Ask anyone who’s visited the Shaolin Temple or watched Shaolin monks perform on tour, and he or she will attest to the phenomenal shape these martial artists are in — and to the phenomenal feats they can coax their bodies to do.
The type of fitness the Shaolin monks exhibit is not a bodybuilding kind of fitness; it’s a functional, practical musculature that’s perfectly suited to executing the kung fu moves in which these martial artists specialize. Furthermore, their ongoing practice of kung fu techniques fosters holistic health by building internal strength.
For expert guidance in the way of Shaolin kung fu fitness, we brought in a genuine Shaolin monk named Wang Bo. Formerly of the Shaolin Temple, Henan province, China, Wang Bo is now based in Torrance, California, where he teaches Shaolin kung fu techniques as well as meditation, yoga and tai chi.
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Shaolin Monk Wang Bo Shows You Internal Exercises for Stronger Kung Fu Techniques
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Wang Bo's Mission: Spread Shaolin Kung Fu Physicality and Philosophy
In the United States since 2008, Wang Bo is on a mission to promote Shaolin philosophy and physical culture by spreading the practice of traditional kung fu techniques and the discipline that goes along with them. "My goal is to help as many people as I can while [teaching] them how to defend themselves," the Shaolin monk says.
Unlike some martial styles, Shaolin kung fu teaches not just physical skills but also methods for building inner strength and spirituality, Wang Bo says. "Beating somebody is not that hard; loving somebody is harder. We say, 'If I beat you today, you may hate me for a long time, but if I help you, you may remember me forever.'
"In kung fu, you don't see people beating each other too much. More often you see self-practice — one person doing forms. The techniques are very powerful for fighting, but when you learn kung fu, your teacher doesn't allow you to fight. You can fight 10 people and win now, but eventually you will get old. Eventually you can't fight anymore. It's better to cultivate yourself and help people use this art to improve their lives."
Slow-Motion Breathing: The Foundation of Better Health and Stronger Kung Fu Techniques
With the concept of life improvement in mind, Shaolin monk Wang Bo recommends a series of "internal exercises" for development of people's mind-body connection. Most of these internal exercises from Shaolin kung fu involve a foundation of slow-motion breathing.
"As one of the internal practices, [slow-motion breathing] starts inside and moves outside. When you punch [during kung fu techniques], it's a physical movement from outside to inside which is the opposite. Slow-motion breathing will make your organs work better and make you healthier. It looks very small, but it does a lot of work inside your body."
Building a Center for the Study of Kung Fu Moves in America
Shaolin monk Wang Bo hopes to build a Shaolin Temple branch in the vicinity of his current facility in Torrance, California. His goal: to train more Americans in the ancient ways of the Chinese martial arts.
"Kung fu was created by people who were enlightened, who had very high consciousness," Wang Bo says. "What they developed can help today's society — in general, we don't have enough patience, we don't have enough concentration and we're easy to get angry. When we fight, however, we give and receive, so we feel better. Mentally, practicing [kung fu moves] helps us because kung fu and spirituality are based on compassion."