Shi De Cheng
31st generation Shaolin Temple monk
Decheng and I, immediately after my "Taking Refuge" discipleship ceremony, Shaolin Temple, Oct 1997
Unfortunately, not much is known by me about my teacher, my master, and my friend. Ironically, I know more about some of the other monks at the Temple than I do of the "main man". I first met Shi De Cheng back in 1995, when his command of the English language consisted of about ten words (seven of which I taught him, two of which I can't repeat here), and my command of the Chinese language consisted of one word (pigot, which means beer. A bit of irony again, since I don't drink it...) By means of group and private lessons, we soon developed a mutual respect and friendship despite the language barrier, which ultimately ended up in my becoming his disciple a few years later. He taught me some gong fu, and I taught him some English. God help him.
Back then, Shi De Cheng was probably the most popular teacher of gong fu to the foreigners who happened to visit the Temple for training. His goal at that time was to come to the United States to teach gong fu, and as I was his disciple, I had agreed to do whatever was necessary to facilitate his coming here. But life has a strange way of not turning out the way that you expect it to, and he ultimately ended up in Austria and France, teaching gong fu to the Europeans. Apparently, a European promoter who did the 1500 year anniversary videos of the Temple and the monks back in 1995 saw a lot of potential with Shi De Cheng, and he had made the necessary arrangements with the Temple authorities to bring him to Europe to teach there. When I last saw him in 1997, I had gotten the impression that his services there were in great demand, although, his happiness with what he was doing was not exactly high up on his keeper's list. My attempts to bring him to the US, where I thought I and my fellow associates might be able to provide him a better life and better opportunities, that is, more attuned to what he desired, were foiled by the Shaolin Temple authorities at the time. Paying a fee of three thousand dollars a month just to be able to bring him outside the Temple, and provide for all of his travel and other needs, was a little out of the realm of possibility at the time. We decided to wait until the Temple "relieved" him of his duties to the Temple. (When a disciple is taken into the Temple and trained, he "owes" the Temple "time", to teach and perform, for a certain number of years. The number of years, and the duties to be performed, depend upon who is the "head master" at the time. Since the head master at the time was the brother of my qi gong master, who also wanted to come to the US, and as I could not afford to bring over two monks at the time, Shi De Cheng found it "difficult" to get the necessary permission to come abroad. Politics are everywhere).
But, not surprisingly, Shi De Cheng developed quite the following in Europe, where at this time, he claims to have well over a thousand students. And according to Gene Ching (Shi Xing Long), a fellow American (and Chinese) disciple, Shi De Cheng is "booked" in Europe until almost 2003. So much for helping him to achieve his dream of coming to America.
There is no statue of Shi De Cheng (yet), and there is definitely (and won't be) no statue of me. But no doubt, there are a few pictures of me in Shaolin Village, with that little circle and red slash through it.
Great teacher, great friend, great master. The relationship between master and disciple is an interesting one; one which I guess I should describe.
But first, the ceremony. It was actually, quite the experience. It took a while to get to that point with him, as he had to think about if for a few days after I had asked him. I got the feeling that he had waited to make up his mind, not only so that he was certain of his decision, but so that he was certain that I was certain that I had made up my mind. Becoming a disciple is not a simple thing here. It requires a definite commitment between master to disciple, one which requires great devotion, and a lifetime bond. It isn't entered into lightly, unlike most other "commitments" I've had the opportunity to avoid back in the US. It is an interesting commitment, as further investigation has revealed, because daily or even yearly contact is not required to maintain the relationship.
The ceremony was quite the thing. I really hadn't expected what had happened. I was told through a translator friend, Mr. Guo, that Shi De Cheng was going to come to the training center with a few monks, do the ceremony, recite some words, and about ten minutes later, it would be all over. He told me that I would become a "custom monk", a "su jia dit zi", which in Chinese means something like a "common man". They use the term for Shaolin Temple monks who leave the monastery to marry or to teach gong fu in a private life. "It will be a simple ceremony". So, I figured, no sweat, this was going to be easy. Say the words, get it over with, and start teaching me the good stuff. When the day came, which happened to be the day prior to my leaving, I washed in the usual cold water (fortunately the pump was working that day), got out a pair of unused clean white pants that I was saving for a "special occasion" (like a date with some Chinese babe.... HA! God they were terrified of me....), and went down to the training center to wait for Shi De Cheng. He showed up at the appropriate time, but to my surprise, he showed up alone. I had thought that this was going to be easier than I had originally expected. That was when he gestured to me that we needed to go to the Shaolin Temple. The ceremony would take place there. OK, I figured, we'll find a back room some where, do the chants, and be done with it. But deep down, my anticipation level was starting to rise. Along with a little bit of fear and uncertainty.
Some back room Shi De Cheng picked for the ceremony. It was to be performed at the Shaolin Temple's oldest and most revered temples, the Temple of a Thousand Buddha's, way in the back of the complex. About eight of the Shaolin monks were dressed in their prayer robes, along with De Cheng. Special lamps and other paraphernalia had been set up in the now restricted hall, which had only caused a bit of confusion and anticipation to the hundreds of Chinese tourists who were roaming the Temple grounds. Word got out that a ceremony was going to be performed, as it really was not common for the Shaolin monks to be walking around in their special prayer robes. Usually, they came out to pray in the evening when most of the tourists had been thrown out. So, curiosity got the better of most of them, and most of them came. But when they saw that the big white guy in the clean white pants was the center of attention in this ceremony, they flocked. Hundreds of Chinese tourists filled the area outside the Hall of a Thousand Buddha's, with cameras and video cameras, some holding children up on their shoulders, others pushing to get a better view. To them, it was a revered, exciting and unique opportunity. To me, it was a circus. I had never had so many people watch me in my life.
And what made it really bad, was the fact that all of these people knew what the monks were chanting. I didn't have the slightest idea what was going on. I knew a few Chinese words, but all I could remember was "pigot", which means, "beer". I listened intently for that, but I never heard it. But mainly, I watched for certain eye signals from De Cheng, because I had to bow three times, at certain times during the ceremony. I was being watched by quite a few people. I couldn't screw this up.
And screw it up I didn't. Quite the surprise, after about twenty minutes of chanting and bowing and all sorts of people staring at us, in almost a proud and reverent kind of way, it was over. And then came the picture taking. It had seemed that all of those Chinese had wanted to take a picture of me and Shi De Cheng together. With me and the other monks. To the Chinese, this was a big deal. To me, I had wanted to get out of there. From my teaching days in the past, I really hadn't minded the so called "limelight"; actually, I used to enjoy lecturing to one or two hundred people at various medical symposia. But this was different. To me, it was a ceremony in which I had bonded with the Temple and with my master. To them, it was a whole different ball game. To them, this was a highly revered and important procedure, one which exemplified a nationally well respected tradition. I didn't deserve to be there. It was exciting, yet, uncomfortable.
After the ceremony, I was told, via a translator, that I had made vows to Buddha, to the Temple, and to my master. I really didn't have any problem with the vows to master and Temple; I could understand that. But Buddhism was pretty foreign to me at the time, and when they told me that I would have to perform certain ceremonies on a monthly basis, I decided that it was time to read up on the religion. I did since then, and I still don't completely understand it. So, if you're interested in learning about Buddhism, you won't find it here. Basically, it all has to do with honor, integrity, and ethical behavior. Good things to have regardless of your religion.
They also told me that I couldn't go to church anymore, as I became a Buddhist during the ceremony. I really didn't have any problem with that either, as I next expected to end up in a Catholic church during my funeral.
The vows to the Temple basically meant that I was supposed to uphold the honor and the tradition of the Shaolin Temple. Initially, I thought, no problem. But then, over the years, as I've seen the various factors that interact in the Shaolin Temple, between the monks, the government bureaucrats, and the various local and central governments, this became far more difficult. I really am not sure what all these factors are doing with the Shaolin Temple tradition, so it's difficult for me to decide what to do with it. For now, the best thing to do is do what I think best. And that is, present a fairly open and honest presentation of what it's all about.
But the vow to master is a tough one. Think about a father - son relationship. Teacher - student. Best friends. Consider mutual respect along with an agreement to look after one another. Consider being available at any time to provide comfort, care, housing and the basic necessities of life should disaster fall. Think about a three year mourning period (black armband) should the master die. But also consider that fact that the secrets of gong fu now become available. The disciple vows to train and train hard, to learn all that the master desires to teach him. And the master agrees to teach as much as he thinks the disciple can learn. All the gong fu and qi gong and tradition that he himself has learned. Including all the secrets that the monks simply do not teach the others. Interesting relationship. The bond is strong, despite the fact that I haven't seen him since 1997. No doubt we will meet, and train, again.
I sincerely look forward to it.
He was born Chen Qiang Zhen on February 5th, 1967, in Henan province. His father was a farmer, his mother stayed at home and raised the family, which consisted of one younger brother, one younger sister, and an older sister. Chen Qiang Zhen went to the usual schooling during his early childhood years. He left home to go to the Shaolin temple in 1980, at the age of 13. This was not his first experience with gong fu however, as he had started training locally in Henan province at the age of 6. His decision to go to Shaolin was primarily to get the best gong fu training available at the time.
His initial coach at the temple was DeDing. DeDing was not a monk however. In 1983, at the age of 17, Shi Su Yuan took Chen Qiang Zhen as his disciple, and gave him the monk name Shi De Cheng. He had lived in the Shaolin temple proper from 1980 to 1988 (the temple had been open to tourists in 1978). He and many of the other martial monks moved to the newly built wushu guan in 1988, and continued their studies there. Shi Su Yuan, his master, also remained one of his gong fu coaches during that time.
Shi De Cheng became quite the international celebrity in the martial arts world over the next ten years. The following is a partial list of his performance and training tours:
*1989: To France for performances at the International Wu Shu Festival.
*1989: To Thailand for performances
*1991: To Italy for performances
*1992: To France for performances at the International Wu Shu Festival
*1993: To Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Macau for multiple performances.
*1993: To Italy to teach Shaolin Gong Fu for a few months.
*1994: To Italy to teach Shaolin Gong Fu, and to enter in an International competition.
*1995: To Austria, Germany, England, Switzerland, Italy, Romania and Belgium for multiple performances.
*1996: To Austria, Italy, England, Germany, and Ireland for multiple performances.
*1997: To Austria, Italy and England for multiple performances
*1998: To Austria for six months of teaching Shaolin Gong Fu
*1998: To France for one month of teaching Shaolin Gong Fu.
*1999: To Austria for six months of teaching Shaolin Gong Fu
*1999: To France for one month of teaching Shaolin Gong Fu
*2000: To France twice, to teach Shaolin Gong Fu
*2000: To Italy for almost one month to teach Shaolin Gong Fu
*2001: To France for three weeks, to teach Shaolin Gong Fu
*2001: To Italy for one and a half months to teach Shaolin Gong Fu.
Shi De Cheng opened his first school in Dengfeng, Henan province, nearby the Shaolin Temple, in February of 2001. His school in China has approximately 50 full time students; he has over one thousand students in France, and over one thousand students in Italy. Out of the over two thousand students in Europe, only twenty are disciples.
He also has approximately two hundred students from the United States, all of whom travel to China to train with him. Out of those two hundred, only five have been accepted to be his disciples.
Shi De Cheng has performed in many competitions over the years, though he has been overwhelmingly successful in these competitions, he prefers to spend his time teaching gong fu. A partial list of the competitions he has been in:
*1988: International Shaolin Wu Shu Festival (Good performance award)
*1988: Henan Wu Shu Competition (Third place)
*1989: France International Wu Shu Festival (trophy)
*1992: France International Wu Shu Festival (trophy)
He stopped competing in 1992 to spend his time doing performances internationally with the Shaolin Temple demonstration team of martial monks.
He has met many famous people in his travels during his performance tours, some of which are the following:
*Qiao Shi, a famous prime minister of China
*Zhu Rong Ji, another famous prime minister of China
*Chen Qi Xian, a famous political figure in China
*Li Gong Yao, a president of Singapore
*Chirac, a previous president of France
*He has also met a prime minister of Austria.
Shi De Cheng primarily spends his time teaching now, as he finds that competitions are not truly worth his time anymore. He rarely spends time with the performance team, also for the same reason. He has had multiple, too numerous to mention, performances on CCTV, which is China’s primary (and only) television station, and has made multiple teaching videos both for publication in France, Europe and the US.
Shi De Cheng’s goal in life is to teach and spread the word of Shaolin gong fu. He is interested not only in expanding his school in Dengfeng China, and continue his teaching in Europe, but also desires to help open a training center in the US.
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