On 36,000 Kung Fu Fighters

36,000 Shaolin students display the awe-inspiring beauty of being part of something larger than themselves.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

There is this question some of us who train MMA (mixed martial arts) and MMA related arts (boxing, wrestling, Thai-boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu) ask, "Why train traditional martial arts?" I, too, have asked it in my early years of fighting arrogance, "Hey, that will never work in the UFC!" Sometimes a rhetorical question, meant to be condescending, and sometimes it's out of curiosity. Why put up with all the traditions and techniques that may no longer be relevant? (Though it is hard to justify any hand technique being relevant today against an armed assailant or cybercriminal — and the vast majority of us will never step into the cage.)

I came upon a visual project by Inigo Westmeier and electronic artists Gener8ion and M.I.A., titled “The New International Sound Pt. II.” It features 36,000 students from the Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School, moving in visual harmony. In this spirit lies the answer: many of the things we are involved in puts the emphasis on us, and though we can try to resist, the stress remains on individual achievements. What pictures do we choose to share? Is the recognition on us? Though the reality is, it always takes a group to create individual achievements. What narrative we are drawn to? Little needs to be said of the 1 vs. the 100 narrative; it's heroic, but there is an elegance to being a part of the 100 that goes underappreciated. (In this case, the 36,000.)

We Rather Than I

Growing up, many Western ideals were alien to me. We have a different idea of the "self" in the East, which is more collective, it is only in relationship with others (Taoism and Confucianism). And even then, it is not nearly as strong as what identity and the self means in the West. It's not as important to us (Buddhist philosophy of no-self). Even looking at my writing, it's easier for me to say "we" than it is to say "I." More often, I may say "one" and one does not use "I" often. Perhaps then, a traditional martial art is the first entry for many Westerners (if they are open-minded) to this Eastern view of the collective experience. To be a part of something greater than themselves, that has nothing to do with religion or an eternal father in the sky.

When we talk about chasing dreams, it obstinately is something related to being rewarded for our individuality and uniqueness. If the goal was to be the best team player — an anonymous piece of something that solves a giant puzzle — few would consider that a "dream." But why dream when you can do?

Adapted from the film, Dragon Girls

36,000 Shaolin students display the awe-inspiring beauty of being part of something greater than themselves — the martial arts. A cog in an infinite wheel, and though many of us dislike feeling small and anonymous, there is such a wonderful beauty to unison fluidity. Like particles in a cosmic chain reaction — which is always there if we choose to look.