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Shaolin training is something of interest to many in the western world. Ever since the Chinese kung fu movies arrived people have been trying to learn their moves. It's so much a part of western culture now that the next time you're in an airport standing at the Cheapflights Canada ticket counter, look around and you'll probably see two little kids play-fighting and karate-chopping away. However there is another dimension to the supreme conditioning and discipline of Shaolin monks. On the surface it’s all kung fu, fancy skills and extreme conditioning, but that’s not really the point of the discipline.
I don’t tend to believe too much of the hype and claims of extraordinary abilities performed by some martial artists. However, having seen some of their abilities for real, I do believe they possess some amazing skills. Much of it seems leftover from the 1950's, when the Asian obsession in the USA and even Canada was in full-swing. The Martial arts movement was exploding and many people believed the rumors about fantastic feats by monks simply because there were no cheap flights or Internet or any other real way to verify these stories. This is not due to some magic training method, it’s simply human conditioning performed consistently.
As I have stated before, there is nothing that cannot be achieved through training.
What’s so Special About Shaolin Monks?
Shaolin monks train their whole lives in various disciplines. They train in kung fu, mindfulness meditation and many gymnastics-style physical skills. They also have strict nutritional guidelines that they live by.
The training these monks do is extremely consistent and progressive. There are no days off or breaks to go watch TV or go drinking with their friends.They do not take cheap flights to the Toronto Film Festival. Monks live for their art and lifestyle.
All of this extremely consistent training builds over many years into seemingly superhuman abilities. Monks are able to move their bodies in unimaginable ways, control what would normally be extreme pain, endure just about anything and take in any new skills rapidly. This is not magic or mysticism, it’s simply conditioning of the human mind and body.
The Shaolin Temple is considered the birthplace of Asian martial arts. However, martial arts pre-date the construction of the temple by at least several hundred years.
In about the 6th or 7th century AD the Shaolin temple was introduced to physical conditioning methods. This is because they were often in poor physical shape due to hours a day of sitting in a meditative state.
The Shaolin temple was in lawless territory and was often the target of bandits. The monks were often attacked and robbed. For this reason the physical training took the form of a basic self-defence system. Later they introduced weapons systems. Due to their extreme discipline and cultivation practices, the monks incorporated an aspect of spirituality and mental control into their fighting arts.
I have read a lot of material on Shaolin training. I have also trained in several martial arts consistently since childhood and met some extraordinary and not so extraordinary people. There are many who claim to know inner secrets and wisdom that is only revealed to monks. All this mystery and exclusiveness creates a desire in people to get a sneak peak and learn these skills for themselves.
I hate to disappoint, but most of this is hype and fantasy. The secret stuff is anyway. There is no magic, there are no flying monks and Boddhidharma did not stare at a wall for nine years and burn a hole through it before passing on the secrets of eternal awesomeness.
The Shaolin monks are an interesting bunch and the purpose of this article is to explain why they possess their amazing abilities and how it can be accomplished by anyone with the self-discipline and inclination to learn and practice.
The whole magic of Shaolin training is in their consistency, not their “secret” methods. Shaolin monks practice their arts every single day, rain, hail or shine. Over time they develop certain abilities that can appear to be almost superhuman simply because there are not many people who actually practice something this consistently.
The primary training of shaolin monks is mindfulness meditation. This has received so much attention since its introduction to western culture. It is believed that mindfulness meditation is some sort of magic that enables a person to develop supernatural skills.
Mindfulness meditation is simply consistent training of extreme awareness. When a person practices this sort of meditation, they are training to be aware of the present moment without judgement or attachment in any way. This is accomplished through sitting meditative practice and through waking awareness practice where the practitioner consciously notices aspects about the present moment and their environment without judging them. The attitude is that things and circumstances are what they are and nothing more. There is no good or evil, positive or negative, everything serves a purpose.
This sort of practice develops extreme mental awareness of a person’s surroundings and enables the practitioner to develop laser-like focus. This is most likely responsible for the monks’ supposed ability to master anything and everything.
Secondary to mindfulness meditation, or perhaps now equally important, is the physical attributes. I have seen advertisements claiming that some “master” can help you develop an iron-like body that is virtually indestructible. This is the perception of the physical training practiced by Shaolin monks. It is said that Boddhidharma left behind several books with secret techniques to develop supernatural physical abilities. Today this is cashed in on by scam artists claiming to know these so-called secrets.
The physical nature of their training serves this supernatural purpose, but it is only an illusion of beyond human ability. As I said, it is consistency that really gives the perception that they possess magic of some sort.
After the introduction of physical conditioning methods and the later development of martial arts, Shaolin training took on a new form of a holistic nature. They began training with intense regularity in developing physical strength, agility, physical toughness etc.
This is accomplished through drills and exercises like reaction time drills, continuous repetition of martial arts techniques, progressive physical skills, obstacle courses, weapons drills, partnered coordination exercises and many other things that they practice on a daily basis. This sort of training is conducted for many hours per day. This is why Shaolin monks appear to possess superhuman abilities.
Most Shaolin training is claimed as a secret, however it is rather open for the world to see. The new age Shaolin monks even perform shows and exhibitions displaying their skill to the western world. This new breed of monk is not the authentic version from before the 17th century whom actually don’t really exist anymore, besides a few in isolated areas outside of Shaolin.
Developing Shaolin Monk-Like Skills Without Shaolin Training
Because shaolin training is not magic or mysticism, nor is it secret, anyone with enough discipline can develop similar skills, if not surpass them. As I have mentioned and will continue to mention, it’s consistency, repetition and the perfection of exercises and techniques that develops what appears to be superhuman ability.
So lets take a look at a few habits, routines and methods you can use to become as skilled and centred as a Shaolin monk without having to sacrifice everything and move to a monestary.
Both children and wild animals possess a kind of buoyant flexibility that seems to allow them much more freedom of motion and thought. As we get older and deal with the stresses of daily life and poor habits we tend to tense up a little. This results in uncoordinated, stiff and awkward movement and set thought patterns and habits.
Although it's not part of Shaolin training the practice of Qigong aims at developing awareness of surroundings and body movements including breath. This looks a lot like the Tai Chi you see people practice in the parks. Qigong works on coordinating all functions in the body and aligning energy meridians and all that other seemingly mystical stuff.
Qigong may sound mystical and “secret” in the way it is explained. Terms like life force can seem a little too esoteric to some. But think of it this way; when you lift a pencil and put it on the edge of a table you are charging it with potential energy. This is how they would explain it in a high school science class. When you push the pencil off the table it is utilising energy. Simple physics, nothing magic about it.
Taking that into consideration it is then not so mystical to claim that the whole world is filled with life force energy. This life force energy is said to be in every single thing in the universe and is what gives life. It makes sense to me, however I will not go into providing further explanation here.
Qigong works with Qi or Chi, which translates loosely into life force. This is accomplished through practice of extreme awareness of tension, relaxation and breath as well as your relationship and coordination with your surroundings. The results of much Qigong practice actually produce an ability to perceive things with much more clarity. With this clarity comes easier and faster cognitive processing resulting in rapid learning, extreme emotional control, connection with the physical body enhancing all physical functions and more.
It’s really not all that mystical, it’s simply absolute awareness and control and it is because most people as adults are stiff and uncoordinated and also very unbalanced that it appears someone who has practiced Qigong for many years possesses some sort of magical ability.
Daily practice of Qigong will develop surprising results over time.
Brain training may not sound like it’s very related to Shaolin training and the Shaolin monks likely did not practice brain training on a Nintendo DS.
The aim of brain training is to develop faster mental processing and greater cognitive function. Over time people are capable of developing seemingly supernatural mental acuity. Daily practice of brain training will bring results that will astound people if you are consistent enough. The problem is that most people simply are not consistent.
Google "Lumosity" for resources on brain training.
Extreme Physical Conditioning
Shaolin training consists of extreme physical conditioning. This is evident in the exhibitions and shows they perform around the world. The monks, despite their size, are able to perform phenomenal feats of superhuman strength, agility, coordination, speed etc.
The physical ability developed through Shaolin training is not magic, it’s just progressive and consistent. Some will have you believe the monks learn some secret method, however this is just a ruse to create a desire in people to buy their way into Shaolin training as if they are becoming part of some exclusive group of elitists.
Anyone with the ability to demonstrate above average levels of self-discipline is capable of developing the extreme physical abilities of Shaolin monks. Here are a few things to practice regularly as a modern form of Shaolin training.
High intensity training of varying movement patterns. This sort of training serves two purposes; first of all it develops extreme levels of physical fitness in all movement patterns and energy systems and allows for no weak links. Second it comes with an aspect of mental/psychological development by overcoming the desire to stop. This sort of training requires a level of will that many people have been conditioned out of in our modern, soft environment.,
Practice difficult and awkward movements of a progressive nature. This includes things like gymnastics skills. When I say progressive I mean that many things like a single arm handstand will not be possible right away and a person will need to perform progressively harder exercises until they are able to perform something of this difficulty. Use your imagination.
Third and last, develop a regular routine of physical habits that you perform daily. To provide an example, I have a basic yoga routine I perform at night time before bed. This routine helps develop flexibility, joint stability and balance. When performed on a daily basis it allows a person to move instinctively and naturally. It kind of picks up where Qigong leaves off in the physical sense.
The largest part of Shaolin training is mindfulness meditation. This is a practice of meditating whilst sitting and practicing awareness whilst walking and performing daily tasks.
It is not necessary to meditate for hours a day, this can actually have adverse reactions. Meditation can be performed anywhere from 10 minutes to about 40 minutes. I recommend picking two parts of the day, possibly morning and evening and dividing your meditation time between the two.
Mindfulness meditation and most meditation in general is very misunderstood. It is not a magical, mystical practice reserved for the religious. Meditation has real proven benefits and many have had brain scans mapping mental activity while meditating. These scans revealed that people who have been meditating for many years possessed brain patterns that were unheard of in most people.
Now for the technique. I will provide the most basic mindfulness meditation technique that I can…
Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably and undisturbed. Sit and progressively relax every part of your body whilst breathing in a rhythmic fashion. Now let all thoughts drift without effort. This sounds a little esoteric but what I mean is don’t hold onto a thought and don’t attach yourself emotionally to anything that enters your head. Simply let thoughts come and go, don’t force your mind to be completely empty. Sit in this completely relaxed state for the alotted time period.
Also in Shaolin training is waking meditation. This is not a set period of time or “session”. Waking meditation in mindfulness consists of awareness of all things and extreme presence in the present moment. Practice being aware of everything without attachment, just think of things as meaningless. By doing this you allow yourself to create your own meaning.
Shaolin Training is Accessible to Anyone
The above guidelines and advice may not be authentic Shaolin training but I have provided you with drills and exercises that very well may be more powerful and effective than that of the original Shaolin monks. Remember, the key is consistency and discipline. Perform the above routines and habits on a daily basis and you will develop mental and physical acuity beyond that of about 99.5 percent of the population.
Develop your own Shaolin training routine and be consistent.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.