When Western martial artists think of Shaolin Temple, the image they conjure up usually involves a bunch of bald Chinese monks bowing to a bronze statue of the Buddha and sweeping stone floors in the halls of their famous monastery. In their off hours, we imagine, they perform rigorous routines, play with exotic weapons and imitate animal movements as a way of practicing the ancient art of kung fu.
And that’s fine. There is, however, another side to Shaolin training, one that the public seldom sees. It’s been concealed for centuries — from tourists, from visiting Chinese martial artists and even from the run-of-the-mill monk. I came into contact with this other aspect of Shaolin training because of my connections with the abbot of the temple, who made me its cultural ambassador to America in 1999.
What is this other side to Shaolin training? It doesn’t have a proper name, but I refer to it as “lethal Shaolin.” It’s the subset of kung fu techniques that can be categorized as pure self-defense moves. It’s always been my contention that if more people had access to these self-defense moves, Shaolin training would be huge because it’s one of the most effective self-defense subsystems on the planet. Currently, this aspect of Shaolin training is taught in depth only to high-level monks — men who can be trusted not to misuse the knowledge.
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All Shaolin monks know of this subset of their style of kung fu, but few earn the right to learn this hidden aspect of Shaolin training. Most don’t even try to for one simple reason: Buddhists strive to be passive. They vow to live by 200-plus religious laws, an endeavor that requires extreme discipline and dedication. Not everyone who’s accepted into Shaolin takes a liking to monastic life. Many find the restrictions of Shaolin training and the routine too taxing and drop out. The techniques that make up lethal Shaolin are taught only to the monks who don’t quit. To reach that level of Shaolin training, a monk must convince his masters that he’s on the right path spiritually.
Ear Slap to Takedown
During my annual trips to the Shaolin Temple, I’ve been privileged to take private Shaolin training lessons from some of the most senior monks in residence. In one of our recent closed-door sessions focusing on this ultra-effective form of fighting, my teacher began by showing me the old forms that few outsiders know. Then we worked on the applications of the movements in a variety of situations and environments — some of which influenced the street-fighting tips in this piece. While we were fine-tuning one of the techniques, my instructor informed me that the only outsiders who’d learned the moves were the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALs.
In the 35-plus years I’ve been involved in the martial arts, numerous students have asked me the same question: “What is the secret of the martial arts?” My answer has always been the same: discipline, hard work and an instructor who truly knows what he’s teaching. Since that trip to Shaolin Temple, however, I’ve had to alter my answer. I now confess that there is a secret. It takes no great skill to punch or kick someone, but it does take very precise skill to administer these lethal Shaolin self-defense techniques.
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Escaping a Mount
In the photo sequences that illustrate this article about self-defense moves and street-fighting itps, I demonstrate several of the more basic techniques in situations a person might encounter on the street. The reason I’m breaking with tradition and revealing these street-fighting tips based on Shaolin training to the martial arts world is twofold:
- 1. It is the desire of the monks at the temple to remind the public that all the legends they’ve heard about Shaolin’s fighting prowess are true.
- 2. Any martial artist will attest that knowing the movements is one thing, but mastering them to the point at which they can be used in a fight is quite another. In other words, it will take a lot of practice under a qualified instructor for these techniques to be effective.
About the Author:
Steve DeMasco is a Black Belt Hall of Fame member based in New Hampshire. For more than a decade, Steve DeMasco has traveled to Shaolin Temple for closed-door training to supplement the private lessons he’s taken in the United States. Steve DeMasco’s first book, An American’s Journey to the Shaolin Temple, was published by Black Belt Books in 2001. He has also published two DVD collections with Black Belt Magazine Video — the five-DVD collection Shaolin Temple Kung Fu and the three-DVD collection Shaolin Chuan Fa. For more information about Shaolin training expert Steve DeMasco and learn more of his street-fighting tips, visit Steve DeMasco’s Kung Fu website at sdsskungfu.com.