Arhat is an Indian Buddhist term that is usually translated as "awakened" and referred to the followers of the Buddha. But it's also the honorary title that is reserved to the greatest masters of Shaolin Kung-Fu in China.
Those who practice martial arts definitely knows what Kung-Fu is widespread not only in the East but also in the West, thanks to the desire for novelty, cinema, curiosity for the exotic.
In my erratic wanderings from the Japan of the samurai to the China of the warrior monks, I met Peter Biasucci, almost my neighbor. In his first book, entitled The legacy of the Arhat not by accident, Biasucci talks about himself and his journey into the world of Kung-Fu, from the Italian gyms to the Chinese academies in Dengfeng, harsh and merciless, not far from the famous monastery of Shaolin. He talks, at times with candor. He talks and tells about his teachers, some of whom seem even come out of a cinematographic past, embodying them the ideal Taoist character of the wiseman, present in the world and yet detached from it.
Q) Pietro Biasucci, sifu, I read that the Shaolin monastery was almost listed on the stock exchange. How is it that a sacred place of such great and ancient tradition has risked experiencing a similar condition ?
A) As I write in the book, in modern times the Shaolin monastery has experienced a change of pace, linked to modern times. Therefore it became a place of reference first and foremost for the fantasies of the West and at a time when there was a revival of traditions by the institutions and the government has verified that the West was very interested in the Chinese martial arts the Shaolin monastery, which was the site of reference, has been deliberately did become a center in which to pour all the aspirations of the Western world. At the same time, the economic aspect was more and more incremented, found basis in the monastery itself. The monastery has therefore become the image, the projection, the idea of Kung-Fu in the world by developing a series of exhibitions and events in which the economic aspect has increasingly dictated its rules.
A) Well... "secular monk", in the evolution of Kung-Fu related to more modern times, then from the 50s onwards, is an honorific title for those practitioners of Kung-Fu who followed a certain path: the martial practice splits from the monastic practice but of course the two practices undergo reciprocal trespassing, having been united for centuries and the "philosophical" idea of Kung-Fu is still maintained today. However, for all practical purposes, the title is honorary and identifies a path of martial nature and not religious.
A) My duties are first and foremost to my Master. So in trying to create continuity with the message that he has tried to carry on through his work and his life. It has been a good thing, for me, to have met him and I've given a share of this project. My duties are therefore mainly directed towards his will, with an idea of transmission, in this case here in Italy. Daily practice is definitely a must, also related to some practices of innermost nature and relevant to breathing: a workout that is continuous and maintains a constant level over time, which enables an increase in knowledge and awareness of what you are bringing forward. A regular practice, that allows me to be sufficiently prepared little by little that the reality here in Italy changes, changing the people with whom I come into contact in the Kung-Fu.
A) This is an extremely attractive look and there it is precisely the origin of these disciplines. The thing that has always fascinated me is that martial arts in China have reach levels of excellence in contact with monasteries both in external disciplines that those inner. This combination of sacred and profane, which apparently stride, actually is based on a connection. Always those who dealt with the meaning of life, and the meaning of death, was the monk and the warrior. This is also the reason why in the traditional Chinese culture medicine is very developed because also the doctor deals with the death. These three situations, put together, identified those who interacted with the meaning of life and therefore death.
A) I have always felt a strong attraction to these disciplines. I struggle to find a rational answer. Since childhood I have always felt this strong, strong attraction even about the philosophical and spiritual approach that the martial arts have, especially in the Chinese case: the idea of giving a meaning to the act of defending themselves, understanding how to optimize certain emotions, certain forces, to obtain a balance which is connected to the combat but is then also connected to life.
Q) So eventually you came to the famous monastery and the schools in Dengfeng, so harsh, severe, even ruthless in their being selective. A long way, is not it?
A) Yes. I got in touch with various masters before arriving in China, I traveled a lot and I moved a lot and when I arrived I got in touch with this truth in practice, with a very hard regime of life. I also experienced the difficulties of integration into a reality in which you practice martial arts, one can say, for mere survival, in function of the economic extraction of many practitioners. Families make many efforts in order the child can learn Kung-Fu also to change a bit the fate of the family itself. A condition of extremely hard life, accompanied by an equally hard training.
A) It is precisely for this reason. Before arriving there, my life was that of a usual Western. Probably, indeed: surely!, I did not realize what I was getting into. Above all, I did it with an attitude of a certain kind: for me it was a matter of personal growth, understanding, moved by a form of arrogance that sometimes leads to certain choices, certain routes. So with this thing, you know, that might be a bit obvious for me receive certain teachings. Once I got there, I realized that there are children ten years old living in a regime of extremely hard life, practitioners who are really undergoing difficulties on all fronts. All this made me think and downsized my attitude towards martial arts and maybe it was the greater teaching of life that I had.
A) Now I see them definitely in a different way than in the past. Generalizing is always something to be taken with pliers but I see that the world of martial arts is mainly made up of people who have to find an outburst, find a meaning to a life that is already done and full, in some way, and it is a search relegated in the sphere of leisure. Rather, the attitude of who does it with its own survival instinct, is completely different because it overturns the values: brings the martial art meant in the first place and then life is lived according to the martial art meaning.
A) We assume that generalize, as I said, it is always a bit difficult. For as martial arts are practiced in the West, when we are already outside of the original context, in my view this criticism is founded. It is grounded because the Chinese martial arts to be practiced effectively, maintaining the philosophical and health-conscious aspect that represent them, require many hours of daily work, they need a constant dedication, they really need a big commitment. There are aspects that, if practiced consistently, lead to a metabolization of the discipline and an understanding from a higher point of view and you understand where something interacts with an other to create wholeness. But this needs time so health-conscious side must surely invalidate the martial effectiveness if there is no appropriate time of development. On the other hand, if we consider some Chinese teachers, which of them achieves excellence in such disciplines really develop qualities that essentially transcend human limits.
A) Although it may seem trivial, always look for that commitment, rigor, discipline, are first and foremost a mindset which to live their lives. This allows you to rely on a teacher who can somehow open the doors of this discipline, and of course also of other disciplines. Cultivate the spirit of sacrifice leads, as the wise men say in China, to abandon themselves to learn the teachings of a master, teachings that sometimes can be hard and sometimes not perfectly linked to what may be the idea of someone taken individually. Then surrender to teaching by a strong discipline and a belief that results in confidence in the teacher.
Costantino Ceoldo - Pravda freelance
Web site of Pietro Biasucci:
Audio file on YouTube (sorry, Italian only):