Credo: Shi Yan Fen

Trainee Shaolin monk, 17

I believe...

I wanted to become a Shaolin monk as I was enamoured with kung fu – we are the only monks in China who practise it.

Growing up in the Shaolin monastery was hard, because I was only seven years old when I had to leave my family. It was a big change, but I am used to it now.

Buddhism is a very flexible religion. I can leave at any time if I want to start a family or run my own business.

Training to develop your 'Qigong' – your inner air – is important. It's something we use a lot when performing. When you see one of us hit on the head with a sharp or heavy object, you may think it's a trick, but it's not. The power of the mind stops the pain and the qi absorbs the blow.

The infiltration of kung fu into Western culture is a good thing, even in films such as Kung Fu Panda, as it introduces people to Chinese culture. But as a monk, the most important thing about kung fu is that it helps with my spiritual training.

I do not get nervous before a show because the power of qi allows me to believe I am back in the temple.

Kung fu makes you calm, but I would use my skills to defend myself if I had to.

My parents, who run a factory, are proud of my decision to become a monk. I'm the first in my family to go down that path. Though the temple is in the same province as my home town, I see my family only once a year, as I need to focus on my training.

I would probably be attending university and would study to be a teacher, if I wasn't training to be a monk.

It's very exciting to come into contact with different cultures. The food and customs are so different, but it's a challenge I enjoy. I loved Oxford: the old buildings make it look like a time capsule, and I recognised the Oxford University library from the Harry Potter films. But it's hard to be away from home.

The Shaolin Monks are at the Hackney Empire, London E8, until 22 November, www.shaolinwheeloflife.com

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