I recently had the pleasure of attending the Shaolin Festival at Rosemead Park. The annual event, held in March, is put on by the Shaolin Temple Cultural Center USA to share and promote Shaolin culture here in Southern California.
A fun family affair, the park was awash with bright, colorful banners and large, beautiful photographs of Shaolin temples and culture. There were Buddhist statues, sanctuaries, a meditation booth, a Shaolin temple booth, and artwork kiosks. Mixing with the festivalgoers were Shaolin masters in their traditional clothing, lending the event an air of East meets West, past meets present.
The message was clear: Just because we move to a new land, it doesn’t mean we have to leave our native culture behind. We are encouraged to honour our past while embracing our future. We can appreciate our values and traditions and still value our modern lifestyle.
There are quite a few Shaolin temples and schools in California as there is a large population of Chinese living in Southern California; as a result, there are many more children of mixed parentage. I was touched to see all the gorgeous multiracial children, all of them with their uniquely beautiful features that come from the distinctive blend of Eastern and Western ancestry.
I also find it incredibly admirable how the Chinese go to great lengths to keep their ancient culture alive here in the United States, making sure to instill in their children a pride in their heritage, as well as teaching them Chinese values, discipline, and a love for their native culture.
For me, the highlight of the festival was the martial arts performance. Kung Fu, one of the four major disciplines of the Shaolin culture (along with Chan, Medicine, and Art) teaches focus and discipline, as well as builds strength and self-confidence. The practice of learning this graceful and showy form of martial arts is not only great fun but good for self-esteem, as well.
The older kids, who have been studying martial arts since they were young children, were very skilled, demonstrating their youthful flexibility and wonderful swiftness of movement. The most advanced students also showed off their very impressive skills with traditional martial arts weaponry, demonstrating their enviable abilities with traditional swords, nunchucks, chain whips, and spiked clubs.
I should mention that the weapons were training/costume weapons and not sharp or lethal in any way. The sight of so many young children, with their expressive little faces so serious in concentration, practicing their Kung Fu moves, also tickled me.
There were also many Americans at the festival, as well as many mixed Chinese-Western couples. I think it’s always good to see someone taking an interest in another person’s culture, whether that culture belongs to a spouse, a friend, or a stranger. Nothing good ever comes from denying one’s background.
Like I always say, one of the best ways to achieve lasting unity is to observe and celebrate our diversity because every culture has something unique to offer and is beautiful in its own special way. And thanks to the Shaolin Festival, I got the opportunity to see this beautiful intersection of cultures up close and personal.