Shaolin Warrior Training

The video below is a 90 minute documentary dedicated to Shaolin Kung Fu. Several training exercises and tremendous physical displays are captured throughout the film. Anyone with interest in physical training and the martial arts will be amazed at the abilities displayed throughout.

As you will see, there is no denying the remarkable skills that these martial artists possess. Their physical abilities are far beyond what most are accustomed to in today’s world. Even the children of Shaolin will often perform physical feats that most grown men could only dream of doing.

Unfortunately, despite the amazing talent and ability, Shaolin Kung Fu remains a topic that is rarely discussed. When discussing training strategies today, the conversation will often shift towards supplements, diet plans, equipment, recent studies, and new certification programs. Such discussions are often led by new school trainers who could not perform a fraction of what you’ll see demonstrated by the Shaolin warriors.

Ironically, many of today’s modern trainers are quick to diss and dismiss the training strategies that were developed by ancient martial artists. Modern trainers constantly seek to reinvent a wheel that they could never roll in the first place. I couldn’t tell you how many newsletters my email address has been added to by trainers who promise each week to deliver the latest and greatest exercise secrets. Whatever they claim is best today will be outdone by what is promised tomorrow. It is a never ending cycle of untested garbage that pollutes email addresses around the world.

Meanwhile, those at the Shaolin Monastery thrive with techniques that were developed centuries ago. They don’t waste time arguing online about optimal training strategies. They already know what works. They don’t need to make up exercises week after week in an attempt to attract more believers. Instead, they can validate their methods at any time with nothing more than a brief display.

Now as I state these words, please don’t confuse my message. I am not suggesting that we all take up residence at the Shaolin Monastery. Instead, I simply remind you that our generation is not the first to be educated and informed. There is plenty to learn from those who came before us. Rather than rushing to improve on the past, first take the time to learn it. Whether you have interest in Shaolin Kung Fu or not, there is plenty to learn by observing their practitioners in action. They do not train to sell you on their methodologies. They train to improve with techniques that have stood the test of time. Simple observation of such methods will offer ample knowledge in return.

Studying the film above and others like it will be time well invested.


“Wisdom comes by disillusionment.” – George Santayana

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  1. Great post. As a long time practioner of the martial arts, I have always been baffled by all the “new” styles of martial arts manifesting as some strange derivative like “Black Tiger Kung Fu”, all short-lived and all but forgotten.

    Your analogy of reinventing a wheel they could never roll is quite poignant and perfectly describes the constant marketing push for some secret fitness or weight loss short cut. Thanks for articulating this idea so simply and concisely.

    It’s editorials like these that keep me coming back.

  2. Ross, I will shock you now.

    I have lived there, together with hundreds of chinese people and YOU are the reason I have not been injured, together with Pavel Tsatsouline. Their methods are insane. Their training is insane. People sit on you while you are screaming in pain, just to get you into a split. People think strength training is unnecessary, then they put someone on your back and tell you to squat.

    People get hurt there every day. you train 42 hours a week. Wake up at 5.40 and get to training at 6 AM. 4 lessons every day.

    Ross, I really don’t want to disappoint you, but rather wow you. Of the thousand people in the Shaolin school I was in, you have seen one in five with debilitating injuries. Only those who survive this will go on the shows and be presented. The monks have become an attraction. And I needed help at the time. I bought your whole package together with DVDs when I was home, because your training saved me from the fate of other foreigners: Getting hurt because of stupid training.

    I have been told to train two days after 40°C fever. I have been told that if I have pain in my joints, I should kick a wall, because I can forget the pain and focus my qi. I have been told that you need someone to sit on you to get into splits and that the excruciating pain that made me and friends scream in a way that I have never experienced pain before, is an awesome way to get into a split.

    I did my strength training with your NG, didnt get hurt anymore. I read Pavel’s books on stretching and managed to get into a split just to be good enough that no one sits on me anymore.

    Ross, I really appreciate your work. And trust me, I lived there for one year: These guys are crazy.

    For those that made the experience, I can only say “Gong fu, ma ma di.” And when you are screaming in pain “Bu kai liao kou.”

    Best wishes from Germany

  3. A lot of the things demonstrated in this video are actually beyond just the physical. Like feeling no pain when getting kicked down there, being immune to knives, breaking chopsticks with your throat etc. a lot of these feats are technically not physically possible. Point is, no matter how much you condition your body, a knife is a knife and you can still get stabbed. But yet we see a monk literally balancing his stomach on a razor sharp spear.

    Through my understanding these things are possible via the ability to control Ki/Chi/bio-electricity/life force energy (there are dozens of terms) throughout the body and having the ability to concentrate and accumulate that energy for instance in the throat (so you can break those chopsticks for example). It sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo but this energy is there whether you believe it or not. We are using this energy without even knowing it and if we weren’t we would not be alive. Over time we just forgot how to harness this energy and what we see in the shaolin video is just one aspect of how it can be used, there are many other uses of course.

    Science is also slowly catching up to explain this phenomena especially when you look into quantum mechanics as there is an uncanny relationship there that needs to be looked into further. We can also now see this ‘mysterious chi energy’ via special photography such as Kirlian photography.

    There is a lot I want to share but this is a fitness site so it wouldn’t make much sense going to too much detail here. However if you found the shaolin video interesting then I advise you to check these videos out:–byix2qk

    You won’t be disappointed I promise. (btw be careful as there are a lot of fake videos out there)

    Frank Taeger your post is also interesting. No offense, but perhaps you didn’t have the prerequisites to progress smoothly? I have no doubt though that the training is intense and it’s clear that they don’t work on an individual basis. And if your fitness + ability isn’t already at a superior level then I personally would expect that kind of treatment especially if you were struggling with something like the splits. To them this is a simple matter so I really question why you even trained there without making sure you were fully capable?

  4. I showed this article and video to my friend Master Paul Chau, I hope you get to connect with him one day as you both have much in common.

    Here is a video I pulled from his youtube channel where he is a living model here in Canada of what you talk about.

    He also has two sons who are both boxing champions, and a whole stable of gold medal MMA and Jiu Jitsu champions.

  5. Amazing. Old Schooled seldom wasted time on reinventing the wheel.Shaolin trains the mind most, to withstand the physical pain throughout the journey.

  6. This old documentary has been discussed extensively, because its more like a foreign politics strategy than a real document of chinese martial arts.

    Take for example the poor old hai monk doing what directors tell him to do…

    I think there are real great excercises showed in the video,and fake-dangerous-puppetry moves to show off, you just have to be careful to not confuse them.

  7. Hi Abdul,

    I was physically capable. Definitely, no worries. And I think it stands to say that I am one of the few of my group that has not been injured.

    My Shifu, Zhao Shifu, actually did most of the feats I have seen up there. I have done a few feats myself and a foreigner friend of mine has almost done all of them.
    Let me just say this: You DO feel pain. They all feel pain. Excruciating pain, actually. But it is something they have learned to completely internalize, it is impossible to see it on their faces. But when the guys come out of the show, you see their bruises. You see how the stick has created a red mark on Xie’s back. You see how they jump around trying to throw the pain away.

    I have utmost respect for these young fighters.

    Almost all of the feats ARE humanly possible. I can explain them to you, if you wish.
    the chopsticks and spear in your throat, I have done myself. They are very dangerous to learn, because you need utmost precision and perfection to not get hurt. You start by sticking a spear into a certain point and slow applying more and more pressure every day. At some point, you get used to the pain and the damaged area hardens. You can use a finger and follow it on your neck downwards. Try to apply hard pressure to two points: Anywhere on your neck within the reach of the Adam’s apple. You are likely going to stop because of going, getting unconscious or knowing that this is stupid. And then seek a point directly below your neck, directly where your chest starts. You will find a small bone cavity. Apply strong pressure with your index finger there, try to push against it. It hurts, but it feels strong. THAT is the right point. It is easy breaking things with this, if you put a few years of training into finding the right place, hardening the area to form a real cavity for spear and chopstick (In China, they tend to apply the spear pressure in a way that leaves blue marks and internal scar tissue, which hardens the regions). After a year, you can find a wushu spear and bend it. I do of course not take any responsibility for you trying 😉

    Still, although all of these are circus and parlor tricks, the training for them is very, very hard.
    You mentioned the knife feats. Sometimes there are monks lying on scimitars or Dao knives, which have been used to cut cucumbers before. And believe me, those are sharp.

    The trainee needs to be perfect for this to work. first of all, he cannot lie on any one sword, he could cut his skin. He needs to perfectly balance himself on the two swords and keep pressure off of them at the same time. The spiked board is not necessary, but it has an interesting function: Providing stiff enough resistance to break the stone. The stone put on this spiked board is a normal stone board. Then comes the magic trick: The perfect hammer swing. If the guy with the hammer fails the perfect swing, his colleague (Or colleagues, if there is another guy on the spike board) will get injured. I have seen this, not pretty those cuts on the back of a young man, although he laughed it off. By striking the stoneboard with precision and stopping the hammer in a way that its velocity is stopped the moment it hits the stone board, the force does not travel downwards but enters the stone and then disperses. It breaks with minimal force downwards. Like that punch you want to stop in your opponents face so the force wreaks havok on his brain and knocks him out.

    If Ross allows, I have some more anecdotes for this discussion. After spending years in asia, I do not believe in qi anymore and from my understanding of quantum physics, I am quite sure that if it ever supports a theory of qi, we have no measure of controlling this underlying energy in our means.

    But I give my utmost respect to the physical feats of my chinese gongfu brothers. We have gone through this hardship together and it changed my life in ways that I do now know what “Hard” training means. It means pain, depression and an indomitable will to seek out this pain day and day again. And growing with it. Ignoring injury, ignoring naysayers. And it led me to two silver medals, so why not? I then went down to Thailand, learned Muay thai, got my ass kicked by the thai fighters every time and learnt that there is still more to learn. It is very valuable and one of the most influential experiences in my life. Even without qi 😉

  8. Frank Taeger I appreciate the lengthy response.

    First of all I for one know that the human body is incredible in the sense that even if you exclude ‘qi’ energy from the equation I wouldn’t be too surprised if all those feats were accomplished via physical means (note I did mention ‘technically’ in my first post so I wasn’t in denial of the possibility).

    However, I did make the assumption that there must have been heavy emphasis not only on physical training but also on meditation/spiritual practices to develop the ability to make use of qi and use this ability to perform those ‘impossible feats’. From what your saying though it seems as though the concept of ‘qi’ isn’t really being considered here and everything from your point of view seems to be just from the result physical conditioning, or specific techniques/tricks to make it work…

    Going back to the chopstick example, just so we are on the same page the ‘qi’ concept that I had explained is demonstrated by this guy (plus the guys name is also frank ^_^):
    He too can break chopsticks with the soft part of his throat but he claims in the documentary that he does not achieve this through physical strength/conditioning but rather through the use of qi.

    This Frank guy in the video does admit though that he is not exactly in good shape and his habits (smoking, eating etc) are not so good either but through the harnessing of qi energy he claims to be in good health. I always thought that the Shaolin Warriors try to perfect both the physical training and certain aspects of spiritual training (such as qi) to allow them to excel at what they do.

    Know that I really do value your experience it’s just this absence of ‘qi’ training isn’t what I was expecting.

    And to be honest ‘qi’ is not what most people think it is. It’s really not some mysterious energy that cannot be detected in anyway it refers to a specific frequency or a set of frequencies of energy. And ‘energy’ can literally be described as vibrations. Everything is in a state of vibration even the very basic building block of everything – the atom. And yet the atom is 99.9% empty (no joke look it up) as atoms are essentially made up of invisible energy not tangible matter. This means that the world is really made up endless variations of vibrations (of energy). Whether anyone believes it or not is not my problem but this is basically what quantum mechanics (on a very basic level) is based on and this is without even looking into all the more complex theories which further reinforces similar eastern philosophical ‘ideas’ many of which are actually bridging the gap between spirituality and science. Everything is interconnected really and it’s a shame to see subjects isolated from one another. (sorry I’m getting off topic).

    Anyway thanks for sharing your story, I would like to hear more if your willing.

  9. Mike, I would have run as fast as I could. In my time, they did not practice this stuff, but they DID talk about it a lot, which was primarily a way to make fun of the foreigners who would piss their pants thinking the monk in front of you might tell him to please receive a kick in the nuts now and focus his qi there.

    Abdul, I really get what you are saying, since this was my thinking before my journeys in Asia.
    What I have found is a very rigorous, ultra tough physical training practice, where you are taught to withstand pain, move with perfection, strengthen your physical body and develop an indomitable will to finish what you start. An anecdote about that later.

    First of all, we have a misconception in the West what qi training means for Chinese in general. The methods the Shaolin Monks follow up to this day, have been designed to strengthen their physical bodies to withstand the perils of day long meditations. Bodhidharma/Daruma, or Da Mo, as he is called in China, designed them to strengthen the monks for the pains they were enduring. Strengthening the physical body is what is training qi: Developing the will to train your body, make it harder, make it stronger, swifter, more limber. To create a training practice that is so hard, that your mind overcomes the limitations of your physical body and pushes it beyond the humanly thought possible.

    A body like that, with a will like that, will have more “qi” flowing than the body of someone only meditating. It also goes in line with the teachings of Da Mo, who has spent nine years meditating in a cave according to legend.

    In Asian contexts, the training of qi has a very small role in most arts (Except those that are explicitly designed to “develop qi” like some Southern Soft Styles.) The physical training of the body and the development of your willpower through the hardships of training are the spiritual component that the asian teacher wishes to teach his student. You will hardly find a shaolin monk that will teach you any spirituality. They always say something along the lines of “Yes, the path and your mind is very important” but hardly give direct advice. If you understand that Shaolin is Chan Buddhism, which is actually connected to Zen Buddhism, you will find the same way of teaching. Your teacher will readily acknowledge your understanding, but he will never teach you. He will put you in situations that are designed for you to learn, but you have to actually learn on your own. (Something incredibly frustrating for Westerners :D)

    And that is the disconnect between the Westernized understanding of spirituality in martial arts: The Asian master will train you and grind you to the ground let you experience what he wants to teach you. The Western teacher will try to teach and talk about qi a lot, how your mind is important. While the western teacher is more likely to talk to you about methods of willpower, the shaolin shifu will put you in a squat, put a cup on your hands, your head and your quads and say “Okay, stay strong, no move, concentrate, ok?.” When you find a way to align your breath, when you start to find a way to use the pain as a focal point for concentration, he will simply say “Huh! Strong! GOOD!” If you fail, he might say something along the lines “Breathing, strong mind important, ah!”

    The promised anecdote:
    I was one of the students that attended their training pretty long, about a year. So when I was about to leave, they told me I had to have an exam. Not like in history, where I have to fight everyone to leave, but show what I have learnt in front of all teachers. So I stood, together with a Swiss friend of mine, in front of an audience of about 30 studens and all five shifus along with our master. My shifu decided that to demonstrate his teaching ability to the master, I should do a a Southern fist form he taught me. Needless to say, I was not very good at that form, it contained many movements I was not yet proficient with, while I was very proficient with another form I would have rather shown. So, I went before them and the exam was stressful. They wanted non stop demonstrations of all movements they had ever taught to us and our hearts were beating like a gatling gun. So when my turn came, I demonstrated the Nan Quan form as was asked of me, although I was at my physical limit, one or two minutes into the form I noticed my movements slowing down, strength fading. But, this was an exam. I finished the form, a little slower and less powerful than perfect, but at least I kept the movements clean. I bowed before the five teachers, left the scene and my Swiss friend was in line. I went to the next window, puked out of it, felt like I was gonna die. Three minutes later, I grabbed my sword and went for the next form, a Chen Taiji sword form the same Shifu had shown me designed to learn swift movements with a chinese short straight sword.

    After the exam was over, the teachers marked me. I didnt get that great markings, since I was a little slow and not proficient. Then they all laughed and asked me to come. They gave me a certificate and told me “Huh, Frank, you know, movement not so important. This all for spirit. When you finish form, stay strong, not move face, that Shaolin spirit. We give you A+ for spirit. You understand that, stay strong spirit, ok?” And they kept laughing for a while.

    I remember that moment vividly, because it marked the difference between western and asian understanding of training. The ridiculous overtraining the chinese did, was basically meant to bring your body to the brink of exhaustion. To develop the spirit through incredible hardship. I think that was when I understood why they rarely talked about spirituality. Their understanding of spiritual development was tied to the most intense physical discomfort you could learn to take.

    And that reminds me of Rocky “Nothing hits harder than life. But it is how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”

    I think I learned that the hard way. But I will never forget it. That is why anyone asking me about qi or spirituality is nowadays put on one of Ross finishers or the interval challenge. It teaches humility in twenty minutes 😀

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