Kung fu monk puts a kick into Buddhism

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The Independent Online
HE HAS twice won the world champion title in martial arts, trained the Chinese special forces in kung fu, and personally "handled" a number of high-profile kidnaps. He is also a Buddhist monk, who meditates three hours a day and emanates an aura of calm.

Shi YanTzi, 30, is the senior instructor in China's Song Shan Shaolin Temple, the 1,500-year-old father of Zen Buddhist temples. He has been sponsored by the China Cultural Fund, a charity which forges links between East and West, to come to Britain to promote kung fu and Zen Buddhism. He will teach classes at the Temple School in Islington, north London, which, since it was blessed by his abbot last week, is the first Shaolin Zen Buddhist temple in the country.

The philosophy of his kung fu is, however, more complex than the aggressive martial arts portrayed in Bruce Lee films. Martial monks employ their art for self-control and self-defence, and complement the physical activity with meditation to achieve peace and harmony. For that reason they prefer the term "Shaolin arts of physical health" to kung fu.

"The physical side is actually a balance of the mental side," Shi YanTzi explained yesterday. "It's just a balance of yin and yang. When you are training you bring out the full physical side like a tiger and when you do the Zen meditations it actually helps to calm the person down and balance the physical aggression."

YanTzi was born in northern China. He started training to be a monk at the Shaolin Temple at the age of 15. For the first three years he was forbidden lessons in martial arts because he was supposed to concentrate on performing menial tasks and studying Buddhist scriptures.

He would, however, "sneak around looking at other martial monks, copying them". So desperate was he to "test out [my] ability", that he entered competitions under a false name. He won six championship titles and two world championship titles. When his tutors found out, he was punished.

One of the five basic Buddhist precepts is that one should not take life. "For 1,500 years Shaolin monks have been killing people," said Shi YanTzi, attempting explain the apparent contradiction. "The mercy of the teachings in Buddhism is to suppress the evil side. If you don't kill to protect, how can you be merciful?"