The day the Red Bull BC One All Stars met their Shaolin kung Fu Master, Shi Yan Hui, was a special one. It was also fascinating, considering that the two seemingly distant disciplines share many points in common. Martial arts has always been an inspiration in breaking, as well Hip Hop as a whole. The Shaolin discipline was a huge source of inspiration for the Wu Tang Clan, especially early in their careers when they followed its principles and wrote lyrics dedicated them. Throughout its history, B-Boying has also modeled the movements and intepretations of actor Bruce Lee, as he was Kung Fu’s primary spokesman in the West. All these factors combined made for an interesting exchange.
The Master’s lectures were insightful for the B-Boys, who were curious about the knowledge that was being passed on to them. Much has been said about Oriental medicine and its methods of recovery. But the Master’s first words were devoted to the use of the mind, even during physical activities:
"Statism and dynamism. Everything is based on the balance of these two elements. You always think about the physical, staying still, moving, dance movements. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is the mind that is both static and dynamic. When the mind rests or sleeps, it is static, otherwise during all other activities, it is dynamic. This must all be in perfect balance for the body. When you exercise, you must not have a static mind, otherwise there is no equilibrium for your body! The balance must always be there, regardless of the body’s activity," he said.
“Static and dynamic. Everything is based on the balance of these two elements.”
A big block of time was dedicated to the explanation of the behavior of our muscles during exercise, because the approach of Chinese medicine is fundamentally different from the European.
"From Western medicine’s point of view, the relationship between muscles and tendons is completely different from my culture’s,” said the Master. “In Western medicine, tendons are separate from the muscles, whereas in the East they are thought of as one unique mechanism. Muscles and tendons work together to create movement, so they are symbiotic. The explanation is very similar to mechanics. The bone is a trellis while the tendon is a tie. They have two different structural functions, one is for sustenance, the other strength. To have a solid construction, the lattice must be in balance with the rod, and the same holds for the body. This mechanical construction needs to be mirrored in the tendon-muscle’s function. Muscles and tendons must always work together. The tendon is very important, if there is a problem with the tendon, then it will influence the bone. For example, if the tendons are in good shape it's hard to get hurt. But we are all made differently, in some individuals the tendons are too hard, in others they are too soft. But it is very difficult to change the nature of the tendon, to make a hard tendon become soft and vice versa. The same thing applies to the mind, there may be some weak points and even those will be difficult to improve. But improving our defects is one of life’s purposes. This is accomplished with very specific training."
“Improving our defects is one of life’s purposes.”
With the B-Boys in a circle around the Master in the center, the Shaolin consciousness flowed and intrigued everyone. Such was especially the case when the conversation turned to injury recovery.
"After suffering an injury, you need to understand when you have fully healed. Just as it is important to know for sure when you are strong and ready to make your next move. The theory is the same for both martial arts and dance–you have to be fluid. For example, we must know not to strain ourselves. We have to warm up too. Even though the mind may be ready, that does not mean that the body is. You have to warm up the mind and the body. Both must be prepared to express strength and fluidity. The strength that comes from the mind must be able to be expressed by the body. If there is too little energy, then of course you can get hurt. The tendons need flexibility. If it’s too hard, it’s a problem. If it’s too soft it’s a problem. In martial arts, you have to move fast, and for that you need soft tendons, but to be able to absorb the blows, you need harder tendons. Everyone has to train harder in the areas where they are weaker."
“The strength that comes from the mind must be able to be expressed by the body.”
From theory and concept, the B-Boys’ curiosity shifted to practicality, since in the end, to make the most of this lesson they need to be able to apply it to their own bodies. The Master used practical examples to support his teachings:
"How do you train for more flexibility? You have to train the part of your body that you will need. If you want your legs to be flexible, then you train with your legs, doing a lot of splits and stretches. There are many exercises, especially in Shaolin kung fu. Playing sports is good for your health. But you have to play correctly. You have to be very flexible and loose. Traditional Chinese medicine is holistic. From this approach, the tendon is the root of health and what maintains a beautiful figure,” he said. “So, often, the success lies in the well-trained tendons. And we haven’t even talked about muscles yet. Working out with weights to improve your strength is all right, but it’s not enough. With kung fu or dance, you have to train everything together."
And so, the B-Boy students had the opportunity to meet with the Master, raising many more questions. Cico was especially keen on the knowledge, as he has always been interested in the Oriental disciplines, which teach a very high mental and physical balance and take into account many factors that are secondary in our Western culture.
Photos by Mauro Puccini/ Red Bull Content Pool