There are many private schools nearby the Shaolin valley of Henan province. It lies about twelve kilometers west of the small city of Dengfeng, which itself is a good two and a half hour car ride west of Zengzhou. All these schools teach Shaolin gong fu, and actually, walking around the village and watching some of them, I am amazed at the continuity in the quality and substance of the training. True, some masters might change some things in forms, but you definitely don't have the "we changed the form because we like this better" shit going on there as much as we have here in America. Some of these private schools have ex-monks as their head masters, or some other Shaolin Temple affiliation; some are run by private individuals who are either extensively trained in Shaolin gong fu, or are trained in some other martial arts, and pretend to teach Shaolin gong fu. But predominantly, Shaolin gong fu is taught fairly well throughout the village.
The Shaolin Temple wushu guan, which are pictured here in the site, is a government run institution that is taught by actual Shaolin Temple monks. Foreigners can train here, usually at a price of eighty to a hundred dollars a day, which included food, room, and about four to six hours a day of training. The training tends to be more wu shu oriented, and very rarely will the applications of the forms be demonstrated. The feeling I get when watching foreigners train with the monks, is that the monks show them how to do some of the basic forms, and the basic gong fu maneuvers, but they don't really get into the applications of these forms or maneuvers (the so called "secrets"). But the wu shu is good, and the training is difficult, to say the least. It is an experience non-pareil.
Some other foreigners, after having been there a while, find a monk, or an ex-monk, or, a wu shu teacher, and live and eat in the village proper. One can find a room (if you can call it that), for about two to three dollars a day, sometimes more, and eat in the many village "restaurants", at a daily food cost of about two dollars a day. You'll spend more money on drinking water (a bottle of purified water costs a little over fifty cents, sometimes more) than you will on food, if you work out like you're supposed to. But I've seen some difficulties with this. Some foreigners have experienced that "tradition" syndrome, whereby the teacher (master) will not teach them any forms until they have proven themselves. So, it is not uncommon for a foreigner to travel to the village, find a master (it is not implied here that this foreigner becomes a disciple) and spend four months running up and down the mountain. Remember, in the old days, and to some degree, with current masters (Shi Su Goong comes to mind here), that a prospective student needed to prove himself before a master would agree to take him and teach him the arts. Some foreigners have to deal with that, and eventually leave, discouraged that they never really learned anything. I think that this is far more common than one could imagine. Others, who return on a consistent basis, find that they develop relationships with some of the monks or teachers, (and rarely become their disciples), and learn more of the gong fu forms that we all go there to learn. It really is a hit and miss situation when one searches out a teacher for "private" or semi-private lessons.
There is another option, and that is to enroll in one of the larger private schools that inhabit the valley. Here the curriculum is fairly consistent, with "grade levels" and multiple classes. But again, from what I've seen, and from the students at these schools that I've spoken with, it is not common to learn the gong fu applications. What is predominantly taught is the wu shu, or competitive gong fu. The traditional gong fu art is not taught to everybody. Prices for these schools vary, and it is common to find that room and board are part of the tuition. Remember, China is not exactly a wealthy country, so an annual fee of around one to two thousand dollars might not be a lot to a foreigner, but it is to a Chinese. Also remember that Chinese living conditions pale in comparison to those of the western world, so if you're planning on living at one of these schools, be prepared. It isn't a pleasant experience. Period.
Head on over to the Shaolin Schools section for more information on getting to Shaolin to train.
Getting Shaolin Training
- Written by: doc