China: Shaolin Temple’s Secret Training Camp

China: Shaolin Temple’s Secret Training Camp

Shaolin Monastery. Built deep in the heart of the Song Mountains in Henan province over 1500 years ago. It is home to the elusive Kung Fu warrior monks the Chinese equivalent of America’s cowboys with almost superhuman fighting skills. But unlike most Hollywood settings, Shaolin Kung Fu is real. Though the temple itself has been destroyed and rebuilt time and time again. Shaolin is now a major corporation and its head monk is the CEO. They make millions off tourism every year. Some come to worship. Others dream of becoming
Kung Fu warriors themselves. Even Westerners aren’t immune. The monks make a killing selling certified
sacred Shaolin fruit, honey, and nuts. But all those tourists are missing the most
interesting thing about Shaolin. Nobody notices the steady trickle of monks
disappearing around the corner behind the temple. They’re heading for a run-down village. Filled with… children. Young boys, mostly. Living in boarding schools. It’s a real-life Chinese Hogwarts for aspiring young martial artists. Some start as young as five years old. The goal? To achieve supernatural powers and supreme wisdom expressed through Shaolin Kung Fu. But the reality isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds. They get up at 5AM and run for miles
before the sun comes up each day. Only then do they start to train. Among the 20,000 Chinese students I find one young foreigner. A 14-year-old Vietnamese boy called Fam un Vung. He read about Shaolin when he was 10 and convinced his parents to bring him here. Like Harry Potter, Fam un Vung is very much an outsider. While his classmates are hanging out together Fung finds other things to do. But even if you’re popular, life is not easy here. They train relentlessly 7 days a week. Every square inch of level ground is prime workout real estate. And there are no ninja fighting sticks or mystical techniques. Just dirt, sweat, cement, and a thousand repetitions. Shaolin Kung Fu gets passed on orally from master to disciple. There are over 700 series of movements, though most students only learn the most popular 72. Their sensei is more than just a trainer he’s a father to these kids. The only break they get is when it rains and the training grounds become unusable. Meals are healthy and vegetarian. Served out of buckets and into bowls. And wolfed down in huge quantities. They bathe and brush their teeth in the alley out back and sleep in crowded dorm rooms and do lots and lots of chores. Though they do get to relax from time to time and just hang out. Their energy is bottomless. They share everything from bicycles to roller blades. There’s the other one. But the truth about these boarding schools
is even more surprising. Shaolin, I find out, is where
juvenile delinquents get sent. It’s a boot camp for problem kids. The teachers deliberately work them half to death. Channeling their aggressions Teaching them absolute obedience. And Buddhist moral values. They recite the Shaolin code of honor before every meal and spend hours listening to
long lectures several nights a week. It seems to work. They’re bone tired but they barely twitch. Phung soaks up every word. For entertainment they’re allowed the occasional singalong. They sure don’t look like bad boys to me. They all dream of becoming movie stars or at least getting a place on the famous
Shaolin Temple performing Kung Fu team. Most will eventually become policemen, or join the military. With one exception.

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About the Author: Sam Caldwell


  1. Excellent video. I was just there in October and saw the Temple and that same village just up the mountain. We toured another school that was founded by a Monk who since moved to my city and started a school here. It was very similar to this one. You really captured it well!

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