How to Learn Kung Fu From the Shaolin Monks in China

Ancient Shaolin Practice Center China

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Have you grown up watching the movies of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, or Bruce Lee? Have you been impressed enough to want to learn the moves of true Kung Fu masters? Or have you simply thought about learning the unbeatable discipline or martial arts? Even if your local dojo might offer Kung Fu classes, there’s no better place to learn authentic Kung Fu skills and discipline than with the Shaolin monks in China. If you’re motivated enough to at least try it, I’ll show you exactly where and how to go about it, as well as some tips to help you adjust to your new life while learning.

Where to go

The best places to learn Kung Fu from Shaolin monks are the monasteries where they spend their lives. Some accept recruits, and some don’t, but Wu Wei Si Monastery in Yunnan and the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng are the places to learn the real deal. You don’t have to be a Buddhist, but you will have to learn and follow the philosophy in order to understand the discipline and the value points of martial arts.

Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng

You must travel to Dali City in China and find the monastery that’s located about 7.5 miles away, where you will have to climb a great flight of steps to reach it. No booking is required here, but if you decide to go to the Shaolin temple you need to book your spot in advance, so here we’ll focus more on the monastery.

The cost for food, lessons, and boarding is $75/week (500 RMB) so bring cash. If you love  meat you must know the meals at the monastery are all vegetarian. 

If you need a tourist visa to visit China make sure you obtain it in advance and think about the possibility of extending it.

What to bring

Because there is limited electricity, heat, and hot water you must bring your own light source, so here are a few essential items. Also, keep in mind that since hot water is scarce you should avoid this trip during the cold season:

  • Flashlight
  • Towel
  • Workout shoes
  • Sleeping bag
  • Extra blanket
  • Insect repellant
  • Power bank
  • Toilet paper
  • Work-out clothes
  • Books
  • Soap

Life with the Shaolin Monks

You might miss the internet and technology, but learning Kung Fu is also about reconnecting with yourself and with nature. The power bank will be useful to keep your phone charged, so you can take plenty of photos of your adventure. You’ll be busy enough not to need internet service for a few weeks anyway. You won’t even need to set an alarm as the wake-up call is done by the monks at 5:30.

Shaolin Monk in Training China Temple

Even if you don’t speak Chinese, picking up daily habits will be easy enough, as they repeat day after day, and you’ll receive a small flyer in English with rules you must follow. Even though you must wake up early, breakfast is only served at 8. You don’t have to attend the prayers before breakfast, but you should give it a try even if you are not a Buddhist devotee. There are women working in the kitchen at the monastery, so breakfast is always served fresh.

Training starts at 9:00 sharp until 12 when you can serve lunch. From 4-6 PM you’ll have another training session and dinner is at 6 PM sharp, after which bedtime is at 9:30. Each student and visitor must do their chores, such as washing their dishes and helping around. Fridays are always free, so you can do what you want, even visit the city, but you must let someone before you leave.

Rules might be a little strict, but they will help you in the long run. The flyer will go into detail about every single rule at the temple.

Training with the Shaolin monks

Kung Fu lessons require a good physical shape. If you’re not used to doing physical exercises you might have a hard time keeping up. Mornings normally start with stretching, jogging, and balancing rocks on your head. You’ll also get a partner for the massage time; yes, you will have to give a massage to each other.

Training at Shaolin Temple in Winter

If you’re a martial arts newbie, don’t worry. Lessons always start with the basic movements and techniques. The afternoon lessons that start at 4 PM are a notch up in intensity, but you’ll get to use swords or staff during training. 

If you don’t understand something, or if you have a hard time getting the moves right, the monks are very patient and will repeat everything until you understand. Don’t be afraid to ask. Your teachers are wise, patient, and connected to everything around them. Follow their example to rediscover yourself. If you don’t agree with something, you are free to leave at any time. They understand the way they live is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Take the training home with you

I guarantee you’ll have a different perspective on life once you’re done training with the Shaolin monks. They give equal opportunities to men, women, and children (as long as they are accompanied by an adult). Use the wise teachings and routine to better your life. You’ll learn not to take things for granted and to appreciate small things. Kung Fu is not just about fighting, it’s about relieving stress, anger, depression, getting confidence, and learning how to make your mind and body work together in order to achieve a goal.