Twitter Updates

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sidebar #1: The Real Shaolin Kung Fu

So I caught the latter half of this old Chinese-made documentary (
on the real Shaolin Monks and their Kung Fu school and it impressed me enough I wanted to share it. It was fascinating, not the least because they have been built into such a cultural icon and basis for about a bazillion movies, I didn’t really think the truth would be anything close to the hype. But it was incredible what was being show, not the least of which was a bunch of footage of 19 year-old Jet Li, pre-movie star, but already an unreal martial artist. It was very cool.

Their training regime is simply ridiculous. They showed shots of men standing up to being battered by logs (held by 10 men) in the abdomen, monks breaking standing bricks by slicing them sideways with 2 fingers, monks really doing that running up the wall thing. Many of the hundred things unbelievable looking we see now in movies and think have been spiced up by creative choreographers are actually practiced. All the swirling, super-fast fighting and weaponry moving so fast it blurs can actually be done without being sped up for camera.

A couple of the more impressive parts. At one point they show a guy breaking bottles with his hands and arms and the narrator explains that the palm style he is perfecting is very hard and involves strengthening the hand until even broken glass does no harm. The only way to train for this it is further explained is to strike dry wood beams all day. Sounds like loads of fun. Then they went into a segment where they showed the degrees the monks took to train, including not stopping training during sleep. They would sleep flat as a board between 2 pillars, one at the neck, the other the ankles with nothing in between. Others were shown similarly, but sleeping between 2 loops of rope, 5 feet off the floor (so another monk could sleep pretzelled underneath). Very few people could even hold themselves in that position, let alone rest – and sleep – for several hours!

But the most impressive of all was the old master who taught at the school. Coming back from hermitage to pass on his knowledge before he died, he was said to be a master at Qi Gong and Kung Fu to such a degree that he had virtual mastery of his mind, body, breathing and energy. They showed him standing there, this absolutely frail looking man, getting severely beaten with sticks without any discomfort or effect. He was 90 years old. Let me repeat that. He was 90 and withstanding an onslaught as if he was being whacked with straw. He doesn’t sleep at night, but goes into deep meditation sitting in a chair or on the floor. He hasn’t used a bed or lied down since he was 17. He could also still do the splits as part of his daily routines. But when the movie is all said and done, I will always retain the image in my mind of a 90 year old man holding himself in a handstand in perfect balance against a wall by a single finger on the floor. That perfect image of the potential and pure brilliance of the human body.

(Note: this is apparently such a hard task that he was the only one in the world at any age who could do it. They showed his star pupil managing it with 2 fingers, still a major accomplishment.)

Thought you’d find that cool.

Lots more info at:

No comments: