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Beyond Legends: Debunking Myths and Revealing the Real Strength of Shaolin Monks

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Guest Post…

Sid Kemp, is a highly experienced life coach and devoted Zen practitioner with 40 years of dedicated practice. He is the author of multiple Amazon bestselling books published by prestigious publishers like McGraw-Hill and Entrepreneur Press. In addition to sharing Buddhist meditation since 1987, Sid has also contributed articles to and his wisdom has attracted a loyal following of over 6,000 people on Quora.

Question: How strong are Shaolin monks?

Sid’s Answer: I assume you mean the Shaolin monks who engage in physical martial arts training, and you are talking about physical strength of some sort. We still need to simplify the question. The martial arts training starts around age 4, but let’s look at physical maturity and peak performance, ages, say 18 to 25.

Darned strong.

Now, we’re not talking about power lifting. Being musclebound is definitely not a good quality for Shaolin Kung Fu.

So, what are the types of strength a Shaolin Monk with lifelong Kung Fu training has at this age:

  • Speed – both reaction speed and ability to coordinate the whole body to throw a punch or kick are top notch.
  • Flexibility – this is enormous. They are like gymnasts with muscles.
  • Ability to endure pain – this is something that people don’t generally train for, and they do, so top notch.
  • Ability to withstand blows from weapons, including spear points – truly extraordinary.
  • Ability to punch without breaking their own bones – top notch, as they practice by punching through thin paper into concrete or stone walls hundreds of times a day. This creates microfractures that heal, creating stronger bone every time.
  • Extraordinary strength of vulnerable parts of the body – amazing. They can hang for hours from their necks without choking.

These are all the results of the hard, or outer training in Kung Fu. This makes them very hard to hurt, and very dangerous when they fight. (Contrary to legend, it does not make them bullet proof or give them super powers.)

Now, the monks do specialize during their teenage years and beyond. So, while they all have some ability in each of the areas above, each will have more of one of the last four items than he does of the others, due to more demanding training.

Around age 18, they begin to learn the inner aspect of martial arts, qigong. One reslt of this is longevity without arthritis and other effects of aging. Without qigong, martial artists are very likely to develop injury-related arthritis around age 65. With qigong, they can live much longer free of pain and still flexible.

A couple of interesting points. In all the videos I’ve seen, the monks who teach these younger men do not demonstrate anything. So what abilities they may have at, say, age 30 or older, is not displayed to the public, as far as I know.

I myself do not practice Kung Fu. My interest in Shaolin comes from the Buddhist history there. I do practice qigong. My own qigong teacher is not Shaolin, but he is a former kickboxer, an active martial arts master teacher, and over 80 years old with excellent flexibility and health, a wealth of common sense, and a great sense of humor.

There are a number of good videos about this on YouTube.

Read more from Sid.

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