Scientific Kung Fu Demo Raises Gender Equality Awareness
Collin Van Ooyen / November 21, 2012 - 4:36am
Spirituality met science this week as a dozen Himalayan Buddhist nuns joined their leader in performing a special kung fu demonstration for scientists at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). The Gyalwang Drukpa, Jigme Pema Wangchen, leader of one of the new schools of Tibetan Buddhism, explained to the gathering of brilliant minds that human energies mirror those of the cosmos, while the nuns illustratively struck poses of various kicks, chops and punches. The demonstration came during a tour by the Buddhist envoy of the massive CERN facilities at the French-Swiss border.
"Men and women carry different energy," said the Buddhist leader. "Both male and female energies are needed to better the world.” He used these analogies to liken the interconnectivity of energies to those used in the Large Hadron Collider, a massive particle-smashing machine designed and utilized by CERN physicists to decipher the genesis of the universe. “This principle is as fundamental as the relationship between the sun and the moon,” he continued, as his young nuns nodded in agreement.
However, The Gyalwang Drukpa did not bring his followers along with him to simply show off their kung fu prowess. They arrived with a much different purpose: to showcase the capabilities of womankind as a whole.
Up until the last few years, kung fu had been banned in Buddhist monasteries from female practice, a tradition that has stood for centuries. The Drukpa school of Buddhism is the first to buck that trend. In Himalayan countries such as Tibet, women have long been kept from attaining a proper education, and have been strictly barred from the practice of any form of martial art. The current Gyalwang Drukpa, 14th in a centuries-old lineage of reincarnated masters, believes that it is his karma to enact this change, and to empower women rather than exclude them. In a few short years, some nuns have already become kung fu masters themselves, partaking in other traditionally male-dominated activities such as dragon-dancing.
The visit to CERN’s laboratories is only one stop in a world tour by the Gyalwang Drukpa and his nuns. "I hope to raise awareness about gender equality and the need for the empowerment of women," said the spiritual leader to a room full of nuclear physicists. “And a very good thing too,” agreed CERN scientist Pauline Gagnon, a long-standing champion of female equality who has written about the low number of female physicists in the field.
Gender equality is a vital social issue that direly needs to be addressed in many parts of the world, including the Gyalwang Drukpa’s home country of Tibet, where women have long been relegated to the roles of servants to male monks. The martial arts are a practice steeped in ancient tradition, but there is always room for improvement and self-examination. Just like in a fight, one needs to be able to adapt, to assess the circumstances of the scenario, and to overcome the challenges presented by their current surroundings. That is, after all, what the martial arts are all about, and at least in one sect of the kung fu world, the men in power are finally coming to realize that.