Intellectual Property

Where are we and what do we know?
    So what does it all mean? The whole inflammatory "real versus fake" monk issue, no doubt caused in part, if not, in its entirety initially, by the main man. Denouncing members of one's organization after years and years of selfless service. Impeding the progress and future of people who want to strike out on their own, as opposed to fulfilling the wishes of one individual person. An issue which seems to have taken on a life of its own, whereby members of its own organization now run, as if beheaded chickens, aimlessly through the streets of life, denouncing each other, each unsure of where their own futures lie. Each unaware, that there are safety in numbers; yet, the attacks and the verbal bullshit continues.  And it seems that this might exactly be where the abbot wants all of his wayward monks. Anyone not directly under his control is probably better off being the subject of chaos and confusion. It all leads to security and prosperity back where it counts. At home.

But it all seems to be quite the aberrant behavior for a group of monks to exhibit. When one envisions the Shaolin temple, fortunately, for those who have yet to visit it, or be a part of its life, one envisions these mystical yet powerful little beings, with scars on their arms, all devout and devoted to one monastic cause. It's a secret little world that we imagine them to live in, one which few, if any outsiders are allowed to see. A world where our imaginations have painted a picture so incredible, with the brush wielded by television producers and movie directors, that for those of us who have actually lived the experience, the reality ends up being an experience soon not forgotten. And yet, we return. For what, I still don't know. For many things are not certain about the temple, and about China in particular.

There's an interesting concept about China, that I'd like to share. It's the concept of "not knowing anything". An interesting effect takes place with people that visit the country. People that visit the Chinese for a week or two, end up leaving with the understanding that they've "seen it all". It truly is an amazing thing, for those of us who have seen visitors train at the Shaolin village for a week or two, and leave being veritable masters. People who leave after one visit tend to leave as experts on the entire area. Those who return, with their curiosities piqued, and who do some research, and ask some questions, tend to get a bit confused, instead of the anticipated enlightenment. And they wonder why, after another visit or two, that the more they look around and observe, the less they seem to know. The Chinese are notorious for doing things their own way, and for having their little "battle plans" for action that they tend not to reveal to others. Just the simple act of inviting someone to dinner might have long term implications. Comments of one nature might have  a completely different meaning than what was verbally communicated. They tend to speak in circles, with meanings, and by examples. And not everything is as clear as what it might seem. The more you deal with them, the more you think you understand them. And then, you realize that you've learned so much about them, that you really haven't learned that much at all.

So, after you've become an accomplished and established "China visitor", you've come to realize one important fact. You really don't know a damn thing about these people. And, it is with this understanding, that I offer, my opinions. For whatever they're worth.

"Monks for sale"
    Well, I certainly don't agree with what's going on. It isn't the way I would lead a group of people. But, then again, I don't live in China, and I haven't had the upbringing, nor, do I have to deal with the external pressures that Shi Yongxin has to deal with. We've gone into a lot of the manipulations and dealings of the government of the temple; let's try to put it all into perspective. Why is all of this happening?

It certainly is clear, from my observations, that the "real" monks, or those that have been identified as being "real",  for the most part, tend to be those that are in Shi Yongxin's camp, for whatever reason. Those that have decided to stay and "tow the party line" have retained their "real monk" moniker; those that were herded off to the wushu guan years ago (now a rival private school), or, those who have left China to open their own schools, and who have not continued a financial "arrangement" with the temple, seemed to have developed the moniker of "performer". There are exceptions, but overall, this tends to be the pattern. It's pretty unfortunate. No, clearly, the previous rumors of Shi Yongxin's wanting to disassociate the temple with gong fu  are not entirely true; the gong fu tradition will live on, though it will be slightly changed, as we've already discussed. It appears that it will also only include schools that tend to be directly associated with the abbot though; i.e., schools whose headmasters are monks that are direct disciples of Shi Yongxin. What financial arrangements have been made, if any, with these arrangements, are not clear, as I am only aware of one Shaolin village school that has the Shaolin temple "blessing", and it "rents" space directly from the temple. Without a doubt, there seems to be a move on the temple's part to diminish the activity and exposure of some of the other schools in the valley for the benefit of those schools which are directly associated with the temple. (The move on the temple's and local government's part to "move" all schools and business establishments from within five hundred meters from the temple grounds might actually be construed as a way of diminishing the "exposure" of these other wu shu schools. Interesting that it's not going to affect the wushu school that rents space from the temple itself). Now, there are a few reasons that one can postulate for this.

First, it is clear that an economic reason can be suggested. Of course, the continued viability of the schools associated with the Shaolin temple could suggest a possible income stream to the temple, which, of course, is good. For the temple.

Second, eliminating, or diminishing the roles or impact of the other wu shu schools in the valley would eventually elevate the status of the schools associated directly with the Shaolin temple; a move which one might suggest, could eventually be seen as a power play on the part of the temple to regain control of the valley, the schools, the gong fu tradition, and, quite possibly, the overall Shaolin tradition in general. Well, again, not a bad thing again. For the temple.

Third, and probably the real reason, is the concept of intellectual property. Is the abbot trying to regain what he thinks is rightfully his?

The Shaolin Temple: Who owns it?
    If you browse the phone book of any major city in the United States, and look under the heading of "martial arts" (In Las Vegas, it takes a while to get there, considering the fact that you have to get past "Attorneys", "Entertainers", and "Escorts" first, all incredibly huge sections...), you'll notice one thing: most, if not all of the martial arts schools teach something that is either directly or remotely associated with the term "Shaolin". You'll see "Shaolin" this and "Shaolin" that, "Shaolin -----" associated with individual and unique styles that are usually strictly associated with other countries (such as Japan or Okinawa), "Kung Fu" and "Gong Fu", "Chuan Fa", and all sorts of variations on the terminology. Of interest is the fact that some of these teachers in these schools have never, ever set a foot on the shores of China, and, have never learned anything that distinctly resembles Shaolin gong fu, in it's purest sense. Some of the instructors learned from Chinese or Oriental masters who's lineage traces back to masters that haven't originated anywhere near Shaolin, but in parts of Hong Kong. And then, you have the occasional intrepid foreigner, who goes to Shaolin for a few day or week jaunt, learns a form or two, and some of the basics, and then opens a school somewhere in the world and presents himself as a Shaolin master. And succeeds.

But it goes further than the schools. Just look on the internet at the veritable plethora of the www.shaolin------.coms that are out there, far too numerous to mention. Some of them have absolutely nothing to do with Shaolin; their main purpose is to use the name, which right now, is a hot commodity, to suit their own commercial purpose. And I guess, that's what it's all about. Commercialization. The use of another's name for the purpose of advancing one's own commercial interests. In the martial arts world, we call it "lineage". In the business world, it's called theft.

For what if we were to regard all of this Shaolin knowledge and tradition as "intellectual property"? What if those who run the Shaolin temple, and I suggest, Shi Yongxin, who is definitely an educated and cosmopolitan man, are aware of the rampant and inappropriate usage of the "Shaolin" name all over the world? What if he's disgusted with the way Shaolin has been commercialized and misused? Granted, he has a funny way of showing it, by remonstrating his own monks, and furthering the careers of others who basically have nothing to do with Shaolin, but, these nuances aside, what if most of these actions were the result of a grand move to retake the Shaolin name back from the world? To take control of it, so to speak? To end the commercialization, and to bring Shaolin back home? It's a grand idea. But, it's doomed to fail.

Much like IBM or Coca Cola, a trademark is a necessary and important thing to have. It acts as a representation of your business or company or what have you to the rest of the world. Companies spend millions of dollars a year protecting their namesakes and their "property"; because the misuse of their names by others could result in unnecessary problems and lost income. Shaolin has become quite the commodity now that it has become known to the world, and with that increased exposure, has come increased revenues. But, as always, with increased exposure comes the ever-present band of people who are desirous of "jumping on the bandwagon" and taking advantage of the current market. Large mega-corporations have the funds to expend to control this sort of activity; the Shaolin temple does not. And at this point, whether they really care what the Americans or the Europeans are doing with their name, is not known, but I would suggest, that it isn't really an issue. At least, not yet. They seemed to be concerned with the issues that they can deal with. And therefore, you have the whole "real versus fake" controversies. The newspaper statements. And possibly the government land edicts.

Where will it end?
    Who knows? I'm sure that once the abbot cleans his house, he'll turn his attention outward. His is a noble cause, to bring Shaolin back to Shaolin (if that's what it truly is), without a doubt, even though some of us might not agree with the techniques that he has decided to use, and, even though some of us might even debate what his true intentions really are. No matter. The point is, a much-beloved Chinese tradition is being used and abused all over the world. And it's bound to get worse.

The use and misuse of what we're referring to as "intellectual property", or, trademarks, in this case, has led in part to this whole slew of aberrant behaviors and name calling, all actions that have been more harmful than helpful. A disruption of a society is just non-beneficial, regardless of the reasons or the potential outcomes. There just seems to be other ways of accomplishing the goals of protecting one's heritage and furthering one's tradition. In the meantime, no doubt, some of us here back in the US will continue on this ridiculous path to feed this stupid frenzy, without realizing essentially what they're really doing. And it's all very ironic, when you sit back and look at the entire situation.

For, in a way, not only do we feed this situation, we caused it.

It's time to let the tradition grow and prosper, instead of taking advantage of it. And it's time to let the monks, and the abbot, do their respective jobs. Without personality bashing or destruction of identities. Maybe one day, they'll come to terms with each other. And we'll all be the better for it.