Wow! How do we get here?
Well, that’s a long story.
Sit back. Relax.
This is My Life at Shaolin Temple.
After I graduated from high school,
I started an apprenticeship at a German bank
because I knew I’d earn good money
and who wouldn’t want to have a stable job.
I had a very high GPA
so I had the freedom to do anything.
But I didn’t want to go to university right away
because I was sick of studying.
I wanted to make some money first.
Unfortunately the bank sent me to an office pretty far from home
and I didn’t and still don’t have a driver’s license.
So I had to make a one and a half hour train trip
back and forth to work every day,
which didn’t help my motivation.
So I requested to be relocated to a more central branch.
They did and things became even clearer.
This was not what I wanted to do with my life.
So I quit and now I was lost.
I still didn’t want to go to college
but I also can’t just do nothing.
So I went to China for half a year
to spend time with my family and improve my Chinese.
I always love China.
But after that time, it became my second home.
To this day, Beijing is one of my favorite cities in the world
and I have nothing but great memories of that place.
Six months passed and I went back home.
Even though I had a great time,
I fell right back into my old way of thinking when I returned.
I was lost, again.
This was around May 2013.
I learned so much in China.
Yet I was still not ready to get back into my old life in Germany.
This depressed me.
After wasting my time for three more months
wondering what I should do,
something came to my mind.
Since I was about 13 years old,
I’ve always had this thought of living in a monastery.
Maybe you could call it a dream.
It was never anything really concrete though,
just a distant idea.
But now things were different.
I had to do something and I knew I didn’t want to stay here.
My options were limited.
Is there even a monastery
where I can find some peace and quiet
and at the same time keep fit?
And of course there was only one possibility–
the ancient and mystical Shaolin Temple.
I wrestled with that thought for a while.
I thought it was outrageous.
Like many of you I’ve heard stories about Shaolin monks
and watched some YouTube documentaries.
How will I be able to survive there?
Would they even take me in?
I’m sure there are tons of people who would like to join them.
But at that point, I was obsessed.
I had to know for sure
and there was only one way of doing that.
I had to give it a try.
And so began my three-year long adventure at Shaolin Temple.
Getting there was no cakewalk.
First I flew to Beijing,
then I took the fast train to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan.
Then took a long-distance bus to Dengfeng.
Then take another small bus to the Shaolin scenic area.
And then get picked up one of the Shaolin monks
which my dad had gotten in touch with before through his contacts.
What was my first impression?
It was midsummer.
It was at least 40 degrees Celsius and extremely humid.
I wish somebody had told me at this point
that my Western sophisticated standards
are not gonna matter to anybody here.
And why should they?
I was a spoiled unsuspecting nineteen-year-old guy from Germany
who thought he could just join the Shaolin monks
and that would be the end of it.
Obviously, things went very differently.
My first day was a nightmare.
I was trained by one of the lead warrior monks
together with a Chinese teenager
who would come to Shaolin Temple every year during summer holiday.
It was just the two of us.
I had no friends.
I was in the middle of nowhere.
I was alone. It sucked.
But during these rare and quiet moments
when I was able to take in the scenery
and think about the history of this place,
it was magical, almost overwhelming.
The Shaolin Temple lies in a valley of the holy Songshan Mountains.
If you walk 10 to 15 minutes
up a street in front of the temple,
you’ll arrive in a small village called Wangzhigou.
This is a tiny place that is filled with people,
mostly children and teenagers.
By my estimation, maybe around 1,500 people in total.
What do they do there? Train kungfu.
All day, every day, nothing but kungfu,
一整天 每一天 只练功夫
from 4:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
This is their life.
They are divided into more than a dozen schools
with their masters being former or even current Shaolin monks.
“Maybe I should better go to one of these” was my thought.
And as I was walking through the packed streets of Wangzhigou,
it didn’t take long to see the first western faces.
And that was like a gift from God.
A Western face meant home.
I quickly approached them
and was brought to a school exclusively for foreigners.
And that’s where I decided to stay.
For now, this was supposed to be my transition period,
getting used to the life there
while being able to spend time with people
that I could relate to more easily.
I stayed here for one month
and I met some wonderful people.
Still, every morning when we warmed up for training,
I saw the actual Shaolin Temple staring at me from a distance.
I knew that that is where I needed to go.
I wasn’t here just to learn kungfu.
I wanted to learn about Buddhist and Shaolin culture.
So eventually, I came in touch with the…
I guess spokesperson of the Shaolin Temple,
who is in charge of foreigners.
I’m sorry. I’m still not quite sure of his actual job description.
He wasn’t a monk.
He was a businessman, which confused me a little.
But it shouldn’t have come as a surprise
since the Shaolin Temple is UNESCO world heritage
and has become a million dollar industry over the past years,
attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists every month,
just among Chinese people alone.
It was by far not the place that I had originally pictured
when I left Germany.
But I had come so far to see this legendary place,
I wasn’t about to give up now.
So I made a deal with this man
which brought me a lot closer to my goal.
I was still going to live in Wangzhigou,
but I could train, eat and pray inside the Shaolin Temple.
但我可以在少林寺里练功 吃斋 祷告
This was huge for me.
Ultimately, my goal was training side-by-side with the monks,
but those guys have been doing kungfu since they were little six-year-old kids,
in some cases even earlier.
How was I ever going to catch up? It seemed impossible.
I did some judo when I was 12, but that’s about it.
I left the school for foreigners
and started training in Shaolin Temple
under guidance of a senior Shaolin warrior monk.
And I stuck to it.
Every day, trained about 6 to 7 hours daily.
It was exhausting!
I was still training together with foreigners.
And most of the time, I was the only person who could speak Chinese.
So I also acted as a translator,
which would help me a lot along the way.
But it wasn’t only an issue of language.
The Shaolin Temple is and probably always has been a turbulent place.
Over the past years, it’s grown vastly in popularity,
fame but also criticism.
Now, this video isn’t going to address those.
Because they’re mostly uttered by people
who are neither familiar with Chinese culture,
nor have they ever stepped foot into Shaolin Temple
as anything other than a tourist.
Shaolin Temple has become very careful and wary
of who they allow to get close to them.
I guess this is a normal and natural way of thinking
when you got so many eyes on you constantly.
Why do I mention these?
Because I was lucky.
I was lucky that I look Chinese,
that I had a Chinese family who visited me several times,
and that I could speak Chinese.
It was a lot easier for them to relate to me
and see me as one of them.
Even during my first two years of training,
I had the honor and the privilege to train
among the warrior monks many times.
In Western countries, we always expect regulations, clarity and bureaucracy.
在西方国家 我们总是在期待法规 澄清以及官僚制度
People often struggle to understand how my daily routine was.
I wasn’t a monk. Every day was different.
I got up in the morning and didn’t know what to expect.
Sometimes training was cancelled
due to a buddhist ceremony that I had to take part in.
Sometimes I was called on short notice
to run down to the temple quickly
because the German ambassador from Beijing was here
and I should introduce myself and perform.
There was a lot of drinking tea, cleaning up,
有很多事情要做 喝茶 打扫卫生
talking and being yelled at.
I was here indefinitely
and it was hard for people to understand that.
Two years passed and I had made many friends.
Sometimes my master wouldn’t even show up on training,
call me up and tell me that I should fill in for him.
This happened fairly frequently
and even I was getting sick of teaching basics
to foreign newcomers who would go home again
after three weeks anyways.
I felt that it was finally time to take the next step.
So one morning I walked up to my master.
I looked him in the eye.
I was sweating like crazy and I asked,
“Can I join the warrior monks?”
Looking back, I don’t know why I was that nervous.
He knew that I spent a lot of time with them already,
training, performing and going to the city together.
一起训练 表演 进城
He didn’t even hesitate.
He said, “Yes, sure, but don’t mess it up.”
说 “当然可以 但别搞砸了”
He trusted in me and he believed in me.
Now that felt amazing, like a new beginning, which it was.
那感觉棒极了 就像是一个新开始 事实就是
My last year was by far the most fun and the most painful.
Before I got beaten by my master, only on rare occasions
if I really messed something up.
Now it was almost a daily occurrence and ten times harder
because I was a familiar face by now.
I think most of the time, I got preferential treatment.
I wasn’t hit as hard as the others
because I was still a half foreigner.
They know that in the West
we are not big fans of using violence to teach.
But, my God! There were some masters
但是 天哪 有的师父并不在乎
who just didn’t care, which I loved.
It made me feel even more integrated.
Although while you’re getting hit with a stick,
it’s still not that great.
It was a learning experience
and I went through a lot of ups and downs.
The living conditions would drastically change at times.
Going a week without running water or electricity
turns out to be quite the challenge.
But winter is where things got really tough.
Having to go into splits early in the morning
at -20 degrees Celsius
makes you rethink your life choices.
But of course, it wasn’t all bad.
On the contrary, we also had a lot of fun goofing around.
相反 我们也有很多乐趣 四处闲逛
And since I was shifted around different warrior monk training groups,
I got to meet some of the best martial artists in the world.
These monks had no interest in fame.
It’s hard to see into the heart of the myth
through the fog of mystery what Shaolin really is.
But I’m sure of it.
Some of these monks carried the true legendary skill
and ancient wisdom of a Shaolin warrior.
And their teaching methods were insane but undoubtedly effective.
Some days would have to train until at least somebody throws up.
And thank God! I never did.
We learned in two weeks what people in the West learn in two years
because it was literally beaten into us.
I was instructed in several traditional and modern fist forms
swords, whips, chain whips, double chain whip
剑术 鞭 链鞭 双链鞭
and of course the most iconic weapon , the staff.
It was important to be ready
to perform in front of a large audience
at a moment’s notice, which happened plenty of times.
Of course, Shaolin is not merely the name of the monastic order,
but it’s also a culture.
A culture that is often reduced to the sport.
But it’s much more than.
I don’t want to get into an esotericism and Zen doctrine.
But I will never forget what
one of the meditating monks once told me,
“Spirituality that is expressed is not spirituality.”
This really made me think.
But I want to conclude this on a different note.
In my experience, behind Shaolin lies a very contradictory philosophy.
You can ask the same question to two masters
and you’ll get two completely different answers.
This frustrates me to this very day, but I’m still young.
So maybe, I’m not supposed to understand it yet.
It wouldn’t feel right to make this video
without at least mentioning one of my best friends
that I made in Shaolin. And that’s Bruce.
I don’t know who gave him that name
but he was the kindest and most loving dog
I’ve ever met in my life.
He’d even join us on training.
And by joining I mean napping in the shadows
while we were training under the scalding hot sun.
Sometimes he’d even run up the mountain with me.
Bruce was the best.
But because he didn’t have a real owner
and was sort of a half wild dog
who would also hunt on his own,
one day he disappeared.
That kind of broke my heart.
I really loved him.
I have the suspicion that he was hit by a car
since he loved going out after dark.
I just hope that it was a painless and quick death.
Rest in peace, Bruce.
I know it’s important to be humble,
but if I’m made to say what I’m most proud of,
It’s not the kungfu that I learned.
It’s about the inside look
that I was granted into the lives of
my close friends at Shaolin Temple,
the friendships that I have made,
and the togetherness that I have experienced,
together through blood sweat and tears.
Literally, I don’t regret a second of it.
Finally, having a better understanding of Chinese mentality
and the Chinese way of thinking,
I want to thank all my masters
for their endless patience with me.
I am forever in your debt.
You opened my eyes to so many things.
It’s almost impossible to put this into words.
Everything you guys have done for me.
Without you, I’d still feel lost to this very day.
It was probably the greatest adventure of my life
and I’m honored to be a part of Shaolin Temple.
Thanks for listening.
Wow! How do we get here?