What’s it like to train at the Shaolin Temple? – Our May Program Roundup

This past May, CK Martial Hearts led 9 dedicated participants to the Shaolin Temple on our 11th Warrior’s Way Kung Fu Bootcamp, on a 10-day program that pushed each and every one of them to their absolute limits, and well past! Blood, sweat and even tears were shed, but it was most definitely an experience none of them will ever forget!

But what exactly happened? What kind of challenges did these intrepid individuals face? What did they learn, and did the experience meet their expectations? Read on to find out!


To say that this was the most diverse group we have ever taken to the Shaolin Temple would be an understatement! We had people joining us from the UK, USA, Canada, Brazil and Germany, and ages ranging from 26 to 61. And martial arts experience levels varied just as widely, from some people who had never formed a fist before, to those with black belts in other eastern martial arts. It was a joy to see such a variety of people joining us, but of course we knew there would be challenges ahead at the temple, both for the participants as well as us!

Before heading to the temple, we took some time to get to know our newest recruits, as well as give them the chance to get to know each other. For the first time ever we added 3 days in Beijing to the program, to give the participants a chance to see some of the highlights of Beijing, as well as allow them to recover from their inevitable jetlag! As well as a welcome dinner, to get everyone into the team spirit needed to face the grueling week ahead at the Shaolin Temple, participants had a chance to visit both the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and Beijing’s most prominent landmark, the Forbidden City!

Everyone was very appreciative of these new additions, and the time it allowed them all (as most were visiting China for the first time) to adjust the the very different culture, food and atmosphere of China!

Of course, as much fun and relaxation as everyone was able to enjoy, getting to the Shaolin Temple was still the reason why they were on this program, and so on Friday night we boarded the overnight train from Beijing to Zhengzhou, where our epic adventure was truly going to begin…!

As with all our trips, our first day at the temple was spent learning more about the history of Shaolin, both the temple itself and its connection to Buddhism, which forms the foundation of everything that happens there. This was followed by a stunning kung fu display, after which participants on our program were invited to take exclusive photos with the performance team! The following day, with everyone well rested and eager to start kicking ass, we led everyone to Tagou Martial Arts Academy, for their first hands-on training experience. Tagou is one of the world’s largest martial arts schools, with well over 40000 students learning a variety of empty-hand, weapon and combat styles.

Fortunately, our participants had their own teacher, the eminently qualified Zhu Jinhua, who took them through the principle concepts of Chinese Sanda, including how to stand, move, punch, kick and block. The students progressed extremely rapidly, quickly moving onto more complicated techniques and actually practicing applications of what they had learned.

The training session at Tagou was the perfect introduction to Shaolin training! Although taught from a different perspective, learning the foundation techniques common to both Shaolin and Sanda really helped. Plus, after just a two hour session, most were truly exhausted, and so were finally getting an idea of what would be expected of them over the coming week!

Of course, no matter how hard you expect it is going to be, no matter how well you’ve prepared, unless you are an Olympic athlete or otherwise take part in full-time, non-stop training, nothing prepares you for the brutal onslaught of 8 hours per day kung fu training that forces you to use your body, brain and heart in ways you could never imagine, exactly as our participants discovered….

Each day followed a similar structure, starting with training taichi first thing in the morning at 6am. This is a perfect way to start the day, with the slow, gentle movements helping to wake the body and relax the muscles before the intense training inside the temple began. By the second day, it was already very much appreciated! When training at the temple, the students started with heavy cardio to get the blood truly flowing, complemented by intensive stretching and practicing the jibengong routines. For most people, this opening 30 minutes of each Shaolin training session would represent more calories burnt than their usual exercise regime would burn in a week. But at the Shaolin Temple, this was just the warm up!

After everyone was thoroughly warmed up (to the point of being practically exhausted!) next up was the real meat of the program: Shaolin warrior monk Shi Yan Feng teaching the Shaolin Tongbiquan form. Watching a video or demonstration of this seemingly simple set belies how difficult it actually is. Tongbiquan is not a by-the-numbers form, simply going through the motions, but a train, moving constantly at full speed in several directions. Having to remember not only the movements themselves, but also to coordinate each body part separately while maintaining the whole, all with the correct posture, strength and tension, can be overwhelming. And certainly, some people struggled. Many long term students at the temple are given a month to learn this set (which is traditionally taught over 1 year, and mastered over 5!) But despite the difficulty of being exhausted, trying to learn the form to their best of their abilities, and pick up the supplementary training as well, every single student we had with us performed exceptionally, going far beyond what they thought they were capable of just a few days earlier.

Supplementary training has always been one of the defining features of our Warrior’s Way programs, and this May was no exception. After the gruelling training with the monk, each session would finish with a bonus session with Cultural Keys’ coach AJ Donnelly, who would lead the students though exercises to reinforce what they had learn with teacher Shi Yan Feng, as well as to work the skills necessary to develop true kung fu: Speed, Accuracy, Power, Hardness and Cruelty. These sessions involved a variety of exercises, ranging from simple HITT sets and target practice, to unending repetitions of single exercises and bone on bone impact training! More than one bruise was earned during these classes (on student and teacher alike!) but the benefit and enjoyment of this type of training can’t be overstated, and it ensured everyone experienced a very well rounded program!

By the time the end of the week rolled around, there wasn’t a student who wasn’t throughly depleted, mentally, physically and emotionally. Everyone had been through so much more than they could have imagined, and yet were still standing, still moving forward. Some slower than others, perhaps, but still moving, nonetheless. Everyone had given 100%, non-stop, and had pushed themselves to breaking (in in some cases beyond) just so they could say without a shadow of doubt that yes, they were warriors! Because that is the true meaning of a warrior; not someone who doesn’t get tired, not someone who doesn’t feel pain or fear or want to give up, but someone who experiences all those things, and still gets up in the morning and keeps moving forward!

Through all the pain and stress, trials and tribulations, Cultural Keys and CK Martial Hearts could not have been more honoured to have been joined by such dedicated, patient and passionate individuals as we had with us this past May, and we are proud of what each and every one of them achieved through being with us, fulfilling their own goals, and truly realising their own potential. No matter their backgrounds or experience levels, they all got something very personal out of the experience, with many letting us know in their own words exactly what the experience meant to them. It’s feedback like this that lets us know each year that this program has so much value, and we hope we can keep offering it for years to come!


Interested in experiencing the life, kung fu and culture of the Shaolin Temple for yourself? Our next Warrior’s Way program runs from September 11th to September 30th. For more information on what’s included, and how you can apply for one of the few remaining places, see our post here, or email us at [email protected] We look forward to having the opportunity to train with you!

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