Shaolin Zen Buddhism is the religion practiced inside the Songshan Shaolin Temple in China. This wonderful peaceful place full of history opened its doors last year in October to a group of adventurous martial arts lovers, including myself, for an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience: a 7-day Kung Fu training experience led by a Shaolin Warrior Monk.
The adventure started with the Q2 2016 Appian Pillar Award announcement from Matt Calkins, Appian’s CEO. The Appian Pillar is an award that honors an individual who best boosts Appian’s unique culture and demonstrates significant professional achievement. I was fortunate to be nominated and win the award last year.
As part of the award, I was given the opportunity to travel to this Shaolin Temple in China for a week of traditional Kung Fu training; what else can a martial arts fan like me ask for? This was the perfect trip!
Once I was on-boarded into the program, I took a 12 hour flight from Appian’s Sydney office to Beijing, where I met the crew to start an 8 hour journey, by sleepers train, to Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan Province. From Zhengzhou we took a minivan for our final ride of 3 hours to the Shaolin area, where the Temple and our hostel was.
Long trip indeed, but trust me: after I left Sydney, all I could think about was the amazing experience I was about to live.
Nobody said it was going to be easy, and it was not. Starting at 7 AM, We trained every day for 7 hours. We had lunch and dinner breaks, but considering the size and flavor of the meals, one can easily understand why the meal breaks were not that exciting, and far from being considered a banquet.
The schedule was easy to remember, but not easy to complete. Tai chi would be either early first thing in the morning, or last thing before bed at 8PM. Every day after Tai Chi and a small breakfast, mainly consisting of boiled eggs and congee, Kung Fu training was next.
Training with a Shaolin Monk was an amazing experience. I could feel his harmony and patience, but that never meant he would tolerate indiscipline. Our instructors AJ and Monk Yang Feng were both pushing us to our limits all the time; there was no time for laziness, we were there for only 7 days and we needed to make the best out of it.
Monk Yang Feng only knew four phrases in English: noooo!, good!, lower! and power!, but trust me, those were enough for you to do your best. Even when my flexibility seemed to be at its limit, hearing a loud “lower!” would make me drop further down. It seems my ligaments were more afraid of making Monk Yang Feng angry than from breaking with the extra stretching.
During this program the focus was mainly around learning the Tong Bei Quan Form, which is a series of movements that include stances, kicking, punching, and blocking. I have always loved learning forms. It’s an amazing way to work on your flexibility, strength, physical fitness, coordination, balance, stances, memory and technique.
Day after day I learned how Kung Fu is not only a martial art, it is a mindset, it’s a lifestyle itself, and all these monks, kids and other students are there at the Temple to live it; it’s simply amazing.
I was surprised to see the crowds of the Kung Fu schools surrounding the Temple. I could see kids starting to learn Kung Fu at the age of 3, living at the school without their parents. Most of the parents send them there for a better future. Parents know that with such a though training their children will eventually become body guards, martial arts instructors, warrior monks or just better people. They believe this will provide them with better chances to make more money for a living, unfortunately at the cost of being far from their parents, who would miss the best years of their children’s life.