- 20 Days None Stop Training – Usually it’s better for the body to take 1 day off a week. But if you want to dramatically improve your skill then train for 20 days non-stop. This applies for Qigong as well as Kung Fu. This method is a fast track to Shaolin Stamina.
- Kill Your Muscles – you need to ache a lot! Ache is different from pain. You need to know the difference. Pain is bad. Ache is good. If you’re not aching, you’re not progressing.
- Kill Your Lung – you are training anaerobically. This word literally means “living without air”, you need to push yourself so hard that you at your limit. It’s hard to do by yourself and you need to be careful and stay safe! This is why this is not suitable for beginners. This type of training is for martial artists who already know their bodies and want to take their martial art to the next level.
- Do More Than You Think You Can – Just when you get to the point where you feel you can’t do anymore, do more. When you do 20 push ups, do 21. When you get to the end of your run, sprint.
- Take Small Steps – Start off by setting yourself small targets and build from there. If you haven’t ran for along time then don’t expect to be able to run 10k straight away. Run 3k. It’s the same with my DVDs, do half the DVD or work at a slower pace and do half the exercises and build from there.
It’s not possible to take Zen out of Shaolin martial arts because Shaolin martial arts were born from Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen. Shaolin Martial Arts is a pathway to Zen. How is this possible? Because the movements cut through the thinking mind. This thinking mind is not the mind that experiences Zen. We have another mind. A mind that cannot be approached from a thinking perspective. A mind that is untouched by our thinking or anything we have done or anything that has been done to us. Zen Buddhists call it our Pure Light Mind. You can think of it as basic goodness that exists in all of us. We all have it. It’s our potential to become a Buddha. Buddha simply means awakened one. Someone who has woken up to see the world as it really is.
If we throw some red dye into the sea, it will not turn the sea red, as the sea is so vast and expansive. Our minds have the capacity to be vast and expansive too yet if someone shouts at us or insults us, we tend to get angry, this is a measure of how expansive our mind is and how much work we need to do.
I have a lot of experience of anger. When I was 15 years old, I was always getting into fights. My Master – who is now the Shaolin Abbot – was fed up of coming to the police station to get me out of jail so he sent me to a very well known Zen master.
In the Cultural Revolution when Mao was destroying all the temples, this master risked his life to stay in the temple. For many years he lived in this destroyed temple and when Buddhism was allowed to flourish again he started to re-build the temple. Every morning he would sit in meditation and chant and I would train. He asked me to sit with him but I had no patience to sit. After a few weeks of trying to get me to sit he told me to make training my meditation.
That sentence has resonated with me all my life. When I came back to the Shaolin Temple, my training was no longer a series of exercises or a way of being able to learn new fighting techniques so that I could conquer other people but it became my meditation.
To train in Shaolin doesn’t mean we need to become Buddhists or believe in the Buddha. I don’t see myself as a Buddhist even though I come from a Buddhist Temple. I see myself a martial artist with a wish to understand life. A wish to not get pulled in by my unhelpful emotions and a wish to increase my helpful emotions. I see the Buddha as a wonderful psychologist who had a great understanding about how our minds work.
So whenever you train, and whatever you train in, use your training as your refuge and your meditation. This will install peace and strength in you. This will mean, however difficult your life is, you always have something to come back to, something you can rely on.
Willpower is like petrol, it runs out. This is why Shaolin Monks cultivate daily habits so it becomes a part of our life. If you are coming on my Shaolin Summer Camp this year then you will live in this way so you can take home some of those habits that you’ve cultivated.
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Without moving a muscle, imagine you’re training with me in China. You wake at 6am, hurry into your training clothes and begin your run up the mountain. You still feel sleepy, your muscles are tight from yesterday’s training, and the first bit of the run feels difficult. But soon your body warms up and as you breath in the fresh mountain air; you discover an energy you never had before.
Back at the school, your Five Fundamental Kicks that felt tight yesterday feel flexible, your stances feel grounded, and there’s a flow to your forms. We are what we repeatedly do and this everyday experience of Shaolin enables you to finally tune your body so it’s working at it’s optimum. Just like the strings on a guitar, your body is learning to be neither too tight nor too slack. It takes practice to be this natural.
Now bring yourself back to your computer screen or your smart phone or whatever you’re reading this article on. Just as I had never tasted coffee until I came to the West – and was surprised by its bitter taste – Shaolin cannot be expressed in words. The experience has to come from you.
If you can’t come to my Summer Camp, you can create your own Shaolin environment through training at your local school or in your home with my DVDs and downloads. Shaolin is about training your heart and your heart can only be found where you are.
Sometimes I get emails from people who say it’s always been their dream to learn Shaolin. They come for a session with me and after the session, I know I will never see them again. For some people, they prefer to hold onto a dream. Reality is too different from their dream. Please don’t be this person. It means you can never reach your true potential. If Shaolin isn’t for you, that’s fine, but if you feel drawn to it then see it through.
It’s similar to the Buddhist parable of the man who loved dragons. Everything in his home had a picture of a dragon on, his bedspread, his toothbrush, his cups, his plates etc but when a real dragon popped his head through the window to say good morning, the man ran away terrified.
Don’t be afraid to be the best you can be. Don’t be afraid to be healthy and strong and fit. Don’t hide behind illness and injury and excuses such as lack of time. Martial Arts creates time because it makes you more focused in your life.
The beauty of any martial arts is there is no victory or defeat. We all train at our own level. One stance is as challenging for an advanced student as it is for a beginner. Success is making 100 percent effort to perform at the highest level of your ability. Success is being your own champion.
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The world of Western traditional physical exercise is beginning to catch up with what Shaolin Warriors have known for thousands of years. Fitness is not just about burning calories and sweating. It’s about being healthy from the inside out. Research is revealing that this mind-body fitness not only keeps us healthy but also greatly helps to banish stress, increase happiness, and aid longevity.
- Train Your Mind As Hard As Your Body – A person can look strong but this doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Body builders may be inflexible and internally weak. Yoga practioners may be flexible but ask him or her to perform a martial art’s kick and they have no power or speed. Shaolin Forms – both Qigong and Kung Fu – are the only exercise I’ve come across where every muscle is engaged and we’re simultaneously building flexibility, strength, endurance, balance, and power. They then teach us how to move in our modern life, whether that’s carrying our groceries home or climbing the stairs to the subway. Everything becomes part of our training: total mind-body wellness
- Switch Your Workouts – One day Shaolin Warrior’s train in the Five Fundamental kicks and stances from Shaolin Kung Fu Workout 1, on another day they train Circuit, on another bag work, and on another day Qigong. Keep surprising your body so it never reaches a plateau.
- Inside Out Fitness – For true health and fitness we need to practise stretching and Qigong. The Shaolin Warrior always finishes their training with Qigong. This enhances the power of their external training, extends and deepens their martial arts, and balances their Yin and Yang.
- Effortless Effort – A Shaolin Warrior’s movements look easy. When they run they tell their body to keep light and positive. When they punch they tell their body to relax. When they kick, they know exactly which muscle they need to use and which muscle they don’t. When they practise Qigong they know when they need to inhale and when they need to exhale. They focus on what they need to focus on and this gives them confidence and power. They understand that if their mind is strong then their body is strong and if their body is strong then their mind is strong. It’s not possible to separate the two out.
- Train Hard – A smith puts gold through the fire so she can mould it into the shape of jewelry she wants. Our martial art’s is the fire we put our mind and body through so we can mould ourselves into the martial artist we want to be. If it’s not difficult, if it’s not challenging, there can be no transformation.
- A Zen Koan – Shaolin Warriors use the breath to link the mind and body. They focus on the present moment because it is the only moment when we can be truly alive. This is why – in the past – Masters sometimes used shock tactics or said Koans in an attempt to awaken their student to what life really is.
- What is the sound of one hand clapping? – If we try to understand with our intellect then we’ll never understand and if we try to do martial arts with our intellect we shall never understand. Only when we have cultivated strong willpower and let go of our mind can we move to hard training to build up our stamina level and create a Shaolin Warrior’s mind and body.
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Learn Shaolin Qigong and Kung Fu with Shifu Yan Lei. Downloads, DVDs, books and training equipment available from shifuyanlei.com. Instant Health: The Shaolin Qigong Workout For Longevity is also available as an e-book on amazon and apple in the US