Matthew’s Story

A few months ago, Matthew John visited a Buddhist Temple in China to take part in Kung Fu training, here is his story of his trip.


Master Yau says that getting your black belt means you have just started on your path. This was true for me. I’d trained in Lau Gar for about 7 years before finally getting my black belt, but it was only after getting it did I become obsessed with Kung Fu. In the morning I’d get up at 0500 and train for an hour and a half and then also try to get a bit of training in at dinnertime. In the evenings I’d be on the computer looking at Kung Fu videos and reading whatever I could find.
This year was a landmark for me as I hit 40. I was lucky enough to have some very supportive friends and family and knowing my obsession with Kung Fu they all chipped in money to send me to China for a couple of weeks.

Over the years I’d been looking into training over there, thinking it was a pipe dream really. Now it had come to it I spent hours online again trying to find the right place. I didn’t want to go to the Shaolin temple or one of the many large-scale schools for foreigners, as reports were that it was all very commercial. I wanted to experience a Buddhist temple, live with the monks the way they do and spend the day focusing on Kung Fu…

I eventually found a place that sounded promising reading forums etc on the Internet. It was a working Buddhist temple way up in the mountains by an ancient city called Dali in Yunnan province. Unfortunately the temple was “off-grid”. It had very limited electricity, no Internet presence and basically no way of getting in touch with them to confirm if they were still there and still accepting foreign students. It was basically a very expensive leap of faith…. I decided to take the chance.


It took me 3 days to get there, 3 flights, a taxi ride and finally a hike up into the mountains by Dali with some limited directions. Luckily the path to the temple was well trodden as people from the city went up to the temple to pray and offer gifts or seek the Shifu’s wisdom.

The temple was about 3,000m above sea level so high enough for altitude sickness, which also added an additional element to the training! I was relieved to find out that they were still there and still accepting foreign students. The temple was pretty much as I’d read. It was off grid, water was from a well in the mountain pumped around the temple. My room had a bed (made of 4 chairs, and old door nailed to it and a mattress filled with straw) it also had a piece of string from one side to the other which I used to hang my clothes from and a window. Nothing else not even a light!

It cost me about £40 – £50 to stay there for a week; this was for my room, 3 meals a day and about 6 hours Kung Fu training a day.

Every day was pretty much the same and worked like this:

0530 – Morning bell rings and the morning song and prayers begin

0600 – Training
Run to the local river, find a rock and balance it on your head whilst walking back
Form Practice

0800 – Breakfast!
Typically noodles or rice with stir fried veg tofu (no meat, they are Buddhists!)
Sometime we’d have stuffed buns, one variety had a sweet filling and were universally the favourite!)

0900 – Morning Training
Stance training
Basic Walks/Punches/Kicks
Jumps – Cartwheels, Kicks, Backflips (depending on your ability!!)

1200 – Dinner
Pretty much the same as we had for breakfast but never the stuffed buns!

1230 – Free time
Sometimes you’d sit and meditate with the Shifu under a tree in the courtyard. Sometimes if it was a holy day the people from the city would come up and a Buddhist ceremony would take place, so lots of chanting etc. The monks would show you what to do so you just copied!
Tea Ceremony with the Shifu and locals
Sometimes a siesta was in order

1600 – Afternoon Training
Same format as the Morning training

1800 – Tea
Again same as Dinner

1900 – Free time

2000 – Evening prayer

2100 – Free time

2130 – Bedtime

Even at 40 I’m pretty fit, training most days and regularly running 10 miles, hill sprints etc but this training was the toughest I’ve done. It was the equivalent of running a marathon everyday, at altitude and in about 25/26 degree heat, day in day out for the week. By the 3rd day my legs were wrecked, felt like lead and wobbled like jelly. I was only just halfway into the week and wondered how I was going to get through the rest of it.



There were 5 other foreigners training there when I was there. A girl from Sweden, a guy from Bristol, a guy from Spain, a guy from America and an Israelis guy travelling after his military service. These were the first westerners I had met since landing in China. It was interesting meeting all these people from very different backgrounds, but all having one thing in common we got on immediately.


The Monks we trained with were incredible. Their stances were impeccable, movements smooth and the power they possessed was astounding. They seemed to be able to leap 6ft in the air to perform a kick effortlessly and would demonstrate no handed cartwheels without missing a beat. I certainly wasn’t keen on trying to learn these, as the training ground was brick!

All too soon it was over and I had to head home. This was without shadow of a doubt one of the best experiences of my life. I learnt so much when I was over there. I was cut-off from all distractions and just had Kung Fu to think about which made living in the present and focusing on mindfulness so much easier. I can wholeheartedly recommend this experience. Kung Fu has so many layers to it I don’t think it is quite like any other martial art. It is not just about being able to fight but incorporates the Buddhist philosophy into the practice and helps you focus not only on longevity with Qi Gong but also living a fulfilling life.



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