Performance Art

The wheel of life

Monday, November 06, 2006 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

Yesterday I got to see the Shaolin Wheel of Life at the Peacock theatre. It was their last UK performance of the Wheel of Life. So no fireworks for me, last night was Bonfire night/Guy Fawkes - “remember, remember the 5th of November“. Wow!! The Shaolin Monks are a troupe of about 30 martial art monks, ranging in age from young kids through to veteran masters.

They demonstrate their physical skill and mental discipline through various feats of strength, agility and endurance all performed to a thin storyline. The physical side of the show is made up of demonstrating fighting skills with a wide variety of weapons; staff, broadswords, shields, whips, long staffs, etc. They demonstrate various Kung Fu styles such as; crane, monkey, Shaolin Mantis Fist, Cha Style, drunken master and frog style. (These are just the styles I could recognise.) This is interspersed with incredible feats of physical endurance and manipulation of their Chi or Ki.

In the early years, immediately following the founding of the Shaolin Temple in 495 A.D. in Henan Province, the first soldier monks created a set of fighting actions -- the original Kung Fu -- that utilized all parts of their bodies. These actions were initially a means of daily exercise. They were later combined with the use of various weapons, made from simple farming tools, and developed into a form of meditation.

The Shaolin monks have experienced a turbulent history. During the past 1,500 years, they have been called upon many times to defend both their country and their temple from a succession of warlords and foreign invaders. Their involvement in these campaigns further developed what has become known as Shaolin Kung Fu. - Public Broadcasting Service (

The premise of all the action is discovered in the exciting story of the Shaolin Monks' early struggle to establish and protect their Temple. The performance is an illustration and celebration of their history, their religion and their tremendous physical skill. The story is told in three parts and reveals itself as follows:

The Invitation
A troupe of Shaolin Monks are invited by the Emperor to his palace. The Emperor, impressed by the Monks' skills, asks them to protect his palace from an invading force. A fierce battle then takes place from which the Monks emerge triumphant.

The Threat
When the Monks decline the Emperor's subsequent invitation to serve him permanently at court, he feels threatened by their superior 'Shaolin force'.

The Survival
He then attempts to slaughter the Monks and out of this tragic scene, five children, now celebrated as the 'Five Ancestors' survive and continue to spread Zen Buddhism and the art of Shaolin Kung Fu throughout the land.

Once I understood that this was no Las Vegas honed performance troupe, but rather a bunch of Shaolin Monks expressing their skill and discipline. I appreciated what was happening before my eyes. You know its real when the troupe gather in the wings (unseen by the bulk of the audience) to watch members perform difficult stunts. bits.

Some points throughout the show they made the physical marvelery seem so easy and natural that I almost forgot that these were performers that had been training from a very young age to allow their bodies to be able to do this.

It would be hard to pick out a best bit of the show but a particular highlight was being able to observe one of the young monks performed the Frog style. He was brilliant . If you get the chance catch them in action.