By SCOTT AUST
Local martial arts enthusiasts make trip to China to visit Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Wing Chun style of kung fu.
Last November, seven local kung fu enthusiasts got the thrill of a lifetime when they visited the Shaolin Temple in Hunan Province, China, the birthplace of Wing Chun, the martial arts style they practice.
Jerry and Ronda Bolding, Brandon Hahn, Bruce Ulrich, Beau Hopkins, Juan Sepulveda, and Jose D. Rodriguez were seven of only about 15 from United States to attend the event.
Jerry Bolding and his wife, Ronda, have been teaching kung fu for more than 30 years. Bolding said they haven't had an open school for about five years in Garden City, but they are still very active, and Ronda Bolding teaches kung fu classes in Dodge City.
"Our style of kung fu originated in the Shaolin Temple. This was a ceremony to officially bring back the Wing Chun style to the temple," Bolding said.
The kung fu style was developed in the Temple hundreds of years ago but was banned by the Manchus.
Over the years, the teachings were passed on in secret from teacher to student. A current grandmaster, William Cheung, led efforts to bring Wing Chun back to the temple, and the temple's abbot agreed. Shaolin monks will resume training in Wing Chun now and will reincorporate it back into the temple.
"It was a blast," Hahn said of the trip. "It was definitely a lot of learning. We also got to see a lot of the culture, the architecture. That was really a blast to me."
Hahn said it was interesting to get to meet and talk to Shaolin monks, and to witness the ceremony taking the Wing Chun art form back to the Shaolin Temple.
"It was exciting. I really enjoyed being able to meet a lot of our Kung Fu brothers from around the world," Hahn said. "There were people from all over the world there — Italy, Great Britain, and a lot from Australia, because that's where our world headquarters is at."
The Shaolin Temple ceremony was led by Grandmaster William Cheung, known for introducing Bruce Lee to the Wing Chun style. It included placing a large, historical marble plaque commemorating Wing Chun's Shaolin roots.
According to Cheung's website, the Shaolin Temple was established in 495 A.D. during the Northern Wei dynasty. According to legend, a monk, Bodhidharma, found other monks weak and unhealthy after long meditation practices, so he developed movements to strengthen them, which formed the basis of Shaolin kung fu.
Shaolin kung fu later evolved into more than 700 forms of martial arts, including Wing Chun, and became the cradle of much of the martial arts practiced in the world today.
In the 1,500 years since its founding, Shaolin has endured wars, famines, invasions and revolutions and also presided over times of great peace and prosperity. Its large cannon of stories, practices, culture, personalities and historical data is the stuff of legend, and it has inspired countless adaptations in traditional and popular culture around the world. ¬
Beau Hopkins said the trip was a great experience, simply because he had never been to China before, but also to soak in the history and culture of the Shaolin Temple as the birthplace of the Wing Chun form.
"We got to walk around the temple. It was interesting culturally because martial arts was so huge there. Even just regular elementary schools, they tend to practice martial arts just around outside, which I thought was cool," he said.
Hopkins said Cheung has been to Garden City several times for seminars. Cheung even remembered Hopkins from when Hopkins was just a kid.
"I hadn't seen him for like 15 years. He's a very upbeat kind of guy. He's fun and funny, but he knows the style so well that he finds a simple way to help you understand it," Hopkins said.
Hopkins started training in Wing Chun about a year ago, after about a 10-year break from martial arts. He started in kung fu when he was about 8 or 9 years old just because it looked like fun, and then stopped when he was a sophomore in high school to focus on school.
"One thing I enjoy is it's a great exercise. Also, it's a style I really agree with. It's not a very aggressive style, it's more defensive. And that's more of a martial art I agree with. There are attacks with, it but the main focus is defense," Hopkins said.
Hopkins said his goal is to reach instructor level proficiency so he can teach the style to others. Training encompasses both physical and mental aspects.
"There are certain forms that we do. There is some not quite meditation, but it is a soothing kind of form where you focus on your breathing while doing techniques. So it helps your mind a little bit, as well," he said.
According to information on Cheung's website, Wing Chun kung fu is intended to develop "physical, mental and spiritual awareness. These elements transcend you to a higher level of life. Self awareness, self respect and a duty to serve should be the goal of life in every martial artist."
That philosophy is attractive to local practitioners.
"It's a very effective form of self defense," Bolding said. "It's good for a smaller person to defend themselves against a larger person. It was developed by a woman, so she had to be able to defend herself against a man."
Bolding said there have been a couple of recent movies, "The Grandmaster," and, "Ip Man: The Final Fight," that involve Wing Chun kung fu and the life of Ip Man, William Cheung's teacher.
"It keeps you active, physically. It gives you mental discipline, too," he said.
Hahn, who has started teaching Kung Fu privately, said Wing Chun was developed from different styles of kung fu, and the purpose was to develop a style that would create efficient fighters, basically an army, in the Shaolin Temple to take back China from the Manchus.
"It's really designed for combat, so we don't do any tournaments or things like that. Mostly, we do it for self defense," he said.
Hahn has been involved in martial arts for about 15 years, starting when he was about 15 years old. He started out in karate but started taking kung fu classes taught by the Boldings after his karate teacher stopped teaching.
"I like the physical aspect of it," he said. "In our pledge, it refers to becoming mentally and physically healthier. It has a really good health aspect for getting in shape, but you also get other things out of it, such as self defense and being disciplined. It's just something I really enjoy doing."