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Shaolin Warriors kicks symphony up a notch

Photo courtesy of Shaolin Kung Fu Academy

AIRBORNE KUNG FU WARRIORS

It can be easy to only think of martial arts in terms of what is commonly depicted in movies or on TV: fighting styles great for beating up bad guys.

Having traveled from China to the Colorado Symphony, however, the Shaolin Warriors performance shows how much more kung fu can be. The 20 touring performers showcase not only their kung fu skills via feats of acrobatics, martial arts, and weapon demonstrations, but also Buddhist meditation techniques, highlighting the training and discipline needed to reach their levels of mastery.

Shaolin Warriors is more than just a martial arts revue. It also tells a story that serves to highlight the qualities needed to become a master martial artist. As the show begins, audiences see two young brothers take the first steps of their monastery training by receiving matching white robes. They engage in shows of acrobatics, somersaulting through the air while performing splits, and hone their discipline via sweeping the stage, practicing forms, and helping other performers with their feats.

As the show progresses, the brothers age, and the young boys are replaced by two older performers who then dazzle the audience with shows of armed and unarmed combat proficiency. The performers demonstrate techniques with 18 different weapons including wooden staves, swords hooked to blades, and weighted chains.

The speed and precision of the performers’ choreography is impressive, as even in fast-paced armed combat, not one movement is out of place. In another scene, the performers stand in a tightly-packed square formation, going through martial arms forms, but not once do they even brush each other.

The physical displays are complemented by feats of mental discipline. In one scene, a performer lies down on a bed lined with blades before a spiked board is placed on top of him. Another performer lies on top of the board, and a granite slab is placed on his chest. A tense moment follows as a third performer approaches with a sledgehammer, breaking the slab in half with a single blow. Both men emerge totally unharmed.

One warrior later shows his fortitude by balancing on the points of five sharpened spears, and during the show’s climax, the brothers show how far they have come by having their opponents break wooden poles over their bodies without flinching. The pair then departs the monastery with their master’s blessing, and with that, audiences have an idea of exactly how long and hard the performers trained to reach their level of skill.

While Shaolin Warriors is a breathtaking display of acrobatics and martial arts, the story can be swallowed up by the different scenes at times. Often, scenes with the two brothers are followed by several acts with other performers, and while their feats are impressive, it’s easy to forget the central storyline. However, the sheer skill of the Shaolin Warriors makes it easy to forgive the pace of the storytelling, and as the brothers dash offstage to being their own journeys, viewers will wish they could follow them to see even more kung fu mastery.

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