Shaolin Trips: Flashback
by Gene Ching
There's an unearthly silence following a campout music festival. Perhaps it's the contrast. Music festivals are loud - loud music, loud people - everything is loud. Contrast amplifies the quiet when it's over. We had been working onsite for five days and four nights. It was a beautiful venue, a stony river surrounded by old-growth redwoods. After the thousands of music fans, hippies, eco-nomads, party hounds, frat boys and assorted ragamuffins left, the surroundings slowly returned to their natural peacefulness and serenity. I remained behind as part of a four-man psychiatric and medical clean-up crew, there to help just in case anyone got left behind. Our team comprised two old friends and show veterans, nicknamed Legbone and Diamond Dave, and a brand-new recruit who I later dubbed Black Peter out of our mutual love of the Grateful Dead. We were all exhausted from a long weekend of intense work, music and partying. As the crowd filtered out, we were looking forward to a relaxing day of peace and quiet by the riverside. It was not to be.
A patron had a complete psychotic break. Drugs probably triggered it. We got the call from the few remaining site crew about a naked incoherent man at the south end of the river. We hopped in our little club cart, which wasn't really designed for traversing river rocks, and made our way there. We spotted him immediately. It's hard to miss a large naked man running amok in any environment. Besides, there was no one else but him and us. He was on a sand bank on the other side of the river, just one stumble away from tripping and cracking his skull open on a rock. We jumped into the water to cross the river and rescue him.
Legend says that Bodhidharma, the symbolic founder of Zen and Shaolin kung fu, crossed the Yangtze River on a reed. If only we had a reed. Instead, we waded in and made a beeline towards the naked man, which took us straight through the deepest part with the strongest current. If we had thought about it, we would have forded somewhere a little shallower. It had been a rainy spring so the summer river was high. As soon as we stepped into the water, Legbone cried out, "I'm hurt! I have to go back! Go on!" We didn't know what he was talking about as he limped back to the cart. I was the shortest at 5' 8" - everyone else was well over six feet - and the water rose to my nipples. We had to carry our gear - radios and medikits - over our heads as we negotiated the current and the slippery algae-covered rocks beneath. I was reminded of images of Vietnam, when soldiers carried their rifles overhead to ford swamps. It took all of my stance training to make it across without dropping my gear in the drink.
But we were too late. As we reached the sandbank, the patient dove into the river. He was leaping like a salmon and flailing madly. Diamond Dave, a former swim instructor, dove in after him. The current swept them downstream and Dave yelled to us to meet them at the bridge. The bridge was at the north end, hundreds of meters downstream from where we were. As Black Peter collected everyone's gear, I worked my way back across the river (at a shallower place) to the cart. Legbone was in the cart, busy bandaging his toe. He was wearing sandals and his foot slipped between the rocks, tearing his big toenail off. He was in a lot of pain. I tried to drive the cart quickly yet smoothly to the bridge, but it was made for golf courses, not rocks, and Legbone winced in agony at every bump.
When we arrived, Dave was shepherding the patient as best as he could down the river. I jumped back into the water slightly downstream and assumed a catcher's pose. Some of the remaining security crew joined us, but it was a crazy scene and everyone was strung out from exhaustion, so they weren't eager to jump in with us. About twenty feet away from me, Dave managed to secure a decent hold on the patient, sort of a back hug. I came in from the side to control the patient's dominant arm. The patient was wet and extremely slippery. He was slightly pudgy too, making it even harder to secure a hold, never mind those slick algae-covered rocks and the swift current.
My bread-and-butter restraint technique is straight out of the standard Shaolin form xiaohongquan. In Shaolin Gong Fu - A Course in Traditional Forms (the most common text for standardized Shaolin terms in English), the move is on page 55 and goes by the unwieldy name of "Erect an arm while shrinking the body." It occurs again, in mirror image, on page 60. There it is called "Insert a fist downward with a right T-stance." Some Shaolin practitioners argue that this is a slightly different move, and a keen observer will notice that the downward fist is positioned differently between the two techniques, but I've never taken that book to be the end-all authority on Shaolin; it's more of a reference. And in application, I don't quibble over the details. I've modified the technique so it won't dislocate the elbow, but the general mechanics are the same.
It's funny where your mind goes in moments of mayhem. I've maintained a daily Shaolin practice for years, both meditation and martial arts, to be completely in the moment for just such an emergency. And yet, when such times come, the weaknesses in my discipline appear, and it's very hard to stay focused. My mind wanted to retreat to someplace safer. I was thinking about all those MMA proselytizers that always say "all fights go to the ground" and "standing locks are useless." You can't go to the ground when the ground is river rocks that are over a yard underwater. As we worked to get the patient to shore, it struck me how painfully unimaginative those platitudes were. Here I was, applying a technique from a traditional Shaolin form to its fullest, in a real live situation, soaking wet. It was all so absurd.
It was Black Peter who snapped me back into the moment. He caught up to us and joined some of the security people who were helping us get to shore. Black Peter turned to me and said, "This is intense!" with such a gleam in his eyes that I knew we would be lifelong friends from then onward. Nothing bonds like surviving a mutual moment of madness. We've been comrades on these odd rescue missions ever since. I kept my "Erect an arm while shrinking the body" hold as others came in to help. Dave did most of the heavy lifting. He had swum several hundred yards in that swift current, plus he had been on site longer than any of us. Even though he's not into martial arts, Dave is tough as a diamond. We managed to get the patient safely to the riverbank, and we stayed with him until the ambulance arrived.
Submitted for your approval is the above fragment - one of the many episodes that didn't make it into my book, Shaolin Trips. Diamond Dave and Black Peter, along with hundreds of others, were cut from my final draft. Legbone actually made it in for a different reason entirely, which was fitting because - of the three - he's the only martial brother (but not a kung fu brother, as he studied escrima for a spell). You'll find Legbone on page 40. I started Shaolin Trips as a blog of sorts, to express some personal Shaolin experiences that just wouldn't fit anywhere else. The first installment began with an acid trip, so it's fitting that this epilogue begin with a psychotic break.
The river rescue happened in 2005 (which would have fit somewhere in Chapter 15 of my book), the year I stopped going to Shaolin. I've been publishing articles about Shaolin Temple since my first pilgrimage there in 1995 and had planned to collate them into a book that year too. I figured a decade was long enough to get it together. But it was a distracting year, as evidenced by the naked man episode in the raging river. In the years that followed, my Shaolin research just kept piling up. I desperately needed to finish the book before I drowned in my own research. Finally, in 2010, only a half decade late, I managed to publish Shaolin Trips.
At 669 pages, Shaolin Trips ended up much longer than I had anticipated. There was plenty of material like the aforementioned fragment that had to be excised for brevity. In fact, while I had envisioned four sections to the book, I had to drop one of them. Shaolin Trips is divided into three sections: Trips, Monks and Masters. The fourth section that I dropped, Methods, was to be about the forms of Shaolin. Like the other three sections, it would have had eighteen chapters (to keep my work numerologically consistent with the Shaolin penchant for the number eighteen). As I was finishing the first section, which was already 354 pages, I knew I had to abandon the Methods section if I was to ever get Shaolin Trips finished. I'm not sure that I will revisit what I had planned for the Methods section, but if you'll indulge me, here's a tease of what might have been - an ode to one of my favorite Shaolin forms, xiaohongquan.
Xiaohongquan: The Small Vast Fist
There's a lot of disregard for classical forms nowadays but I'm still a devout forms practitioner. I'm a Shaolin disciple. Shaolin sutras are woven into our classical forms. I love forms. In doing so, I hear that old Bruce Lee quote, "In memory of a once fluid man crammed and distorted by the classical mess," all the time. Lately, this sentiment has found new fervor, but long-time traditionalists remember Lee's Jeet Kune Do assaults in the '70s, and scholars find similar criticisms that go back centuries. Truth be told, I wasn't very fluid to start. Some people are naturally fluid. I was naturally awkward. As a kid, I was always one of the last to get picked for a P.E. team in elementary school. It wasn't until I'd studied kung fu that I'd garnered any fluidity. Back when I endured that agonizing humiliation of being the last one picked, I never would have dreamed that I would grow to become an NCAA athlete in college. I have classical forms to thank for that, which is one of many reasons why I love them so.
Forms practice pervades the traditional martial arts. Prior to motion pictures, the only way to transmit the dynamics of martial arts was to collate them into forms. It was only a few decades ago when we couldn't watch slow-motion high-definition replays. Static books can only go so far to describe movement. We had to pass arts down from warm hand to warm hand. Even with the accessibility of home video, forms are no more obsolete today than guitar is obsolete with the invention of Guitar Hero.
The criticism that forms are "just dancing" comes from a cultural ignorance. Martial arts have been interwoven with dancing for centuries. Beyond the obvious martial dances like Capoeira and the Wai Khru Ram of Muay Thai, many traditional folk dances (as well as tribal war dances on every continent) contain stick, quarterstaff and sword techniques. Martial forms and dancing are expressions of the spirit. Both are subtler methods for the transfer of combat skills and potentially more sublime. Movement has its own language and vocabulary. It also has its own wisdom. Most of all, it has its own Zen. To poach that classic quote of dubious origins, "Writing about movement is like dancing about architecture." Indeed, forms and dancing are the architecture of movement.
Studying forms is a lot like studying classical music. To learn a classical art, you must struggle to flawlessly imitate the master. A classical pianist studies Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart. Through imitation, you might understand the structure of their masterpieces. A DJ might argue that it's too cumbersome. Just learn to spin vinyl and you can keep the party bumping. Just create your own style of mixology. Skip over the classical mess. Of course, classical music appeals to a completely different audience. The classical method is the long route because it encompasses cultural history. This makes it a lot harder. Classical styles are more cultured and formal. Granted, that can be a cramming and distorting crowd, a "classical mess" for mavericks like Bruce Lee, but he is an outlier. I doubt Lee was ever picked last for a P.E. team. Can you imagine? "I'll take Sammo." "I'll take Jackie." "Aww, we got stuck with noisy Bruce kid, the one who always screams 'wataaaah!'" No martial artist can claim Bruce Lee's iconic status. A 60+ foot tall statute of Bruce has been erected in Shunde, China. Who else has that? Bruce rose above the classical mess quickly. Even then, his comment must be taken in context. Lee's foundation was in classical wing chun. He had an understanding of classical before he created his own art of Jeet Kune Do.
Classical arts are burdened and blessed with the sum of history. Lineages are annotated with stories and myths that shed light on their forms (called taolu in Mandarin). There are lessons in those myths, lessons about righteousness, honor and courage. They might not always be the most historically accurate, as legends will exaggerate, but that doesn't detract from their mythic gravity. Take the aforementioned Bodhidharma Floating Reed myth. In Zen, the other shore is a metaphor for enlightenment. The Yangtze River symbolizes the raging obstacles that separate a practitioner from enlightenment. Cross the river in a raft and you are riding in a vehicle of Buddhism. Once you are on the other shore, you can abandon your vehicle. That's tricky. Just because you are dry doesn't mean you are on the other shore. Sometimes you're just on a sandbar with a large naked man running amok. When Bodhidharma fords the river on a single reed, that reed is Zen.
It is said in Zen that when you begin your training, "A bowl is a bowl and tea is tea. During training, a bowl is not a bowl and tea is not tea. When enlightened, a bowl is a bowl and tea is tea." It's notable that Bruce Lee poached this idea when he said, "In the beginning, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick. In the middle, a punch is not a punch, and a kick is not a kick. In the end, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick." Rafts, reeds, bowls and tea are all vehicles of Zen. So are punches and kicks. That's why I practice Shaolin. Forms can be a vehicle of Zen. It's all about the Zen. Most people study to punch and kick some ass. Personally, I'd rather be enlightened than be an ass-kicker (ass-puncher just sounds wrong so we won't go there). But it takes some ass-kicking skills to get enlightened, which is why Shaolin is a perfect practice for me. Nothing compares to the joy you feel when kicking some ass.
I was already in my thirties when I made my first trip to Shaolin Temple. Fortunately, I had nearly two decades of Shaolin kung fu training, albeit in Bak Sil Lum (BSL), but that style shared so many of the same principles. I had completed the BSL system when I went. That was a lot of forms. I practiced 40 or 50 different forms at the time, including a few dozen weapons. BSL served me well. It allowed me to easily adapt to Songshan Shaolin practice, much easier than if I was coming from taekwondo or judo. I'm convinced Songshan Shaolin and BSL sprouted from the same root.
My first Songshan Shaolin form was xiaohongquan. I originally learned it from Shi Decheng, and it remains one of my all-time favorite forms. It is a basic form commonly taught to beginners. Xiaohongquan is a brilliant composition, replete with all the hallmarks of classic Shaolin kung fu. Sometimes I think I could just train this one form and be happy. I love the rhythm of xiaohongquan. I love its flow. It's not flashy. On the surface, it appears rather simplistic, but it is really very deep. On those occasions when I manage to rally and stick xiaohongquan, it's blissful. I'm ecstatic.
In April of 2010, I began studying under another Shaolin monk. Shi Yantuo started teaching at the O-Mei Kung Fu Academy where I train. Previously, I was training Songshan Shaolin there under another Shaolin monk, Yan Fei. I had been under Yan Fei long enough for him to make it into Shaolin Trips. In fact, there are several entries about Yan Fei; just check the index (but don't confuse him with the other two who bear the name Shi Yanfei). Yantuo came over in 2009 for the first Tiger Claw's KungFuMagazine.com Championship. You can see his taizu changquan at 24 seconds in demonstrations and his tongbeiquan at 1 minute 45 seconds in Shaolin Chan (Chan is the Mandarin term for Zen, in case you didn't know). For a short time in July and August, Shi Yanchen was visiting O-Mei too, which was a real treat. It was very challenging, as Yan Fei, Yantuo and Yanchen each has their take on the forms.
Our O-Mei Shaolin class is small, yet intimate. At this writing, there are a handful of teens, two guys in their twenties, and a couple who are closer to my age. There are nights when I'm on the floor with only three of the teens, and their combined ages are still less than my age. It keeps me young. Yantuo radically reformatted Yan Fei's qixingquan and taizu changquan. We've dubbed it taizu changquan 2.0. Everyone is challenged by the variations, but we had only learned those forms recently so it was easy to write-over. It's more challenging to keep multiple versions.
One of my dearly departed kung fu brothers, Eric Ishii, was a mantis stylist. He once told me that he kept fifty versions of the basic mantis form beng bu. He felt each of the variations had some intrinsic value. Now, I'm not a mantis practitioner, but I've learned two versions of beng bu, three if you count Shaolin qixing tanglang, which is basically a Shaolin spin on beng bu. The first version I learned from my BSL master, and I still remember it. I learned the second one alongside Eric in Jinan in Shandong province, where mantis style originated. I've long forgotten that one, but I'm sure Eric remembers it and is still practicing it in mantis Valhalla. I learned qixing tanglang from Yan Fei, who was born in Shandong before he went to Shaolin Temple. Yantuo knows a version of qixing tanglang too. He is also from Shandong, but again his version is very different than Yan Fei's. Maybe I'll learn that too someday. Beng bu is to mantis style as xiaohongquan is to Shaolin.
I had a lot of my Shaolin forms reformatted, but never xiaohongquan. I had practiced Shi Decheng's version of xiaohongquan for a decade and a half. Yan Fei never transmitted xiaohongquan to this class. Now Shi Yantuo's version is different. My classmates had no problem, as this was their first go at it. I'm getting all jammed up reformatting 15 years of habits. Mind you, those weren't bad habits. It was just a different pattern for the form. That's the thing about Zen vehicles - it doesn't really matter if you use a raft or a reed. It matters that you get across. Catching Yantuo's variations are so much more challenging than reformatting qixingquan and taizu changquan, as I've only known those two forms for a few years. So I'm adjusting to steering this new vehicle. It reminds me not to obsess about the vehicle. The details of the form are important, yet impermanent. Instead, I must focus on where it is taking me, focus on that other shore.
This is actually why I switched from BSL to Songshan Shaolin. There aren't as many BSL masters available as there are Songshan Shaolin masters. Back when I was young, there were no Shaolin monks in the area. Now there are nearly 40. I still have the utmost respect for the BSL system. It can be a vehicle of Zen too, as can many styles. But it's massive, too much for me to hold in my little brain and body now, so I let it go. Even though I don't remember many those 40-50 forms, the two decades I spent training in that system weren't wasted one bit. In this case, it's not about the forms. It's about the discipline and the era. Back then, we trained with heavy weapons on a concrete floor. Today, I train with wushu weapons on a matted floor.
What's more, most of my BSL siblings have moved on to internal styles. I'm not there yet. I'm still training Shaolin with teenagers. I'm told sometimes your vehicle is too heavy to carry over that sandbar, so you must find a new vehicle. In the end, you'll discard the vehicle anyway. Once you get to the other shore, a punch is a punch again and there's no need to quibble about which way your fist faces. At that point, I'll leave Shaolin. I'll snatch that pebble from the master's hand. I mean "hands." As I've had the good fortune to study under several monks now, that's a lot of pebbles to snatch.
The benefit of my position is I get exposed to a lot, and there's a cornucopia of Shaolin material now - honestly, I can't keep up. Songshan Shaolin is so pervasive. At Tiger Claw's 2nd KungFuMagazine.com Championship, more students were competing with Songshan Shaolin forms than from any other style. It was glorious and it made me proud. It was an auspicious setting to debut Shaolin Trips. I made some new Shaolin friends, met some new Shaolin cousins and discovered I wasn't the only Shaolin Rasta in the world. Publishing the first book is a proud moment for any writer. I am delighted at the overwhelming positive reactions to my work. It makes a great gift, you know. Okay, sorry, Shaolin salesman slinging shameless self-promotion. That's really what this article is about - selling my book. Back to Zen and xiaohongquan.
It is the individual variations of xiaohongquan that make Songshan Shaolin so deep. The masters will agree on the obvious stuff, but the devil is in the details. Each technique can have multiple applications and each practitioner interprets the movements differently. One master uses the move as a block and strike. Another uses it as an arm breaker. Although not a master, I use it to catch a large naked man running amok. Yes, I keep coming back to that. Beyond selling my book, writing articles like this is also part of my therapy.
The task of Shaolin is to express as many different applications with a single movement. The stereotype of Zen is sitting meditation - appropriately so, as that's a major practice. Be as still as possible with your body and mind. But Zen can take countless forms. Forms practice is only different in body. Instead of sitting still, the practitioner recites these sophisticated sequences of movements with countless applications. The body is the complete opposite. The practitioner is not still. The practitioner is completely turbulent. But the mind is the same. That's when I know I stuck my xiaohongquan. It's when my mind is the same.
If I were to complain about having to change my xiaohongquan, then I would truly be stuck in that classical mess. I'm rather enjoying the process of change. Yantuo's Shaolin kung fu is quite special. He is part of the new generation of traditional masters under Venerable Abbot Shi Yongxin. When Yongxin first took abbacy, there was a scramble at Shaolin, and a lot of wushu performance monks surfaced amongst his disciples. Now, there's a growing cadre of very traditional masters under Yongxin. Yantuo is one of Yongxin's top traditional kung fu demonstrators. One of the abbot's many missions has been to get global recognition for the cultural significance of Shaolin. He has campaigned to get Shaolin acknowledged by UNESCO as a cultural treasure. Shaolin Temple has been included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shaolin kung fu is pending acceptance as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage. In 2002, Abbot Yongxin chose Yantuo to demonstrate Shaolin kung fu for UNESCO as they reviewed Intangible Heritage candidates in Beijing. The Abbot chose Yantuo again for three high-profile demonstrations before Jiang Zemin, Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin.
Some of Yantuo's postures reflect postures in the mural in White Garment Hall which dates back to 1820. The mural is beautiful, one of the genuine treasures of Shaolin Temple, but I've always thought it was abstract. Some of the grandmasters, like Taguo's founder Liu Baoshan and Chen Xiaolong's father, Chen Tongshan, have told me of methods hidden within the mural. I'm never seen that before, but just like forms and music, paintings can be vehicles too. Yantuo's hand positions often express the same splayed fingers as the figures in the murals. Those hands appear in qixingquan and changhu xinyi men. I've always believed it is an incredibly vulnerable hand position for your fingers. Unless you study one-finger Zen, it's best to keep your fingers together when in a real fight. I wonder if the painting imitates the practice or the practice imitates the painting. Ultimately, that's a chicken versus egg problem. If you're stuck on the form, you debate which came first. If you see it from a Zen perspective, the chicken is the egg.
I don't really worry about whether Shaolin gives me the best possible street fighting training. I've been in enough situations that I'm confident I can hold my own with it, or more clearly stated, avoid the situations where I couldn't hold my own. When I was younger and teaching kung fu was my trade, I was more focused on fighting application. An instructor needs to stay on top. But now, I practice more for my health and the health of those around me. Clearly, there are more efficient styles for training self-defense. I dabbled in kickboxing - a little sanshou at Shaolin and muay thai in Bangkok. In both arenas, I got my ass unceremoniously handed to me, which could certainly fuel the argument that forms are not effective for fighting in the ring. I've never been a ring fighter. I fight in rivers. Well, to be honest, that was just one time and it's not really fighting. It's just self-defense. In my service to the music scene, I've had to restrain patients on concert stages, in mosh pits, on highway dividers, on moving golf carts and quads, on top of speaker towers (again, see Shaolin Trips: Episode One), in porta-potties (believe me, you don't want to know), on gravel, rocks, dirt, asphalt, concrete, even in mud. That being said, I don't practice xiaohongquan with the intention that I'm going to use "erect an arm while shrinking the body" in a rushing river. Environments are impossible to predict because who knows where something might go down? Neither can I deploy tactics I was shown in sanshou or muay thai. It's just not helpful to knee a patient in the head. I can't even use my favorite move "erect an arm while shrinking the body" at full capacity, which is actually fine because I harbor no desire to actually break someone's arm. That's just too much karmic debt and I'm still paying off some karmic loans from my youth.
Recently, a friend of mine was trying to encapsulate Zen to another friend. Neither were Zennists, but what he said struck me as amusing. That guy said Zen was about being in the present. No past, no future, just present. Therein lies the stereotypically Zen rub - the oxymoron of it all. The present is the sum of the past and the gateway to the future so the past and future are present in the present. That is another challenge in the practice of forms as a meditation. When I recite xiaohongquan, I'm back at Shaolin, learning it from Decheng. I'm also back at my old BSL school sharing it with my classmates. I'm nipple-deep in that river, trying to help a lost soul get back to shore. I'm with my teenage classmates, relearning it from Yantuo. I'm at every moment ever spent practicing that form. It's being a vessel. In the deepest recitals, I'm with the Shaolin ancestors as they sculpted the form, chipping away at coarse moves and polishing them into gracefulness. I'm with that anonymous muralist who watched the monks practice and committed their dynamism to the walls of White Garment Hall. I'm with my masters as they learned it for the first time. All those past recitals add up to the present one.
And I'm also looking forward, towards the next time, when I might recite the form again (probably next practice) or use a technique to save someone else. I'm with the next generation, not just my newest teenage martial siblings, but the generation of teenagers that they might train with when they approach their mid-century mark. That continuity, that connective thread, is what traditional Shaolin is all about.
Using Shaolin kung fu as a meditation practice is a lot like crossing the river at its most turbulent point. That's the martial way. Warriors take the most challenging route. In my article The King of Beasts (Sep Oct 2010 issue), Yantuo summed up this notion quite elegantly. "If it's harder, it's more valuable to preserve. Otherwise, it will be lost. If you really want to learn martial arts, you must pursue something harder... Try to save it for the future."
My research on Shaolin continues. In fact, the 2010 Shaolin Special was published after my book was done, so none of that material made it into Shaolin Trips. And there will be more Shaolin Specials to come, I assure you. My passion for Shaolin is as strong as ever, although I can't see myself enduring the kind of training now that I did when I was young. As much as I fantasize about it, I doubt I would be able to survive a month of training at Shaolin now. I've accumulated too much karmic shrapnel. Karmic paybacks are, well, enough to make me shed my clothes and run amok on a sandbar.
Readers have begun asking me if there will be a sequel to Shaolin Trips. I honestly don't know. Right now, I'm really getting into qixingquan and taizu changquan, so perhaps I'll go back for that Methods section, but I'm not willing to commit to it now. I will promise you this - we'll keep bringing you the latest on Shaolin in Kung Fu Tai Chi. So for more Shaolin Trips, Methods and Flashbacks, the best thing to do is subscribe.
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About Gene Ching:
Gene Ching collects over a decade and a half worth of research on Shaolin Temple, documenting Shaolin's convoluted journey from post-Cultural Revolution ruins to the global Buddhist juggernaut it has become today.
"Fascinating for the general reader, Shaolin Trips is a must for the martial artist." Meir Shahar, Tel Aviv University, author of The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion and the Chinese Martial Arts.