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May 18, 2018

Training Kung Fu with Shaolin Monks

Action Without Action

When translated into Chinese, Wu Wei Si. I recently came back to civilization from staying two weeks at the Wu Wei Si Shaolin Monastery in the mountains of Dali, China.

I needed a change in my life. The only things I knew were that I wanted to get away from my hectic lifestyle and think about where I wanted my life to go, without any distractions.ย Combine this with my passion for martial arts, and Wu Wei Si was a perfect fit.

There is no way to find the exact location of the monastery so you have to ask around once you get to Dali. It ended up being about a four-mile (6.5 km) walk from where I was staying. When you get to the temple, you then have a long climb of stairs to get to the top. While sounding tough, especially with a big backpack, it was the most beautiful, peaceful walks I’ve ever taken.

I got to the monastery on Friday afternoon, which was recommended since there is no training that day. That first night was somewhat overwhelming. When I arrived, I met one of the teachers, who didn’t speak any English, and he handed me a list of rules (written in broken English, paraphrased here from memory):

  • Be respectful of others in the monastery
  • No smoking, drinking, playing cards, or playing music
  • Always say Ami Tuo Fo (a form of blessing) when you see Shifu (the master)
  • Do not be late for training or meals
  • If training is not what you expected, you are free to leave at any time
  • At meals, sit straight and hold your bowl in your hands while eating
  • Do not eat until Shifu starts eating
  • You must eat everything in your bowl; if you drop any food, you must eat it (table or floor)
  • Do not talk at meals
  • Do not lose your bowl or chopsticks (you receive them at the beginning and keep them in your room)
  • If you do not respect the rules, you will be asked to leave

Of course, when being walked to my room, we pass Shifu, and my mind didn’t even register who it was. So within ten minutes of me being there, I already broke the most important rule… Don’t worry though, the monk gave me a scolding, and I never missed another Ami Tuo Fo! When I got to my room, I had a few minutes to regroup before dinner, where I met the other five foreigners who were there at the time. It was a relief, and they whispered to me what to do and how to eat.

The monastery eats a strictly vegan diet and their water comes directly from the natural springs in the mountains. There were a lot of vegetables and tofu cooked in a good amount of oil, which was served “family style.” And of course, you cannot forget the staple, an unending flow of rice! While I am definitely a meat eater, the food was amazing!

The monastery is all about simplicity, routine, and discipline. We had the same schedule every day, and it was actually nice having my mind completely free. This was our schedule:

  • 5:30am – Wake up –ย  The monks start chanting and banging loud gongs.
  • 6:30am – Run & Posture Training – Run to the river (about a mile away) and then walk back balancing a rock on your head.
  • 7:30am – Kung Fu Warm-Up – Stretch and/or review moves from the previous day.
  • 8:00am – Breakfast – Always a type of noodle/soup dish, except every four days we got these amazing buns filled with vegetables or jam called Baozeu.
  • 9:00am – Kung Fu Training.
  • 12:00pm – Lunch – Always rice, vegetables, tofu, and soup.
  • 12:30pm – Free Time – I spent this time walking through the monastery, talking with the other foreigners, meditating, reading, and having tea at a nearby tea house.
  • 4:00pm – Kung Fu Training.
  • 6:00pm – Dinner – Again, always rice, vegetables, tofu, and soup.
  • 7:00pm – The monks had their second prayer, so more loud chanting and banging gongs; we were welcome to join, but it was intimidating and we often watched from the sidelines.
  • 9:30pm – Silence and Lights Out.

As in most kung fu monasteries, the Shifu comes up with his own forms and techniques for the monks to learn. A form is a series of attacks and blocks that each student masters in sequence. Each day, kung fu training started with a ton of stretching, some massaging to loosen up the muscles, and warm-up exercises.

We then moved on to mastering the various forms being taught. We were constantly yelled at with a, “No like Dees!!” and “Sweetch Leg!!” and “Prak Teese!!” It was very overwhelming at first, just like when I missed Shifu on the first day. But soon I started to understand the culture. First, the Chinese language is a lot more direct than English. To add to that, the teachers only knew a few words in English. Must have been frustrating… As I got to know them better, I realized this was simply a cultural difference, and they were in no way being rude.

In my two weeks, I got through two basic forms and half of a weapons form. The most difficult part of training for me was patience. I always wanted to progress on to the next move, but we couldn’t until it was perfect. I realized this has also been true in other parts of my life, always wanting the next thing. This training helped bring me awareness so that I can hopefully relax and respond differently in future situations.

At the end of the day, Wu Wei Si is pretty much what you would expect monastery life to be like, except for two things. One, monks are not boring silent people, they are really just like anyone else on Earth. They laugh, make dumb jokes, and whisper and giggle at dinner only to have Shifu shush them. Second, just because monks live in isolation does not mean they disregard all technology. And, it really doesn’t make sense to think that! They had hot water warmed by solar panels, and Shifu even had a cell phone! Now that was a sight to see – hearing a phone ring and Shifu picking it up laughing with a friend!

And that’s what it’s really all about. Shifu is there to connect, provide wisdom, and help anyone that is looking for guidance, the best way he can. People come to him from all over the world just to sit with him, and some even come to talk through life-changing decisions, such as in business and relationships. Even though I didn’t understand a single word, I enjoyed sitting with Shifu while he talked to people, attempting to soak up all his wisdom.

Ami Tuo Fo

 

I’m happy to answer any questions about my experience! Just let me know in the comments below!

28 Comments on “Training Kung Fu with Shaolin Monks

Vetrivelu Murugesan
August 25, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Hi Joseph, Is there any possibility of part-time earning up there?

Reply
Joseph Pidala
August 25, 2019 at 9:37 pm

Hi Vetrivelu! To my knowledge, there are no part-time opportunities in the monastery or the small city of Dali. If you want to stay long-term in the area, the easiest option is to teach English in Kunming. Then you can do something like 6 months on / 6 months off between Kunming and Dali.

Reply
Aditya Arya
July 3, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Hi Joseph,
I’m very impressed from your story. Sorry to ask similar question again which has already been asked. I won’t be getting any invitation letter so should I apply for tourist visa or study visa. There are two study visas for upto 180 days(F and X1). One more thing, like you said to show bookings of couple of nights for visa facilitation. Well, I intent to go for 6 months so how can I show them itenary for 6 months as I won’t be getting any invitation letter not I’ll be staying in any hotel. Kindly help me in getting this cleared.

Reply
Joseph Pidala
July 3, 2019 at 4:41 pm

Thank you Aditya! Please ask all the questions you have! You should apply for a tourist visa, and you are correct, there is no invitation letter. US, UK, Canadian, and Argentine citizens can apply for a 10-year tourist visa, which is what I have.

As for the itinerary, all the consulate asks for is your flight information and where you will be staying. So, first book your one-way flight to Dali and a room at the Jade Emu hostel for a few nights. Then, book a cheap one-way flight out of China about six weeks after your flight in – you will not be taking this flight, hence why it should be cheap.

Most countries require you to have a flight out of the country to get a visa, although there is nothing restricting you from not taking that flight ๐Ÿ˜‰ Just make sure you are following the rules of the visa you are approved for. You may have to do a “border run.” A border run is when you leave the country and come right back in to reset the time on your visa. I have an article about a border run here: http://www.josephpidala.com/jumping-the-border/

Please let me know if you have any other questions or if I can clarify further!

Reply
Aditya Arya
July 19, 2019 at 9:01 am

Thanks Joseph for the quick reply and for letting me know about “border run” which is new to me :-). I was hesitant in the beginning to ask more questions but it is so kind of you to allow me to clear my doubts.

I have few more queries-

I’m from India and we don’t have favorable options available to other citizens. After a thorough research I came up with two options as per my budget.

First, Submit an application to any nearby school which has an online procedure. They might be charging $100 or something in exchange for supporting documents like (Admission Letter). Once I get my visa approved, then I can opt for not attending that school and instead visiting wu wei monastery. However, in this scenario I ‘m not sure if I’ll be required a JW form for my visa, and if yes then will that dummy school can provide one?

Second, If not the first way then I can go for a tourist visa but maximum stay would be (30 days) single/multiple entry. Here I need to show confirm flight tickets, Hotel bookings and itinerary. However, in this scenario I don’t have option for multiple entry, not atleast for the first time and primarily it attracts more costs.

Kindly let me know the best way to proceed and thanks for your engagement.

Reply
Joseph
July 20, 2019 at 8:28 am

Of course! Any questions are welcome. Unfortunately though, I don’t know about the process for a student visa in China.

If you go the tourist visa route, you will need “proof of onward travel” when you arrive at the airport in China. For this, you can buy a throw-away ticket. After you are in the Yunnan province, the major city in Kunming. I do not know the requirements for India so you will have to look up the details, but there are two options to look into. First, see if you can extend or renew your visa in Kunming after the thirty days. Second, search forums around the internet for border runs from Kunming to Vietnam or Laos. Typically when you cross land borders, you are not asked for proof of onward travel.

Let me know what you come up with!

Reply
Adam Karse
January 9, 2019 at 11:23 am

Hello Joseph, your story is quite amazing. I have a goal of becoming a trainer in shaolin style and training at a monastery is the ideal location. Would the monks allow me to live at the monastery for over a year? Also, do they teach any of the famed animal styles like monkey fist?

Reply
Joseph
January 13, 2019 at 1:59 pm

Thank you Adam! I know someone that lived there for over six months so I would guess you can stay as long as you wish! About the famed animal styles, haha, I’m not sure. You will have to ask when you get there!

Reply
Aya Gawish
January 1, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Hey, great post ๐Ÿ™‚
Is it okay if I go on Monday for example? Will I be able to stay until next Monday or do I have to leave on Friday?
Also do you think I could go by bike from Dali?

Reply
Joseph
January 13, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Hi Aya! Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ You can arrive any day of the week, no problem. They expect you to stay at least seven days, so yes, the next Monday. The monastery is up a steep hill so I would not recommend biking. You can easily take a taxi most of the way or walk. Good luck!

Reply
Jemma
December 27, 2018 at 4:56 am

Hello. I’m so grateful you posted this, thanks! Can you let me know if women are allowed? Also, is there any cost to stay? And lastly, can you arrive and leave on days that aren’t Friday? Thanks!!

Reply
Joseph
December 28, 2018 at 10:56 pm

Hi Jemma! Yes, women are allowed, and the monastery asks for a small donation when you arrive. If I remember correctly, it was $70 USD for a week. This includes your room, food, and training! And lastly, yes, you can arrive and leave on any day! They ask only that you commit to at least seven days of training. Let me know if you have any other questions! ๐Ÿ™‚

Reply
coty t emerson
December 21, 2018 at 6:49 pm

Hi Joseph!

My wife and I plan on going to Wu Weu Si but we are nervous maybe too many people have heard about it and that it may be full when we arrive. How many outsiders were there and did it seem to be filling up or do you think we won’t be turned away? We plan on going Jan or Feb 2019 for at least one month. Also if we are turned away have you heard of any other monastery that is as amazing as this one and not being run as a business?
Loved the website entry on this and thank you so much for your time, have a wonderful day.

Coty Emerson

Reply
Joseph
December 28, 2018 at 11:04 pm

Hi Coty! I would not worry about the monastery being full or being turned away. While I was there, there was a guy who had been there for six months, and he said there were a lot of weeks when he was the only one there. I think he said the most he ever saw was 12, and it was usually around five people staying at any given time. And, unfortunately, Wu Wei Si is the only monastery I know of that has not yet been turned into a business.

Reply
Adam Karse
January 10, 2019 at 6:11 pm

Hey Jospeh, in regards to the gentlemen who stayed at the monastery for 6 months. Would it be possible for someone to stay there for a year and half? I am hoping to become an instructor in shaolin style and this seems like the perfect place to do so. Is there anyway at all to contact the monks and ask? Also last time you were there, was the going rate $50 a week USD?

Reply
Joseph
January 13, 2019 at 2:02 pm

Hi Adam! I think you could stay there for as long as you want! There is no way to contact the monastery; that’s what makes it special. ๐Ÿ™‚ When I went, they asked for a donation of around $70 USD per week. Let me know if you have any other questions!

Reply
Jade
November 12, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Hi Joseph,

Great article! I’m planning on going this winter. How did you go about getting a Chinese visa? From what Iโ€™ve read, in order to get a tourist visa you either need an invitation from someone in China or proof of hotel reservations for your whole trip. Since thereโ€™s no way to book your stay at the temple in advance, how did you handle that? I’m worried Iโ€™ll be denied for a visa since I donโ€™t have an invitation or reservation.

Reply
Joseph
November 13, 2018 at 6:24 am

Hi Jade! The Chinese visa is very easy to get, at least as an American citizen; I’m not sure about other countries. All you have to do is bring the required documents to your closest Chinese consulate.

Consulate Locations:
http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zmzlljs/t84229.htm

Required Documents:
http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/hrsq/

After the visit, it took about three days, and I came back to pick up my passport with the visa inside!

For the address, all you have to do is book a couple nights at the Jade Emu Hostel, and write their address! I recommend exploring Dali for a few days as it’s a beautiful little city.

As another tip, it’s possible to get a 10-year visa even though it’s not listed on the application form. Here is a link that explains it: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/10-years.htm

Let me know if you have any more questions! ๐Ÿ™‚

Reply
Jade
December 17, 2018 at 12:12 pm

Thanks so much for the advice ๐Ÿ™‚ I managed to get my visa! I’m guessing there isn’t any wifi at the monastery? Did you have any issues with getting cellphone service? (I’m sure my family’s going to want me to let them know how I’m doing!)

Reply
Joseph
December 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm

You’re very welcome Jade! Congrats on the visa! There is no wifi at the monastery, but the “tea man” is not too far away. He is super friendly and speaks a bit of English, and you can use his wifi. I wouldn’t bother with a cell phone provider. I recommend installing ExpressVPN on your phone and using Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to contact friends and family. Let me know if you have any other questions! I’m excited for you!

Reply
Jade
December 24, 2018 at 10:06 am

Thanks so much for the help! ๐Ÿ™‚

Joseph
December 28, 2018 at 10:53 pm

You’re welcome Jade! ๐Ÿ™‚

Babak
October 24, 2018 at 7:16 am

Hi Joseph, im planning to leave in 2 weeks, is there anything special about the trip i should think about? greatful for answer

Reply
Joseph
October 26, 2018 at 4:32 am

Great to meet you Babak! You are going to have an amazing time! Here is some additional advice:

  • There is no training at the monastery on Fridays so I recommend arriving on a Friday to settle in.
  • If you have extra time, definitely explore the city of Dali. I wrote about it here: http://www.josephpidala.com/2018/05/23/life-in-small-town-china/
  • I recommend the Jade Emu Guesthouse when staying in Dali. The staff knows where the monastery is and can help you get there.
  • Download ExpressVPN before you arrive in China and install it on your phone/computer if you bring one. China blocks most websites.
  • Download the WeChat app on your phone before you go. China uses this app for literally everything.
  • And lastly, take a look at my recommended packing list! http://www.josephpidala.com/2018/05/03/life-out-of-a-backpack/

Please do not hesitate if you have any more questions!
Ami Tuo Fo

Reply
Mary Sholtis
June 10, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Amazing experience, Joseph!! Looking forward to your next post!

Reply
Joseph
September 25, 2018 at 4:00 am

Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

Reply
John
June 3, 2018 at 9:49 am

What an awesome experience, I really enjoyed your story. I hope you found what you were looking for, and good luck with the next phase of your life!

Reply
Joseph
September 25, 2018 at 4:01 am

Thank you! It will always be a journey.

Reply

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