Kicking the habit

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The Independent Online
Each monk at the Shaolin Monastery in Central China is a fighting machine. With the power of a jackhammer combined with the grace of a ballet dancer, the normally placid Zen Buddhist monks, who spend four hours a day in deep meditation, can kill faster than it takes to blink.

In China and Hong Kong, the martial arts monks of Shaolin are heroes. Shaolin is the centre for martial arts, and especially kung fu - the populist name for the deadly wushu the monks have perfected to defend themselves at their mountain-top monastery. Next week, 25 of the highly-trained monks will turn showmen in the less peaceful surroundings of Wembley and the London Arena.

Wushu is a disciplined and potentially lethal pursuit. The monks of Shaolin can kill with their bare hands, urged on by the knowledge that there are more than 30 "death points" on a body.

Since the release of the cult martial-arts movie Shaolin Temple in Hong Kong in 1982, Shu Xi, the abbot of Shaolin, has had hundreds of wannabe monks flocking to the monastery. After a month-long European tour, which ends in London, he is bracing himself for yet more applicants. But the more urgent need is for money to keep the monastery alive. In an age when there is no need to defend their home any more, the Shaolin monks have been forced to become entertainers.

JEREMY HART

Wembley Arena, Middlesex (0181-900 1234) 8 Nov; London Arena, E14 (0171- 420 1212) 10 Nov

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