Most martial artists are familiar with the extraordinary powers of the Shaolin monks. They train in the use of 36 weapons, and each monk picks two animal movements and styles to specialize in. (See my previous article "The Transformative Powers of Kung Fu.") When I first watched the mesmerizing DVD "Shaolin: Wheel of Life," I got goosebumps. The monks seemed to be beings of pure spiritual energy (chi) that perform kung fu at the highest level.
I recently had the great fortune of sharing the afternoon with Sifu Wang Bo, a Shaolin monk who was 11 years old when on tour with "Wheel of Life." (For those who have seen the DVD, he's the one performing "Monkey Style.") His father started to train him in the martial arts at age three, and at age eight he begun his life at the temple.
Bo's beaming face welcomed me at his door. He had a clear, radiant complexion. He had prepared a lovely brown rice tea, fruits, nuts, rice crackers and seaweed. We sat on comfortable floor mats. This 21-year-old graciously answered all my questions in perfect English. Not only did he speak with the wisdom of an ancient master, but each time I looked into his eyes I saw the beauty of Divine Love emanating from him.
Me: At what age is the student at the Shaolin Temple tested?
Bo: From age three and up. When you first arrive at the temple there will be a test. The test is not determined by age, rather by when the master feels you are ready. The physical test is short. The biggest part of the test is on answering questions about one's view of life.
Me: The Shaolin Monks don't eat meat but have boundless energy. What do you they eat for protein?
Bo: Their protein comes from beans, tofu, milk and nuts.
Me: What is the daily schedule for the monks growing up at the temple?
Bo: A typical daily schedule, including the vegetarian diet served at each meal, is up at 5:30 a.m., chanting; 6 a.m. breakfast, which consists of a soup made of beans called eight treasures; then more chanting and a half-hour break, followed by two hours of kung fu training. During training, the monks switch what form or style they are practicing every 10 minutes. After practice, more chanting until at 11:30 a.m., lunchtime, which consists of five to six different vegetables, tofu and rice. We do not drink tea or liquids with our meals to aid in easy digestion. Lunch finishes at approximately 12:30. Now it is back to chanting, then comes a two-hour break. During this time the monks may meditate, relax or nap. At approximately 3:00 p.m., another two-hour kung fu practice session begins. This wraps up at 5 p.m. There is no chanting before dinner out of respect for the dead. At 5:30 p.m., noodles are served for dinner, with bread -- the breads we eat are black or yellow wheat; 6:30 p.m., Heart Sutra chanting for one hour -- we call the heart the center of the Universe; 8 p.m., quiet time for meditation; 10 p.m., bedtime.
Me: What method is used to teach the children to train properly and focus?
Bo: harsh words can scar a person for life. Physical punishment is usually forgotten within a few days, and is much more effective at getting the student to perform at their best.
Me: There are no illnesses or injuries during practice?
Bo: Yes, all the time. We have our own hospital (Western medicine is not used, just the technology). We go every two weeks to monitor the progress in the brain that meditation produces by using EEG testing.
Me: Are their still great kung fu masters at the temple today, as we have heard about the legends in the history of the temple?
Bo: Masters are not as powerful today due to the electrical signals such as wi-fi, satellite, radio, television etc. As a result masters are 15 percent less powerful than in ancient times.
Me: What can we all do daily to advance on our path?
Bo: Love. Don't be selfish. Do daily acts of kindness. Be nice. Pray a lot. Practice a lot. With practice comes wisdom. Wisdom brings advancement each day. And pain brings growth -- that's how we learn.
Me: Why do you all seem to never get tired, even with your demanding daily training schedule?
Bo: Because we don't have a draining and meaningless program of thought running through our heads.
Bo now lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful girlfriend. Seeing them together, one immediately understands that this is a Divine Right Union. They have a performance coming up together at UCLA in November. He is currently teaching classes and private lessons. To learn more and to contact him, visit his website at www.shaolinarts.org.
(Note: While at the temple sexual relations are forbidden and monks usually do not marry. However, a monk who leaves the temple may marry without losing his status as a monk. In fact, many monks who have left the temple have married in the U.S. and U.K.)
The Shaolin temple has outreach programs trying to spread their message and training to new groups of people. There are at least two monks running the outreach programs in the U.S. who have married since moving here. In the temple itself there are two groups: monks and practitioners. Monks have devoted their lives to the temple, and practitioners may one day leave it to spread their wisdom and skills to the world at large.