Afghanistan’s Female Kung Fu Fighters
A hilltop in Afghanistan isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a team of young women practicing a martial art with Buddhist roots. But coach Seema Azimi and her team of teenage athletes defy expectations.
Since 2015, Azimi and her father have been training girls ages 14 to 20 at Kabul’s Shaolin Wushu Club, the first in the nation to teach kung fu to women. Azimi founded the club several years ago after a three-year training in Isfahan, Iran, hoping to help women defend themselves from street harassment and to bring her countrywomen a step closer to equality.
Shaolin wushu, or Shaolin kung fu, is a Chinese martial art believed to have originated at China’s Chan Buddhist Shaolin Temple in the Yellow River Valley. Legend relates that the Indian monk Bodhidharma taught martial arts movements to the monks in the sixth century CE. The form is still practiced by the temple’s monks, and today’s kung fu practitioners include Azimi’s female fighters.
Azimi herself hopes to compete in international competitions someday, and who knows? Maybe she’ll even be the next Jet Li in a remake of the 1982 classic movie Shaolin Temple.
Mindfulness Goes Guinness
We guess they aren’t counting pujas! This spring, 272 people at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, England, set a record for the “biggest mindfulness session in the world,” surpassing the previous record of 250 participants, although as of July this had yet to be confirmed by officials from the Guinness World Records. Organized by the mental health charity Self Help as part of their mental health awareness week, the event featured an introduction to mindfulness meditation and guidance in a few basic practices. World record it may be; still, it barely compares to the Guinness record set by Dr. Deepak Chopra in 2014 for the largest online meditation lesson in history, in which 33,061 participants sat under the wellness guru’s guidance for 30 minutes.
Power lunches and happy hours are so passé. Nowadays, cosmopolitan urbanites meet for midday meditation instead.
Bar à Méditation, Paris’s first meditation bar, opened this spring, offering 30-minute weekday meditation classes to cater to the fast-paced lives of urban workers. The class topics run the gamut from your basic lovingkindness and breath-centric practices to erotic meditation, which, according to their site, is meant to help participants become more comfortable with the “physical manifestations of [their] sexuality.”
The center’s founder, psychiatrist Christine Barois (who lists among her teachers Jon Kabat-Zinn), aims to popularize the mental health benefits of meditation practice in the City of Lights, comparing meditation— like many contemporary mindfulness proponents before her—to other daily health rituals like flossing.
It’s a shame health experts never endorsed the three-martini lunch with the same enthusiasm.
Thai Temple Soundtrack Tangle
Capcom, the company that creates and distributes such multimillion-dollar franchises as Street Fighter, Resident Evil, and Mega Man, recently released its latest installment of Ultra Street Fighter for Playstation 4 and PC. Version 5 brought back a classic stage called “Thailand Temple Hideout,” where players can duel in the temple yard while ocher-robed monks and a guardian bodhisattva statue look on. The stage was available for only two days before gamers reported that the background music featured several verses from the Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam. Online forums buzzed, and the company quickly apologized and issued a notice that the game was being pulled down to fix some “unintentional religious references.” Capcom also replaced the track with music from another stage for those who had already downloaded it.
Looks like the video game developers at Capcom could use a religion consultant.
Tibetan Faith Meets Gaelic Architecture
Ireland is famous for its lush landscape, good beer, lively people, and spiritual traditions, Celtic and Catholic alike. And though Ireland is certainly not a major Buddhist hub, the number of Irish who identify as Buddhist has increased by 43 percent since 2006. Now the nation’s first Tibetan Buddhist temple is being built on the country’s southwest coast.
The Dzogchen Beara Meditation Retreat Center in Allihies has been under construction for a little over a year; if the necessary funds can be raised, temple leaders hope to complete it by March 2018. Center director Malcom MacClancy has high hopes, describing it to the Irish Independent as “something of a jewel in Tibetan Buddhism worldwide.” Perhaps he is right to aim high: the temple has some well-known Buddhist supporters, including Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and the new center’s spiritual director, who proposed the project in 2008, and Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, who has agreed to consecrate it two years from now. And of course, even if these Buddhist blessings aren’t enough, there’s always the luck of the Irish to carry the project through to completion.