Interview with former Shaolin monk, Zhang LiPeng
What is kung fu?
Lipeng: Kung fu is not what most people think. All the movements
are not kung fu. The form is not kung fu. Kung fu means you're training
the one movement for so long, for so many years; that movement you can
change in so many different ways to defend yourself and to fight - that's
called kung fu.
China, they don't just call martial arts "kung fu" - anything
else they can say is "kung fu." If you've been driving a car
for twenty years and never had an accident, that also means kung fu. It
means you drive very well. It also means your experience.
you are like...anything - anything you did for a long time and really
experience; like a doctor can also say that very good kung fu. In China,
that's what they call this guy. That's what kung fu means.
Is the form kung fu?
Lipeng: No, the form is not kung fu. The form is just the form.
many people in the US and in Europe - even in China - think forms are
kung fu. But the form is not kung fu. The form is just a form. I can teach
you two forms - three forms - twenty forms - you still just know the forms.
They say the form. They don't say the kung fu. They say form. So that's
why it's not kung fu - it's just exercise. If you're training with one
form every day for ten years, one movement you can change twenty different
ways for fighting with people. You can use different ways for training.
Take each movement out from the form and just train for twenty years -
ten years. Don't train just the form. Try and take out. And try to use
the movement; and fight with the movement; and change the movement. Each
movement you can change twenty different ways or thirty different ways
to fight with people.
you can say that is real kung fu. Then you can fight with the form on
anybody. No size. Bigger people, tall people you can fight because the
form you can change so many different ways to fight with different people.
So, you mean that, in the form the kung fu exists, but you have to get
rid of everything else.
So it's someplace in there, but you take away pieces of the form little
Lipeng: To fight. For training.
And you concentrate each one.
Lipeng: Each one.
each movement can also be changed twenty different ways to fight. You
change. So flexible, so detailed - that's called kung fu.
if you know a different way to fight, but if you don't know how to use
it, you still cannot fight. You have to train for a long time to fight.
Tai Chi; this movement - hand up, this arm grab, this arm goes this way
- you have to train this movement for a long time and the teacher has
to stand aside when you do this movement, the teacher has to - boom -
with a stick come to your face you have to - boom - grab the stick so
you have to do training like this for a long time. Not just with hands
- you've got to train with staff, with hands, with punch, with legs; all
kind of ways to fight. And you've got to be training like that for a long
time. Of course you can fight. That's why I say forms are not kung fu.
So kung fu is basically the way you approach your training.
Lipeng: Kung fu is there. The one movement you train for twenty
years and you can use all different ways. That's called kung fu. You have
such power and ability to fight. That's called kung fu.
Why do people ask you "Is wushu kung fu?"
Lipeng: So many Europeans and Americans think wushu is kung fu
- kung fu is wushu. Wushu translates to English as "martial art."
Fifty or sixty years ago, China's president, Chairman Mao, changed kung
fu to become something that looks like gymnastics - like dance, and just
beautiful - not form or fight.
Chairman Mao didn't want people to train for fighting because he was so
worried about people trying to...
...to take his power away.
Lipeng: ...to take his power away. That's why they say kung fu
is very dangerous. Chairman Mao's real bodyguard was from Shaolin Temple.
Lipeng: His name is Shi Xuyu. Shi Xuyu was the younger of six
brothers. The Shaolin Temple Master traveled past his village, and the
mother said to the monk they couldn't support these children. So could
you save one of my children? The Shaolin Master looked at the six children
and pointed to one. See, right away that child had a future. So the Shaolin
Temple Master took that child to Shaolin Temple. His name was Shi Xuyu.
trained at Shaolin Temple for eight years - this is a true story - not
a legend. It happened only 50 years ago. Then the Shaolin Temple Master
said, "You can go." Shi Xuyu never went back to Shaolin Temple
because he went into the army - an enemy army of Chairman Mao's - and
then he joined with Chairman Mao. He had already become a general in the
other army, so Chairman Mao didn't want to kill him, and saved him because
he wanted him to bring his whole army to follow Chairman Mao. So, Chairman
Mao saved his life. That's why he stayed with Chairman Mao his whole life.
He died when he was around 85 or 90. He was the Chief of Staff of the
Army, Navy, and Air Force; so he was a very powerful guy. He was very
small, his face very angry and ugly, and he was a really scary guy.
martial arts were so amazing. So I think that's why Chairman Mao wanted
martial arts ended. He saw his bodyguard, Shi Xuyu, was so good at training
in martial arts. Can you imagine if somebody else - in China there are
so many people who can do training very well - if somebody else used him,
then what? So that's why he changed them to martial arts.
Chairman Mao made it illegal to train in martial arts?
Lipeng: Yes. All martial arts. You could not have swords or anything.
He's the one who changed everything. That's why right now they have the
modern martial arts and the history martial arts. In history martial arts
you train one form for twenty years. In modern martial arts you jump up
and down, you flip around; beautiful, nice movements-that's not kung fu.
That stuff is only for looks.
Do people train differently now from the way they did 300 years ago?
Lipeng: Yes. 300 years ago, the master did not look at your size.
They trained all sizes - tall, short, skinny, fat. He looked at your spirit,
your self-esteem. They did not look at your body. If you want to do it,
anything is possible. So the master will teach you if you're a little
bit bigger, he'll teach you something else. If you're small, they'll teach
you other stuff. So, if you're skinny and small, the master is going to
teach you swords - straight swords, or other swords. You'll be training
with swords, one form, for twenty years every day. So when you have the
sword, you can kill people in one second.
Big or small, it doesn't matter.
Lipeng: It doesn't matter. That's the history way of training.
In the modern way of training, they want to know how many forms you know;
they classify you by size, and the fights are not fights, it's like punch,
punch, grab somebody's leg, boom boom boom; hey, that's the modern way
of fighting. They don't have real kung fu anymore. It's just if you're
stronger or bigger or you know grappling, you know how to punch and kick,
then you can fight. That's why people think if they've been training for
a couple of years they can fight, but that's the modern way of martial
BM: That means to me that kung fu is
Lipeng: It is. It's the spirit. It's over. It's over. Do you
know why it's over? Because the modern style, you don't need martial arts
to protect the country. You don't need martial arts to protect your life.
Nobody's going to kill you. In history, everybody would carry a big knife,
a straight sword. It didn't matter where you went, if you went into a
restaurant you would still carry a knife because you always had to defend
yourself. Right now, if you want to kill somebody, you shoot him - you
have a gun; you don't have to spend twenty years stuck in a mountain to
do training. You don't need that stuff for revenge. That's why the history
martial arts will slowly disappear.
Why are they saying martial arts now are only an art and not self-defense?
Lipeng: The question of the arts right now - it's art now. It's
not for training. You feel good and it makes people live longer, but can
you really fight? No. You cannot fight. That's why when I was in Belgium,
somebody who was training karate for 20 years said, "I cannot fight
one street guy." Do you know why? Because he didn't train that way
before. He trained for a couple of hours for 20 years. That doesn't mean
anything. So right away you're going to treat martial arts like art. You
cannot treat martial arts as a way to fight or to kill somebody. You can
defend yourself better than people with no training, but you cannot fight
against 20 people. It's not possible
So martial arts now is getting to be more like ballet.
Lipeng: More like art, but ballet is only art, but with martial
arts now you still can defend yourself. It's a combination. You still
can defend yourself, but it's not like before. That's why the modern martial
arts are very good for this modern time
So, there is no real way that kung fu is going to come back because it's
not needed anymore.
Lipeng: Not needed anymore.
They do fighting now for sport...stuff like boxing.
Lipeng: That stuff has become like business.
history, the fights led to death - to save themselves life. They didn't
fight for twenty minutes; they'd fight for one minute or two seconds and
then it's over. They didn't fight that long. You die or he dies. Your
leg broken, his leg or arm broken - it's one second; then it's over. Can
you imagine every day a small guy training with swords for twenty years
- do you think he's gonna fight with you for twenty minutes? As soon as
he moves his swords, you don't even know what's going on, you're already
finished. It's over.
What if you have two people who've been training for twenty years?
Lipeng: Then it depends on what did you do for 20 years. Also,
it depends on who goes first.
I start first, my speed is so fast you cannot even see. If I start first
and he cannot defend against my sword, he dies. But, if he can defend,
we start all over again and it takes a little bit longer. But those training
with swords for twenty years, it takes one minute - or two minutes to
end the war.
Why are you promoting Shaolin martial arts if there is no kung fu anymore?
Lipeng: I trained at Shaolin Temple and I know how good they
are. I went back there when I was 12 or 13 years old because I believed
my future was there. I also realized that at that time it was not possible
to train in the history style. Things were not like history anymore. That's
why I left my family to go back to Shaolin Temple. When I was 16 I went
to Belgium where they liked Chinese arts so much; I decided I wanted to
go to Europe to promote Chinese Shaolin martial arts. That's why I treat
this like art. I don't treat this like anything else. That's why right
now I'm in the US - I just promote the art. That's why this year I'm organizing
a competition; I'm going to try to do it every year to promote Shaolin
arts and to let people know what is kung fu, what is going on in martial
arts. The modern style is for me to promote. In history, there were different
ways to promote. Right now I'm the one who was born in this modern generation.
I am the one responsible to promote the modern way of the art. That's
why I want to promote the Shaolin martial arts.
Would you say that you are the last generation of actual kung fu?
Lipeng: When I was young, I trained much longer than the new
generation. Right now, they can train at the Shaolin Temple for five or
six years and then they can come and do the show.
So we still call it "kung Fu," but we're really doing the forms?
Lipeng: Yes. The form is kung fu, but you have to train for a
long time with one form. It's a different way of training.
The forms may be the beginning of kung fu and then you have to take that
form, and study it for 20 years.
Lipeng: Create the form.
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