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Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

About this time last year, I traveled to Wolverhampton, England to photograph the Tough Guy challenge – and was overwhelmed with photo ops. I didn’t know where to start, there were photos everywhere.

This year, The General and I traveled to Deng Feng in central China to Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Kung Fu. And I was once again overwhelmed with visuals, thousands of Chinese boys dressed in red uniforms practicing Kung Fu in an open field.

Yes, Chip. RED.

While planning this trip, I expected only to see a couple traces of kung fu (gong fu), like this show for the tourist groups (above). It was so not a photo, not compared with the scene outdoors.

According to Al Gore’s Internet, there are over 50 kung fu academies here. The cabbie said the number is more like 200 – so many he gets confused when dropping off visiting parents. Many are scattered around town. I wanted to stop the cab and take photos, but The General was right for me to be patient. The scene on the mountain top was so much better.

In between the tourist entrance and the Shaolin Temple, where monks developed kung fu back in the day to defend themselves from invaders, there was one HUGE academy. And thankfully, the school color is red.

Half of this huge field used for practice was devoted that morning to a kung fu performance. There were performances like this at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, but at that time I couldn’t really be bothered to take such boring photos. It was so staged, literally choreographed.

This time, though, because it was true and raw and imperfect, it drew my attention and interest.

One comment I got from M during the Olympics about my work was that she felt I was too far away, not taking “Sol Pictures.” I think she meant I wasn’t in people’s business, interacting and getting to know the subjects. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that during both visits here in China.

There is so much going on, the place is completely photogenic. And have I mentioned they love red?

The thing is, more often than not, folks are yelling at you to not take photos. And that affects how I approach things.

That’s exactly what happened about 10 minutes into photographing the performance art. The coach came down from his bird’s nest and told us to leave. And that he wouldn’t continue the practice until I left.

Even as I turned around and took photos on my way out, they were still watching and yelling. Meanwhile, there was this Aussie dude who walked up and took a pic with his cell phone with no problems. I laughed.

The next day, The General and I were wandering around our current destination – Kai Feng – and dropped into a bakery. I’ve been trying to take more random/touristy snaps to remind me of my time here. Yet, then again, “NO PHOTOS!” Really? That must be some TOP SECRET frosting.

Before we found the Shaolin Temple, I spotted a tiny school and wandered up. No red, but no coaches in my grill either. I even shot hoops with the kids. Sadly, I couldn’t dunk for them, as they expected.

This was one of those days I’m so happy to be a photographer. I could have spent several days there (if I had access).

I’ll have to take what was given and be thankful.

BTW, I will add I was more than a little disappointed there weren’t any statues in tribute of David¬†Carradine. What? No love for Grasshopper??

  • Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting - March 24, 2009 - 7:22 pm

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  • chris jordan - March 25, 2009 - 8:59 am

    damn dude!

    tight snaps. in another life i want to be a kung fu master, and if i see some big dude with a camera i am gonna karate chop him right in the nikon!

    looks like it must have been a great day.

    thanks for sharing –

    chris jordan


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