Straight from the slums of Shaolin

1 12 2009

Back in the summer of 2007, I made a trek deep into China… met with a 33rd Generation Shaolin Warrior Monk who spoke zero English, and my two years of studying Mandarin was survival level at best. Language barrier aside, he proceeded to teach me two forms within the Shaolin Kung Fu catalog. A fist form and a staff form, usually taught to more advanced students. His name is Lu Hai Long. He is my teacher’s teacher.

Monk's Quarters - Inside the Shaolin Temple

The path to my eventual discipleship began back in January of 2006. I had already been practicing a southern style of kung fu known as Choy Li Fut 4 years prior. Until one day, a Shaolin school opened up in Reno, of all places. This is where I met my teacher, Tian Xin – a 34th Generation Shaolin Secular Disciple.

He accepted me as a student and I began my training. Shaolin Kung fu is not like any martial art I have ever encountered. It’s very demanding on the body. Its unforgiving and short cuts lead to injury. This would explain why its the “mother of all martial arts”.

The turn over rate for the school I was at was about a month. Meaning that an average student would come in, try it out for a month and we’d never see them again. There were only a handful of students that came in regularly. This was nice because the classes weren’t full and the training was more like individual lessons. Lots of one-to-one learning opportunities.

I had advanced through the first level curriculum within a 10 month period. It took me 10 months to reach the second level curriculum in what usually takes 2 years generally.

In Shaolin there is no belt system, but first level usually equates to a beginner’s black belt in Tae Kwon Do or Karate. I mean we were doing everything. Punching wood posts, slapping hands over bean bags, pop-ups, falling on our backs, falling on our sides, falling on our arms, the shit was crazy what I was putting my body through. Things you could only imagine or seen in those old kung fu flicks, we were doing.

By this time at the Shaolin Temple in China, they were no longer teaching kung fu by the masses on the monastery grounds. Only to the small group of monks currently living there.

Another quiet day at the temple.

So I trained at a school just down the road from the temple at the Shaolin Shui Ku Xue Xiao – The School at the Shaolin Dam. This was something similar to a military academy for teens, but practicing kung fu all day long. See in China, most adults view kung fu like adults view soccer here in the United States. Something your kids do until they’re about 12 years old and that’s it. You can’t really make a profession out of it and it’s not as popular as ping-pong or basketball.

For them to see me there, an adult foreigner who can speak very little Chinese practicing kung fu was very weird, but they had all the admiration for me because of the love I had for the art form. I think its universal that if you show love and respect for something, especially not of your particular culture and make it your own, you get nothing but love and respect back.

The Chinese are very friendly people and they love the opportunity to practice their English with you or sell you something.

Quick training session.

I was prepared for the training regiment in China because of the way we trained back in the U.S. Everything from holding and throwing around training locks, core and leg training, hours of practice, to cardio exercises and running. Although, I wasn’t prepared for climbing up a rock dam backwards!!! I will never forget the grueling pain I endured for this. When I say I was tested, I really was at a breaking point. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider giving up that morning.

Shaolin River Dam

So I kept on pushing. I definitely didn’t want the word to get out that I was some lazy American just picking and choosing when I felt like training.

I think we all have that moment where we feel it’s just easier to give up on something so we don’t have to feel pain or hurt anymore. I know that there are a lot of things not worth holding on to, which is no big deal. When it comes to dreams and aspirations, things that are attainable over time, we should NEVER give up on.

Since I can remember, I always wanted to learn kung fu. I grew up watching old kung fu movies on the USA Network back in the day. Grew up, lost and found that desire to learn it again and again. If you know anything about old school kung fu movies, the Shaolin Temple was the Mecca and to train there allowed you to say, “I’m official”.

My crew. Don't let their size fool you. They get down!

Today I hold the official title of 35th Generation Shaolin Secular Disciple. My weapon is the staff and my fist form is Da Hong Quan (Big Flooding Fist). My temple name is Shi Heng Lu under the tutelage of Shi Yan Xin and Shi Yong Kan. I still train and I have been granted permission to teach what I have learned.

Shi Yan Xin

Shi Yong Kan

Shaolin Lineage Chart

Map of Shaolin area. Red star denotes the school. Just left up the river is the Shaolin Temple.

Shaolin martial arts is only one aspect of the entire Shaolin culture. A culture that encapsulates philosophy, religion, fashion, martial arts, and overall well-being. It has been popularized by Hollywood and Hong Kong cinema. It should be understood that Shaolin Kung Fu is not for those seeking to attain any kind of material wealth, belts, or prize. The reward for training in Shaolin is self-respect, defense, spirituality, and health. And that’s just scratching the surface. If you are interested in learning traditional martial arts, I suggest doing tons of research to see what it is that you desire. There is something for everyone.





5 responses

1 12 2009

Great post! Congrats on such a rad achievement. Now, back to the 36 chambers.

1 12 2009

Thank you Justin. I appreciate you stopping by to read.

20 01 2011
Anthony Spinicchia

It was a pleasure to meet you Matt. Thanks for sharing your story.

11 07 2011

You say you trained at the Shaolin Temple. Was it the Shaolin temple itself or Da Fa Wang temple? and you say you trained at a school next to the temple, I thought all the school in Shaolin Village were demolished?

Sorry for my questions, I don’t mean to seem rude. I am flying to China to train on the 8th Jan 2012 and am still searching a genuine Shaolin school.

13 11 2011

i trained at the shaolin shui ku school.. about a mile down the road toward deng feng. you can not go during the winter as the school will be closed and it is a school run by a shoaling warrior monk who is my teacher’s teacher. you can not train there unless you have been accepted first. then you must pay a tribute… it might be best to train at one of the local schools in deng feng as they are equipped and approved to train foreigners.
good luck.

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