Wu Tang Clan promote unity through chess
Clan leader RZA unveils WuChess, his social network for hip-hop chess-heads worldwide
BY Sean Michaels / June 4, 2008
Fifteen years after 36 Chambers, the Wu-Tang Clan have turned their
attention to 64 black and white squares. The hip-hop group’s latest
project isn’t a Method Man album or a street-level mixtape – it’s
WuChess.com, “the world’s first online chess and urban social
network”. The combination of rap and online chess might not seem like
an obvious fit, but the Wu have always been unabashed in their non-
bling interests, from kung fu to comic books and science fiction. And
chess has long been a passion of founding Clan-member RZA, who created
WuChess together with social network ChessPark.com. For a $48 (£24)
annual fee, WuChess subscribers can play against hip-hop chess-heads
worldwide, form “chess clans” to group their rankings, and even
compete against chess-playing rappers like the RZA himself. A “large
part” of WuChess’ revenue will be donated to the Hip-Hop Chess
Federation – whose almost ridiculously cool mission statement is to
use “chess, music and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and non-
email : help [at] wuchess [dot] com
RZA vs NYTIMES CHESS COLUMNIST [REPLAY SIMULATION]
“In an interview in his Manhattan hotel room last month, RZA played a
blitz game against the chess columnist for The Times. Readers who want
to see what happened can replay the game [above].”
Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, Hip-Hop Chess Champion / June 8, 2008
Rap artist RZA, who is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, has an
interesting sideline occupation: recreational chess champion. RZA
(pronounced RIZ-a) sat down with New York Times chess man Dylan
McClain to talk about his love of the game. At the Mandarin Oriental
Hotel, the duo played a game and discussed how RZA became involved
with chess and what it means to him. One can see a virtual
representation of the game that RZA played with McClain online. While
RZA is the Hip-Hop Chess title belt holder–it’s a chess tournament
consisting of rap artists and martial arts practioners– McClain
managed to beat the champ. There’s video attached to the Times article
as the interview and the game progresses that’s very watchable.
RZA said he got involved in chess when he was a young man, when he
couldn’t even afford a board. He eventually wound up losing not only
matches, but his virginity to the girl who taught him the game. He
encourages other young people to take up the sport, emphasizing that
it stresses the importance of long-term thinking to a community that
frequently doesn’t see very far beyond the present. “The way you have
to think in chess is good for everyday thinking, really, especially
for brothers in the urban community who never take that second look,
never take that second thought.” The Wu-Tang Clan has a site called
WuChess, that allows participants to practice their board-battling
skills online. A tour of that site is available here. In the 1994 Boaz
Yakin-directed film “Fresh,” a young boy is mentored in the ways of
chess and transfers the Machiavellian strategies he learns from his
instructor (Samuel L. Jackson) to extricate himself from a harrowing
home life situation. [great movie too]
“Chess is a way of being aggressive without being physical. You’re
beating someone with your mind.” And when you lose, RZA points out,
you feel it — someone defeated your intellect. While mixing his new
album Digi Snacks, RZA would kill break-time with games of chess.
“Let’s say I’ve got an eight hour recording sessions,” the rapper
says. “Four hours of that is downtime.” Four hours of downtime means
lots and lots of in studio-chess games. “This week I’ve probably
played 50 games of chess,” says RZA — on a Wednesday.
But what does hip-hop have to do with chess? Everything. “Chess is
like battling — you know when two rappers face off,” says RZA. “Both
are really a flow of ideas that connect and are used to gain an
advantage over the opponent.” With that in mind, the Hip Hop Chess
Federation makes perfect sense. Founded by author Adisa Banjoko and
graffiti artist Leo “Blast” Libiran, the organization seeks to give
youngsters life tools via music, martial arts and, well, chess. RZA
first befriended the organizations founds a couple years back, but
didn’t become a full-fledged member until a year and a half ago. “The
idea is that chess can spark some young minds,” says RZA. “Show kids
that they need to plan ahead and think.” Last fall, RZA took first
place in the HHCF 8 man tournament in San Francisco, which raised
$10,000 in scholarship money for Bay Area schools.
This year, RZA is taking his love of chess online with WuChess. The
online gaming and social networking site lets players virtually face
off, create profiles, chat, join chess clans. “We’re trying to show
that chess isn’t just for nerds or old guys in the park,” the
recording artist points out. So RZA, what’s the difference between
online chess and real chess? “It’s easier to cheat.”
HIP HOP CHESS FEDERATION
RZA Wins HHCF Chess Kings Invitational
RZA Demolishes a Cipher at the HHCF Closing
Where Hip-Hop, Martial Arts and Chess Meet
BY Dylan Loeb McClain / October 21, 2007
“Hip-hop is a battle game,” he said. “Chess is a battle. Martial arts
is a battle.” The three disciplines came together on Oct. 13 in the
Galleria at the San Francisco Design Center, where the Hip-Hop Chess
Federation held the Kings Invitational tournament. The federation,
founded by the writer and lecturer Adisa Banjoko and Leo Libiran, a
visual artist, seeks to use “music, chess and martial arts to promote
unity, strategy and nonviolence,” according to its Web site. The
tournament’s competitors included six hip-hop stars — RZA; GZA,
another founder of the Wu-Tang Clan; Monk of the Black Knights, a Wu-
Tang affiliate; Casual, of the group Hieroglyphics; Sunspot Jonz, from
Living Legends Crew; and Paris. Rounding out the field were Ralek
Gracie, a martial arts fighter, and Amir Sulaiman, a poet who has
appeared on the HBO program “Def Poetry Jam.”
Although he did not play in the tournament — it would hardly have been
fair — Josh Waitzkin, the former chess prodigy whose life was the
basis of the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” took part in a panel
discussion about hip-hop, chess and martial arts. Waitzkin, an
international master, took up martial arts nine years ago, and by
2004, he had won two world titles in tai chi chuan. He wrote about his
experiences in “The Art of Learning” (Free Press, 2007). The
tournament also featured two scholastic chess tournaments — a 16-
player invitational that offered $10,000 in scholarships, and an open.
The video game publisher Ubisoft, which makes Chessmaster and other
programs, provided most of the money for the scholarships and to
sponsor the event. Chesspark, an Internet chess-playing site, was
The Wu-Tang Clan’s connection to martial arts goes back to its
beginnings in 1992. RZA and GZA, who are cousins and who grew up
together on Staten Island, learned to play chess when they were young,
but did not play often. “Me and RZA would have been playing when we
was kids if we had had a board,” GZA said. GZA, the acknowledged
master lyricist of Wu-Tang, said there were similarities between
writing and chess. “Writing is sort of like chess for me,” he said.
“You have to think carefully before you move, thinking, planning. In
chess, you have to bring all the pieces into the game. It is about
development. In writing, you have to develop the story.”
RZA said chess was important to his creative process. “We keep a chess
board in the studio,” he said. “When I play chess, I am working. I
have 100 ideas running through my mind. When I am on the chess board,
I focus on nothing else.” RZA and GZA said they played in the Kings
Invitational and became involved in the Hip-Hop Chess Federation
because they believe chess can have a positive influence on young
people. “You are like a sponge when you are young,” GZA said. “Kids
are not being stimulated. Chess is a game of stimulation.”
It is hard to know how good RZA and GZA are at chess, but in the
opening sequence of the “General Principles” video, GZA, playing Black
in the diagram, wins after 1 Re1 de/N, forking the White king and
queen. RZA won the Kings Invitational with a perfect record of 4-0.
(GZA was 3-1, his one loss coming in his match with RZA.) In the last
round, RZA beat Monk, who was winning but who overlooked a back-rank
mate. Maybe that will end up being the title of a song on a future
Searching for Fischer’s Legacy / By Mike Klein / January 19, 2008
“Another prominent chess figure who owes his early notoriety to
Fischer is Bruce Pandolfini, whose post-collegiate career got a jump
start after his wildly popular broadcast coverage of the 1972 Fischer-
Spassky World Championship Match. Students have been contacting him
for lessons ever since. Pandolfini’s protégés, often some of the most
talented in the country, will be given honest treatment of his career
from their teacher; to do otherwise would be disingenuous. Today’s
chess teachers will become the stewards of Fischer’s legacy to the
next generation of chess enthusiasts. “Chess is about truth,”
Pandolfini said, “so it goes against the grain of the game to distort
it.” Fischer’s legacy is omnipresent in chess culture, so there is no
doubt that students will be asking about him for years to come.
Consider: “Game of the Century,” The Fischer Generation, Fischer Fear,
Fischer Clock, Fischer Random Chess, Fischer Attack and Fischer
Defense (versus the Sicilian and King’s Gambit, respectively).
Pandolfini echoed Polgar – both had generally propitious personal
interactions with Fischer, with some exceptions. “He was actually very
polite,” Pandolfini said. “I can remember him sitting with 1400
players analyzing as if they were equals, simply because he was
intrigued by the variations they were looking at.”
By Malcolm Venable / January 17, 2008
“There really are only two periods in hip-hop history: before Wu-Tang
Clan and after . Given the group’s near domination of rap in the ’90s,
it’s tempting to remember the pre-Wu-Tang landscape as stale, but hip-
hop was actually thriving. In 1992, A Tribe Called Quest, Redman and
KRS-One were relevant, Mary J. Blige had been named the – queen of hip-
hop soul – and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” ignited a West Coast musical
movement that stole the spotlight from New York rap. Hip-hop was
healthy and diverse then – nowhere near as dull as it is now – so it
was all the more shocking when, in 1993, a nine-man band of pot-
smoking, Timberland-wearing weirdos from Staten Island stomped into
music with their wildly innovative album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36
Swiping the mythology from ’70s kung-fu flicks, the band hijacked the
Chinese B-movies’ language and mysticism, re-appropriating the flicks
to their dismal ghetto, which they nicknamed Shaolin. Building buzz
from the ground up with a first single, the group’s debut eventually
sold more than a million records. More importantly though, they
created a business structure that remains a blueprint for legions of
aspiring rap titans. Part of Wu-Tang’s genius lies in its mystique.
Every member had a calculated persona and role: there was RZA, the
group’s chief musical producer, his cousin the GZA/Genius, and an
accompanying cast of characters with perplexing names like U-God,
Masta Killah, Method Man and Inspectah Deck. Ol’ Dirty Bastard was
their drunken monk. Ghostface Killah never showed his face. Huh?
Their language was also odd and challenging; you often felt you needed
a ghetto Rosetta Stone to decipher what you were hearing. In one Wu-
Tang song, it was entirely possible to get overt or subtle
references to martial arts, drugs, Eastern philosophy, guns,
religion, black history, violence, chess, sex, metaphysics, ghetto
theater, vegetarianism and the Nation of Islam splinter group the Five
Percent Nation. To boot, it appealed not only to hip-hop heads in
cities but to kids from Iowa to Japan. The icing was Wu-Tang’s sound.
Wu-Tang had a fiercely hard-core sound, characterized by gritty, low-
fi beats, Asian flourishes and samples from karate movies. Wu-Tang
music almost always felt cold, detached and spooky; even when they
were celebrating, things felt bleak.
If Wu-Tang’s music was revolutionary, its business strategy was
brilliant. In a then-unprecedented move, the group signed its
initial record deal on the condition that every member of the crew be
allowed to pursue and release solo projects. The Wu swarmed the
industry, releasing a string of albums from 1994 to 1996 that had
critics frothing at the mouth and still sound urgent today. Wu-Tang
was everywhere, from dorm rooms to dance halls to smoky cars, though
not as much on the radio since its music was so defiantly
noncommercial. Competition was nil. They owned the era.”
Robert Diggs, a.k.a. the RZA
BY Mike Eskenazi / Friday, Nov. 17, 2000
TIME: How much has it helped your business that the Clan members can
go work for other entertainment companies, such as film and record
companies, and bring industry secrets back with them?
The RZA: That was my original strategy — to have artists placed in
different locations, then get those different labels to work together
for my brand. Of course I learned that’s not easy to do because the
labels are in competition with one another. There was only one year
 that they all listened to me, and that turned out to be a great
year for everybody. Geffen, Loud, Def Jam and Elektra got together and
bought this thing called the Wu Family Tree, which is a bin they put
in record stores. It had the GZA record, the Wu-Tang record, the
Method Man record and so forth. Everybody in the bin’s sales doubled
the month it was introduced. But that only happened on one campaign,
and that was because the people on that campaign were all good people
with each other, for instance, the people from Geffen knew the people
from Loud, etc.
TIME: How do you see things differently now from three years ago, when
the last Wu-Tang album was released?
The RZA: I’m moving more toward looking at the integrity of the brand.
My outlook ain’t really about how much revenue we’re making right now.
The purity of the W is more where my heart is at. I ain’t gonna front
you. Our hands are in a lot of directions. What I’m trying to do now
is consolidate and take my “W” off things that are not representing it
properly. Take, for example, Wu Tang Records. We’ve got groups such as
Black Knights on Wu Tang Records, but they’re not Wu-Tang Clan, you
know what I mean? We’re not putting our logo on our secondary artists
no more. We’re telling them, let them build off our strength and use
our expertise, but build within their own strength. Basically, the “W”
will only be our finest products. The ones we all agree on.
TIME: Divine says the band should bring in outside people to clean up
your books. What do you think about that?
The RZA: He should do that, but there should be certain limitations.
I’ve been telling him for three years, Look, go to these colleges,
give scholarships and recruit while you’re givin’ out scholarships.
Give scholarships to maybe 10 or 20 kids and recruit 10 or 20 kids and
let’s get this really poppin’, because I know how to pop it. Right now
Divine is attempting to separate the artists from the companies. In
other words, have the artist be artist, have the business people being
business people so we can bring in qualified business workers.
TIME: How long do you think that transition will take?
The RZA: Who knows man, because we did that before. You know we’re a
corporation, but we’re from the street. It’s hard sometimes for the
average person to come work with us. People be scared of us man, I
ain’t even gonna front on you, man. I know TIME’s like a big magazine,
so I don’t like to really be talkin’ like this. But people are
intimidated by us. Say you’re an accountant and you come to our office
and see that many of us and you feel all this pressure not to mess up.
A lot of people have resigned and have left also over the course of
the years, because they think “Yo, I can’t take it, I don’t know if
I’m gonna get punched in my face if I fuck up.” Not that we gonna
punch someone in the face, but there’s just a feeling of intimidation.
The way my niggas talk is just different from them, you know what I
But this corporation is definitely headed in the up direction, and the
key members are focused, which is the main point. In 1997, Wu Wear was
going in its own direction without too much influence from the rest of
the Clan. I took Wu Tang Records by myself and didn’t care what nobody
else said. Razor Sharp [Records] was left up to Divine. Everybody was
like “whatever, whatever” and meeting at the end of the year like,
“how you doin’, how you doin?’ But now it’s like we’re coming together
like we did for the first five years of our career — we’re putting the
energy together. Now we see each other at least three times a week.
Everybody’s there. For instance, Power will come into a meeting and
say “Oh, you guys are dropping an album, let’s make sure we get the
proper advertisement in it this time to cross-promote Wu Wear.”
Instead of Wu Wear having a whole separate budget, let’s look at our
corporation as a whole and consolidate all of our advertising. If we
take the 100,000 we’d normally spend pushing Wu Wear and the 200,000
we’d spend on Razor Sharp and the 200,000 Loud [Records] was gonna
spend on behalf of us and the 200,000 Geffen [Records] was gonna spend
on behalf of us and consolidate it — wow, what an impact.
TIME: Where do you see Wu-Tang Inc in five years?
The RZA: I’m sure we can go public. I’m just not money-lusting right
now. But maybe one day my brother can break into my head and say “Yo
man, let’s go for the money,” and maybe I’ll snap into it. But in five
years? We’re gonna be grown men that succeeded in the American dream.
We came from sleeping on pissy mattresses to Trump Plaza suites. I
used to be a messenger. Back then I couldn’t even get into a lot of
these buildings and now I’m invited to the penthouses. I wish America
would take a look and realize the prodigal children that was produced
from the hells of America. We weren’t produced in heaven, man. I go to
all different countries, and the first thing they see is that I’m
reppin’ America. We got the whole world rapping. I went to China last
year while there was a heavy beef between America and China. As we
went up into some of the provinces and I met with some of the people
there, they were very impressed with me. They felt very comfortable
talking to me and very comfortable relating to me. And felt very at
ease talking about things. And I’m saying to myself “Ya see, America
needs a diplomat like me, someone the people can feel and understand
that can get with Dien Bien Phu and with these old men out there.
THE WU-TANG MANUAL
The Wu-Tang Manual: Enter the 36 Chambers, Volume One (Paperback)
“In 1995, at a record release party for Liquid Swords, the infamous
hip-hop group, The Wu-Tang Clan, met Shifu Shi Yan Ming for the first
time. RZA, the Wu-Tang’s producer and master-mind described this
encounter as an act of destiny. The seeds of a great friendship were
sown from their first meeting in1995. RZA became both a close friend
and a student of Shifu. RZA began to study Kung fu, Qi Gong, Tai Qi
Chuan, all of which are ways of practicing Chan Philosophy. RZA and
The Wu-Tang Clan had been drawn to martial arts philosophy for some
time, as reflected in their name. Meeting Shifu, RZA recounted, made
him realize that kung fu is more than just a fighting style–“kung fu
is about the cultivation of the spirit.”
In 1999, RZA traveled with Shifu and the students of the USA Shaolin
Temple to Henan, China where they visited the original Shaolin Temple–
Shifu’s home and the birth place of Shaolin Kung fu and Chan
Philosophy. This was Shifu’s first trip back to China since he
defected in 1992. Shifu described the 1999 trip to China as a return
home — both for himself and his students who were now able to see the
Shaolin Temple for the very first time. It was a monumental trip for
everyone. As RZA put it, the trip could only be described with one
The Wu-Tang Manual is an encyclopedia of Wu Philosophy. It tells the
story of the Wu-Tang Clan and how martial arts or Chan Philosophy has
influenced the WuTang. The WuTang Manual is filled with illustrations,
photos, excerpts, and philosophy–all written by the members
themselves. In a way it is both a memoir and an educational guidebook.
Essentially the manual is the story of how philosophy can be applied
to daily life and the story of how age-old wisdom of Shaolin Monks in
China and the art and rhythm of contemporary life in the urban world
can come together in harmony.”
BONUS : SHAOLIN GET-DOWN: RZA MEETS THE MONK
Introduced and Coordinated by Sophia Chang
SIFU SHI YAN-MING came to the US in ’92 on the first-ever Shaolin
Temple Monks’ American Tour. On the last date of the tour, in San
Francisco, he snuck out in the middle of the night, eluding the
watchful eye of the Chinese government chaperones. He jumped into a
cab, speaking no English, with nothing but a little money, a copy of
his passport and some newspaper articles that featured him. Once in
the cab, he could only signal with his hands which direction to go.
The cabbie, realizing that his passenger had no idea what his
destination was, pulled over and called the police, who arrived almost
immediately. Upon inspecting Shi Yan-Ming’s passport copy and
articles, they understood he was trying to defect and ordered the
driver to take him to Chinatown. The driver dropped him off at the
nearest Chinese restaurant. Shi Yan-Ming was thrilled to see the
Chinese writing. Unfortunately, the restaurant owners spoke Cantonese
(the Canton/Hong Kong dialect), which is very different from his
native Mandarin. They finally communicated with each other through
writing (Chinese is a pictorial language and can be understood by
people of different dialects because though it may be said
differently, it is written the same). Luckily Shi Yan-Ming remembered
the number of a friend in New York who in turn called his friend in
San Francisco (whose number he had forgotten in the hotel room) who
came and picked him up. He stayed underground for a week and then made
his way to New York where he lived upstate at a Buddhist temple, then
at another temple in Chinatown before opening his own USA Shaolin
Temple, where he now teaches Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, Buddhism and
meditation. — Sophia Chang
Scheduling an interview with the RZA isn’t as hard as you think – but
making it happen is much harder than you could possibly imagine. The
Godfather of the Clan only gets busier as the Wu Empire expands, so
tracking him down to do this interview is no small feat. 45 minutes on
the NJ Turnpike isn’t so bad, but the 45 once we get off the Turnpike
is a winding journey in the dark. Sifu Shi Yan-Ming, a 34th generation
Shaolin Temple fighting monk sighs, “Ah, trees.” It’s almost 1:00 am
by the time we pull up to the formidable Wu Mansion looming grandly in
the dark. (Is it really shaped like the Wu logo?) Once summoned to the
RZA’s antechamber, Sifu is delighted to see that Tony Starks a/k/a
Ghostface Killah has just arrived as well. Sifu, RZA and Ghost sit
down on the floor and discuss Chan Buddhism (Chinese Zen), Islam, the
Tao Te Ching, meditation, the history of Shaolin Temple and its Ching
Dynasty heroes Wong Fei Hong and Fong Sai Yuk (both played often and
excellently by actor Jet Li), stretching and Chi Kung, among other
subjects. Than comes the RZA’s audio-visual presentation: he plays
Sifu five new incredible beats he’s been working on and shares his
techniques; he shows Sifu the raw footage from his “Tragedy” video
(which is far better than the video itself) and some of his favorite
scenes from various kung fu movies. At one point RZA disappears
upstairs and redescends with champagne glasses and an extraordinary
bottle of ’88 vintage Dom Perignon – “very special water” as Sifu
calls it, as opposed to bear, which is simply “special water.” (The
emperor of the Tang Dynasty ordained that Shaolin Temple monks could
eat meat and drink alcohol – but not on the grounds of the Temple –
because they saved his life). They’re left alone with only the music
and the bottle of DP…
RZA: Tell ’em about the Zen [Chan in Chinese] Buddhism.
Sifu Shi Yan-Ming: Zen Buddhism, if you talk about Zen Buddhism, you
cannot say “this is Zen Buddhism.”
RZA: So, it can’t be described in words.
Sifu: It’s very important: mind to mind and heart to heart. The Zen
Buddhism founder, Damo [also known as Bodhidarma], after him until the
fifth generation [of disciples chosen to pass on the teachings] never
wrote down any words. But the sixth generation, Hui Neng, he wrote
different books explaining about Zen. He wanted to let people know
about Zen Buddhism.
RZA: But you never could really describe it in writing.
Sifu: Chan can be everything, also can be nothing. This is basic talk.
RZA: So it’s like the great everything but it’s also the small
nothing. I understand. Talk about Wu-Tang and how it came from
Shaolin. Talk about the Wu-Tang founder.
Sifu: Wu-Tang founder was Zhangsanfeng from the Yuan Dynasty. From the
Yuan Dynasty until now [is] like 745 years. He’s a true person, a real
person. He studied at Shaolin Temple for ten years. After he did some
bad things. Fight a lot. Shaolin Temple Abbot and all the monks
RZA: “You got to go.”
Sifu: Yeah. He founded another mountain called Wudang, English say Wu-
RZA: So he went to the mountain and then he realized that he was doing
wrong? Did he ever realize that he was bad and then change himself?
Sifu: He did things because he was young. Everybody at Shaolin Temple
doesn’t want to be bad parson because they studied philosophy and Zen
Buddhism. And master and all the monks, different teachers, learn from
Buddha and different Boddhisattvas: Always be a good person, don’t be
bad. Maybe he did it on purpose. After he felt he did bad things, he
tried to change. After, he found Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province.
RZA: What about Hunggar?
Sifu: Hunggar from Ching Dynasty. Shaolin Temple monks helped the
emperor but the emperor fought with the Manchus. The Manchus were
angry at the Shaolin Temple monks and thought the Shaolin Temple monks
help somebody kill them. They were very angry.
RZA: I saw a movie called Death Chamber that said that the Manchus
sent 4,000 men into attack 400 Shaolin men.
Sifu: It’s true. Shaolin Temple monks – one person can fight a lot of
different people. Hunggar is from Shaolin disciple Hong Xi Guan, he
was Master Zheshan’s disciple. Hunggar has Small Red Fist, Big Red
Fist, and Oldest Fist. Now, especially in America, people don’t know
Hunggar. Chinese people came to America from Ching Dynasty, from Hong
Kong and Canton. Lots of people know a little bit of martial arts;
they don’t want to work too hard. They try to do differently, they try
to teach. But only know like a small part of martial arts.
RZA: … and fool a lot of people. But you have been in Shaolin from the
age of five, studying over 25 years – and not just studying martial
arts but also Chan Buddhism and the philosophy and knowin’ how to
really live life in all walks of life and how everything is kung fu,
everything is a martial art.
Sifu: Exactly. Everywhere you can stay, you don’t have to feel bad. If
you want to do something, in the future, if you try your best, you
have to be happy. If you can, you be happy. Nothing different. Try
keep your heart flat.
RZA: Keep your heart flat, neutral.
RZA: You know, where I come from – New York, Staten Island – we call
it Shaolin. I’m representing the Wu-Tang Clan, but you came from the
actual Shaolin Temple in Henan Province in China. What was it like to
grow up in a place like that? Was it hard training?
Sifu: Before it was, yeah, feel differently. But little by little find
out love – Zen Buddhism and Shaolin Temple changed my life. I feel
RZA: Were you doing a lot of rigorous training? Liftin’ a lot of
stuff, carryin’ heavy things, readin’ everyday? How was your average
Sifu: We woke up at 4:00 in the morning. Same monks meditate and pray,
some monks practice martial arts for two hours. At 6:00 stop, rest
half an hour. 6:30 we have breakfast. After breakfast at 7:00 we do
one hour meditation and read some books and try to do different things
– like now there are a lot of tours that come to Shaolin Temple.
Shaolin Temple opened to tourists in 1978. At 8:00 we opened the door
and let tours come in and have to take care of a lot of tourists,
cleaning. Shaolin Temple have a lot of different buildings made of
wood; you have to be careful, because a lot of people pray and lot of
incense burn. We open door from 8:00 until 11:30. 11:30 lunchtime for
half hour. After we change, different monks.
RZA: Change the shifts. Different monks come.
Sifu: Right. They go to have lunch, we go to work. It you work is the
morning, you don’t work in the afternoon – you practice, pray and
meditation until 6:30 in the evening we have dinner. After, we close
the doors and inside we clean and also pray and meditation, reading,
practice kung fu. We go to bed, 10:00. From 10:00 we have three
sections: 10:00 ’til 1:00 have different monks, like kung fu fighting
monks take care of Temple, walk around. Like each group for three
RZA: I seen s movie Masta Killa: 36 Chamber, he had to carry the
water. Did you carry water and staff like that?
Sifu: Yes, we did.
RZA: And then there are a lot of obstacles you gotta go through?
Sifu: We made different kinds of training styles.
RZA: So it’s different training you would do – while you’re workin’,
Sifu: Exactly, you walk like wind, you sleep like bow, stand like big
tree, and your movements, your footwork, like drunken, someone cannot
understand you, and also your head is wavy like the ocean water, end
especially your waist.
RZA: Constantly moving, your waist has to be very flexible.
Sifu: Have to. It’s like the center. If your waist is too stiff, it’s
not good for you.
RZA: What’s a good way to loosen the waist? Bending, stretching?
Sifu: Bending not enough. Depends. Must see mind – is very important
RZA: So it’s like year mind must be so much in tune with your body
that you can make your body shape anyway you want because your mind
controls it. Like I once thought that the same energy you put into
sex, that’s a lot of energy, you should be able to put that into any
move that you make, do you agree with that? You should be able to put
that into anything.
Sifu: Yin and Yang. Men are Yang, women are Yin. Man end woman
together very natural, it’s no problem, very good. But if too much,
you lose a lot of chi.
RZA: That’s my problem, Sifu. Too much woman.
Sifu: You have to control yourself.
RZA: In the hip-hop world, that’s a hard thing to do. But that’s part
of martial art training: you’ve gotta control your desires. You know
there’s many people that believe in a lot of myths about Shaolin. Talk
about some of the things that can be done, as far as the strength that
you can get with that… Like how you broke the bricks on year head.
Sifu: Shaolin Temple has many different kind of styles: empty hands,
like 36 internal and 36 external styles. And also have every different
weapon. Usually they talk about 18 weapons, but much more than that.
RZA: How many different weapons have you learned to use?
Sifu: I can do all different weapons.
RZA: Is the hands the best?
Sifu: I feel it’s the same.
RZA: That’s great. You know how martial arts movies that they made in
the ’70s as we was growing up had a big effect on the music and the
hip-hop culture in America. We learned a lot just from watching the
movies end trying to see the brotherhood and the loyalty that was
there. How does that feel to you to know that your culture was able to
influence a culture over here? Do you think that’s something good?
Sifu: Of course it’s good. Some movies they made is very good, some
movies they made is so-so. A lot of people don’t understand movies,
they think it’s real sometimes, they think it’s true, but it’s not.
Like some actors don’t know martial arts but they made a movie look
RZA: Yeah, I just did a video.
Sifu: Excellent. You know first time I saw your video, oh my God, I
can’t stop laughing. I love very much. Before I said, “Where is Rakim
video? I cannot see!” My god. All the time I check Channel 20 [MTV]
and Channel 42 BET]. “Where’s Rakim?” On the phone I talk to you and
it came on. I said “Wow! Now!” So excellent.
RZA: What kind of music are you into? Do you like hip-hop music?
Sifu: In China, all the time I live at Shaolin Temple, different kinds
of music for me is no problem. Especially I know you, I like Wu-Tang
Clan more I heard, I listen, I like! You know, can give you lot of
energy to practice.
RZA: I feel like my music and my lyrics is like kung fu. Like the Wu-
Tang style, we came with that because I like the Wu-Tang sword style –
and the tongue is like a sword and your words can either kill you or
save you in many situations. That’s why with Wu-Tang, we specialize in
what we say. And the music that I make is martial arts driven, and
that’s why I realize that anything that you could do physically, you
could do mentally. And whatever you could do mentally, you should be
able to do physically.
Sifu: Very true. Your tongue, just like sword. Can do anything. And
also you do music, you have to use your chi and if you don’t have
enough chi, you cannot do it. Just like kung fu.
RZA: So he’s saying all you producers who don’t get enough chi energy,
you cannot make good music.
Sifu: This is true.
RZA: I remember you were showing me some Chi Kung.
Sifu: Chi is like your life force. Like your born-chi end after-you’
reborn-outside-chi. try to combine together. Actually, everything – we
talk, we walk, we eat, we sleep – everything you have to use your chi.
Chi can help your life, can also hurt you.
RZA: … destroy your life. So there’s chi in everything, in every
walk of life, in every active force of energy. It’s the principal
behind every energy.
Sifu: Depends how you use your chi. Like you have philosophy share
with people to help world peace.
RZA: Right. So, do you like it in America?
Sifu: Everywhere for monks is same, nothing different.
RZA: It don’t matter what’s around you, it’s what’s inside you. So you
always bring yourself there, you don’t care what’s the environment.
That’s great. Me and Ghostface have been doing come of the Chi Kung
exercises and stretching. It does build up an internal strength. For
me, it made me feel more rooted to the ground, like it made me feel
that every step my toes just grabbed the ground. That’s what I got out
Sifu: The roots like the tree?
RZA: Yeah, like the roots of the tree. How about the food, you like
the food out here?
Sifu: I think American food, some is good. The fast food is not good
for people’s health because all deep-fried, too much oil. Too much
sugar, too much cheese.
RZA: What you think is going to be your contribution to America?
Sifu: I give the people my best because I know a lot about Zen
Buddhism and philosophy and Shaolin Temple martial arts and also
acupressure and medicine, many different kinds. I want to give to
everybody, everybody enjoy. If help one people, another people think
can help ten people, ten people can help 100 people.
RZA: And it doesn’t matter, you’re not into races and nationalities.
You don’t feel that you want to be greater, you just want to share
Sifu: This is my opinion, this is my future. I want world peace and
everybody try to think about somebody and take care of somebody. A
country has to think about another country, take care at another
country. I think if everybody thinks like this, the world is very
RZA: If everybody was to help each other it would be more comfortable.
But people these days, Sifu, it’s more every man for himself. But with
that kind of thought and philosophy.., right now, America is
considered by some to be a bad place, ah, they call it Babylon
sometimes. Do you think that a man with your ambition and your desires
for peace will ever find peace in a place like this?
Sifu: I think it depends, on yourself, everywhere. Like I live New
York right now. It you stay here, you have to love here, have to take
care of here. And you take care of everybody and everybody respect you
and take care of you. And if you stay here and you can do well, you
can go anywhere and do well, it’s no problem, no question. And also I
have to tell people, if you like to study martial arts with somebody,
it’s very good but you have to be careful: go to watch class first,
make everything sure, don’t waste your time.
RZA: I’m gonna tell [the GRAND ROYAL readers] this: It you wanna learn
true and living Shaolin martial arts, go to the U.S.A. Shaolin Temple
located at 678 Broadway, third floor. That’s for people who are
interested in coming in to learn true Shaolin Kung Fu, not no
imitation. This is RZArector from the Wu-Tang Clan with Sifu Shi Yan-
Sifu: AMITABHA! [pronounced o-mi-to-foh] PEACE! The Wu-Tang, Shaolin
[in a voice like the soundbyte from the first Wu-Tang album]
The two emerge as the sun is coming up, still full of energy, warmth
end smiles. Sifu Shi Yan-Ming can’t remember the last time he stayed
up all night, never mind the last time he drank $200 a bottle
champagne end discussed Chan with the #1 hip-hop producer in the world.