(Quote: Po, Kung Fu Panda, 2008)
I frequently receive questions about where it is best to study Kung Fu. Many interested students feel that heading to Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of China’s Kung Fu tradition, makes the most sense. But after talking to some folks who have studied inside and outside China, going to Shaolin to master the art of Kung Fu may not be the best value.
As many who have studied outside of China know, Kung Fu is usually taken very seriously by those to teach and study. Physical training is rigorous and is often accompanied by serious mental and philosophical exercises.
Aside from Matthew Polly, who describes his immersion in Kung Fu training at Shaolin Temple in 1992 in his fantastic book American Shaolin, many Westerners who go to Shaolin Temple these days leave disappointed.
A French Kung Fu student who went to Shaolin to learn from the masters left after three months. He said the teachers assigned to the Western students are soft on the students and don’t believe these “Kung Fu Tourists” are really interested in learning, no matter how dedicated and eager you are. Western students are isolated in foreign student dormitories and it can be difficult to mix with local students.
Additionally, stated the student, the other Kung Fu schools, of which there are many in the village of Dengfeng, at the foot of Mount Song where Shaolin Temple sits, look at foreigners as cash cows. The training is not as intense in Shaolin as it was in France and the facilities are rather meager. On most days, the students trained outside in fields with thousands of other Kung Fu schools.
It is no secret that the current Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin is interested in making money and expanding the Shaolin Brand. Nicknamed the “CEO Monk”, Shaolin under his guidance is in talks to brand tea drinks, set up a hospital and expand into Hong Kong.
If it is true Kung Fu learning you are seeking, perhaps it's better to look into training with Kung Fu schools outside of Shaolin. But if you're interested in Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism, historically, then by all means visit the area and even stay and study for a while.