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Thread: Shaolin Journeys

  1. #1
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    Shaolin Journeys

    I'm seeing more and more of these, so I thought they might deserve their own thread

    December 23, 2007
    In search of China's Shaolin soul
    Shaolin monks are the stuff of martial-arts legend, but, says Peter Owen Jones, they’re also the most contented people on earth
    Peter Owen Jones

    A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the philosopher said. The same is true of crossing the road in Beijing. But it can be surpassingly difficult to make that step as a city in perpetual rush hour flings itself past your nose. Eventually, the pavement fills, a white-clad traffic warden waves a red flag and blows a whistle, and the population of a small town – all of whom are talking on mobile phones - sets off for the other side, sloshing into another river of humanity moving in the opposite direction.

    I had come to this city of relentless energy in search of peace. To find it, I’d need to journey further - to Dengfeng, about 450 miles southwest of Beijing. Here, in a cave under the summit of Mount Song, a man once sat crosslegged facing the wall – and he sat there for nine years trying to untangle truth from illusion. This was the 6th-century Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, founder of Zen.

    Intense meditation can be exhausting, and the monks who followed Bodhidharma’s teaching took to exercising between bouts of profound thought. Legend has it that their exertions flowered into the martial arts – the spiritual home of which is the Shaolin Temple, squatting in its valley beneath Bodhidharma’s cave.

    Here you won’t find a terracotta army – this is the real thing, alive and kicking. But I had heard about a small group of monks living just beyond Shaolin, 5,500ft up on the edge of a rock face overlooking a remote valley. I was told that here I would find the true embodiment of Shaolin spirituality.

    The Shaolin Buddhist tradition was nearly lost: the grey men of the Cultural Revolution did not encourage its saffron-shoed monks to hone their skills. But new China takes a much more relaxed approach, and the Chinese are re-exploring their national identity as something separate from The Party. The warrior monks who crushed the ruthless with grace, who leapt walls and healed children with herbs, are potent heroes of the past, much more vivid than Mao.

    The ticket to travel 400 miles, the first part of my journey to the temple, cost just £6. The big blue train must have been more than a quarter-mile long, and its seats were surprisingly soft. Harder to endure was an endless agony of music piped through the carriages. Most of the Chinese are prepared for this, and sit meditating on either their love life or sudoku, while listening to their own choice of music, piped through some of the world’s cheapest earpieces.

    After half an hour, I felt like I’d been incarcerated in a room full of static electricity with a woman who was having the same argument over and over again. This argument was constantly interrupted by a steady stream of shouting shopkeepers, pushing their trolleys up and down the aisle, selling leeches, mangoes, sour prunes, sunflower seeds and pot noodles.

    Through the windows of the train, all I could see was mile upon mile of food – sand-coloured grain, butter-coloured maize – drying in strips along the road margins. Occasionally, there was an old bow-roofed farmhouse, the tiles on the corner sections facing upwards.

    Five hours after leaving Beijing, the train crossed the Yellow River, which is more brown than anything else, and pulled into Zhengzhou. It was then a bus ride along an almost empty motorway to Dengfeng, the nearest city to Mount Song and the Shaolin Temple.

    Until recently, the car was a luxury item, so desolate retail parks have not yet spilt over from the West. The backstreets of provincial cities hum with endeavour. There are cobblers, sugar-cane vendors and fortune-tellers with their red mats laid out before them. Carts are loaded with Chinese dates, crisp as apples, and polished orange persimmon fruits. Scooters, cars and Rotavators are in various stages of rebirth.

    In the town centre, you’ll find shops that sell nothing but tea sets or cigarettes – there are more than 300m smokers in China. In the markets, there are laughing butchers, live crayfish and carp, and crates full of nervous-looking chickens. You can have anything made and anything mended. The flies on my only pair of trousers had given up, so I made for an alley billowing steam, where six tailors sat under torn umbrellas.

    One of them looked at my trousers and winced. I’m not sure what he was thinking. He pulled out a box of offcuts and invited me to sit down beneath the umbrella. Twenty minutes later, he had mended my trousers, and for this he charged me 10p. The temptation is to offer more. I did and he gracefully refused – and in so doing reminded me about the nature of dignity, which is so different from pride.

    The dignity of the Shaolin Temple, which is a 15-minute taxi ride from Dengfeng, has almost been consumed by pride. Shaolin tradition says that if a monk should wish to leave the temple, he has to fight his way out; today, you have to fight your way in.

    The complex has become a Buddhism theme park, complete with a huge television screen, a tour office, shops selling swords, spears, peanuts and gum, timetabled martial-arts displays and ordered rows of notice boards sporting pictures of President Putin’s visit and what appeared to be a faded collection of all the Miss World contestants from the late 1980s.

    The Shaolin brand extends to the Tagou martial-arts school, built around two campuses nurturing 15,000 students. The school takes children as young as four, and by the time they reach 14, they can fly through the air and break your neck in seconds. You can smell the testosterone here. I was staying in the international section, attempting to get fitter before heading into the heart of the mountains. My room was ensuite and the bed was comfortable enough, but you don’t get much sleep because the first siren sounds at 5.15am. The daily routine is punishing. Like everyone else, I started at 5.30am with a run, followed by two hours’ martial-arts practice, then breakfast, then another two-hour practice session, then lunch – which is followed by lessons and a final practice session in the late afternoon.

    I should really have taken Mr Ching-du’s advice. He was keen to practise his English, and tagged along as I limped back from a session. Between telling me how much he liked Portsmouth, he advised me that men of my age should not take up kung fu. T’ai chi would be much more beneficial. He was right: after three days I could barely walk, having had my body contorted into configurations that would confuse putty. To the amusement of my fellow students, I became so stiff that even the act of sitting down had to be done in stages.

    But every one of the students, without exception, was kind and courteous, and the spectacle of the practice sessions and the experience of the temple in the rain, with its ranks of tourists carrying muted pastel umbrellas, far outweighed the discomfort. On busy weekends, Shaolin teems with more than 20,000 visitors, and the delicate architecture and the peace of the place are overwhelmed. True peace was still a day’s walk away, where I hoped that everything I’d heard about the living embodiments of this tradition would turn out to be true.

    You can take a cable car into the mountains, which carries you above some of the crags, but you still need to be moderately fit to get there. The path was completed in 1992 and it’s a masterpiece of engineering, winding through gullies and valleys. Some sections are clamped to the sides of enormous rock faces sprouting horizontal trees. At various corners along the route you can buy calcified mushrooms, ginseng tubers, soft drinks and catapults, and I encountered butterflies, the occasional coughing raven and a 6in grey-and-yellow millipede. In the distance, the San Huang stronghold melted into the rock, almost perfectly camouflaged, and when I arrived it was like walking into a page of a fairy tale – somewhere that should only be visible when there’s a full moon.

    Until 15 years ago, this was home to just two Buddhist nuns, and they are still there – one in her nineties, the other in her seventies. They lived on a purely vegetarian diet, which they grew on a terrace hewn out of the mountain. Everything changed with the arrival of a charismatic Shaolin Buddhist master called Shidejian, who now oversees a community of some 20 monks. I have never encountered such contentment, such generosity of spirit. Here are the inheritors of the true Shaolin tradition, where every task is an exercise in awakening.

    Seen in that light, sweeping the terraces is a pleasure, and standing on them overlooking miles of unbroken forest is a privilege I shall never forget. After four days or so, I began to decongest mentally, to let go of apparent imperatives and needs, which for the most part, I learnt, are illusions created by weaknesses – vanities.

    The truth is that once I detached myself from a bath, a bowl was fine; once I let go of wine, I could taste the water. On my last evening, Shidejian kindly invited me to his one-bedroom garret, and we sat drinking green tea in the tiny garden up there on his own small summit. He asked me what had been the hardest thing about my journey. I think I spluttered that at the age of 48, the martial arts didn’t really agree with my bones. What I couldn’t tell him at the time was that while the San Huang stronghold may not be the easiest place to get to, I found it even harder to leave it behind.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  2. #2
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    Alright, I confess

    This truly is a Shaolin food article, not a 'journey', but this thread is dying on the vine, and this article is so odd, so ttt.

    Eight months at Shaolin and he never figured out where he could go to get some sinews flesh? Anyone know this guy?

    Rose Bar Gatekeeper Nur Khan Likes Meat and Martial Arts

    On the Gramercy Park Hotel's roof.Photo: Melissa Hom
    You need an iron constitution to be the moat minder of one of the city’s most-sought-after rooms — Rose Bar creative director Nur Khan wakes up at 10 a.m. and usually attends to his loyal customers till at least 3 a.m., five or six nights a week. To stay strong, he eats steak — and a lot of it! He also practices martial arts — several years ago, when he spent eight months training at Shaolin Temple, he had to forgo meat and found he wasn’t a big fan of a vegetarian diet. Anyway, who wants to be a vegetarian when you’re buddies with the maître d’ at Waverly Inn and can eat there a few times a week?

    Saturday, May 24
    I stayed in town for the long holiday weekend to avoid the hustle and bustle of the Hamptons. I had a late brunch at home — a cup of tea, a bowl of fresh fruit, cantaloupe and strawberries, and a cheese omelette.

    I had dinner with friends at Keens Steakhouse, a sort of undiscovered New York gem that has a great old-English-pub vibe. I don’t think the people that frequent Rose Bar go there — there’s no scene up there. I had a salad, creamed spinach, New York sirloin, lamb chops, and a nice bottle of wine.

    Sunday, May 25
    I had a late lunch with friends at Bar Pitti before I went to the Murakami exhibit. We had spinach, spaghetti Bolognese, and a bottle of water.

    For dinner I went to Omen. It’s really private and discreet. I had edamame, an avocado salad, shrimp and vegetable tempura, assorted sushi, and, of course, sliced sirloin steak. I have steak practically every night for dinner —my body just craves meat. Anything that had hoofs on it at one point makes me happy.

    Monday, May 26
    I usually have breakfast at home. I had my cup of tea and bowl of Cheerios.

    During the weekdays I usually have lunch at Rose Bar. Monday I had a bowl of chicken soup and water. My lunches during the day are typically fairly light. I like to dine in between meetings. I have a lunch menu for the Rose Bar — we serve it from noon to 3 p.m. It’s pretty mellow during the days — I start to see people coming in later in the afternoon, around 4 p.m. From 4:30 p.m. straight through evening we’re pretty busy.

    I usually have a late dinner, like 9:45ish, then come straight [back] to the Rose Bar after. I had friends in from out of town — I had a very light dinner at Mezzogiorno, which consisted of a salad of mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella, and bottle of water and bottle of red wine.

    I try not to eat late after work. If I’m having a craving, we have some really good Kobe-beef burgers, which I’ll nosh on from time to time.

    Tuesday, May 27
    I had a cup of tea, fresh assorted fruit, and a bowl of Cheerios.

    For lunch, a bowl of tomato soup and bottle of water at the Rose Bar. I carried on with meetings.

    Dinner at the Waverly Inn was a salad with fresh green peas, sirloin steak, a bottle of red wine, and a nice glass of cognac. I’m at the Waverly at least twice a week — Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson are my former partners. I’m fortunate to say I don’t have a problem getting a table there. It’s a very social scene — it’s basically my crowd here at Rose Bar pre-****tail time. Everyone has dinner there and then they come over to me. There’s a lot of table-hopping.

    It’s funny because the maître d’ Emil [Varda] is a very good friend of mine; we go way back. He was asking me, “I have so many people calling me from London to get into the Rose Bar. I can’t give your phone number out, can I?” I said, “No, you know the situation…”

    Wednesday, May 28
    Breakfast at the house was a cup of tea and a cantaloupe

    Lunch at Rose Bar was fresh minestrone soup and a bottle of water.

    I had a nice dinner before I went to the Hilfiger sessions at Webster Hall. I went to Raoul’s, which is probably one of my favorite restaurants in New York. I had a salad, artichoke, spinach, the old standby steak au poivre (it’s one of my favorites — they do a really nice job with the sauce, and it’s a good cut of meat), and a nice bottle of red wine. It’s unpretentious — you can hide away in the back.

    One of my favorite casual places is Serge Becker’s La Esquina. It’s really laid-back and you can kind of vanish there. It was more sceney when they opened, but everyone’s so cool there that it’s very easy.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  3. #3
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    Some Olympics fallout

    It's a little better than the NBC one.
    Click for vid. I like "Show-lin"
    Shaolin temple is the birthplace of Kung Fu
    Updated: Aug 22, 2008 07:44 PM
    Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

    Many Chinese children watch martial arts movies and dream of becoming a grand master in Kung Fu. In one town, there are 65 schools that teach the art - it is known as the birthplace of Kung Fu.

    If you spend any time in China and you'll find yourself at a temple. For hundreds of years, they've provided a peaceful retreat, a place to worship, a spot to reflect. But head to the mountains in central China and you'll find why one temple is different.

    "Shaolin Temple is the birthplace for Zen Buddhism," said General Grand Master Warrior Monk Shi Yan Xiu. "And for Shaolin Kung Fu."

    The breathtaking fighting skills of the Shaolin monks lure 1.5 million visitors every year. The monks perform with swords, spears and sticks.

    Shaolin Kung Fu dates back to the 6th Century, inspired by a monk who began exercising during meditation. Today, 80 Buddhist monks live at the Shaolin Temple. Their dorms are simple, but say their lives are fulfilling. They burn incense candles to continue a long tradition of worshipping Buddha.

    "All the monks must have prayer, to pray in morning and night," Shi Yan Xiu said. "This makes religion, discipline and training work together."

    The intense training of 200 warrior monks is something most tourists don't see.

    "As a warrior monk, we ask them to practice as much as possible," Shi Yan Xiu said.

    Some warrior monks will stay here all their lives. Others will leave after several years of training. A few of the monks will set their sights on the highest goal at Shaolin.

    "When you grow up, you can decide if it's the life you want. If you want to become a real Buddhist monk," said Shi Yan Da, a Buddhist monk.

    Dreams of becoming a Kung Fu master begin at an early age in China. Thousands of students at the 65 Kung Fu schools learn various forms of Shaolin.

    Seventeen-year-old Wu Yang became hooked as a boy.

    "At a young age, I watched too many Kung Fu movies and was influenced by the movie stars," he said.

    Now, he's one of thousands of young Chinese enrolled in private Kung Fu school. The children spend three hours a day in school and four hours training.

    "The environment of the school is very good and I like to study Shaolin Kung Fu," said Li Cong Ying.

    School leaders say only three percent of their students have a realistic chance of becoming a master. Only a few have ever been selected to become a warrior monk.

    "Real Shaolin Kung Fu is from hard work. You must practice for a long time and then you can get the real Shaolin Kung Fu," said Buddhist monk Shi Yan Da.

    Kung Fu may be the stuff of Hollywood lore, but the roots of the ancient martial arts run deep in the temple's hallowed ground.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  4. #4
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    The traditional kung fu arts are very much out there.

    However, one's perception of what a traditional kung fu art is will influence the direction in which one travels in order to find it.

    There's a certain type of practitioner who is so convinced that the answer MUST lie elsewhere that he refuses to acknowledge that what he seeks is right at his doorstep.

  5. #5
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    A Shaolin Journey article of our own

    Check out Will the Real Kung Fu Please Stand Up by Jonathan Poston.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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  6. #6
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    In that article, Jonathan Poston wrote "It was the traditional training like in the Matrix or Karate Kid that intrigued me".

    With that kind of preconceived notion, it would be very hard to find a real life school that teaches that way. That's because Matrix and Karate Kid are MOVIES with IMAGINARY training scenarios.

    Real life kung fu is nothing like movie fu, in training or application.

  7. #7
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    interesting read

    In depth articles about shaolin kung fu. Though it seems that newer authors are discovering Shaolin. Yes, traditional shaolin kung fu is out there....it does exist.

  8. #8
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    I enjoyed reading the article partly because I take genuine interest in hard work training. Something I have yet to accomplish.

    Thanks for sharing Jonathon Poston.

  9. #9
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    Most people that go looking for "shaolin" based on what they saw in the movies will find just that and be very disappointed.
    Serves them right too.
    As for training like in the movies...well, one really needs to ask themselves WHY they would want that, I mean, the elite of thew physical activities world, ie: Oympic and pro athletes, don't do that to themselves, why should some "recreational MA" ?
    Psalms 144:1
    Praise be my Lord my Rock,
    He trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle !

  10. #10
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    Check out our latest Shaolin Journey article

    My Time in China by Stephan Kaliss
    And don't forget, our 10th annual Shaolin Special is still on the newsstands. If you want to know the latest on Shaolin, be sure to pick one up.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  11. #11
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    Our archived Shaolin Journey articles

    Shaolin has inspired some great travel writing. American Shaolin by Matt Polly is a perfect example. Over the years, we've amassed many Shaolin journey articles on our e-zine beyond the contributions of Jonathan Poston and Stephan Kaliss mentioned above.

    First, here are mine (and that's just because I'm doing this alphabetically ):
    Shaolin Trips - Episode One: Open Two Doors
    Shaolin Trips - Episode Two: Reigning in at the Brink of the Precipice
    Shaolin Trips - Episode Three: Resting on a Pillow
    Shaolin Trips: Episode 4 - A Hero Watching the Formation: Chapter One: To Journey to Zhengzhou, Get Past Cerberus
    Shaolin Trips: Episode 4 - A Hero Watching the Formation: Chapter Two: Xingqiliu (Saturday): The Opening Ceremony & Gala Night
    Shaolin Trips: Episode 4 - A Hero Watching the Formation: Chapter Three: Xingqitian (Sunday): A Shaolin Welcome, Body-Building, Wushu Champions, and a Modern Chinese Ballet Nitecap
    Shaolin Trips: Episode 4 - A Hero Watching the Formation: Chapter Four: Xingqiyi (Monday): Shaolin Revisited, the First and Second Generals, and - oh yes - the Tournament
    Shaolin Trips: Episode 4 - A Hero Watching the Formation: Chapter Five: Xingqier (Tuesday): My Master, Some Scholars and More Tournament
    Shaolin Trips: Episode 4 - A Hero Watching the Formation: Chapter Six: Xingqisan (Wednesday): Tournament, Fish Head Hot Pot and Duck Tongues with the Little Dragon's Dad and the Purgatory of Gold Mountain.
    Shaolin Trips: Episode 4 - A Hero Watching the Formation: Epilogue: My Master's Pilgrimage to Gold Mountain and the Bu Hao Mao
    Wu-Tang Enters Wudang (1 of 7): Travels through Shaolin with RZA

    And here are some of our other contributors:
    Antonio Graceffo
    The Monk From Brooklyn: An American at the Shaolin Temple Part 1
    The Monk From Brooklyn: An American at the Shaolin Temple Part 2
    Note that Antonio Graceffo developed a book from his story - see Monk From Brooklyn.

    John Greenhow
    Where I Am, and What I Am Doing: A Shaolin Diary - Part One
    Where I Am, and What I Am Doing: A Shaolin Diary - Part Two
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  12. #12
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    to steve

    a great article mate!. brings back some good memories

    i was reading it and thinking i was having a bad case of daysavoo then i realized who was writing it lol . im now back at epo. i will be here for a couple more months.

    its been a while since i last spoke to you. i hope all is well. stay safe and keep writing!!!

    Daniel.

    P.S happy chinese new year
    its not the destination that is important it is the journey getting there

  13. #13

    Other Books

    You mentioned Matthew Polly, that was a great book.
    Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk was good too, even though he didn't go to Shaolin. It was still a CMA journey of sorts.

    There is also Steve Demasco's An American's Journey to the Shaolin Temple. I have never read the book, but it is out there.

    The one I just got done reading was Me, Chi, and Bruce Lee by Brian Preston. If you like American Shaolin, I think you'll like it too.

    The next one on my list will probably be 'Monk from Brooklyn' that you mentioned above. For some reason my local library or Border's doesn't have it, so I'll have to get that on from Amazon.

    I don't suppose I'll ever go to China, so I think that is why reading these articles and books is so important to me.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by UK MONK View Post
    a great article mate!. brings back some good memories

    i was reading it and thinking i was having a bad case of daysavoo then i realized who was writing it lol . im now back at epo. i will be here for a couple more months.

    its been a while since i last spoke to you. i hope all is well. stay safe and keep writing!!!

    Daniel.

    P.S happy chinese new year
    Hey Dan, how's things mate?

    Good to hear from you! It has been awhile since we were buying turtles and England shirts, cleaning training rooms and running injured. I miss Epo a lot, I had a great time. Still training with the same teachers?

    I talked to Fabian on Skype about a year ago. He was in the new dorms. How are they? I heard they have Western toilets and their own showers? Is this true?

    I'd be interested to hear some of the changes since I've been, and I'd imagine your styles and technique are really strong by now, you've been there awhile.

    I hope all is well. If any of the old gang remains, tell them I said hi. Happy Chinese New Years my friend.

  15. #15
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    hi

    after i left dengfeng i went back home for 6 months and then i was in shanghai for a year doing some gracie jiujitsu. but apart from that i havnt really been training like we used to.

    martin is still at epo and christean and panda have gone back to korean for chinese new year. they should be coming back soon. taiwan is in wudang. he's been there for about 1 year now. i also went wudang for 1 months just to check the place out. its really beautiful. max is studying in taiwan and bazdi was in shanghai studying aswell. but i think hes back in london at the moment.
    its not the destination that is important it is the journey getting there

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