YEAR OF THE RAM, LION DANCE USHERS IN NEW YEAR

February 11, 2003 11:00 pm
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Pilot story and photos by Bill Schlichting

A horn that came to Brookings from Tibet was sounded, signaling the beginning of a Chinese New Year's celebration that ushered in the year of the ram Saturday afternoon.

The horn, blown by Bill Franks and held by his son Julian Franks, was taken out of Tibet before the Communist Chinese took over the province in the 1950s, said Sifu Jon Loren, instructor of Northern Tai Chi Tum Pai Gung Fu Association.

When the Brookings martial arts school obtained the antique horn eight years ago in Hawaii, many people tried unsuccessfully to make a sound from it, Loren said. However, Franks recently saw it and asked if he could blow on it. The former trumpeter was able to bring out its baritone pitch.

Once the horn was sounded, firecrackers blasted, bringing the jester out to wake the lions who have been sleeping in a cave for the winter.

The jester, played by Loren, shows off his kung fu skills before waking the lions.

Once awakened, the lions dance, livening their spirit by chasing his tail then paying tribute to the four seasons. The dance continues to the beat of drummers into the lions' liveliest period, paying respect to the five elements: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.

Traditionally, each Chinese business would put lettuce out in front of the business, sometimes with money attached to help lure the lions and show the generosity of the business.

The higher the ability of the lions to reach meant getting more money, which was tied on a string above the lettuce. Once the lions get the lettuce hanging in front of the business, they take it back, partially eating the lettuce, then, showing generosity, throw it in different directions.

The lettuce shows good will, generosity and prosperity for the business and community to start the new year right, according to information given to members of the audience.

After the lions' meal, they dance around on a full stomach and slowly becomes subdued, coming to rest back in the cave.

Traditionally, each Chinese community had gung fu (also known as kung fu) schools that were in charge of teaching its children and members how to defend themselves, instilling ethical codes of family and honor and giving respect, dignity and discipline to the bearing of its practitioners and community.

In conjunction with celebrating the new year, these schools were in charge of the new year's lion dance. The dance shows the skills developed by the students and also serves to raise funds for the school.

The schools had to practice the acrobatics required to reach the lettuce and money offered by the businesses.

The dance would also show the power of the community to fight the imaginary demons and evil spirits away for the new year.

Playing loudly to create success, drums, cymbals and firecrackers would accompany the lion dance.

Following the traditional dance, which has become an annual event, members of the Brookings school and guest artists from Battle Ground, Wash., who came with Sifu Jerry Weldon, demonstrated their skills ranging from chen form, a form of relaxation, and grappling defense to using weapons that include three-sectional sticks, swords and knives. Participants included children and adults.

Loren said giving the demonstrations on the street is difficult because of the crowned and hard pavement. The martial artists can't scoot across the rough pavement. It also is hard to fall on, but no one was injured.

When the show was over, George and Letty Lee, owners of the restaurant on Cottage Street, treated all the students and their families to a Chinese buffet.

For information about martial arts classes, scheduled Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Club Center at Center and Railroad streets, call Loren at (541) 469-3328.