reaching for that stillness, that peace which is freedom in this world.

At the end of the night, audience and performers alike were exhausted, spent, and moved. With love as the fulcrum of the evening, we all played in the darkness. Scars were revealed and shared. And we all survived in the end.  More Chi, Train Harder!