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Jet Li has a lot to answer for. His first movie, Shaolin Temple (1982), not only sparked a slew of films featuring kicking Buddhist monks, but also sent waves of mainland and foreign wushu wannabes and martial arts fans descending on the monastery town in China's Henan province. The religious center, established by the monk Bodhidharma at the base of the Song mountains some 1,500 years ago, now receives more than 2 million tourists annually. But visitors are often disappointed to find the monks don't give demonstrations and aren't especially interested in meeting visitors. Moreover, townspeople have elbowed their way into the void, offering shows, trinkets, hotels and training academies.

A better way to appreciate the skill and mastery involved in the high-kicking art of "meditation in motion" would be by attending the 13th Asian Games, in Bangkok Dec. 6-20. Athletes from 43 countries will be competing in some of the region's oldest martial art forms, like wushu, judo, karate and tae kwon do. Details on venues, dates and tickets are available from the Games' website at

While in Bangkok you may want to take in a match of muay thai, the country's brand of kick boxing. Spectators crowd into Lumphini and Ratchadamnoen stadiums to bet and cheer on the boxers, the atmosphere heightened by live music and the pre-fight prayer ritual of dancing around the ring. Thailand's Tourism Authority provides details on the history of the sport and how to attend on its website, at

One martial art you won't see at the Games is ssirum, the traditional form of wrestling found in South Korea. It's said to have inspired sumo wrestling--but don't say that in Japan--and is a popular spectator sport for all ages. The Korean National Tourist Organization ( can point you to a ssirum competition--or to a contest of tae kwon do (known locally as t'aekkyon), another homegrown skill that recently was selected as a medal event for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Filipinos are equally proud of arnis, their country's traditional art of stick fighting. Also known as eskrima or kali, this style of combat dates back to the 8th century and was the secret weapon of Lapu Lapu, the chief of Mactan island, when his forces defeated those of Spain's Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Modern arnis uses sticks or knives, and can be seen at numerous festivals and competitions--get more details at

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the passing of Jet Li's fellow foot-fighter, Bruce Lee. Hong Kong still attracts legions of Lee fans who adore his movies or practice his form of kung fu, known as jeet kune do. Visit for tips on how to pay homage to the Master--like ordering the "Fish of Fury" at the city's Bruce Lee Cafe.

R E L A T E D   L I N K S :

World Martial Arts Information Center:


November 16, 1998

Travelers seeking cool yule experiences should head to Santapark, opening this month on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland--or take a virtual tour of the theme park on its website

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While they're now powered by diesel engines, the Rocket steamer boats that ply the Meghna River still offer the most romantic way to experience Bangladesh

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Jet Li has a lot to answer for. His first movie, Shaolin Temple, not only sparked a slew of films featuring kicking Buddhist monks, but also sent waves of martial arts fans descending on the monastery town in China's Henan province

ASIANOW Travel Home | TIME Asia home



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