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Ami Tu Fuo: How I Lived One Month with Shaolin Monks in China

Martial arts are an important part of the Asian culture. In China, it’s Kung Fu which originates from the Shaolin monks—Buddhist monks who were studying the movements and the stances of the animals to use them for defending themselves against attackers.

When I came to China I told myself I have to go to a Shaolin Temple to experience this. First, I found out about the original Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng in Henan Province. It’s the place where everything started, and thought about going there. I later found out it’s just like Disneyland, full of tourists and lots of shows but nothing really authentic.

Then I heard about a small Shaolin Temple in Yunnan Province in Southern China were they take foreigners. You can stay there, live with the monks, and learn Kung Fu with them. How cool is that! So I decided to go there.

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The Temple is called Wu Wei Si and is located in Dali, a small backpacker town not far from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. From Kunming you take the train to Xiaguan (the new Dali). And from Xiaguan you can go to Dali old town by bus.

Dali is worth staying a few days and experiencing the hip (night) life there. If you have the time, also go to Xizhou, 20km (12 mi) north of Dali. It’s much smaller, but by far not so touristy and very picturesque. There are no hostels and all shops close at 8pm. That’s the time when they roll up the sidewalks. Anyway, I found a nice Couchsurfing host there.

To get to the temple from Dali you can take a mini bus from the big road at the west gate for 2 yuan (US$.030) or do it like me and walk for about an hour. The temple doesn’t have a website or a phone no. You just go there and show up.

GPS location: 25.726744 100.11826

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After walking up hundreds of stairs to the temple I arrived very excited about training with the monks, got a nice welcome, paid the compulsory donation (500 yuan/US$80 per week), got some fresh linens, and moved in my own room. In the temple everything is made out of wooden planks. The room has no window, only a wooden frame with some cloth on it. So you always have fresh air in the room—if you want it or not. In December when I was there it had something like 5–10°C at night, but in the daytime it was sunny and warm.

Wu Wei Si means “action without action.” It’s a small temple with a few monks living there and a Shifu, the master who is exactly how you imagine an old Chinese Kung Fu master. An old Chinese man with no hair but a thin pointed beard. He is a funny guy who is always in a good mood and everything he does is perfectly in balance.

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When I came to the temple there was also Lukas, a cool guy from Switzerland. He was staying there for six whole months!

Every day starts the same. At 5:30 in the morning the monks hit the gong and start chanting their prayers. You are free to join. After that you do a little morning exercise like running to the river, carrying a stone back to the temple, doing some pull ups (we did at least), and a little stretching.

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And that’s just the beginning of the training. You do six hours of training each day. One hour morning exercise, three hours training in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon. You can choose if you want to do Kung Fu or Tai Chi. I did Kung Fu of course.

We got taught by 16-year-old kids who were living in the temple since the age of eight. They took the training not too seriously and played around with their smartphones while we were training—until the Shifu suddenly appeared to watch the training. When the kids saw him they put their phones away quickly and went “Okay, training!”

Three times a day the training got interrupted by a monk hammering a metal stick against a flagpole. The signal that it was time to have some food! The food was great, everything vegetarian and more than we could eat. You are not allowed to start eating until the Shifu starts eating. You all stand up and he greets everyone with Ami Tu Fuo, then everyone replies with Ami Tu Fuo, sits down, and starts eating.

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The temple is such a peaceful place, very spiritual and very authentic. For me it was like heaven on earth. It’s on a mountain in the nature, squirrels are jumping around the whole area, and there are barely any tourists. When I came there I planned to stay for a week or so. But I was so amazed by this wonderful place that I extended my visa and stayed for a whole month. I came there to learn Kung Fu, but I felt that there was another, deeper reason why I happened to be there.

In this one month I learned a lot about Buddhism, some Chinese, Tai Chi, Chi Gung (QiGong), a lot of Kung Fu, how to eat consciously, and even how to stand straight.

I came to learn Kung Fu, but I found a heavenly place where the most I learned was about myself.

For more stories like this, head over to Stevie’s site.