Monday, March 22, 2010


Two years ago I was honored to be invited to the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC, to do a one hour lecture and to present three classic martial arts films in celebration of their Shaolin Temple of Zen traveling photograph exhibit presented by photographer Justin Guariglia.

Guariglia spent eight years at the Shaolin Temple in China, in the inner sanctums, places where foreigners and the general Chinese population do not have access. He is also the first Westerner to photographically record and subsequently reveal to the world the lives and training of the real Shaolin monks.

We are not talking about the flipping, jumping, landing in splits and wielding weapons that weigh less than one pound wu shu mock ups, but the gritty, authentic and traditional Shaolin kung fu.

It is also of great consequence when an organization with the worldwide following and reputation of National Geographic takes a keen interest in such an important cultural part of China as the Shaolin Temple.

It was National Geographic’s first martial arts film festival ever and according to National Geographic it was more than a major success because for about two thirds of the 1000+ crowd, it was the first time they had ever attended any event at National Geographic. It really goes to show you just how popular the old kung fu films are after all these years.

Thus, a few weeks ago, I was invited back out to DC, to curate and present three more great martial arts films at their second martial arts film festival, this time in honor of their Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit.

The films I chose were Jet Li’s HERO, the Liu Chia-hui starring DIRTY HO and the best martial arts film ever made in the history of martial arts cinema, the Liu Chia-liang directed LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA.

But what was even greater about this festival besides the once more amazing turnout was that my wife Silvia was invited to fly out with me where we were put up in the super posh The Madison hotel and were given complimentary tickets to the Terra Cotta Warrior Exhibition.

Of note, the Exhibition has continually been at the National Geographic Museum since the fall of last year and it has been sold out every day. One actually has to reserve a ticket weeks in advance as masses of museum-goers from all four corners of the United States have been making pilgrimages to National Geographic just to get their 30 minutes of time with the Terra Cotta Warriors.

While standing in line to get our tickets, a family of four who had driven well over four hours to be first in line for the day’s showings was turned away, not knowing that the exhibit had been book months in advance.

They were more deflated than a rubber dingy being dragged over a thousand miles of broken glass. Filled with great distraught, after they explained that they had driven since early morn to arrive by 10:00 am, a lady who had just picked up her tickets relinquished them to the family...way cool.

Viewing the Terra Cotta Warriors was a highly spiritual experience as one truly can feel that the spirits of the soldiers who were chosen to be the statue models, were also perhaps actually sacrificed in the name of the statue so that the spirit of each warrior literally lives within the terra cotta casing.

Yes, I believe I am hearing the familiar TWILIGHT ZONE musical shtick.

There was one warrior frozen in a very typical martial arts stance that looked like he was about to use a fa jing style strike, where one can for a split second reverse their Qi flow to produce a very powerful blow. However, if you have never learned about fa jing or even learned how to do a fa jing style strike, you would never recognize the body stance and posture used to produce it.

To my surprise the caption under the statue said the man was in an archer stance as if to use a long bow. The logic of the mistake was compounded because in the actual tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di several arrows were lying close to the statue.

However, archers in Qin’s army used cross bows, furthermore the statue was not wearing armor thus being either a bodyguard to the emperor or an empty hand fighter.

After I pointed this out to the VP of Lectures and Public Programs at the museum and shared that this was a martial artist warriors preparing for a fa jing strike, a photo of the statue was put together and before the beginning of each film was flashed on the movie screen.

With the picture as my backdrop, I would tell the audience what the statue was really about and then I would demonstrate a fa jing strike, which on each occasion shook the stage with the Qi power shockwave that should come with such a strike out of the same stance as the statue.

I ended up doing about 90 minutes worth of lecture talking about martial arts history, the Terra Cotta Warriors, the martial arts of the time period and of course the three films.

The surprise ending was that the VP invited Silvia and I out for supper. We were also joined by the editor of the National Geographic Magazine. Both of these individuals are amazing people with very interesting backgrounds.

We talked a lot about Qi healing and the way color and diet affects one’s Qi, thereby their health. We next spoke about martial arts films, the differences between fight choreography of the 1970s and now, and then how martial arts spread around the world mainly from India and China...yes even capoiera.

Although thought to be created by slaves in Brazil of Angolan ancestry, new evidence strongly suggests that capoiera is Chinese in its origin.

At the end of the night the VP invited me back to the headquarters when my martial arts film book, The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s comes out later this year. He'd like to create another film festival so it can be a launching party for the book, where I'd spend the weekend talking about film and signing books.

Now, how cool is that.

Stay tuned for updates.