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Chinese monks present unusual king fu extravaganza at Eldorado

Sam Bauman

In one of the more unusual shows to play at the Eldorado Hotel Casino in Reno, the Shaolin monks of China demonstrate in “The Lotus and the Sword” that art, religion and physical skills can all be made into fascinating entertainment and a pleasing spectacle.

As the audience enters the showroom the sound of wooden blocks clacking slowly rises in intensity. That’s the first clue to the show.

The 18 men and women start the night with four orange banners hanging over the stage with Chinese ideographs projected on them. The characters are “kotobuki” (in Japanese) and mean good luck or good fortune. That pretty well sums up the show.

A young monk comes on stage while five older monks stand in the background. He slowly lights several candles that rim the front of the stage.

From there on, events flow smoothly with three fighters starting the action. They interweave in seamless fashion, with each movement heralded by a choked cry. A variation of the yoga tree pose is struck again and again. A voice-over tells an abbreviated history of Buddhism, while three female monks (if that’s right; there was no program so guests are pretty much on their own) display fighting skills.

Eight monks rush onto the stage, unreeling a bewildering series of flips and lifts. They take turns crossing each other in military-like precision.

A single monk enters, and quickly you understand that he is imitating the movements and actions of a monkey, a strong Buddhist symbol. He plays with a wooden pole, mimicking the movements of a monkey cleverly. He even manages to shape his face into simian-like features.

Three women demonstrate their fighting skills, in one case jabbing at an opponent’s face with a pole, forcing the woman to dodge back and forth in a lightning-like series of jabs. Miss, and there goes an eye.

Then 2-inch-thick wooden poles are distributed among the audience and are broken on the backs, arms or heads of male and female monks with no apparent pain or damage.

A demonstration of three Chinese martial arts weapons – chains, jointed wooden sticks and swords – flashes by quickly. Then an elder monk, reported to be 77 years old, offers a slow demonstration of advanced tai chi movements, incredible stretches that would be difficult for a youth to match. But then a 7-year-old boy goes through a similar routine.

A melee of men attacking women ensues, with the women handsomely defeating the black-clad attackers. A monk contorts himself into amazing positions and winds up supporting himself with his fingertips with legs locked up behind his head. A battle involving the entire cast brings the night to a climax.

In the finale, the entire cast lines up on stage for single bows, all holding a lotus flower. The cast bows to the audience in time-honored Chinese fashion. They then passes their lotus flowers to the audience.

All this is done with the Buddhist symbol of peace – clasped hands with fingers pointed up – after each act. Background music is, of course, Chinese, and a narrator explains much of what is going on.

In 80 minutes, the audience is asked to experience something unusual, not just tai chi or kung fu, but rather a complete system of discipline. After all, that’s what Buddhism is, a system of living.

Contact Sam Bauman at sbauman@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1236.