(Note: This is one in a series of articles on alternatives to traditional workout regimes. Aside from preventing boredom, it has been shown that varying one’s workouts improves results. Consult a doctor before starting any workout program.)
While journalists aren’t generally supposed to make personal admissions, here is one: while I was familiar with the term ‘Shaolin,’ it was only a word I’d heard interspersed in the lyrics of the Brooklyn-based rap group The Wu-Tang Clan.
In an effort to learn (much) more, I spoke with Joseph Meissner, who opened Shaolin-Do Kung Fu and Tai Chi in the Bywater ten years ago.
“Shaolin is a legendary Buddhist monastery in China where the monks practiced martial arts,” said Meissner. “There are many kung fu movies about Shaolin monks fighting against rival monasteries. It’s sort of like in America we have the myth of the old west and Tombstone and all that kind of stuff.”
Shaolin Kung Fu was developed by Bodhidharma, a monk from India famous for his discipline in meditation. It’s said that he spent nine years meditating in a cave, his shadow burning a stain in the cave walls from sitting still for so long. In fact, the forty-nine stretches, postures and exercises he taught the other Shaolin monks were to whip the other monks into proper meditating condition.
And while the legends and folklore of warrior-monks certainly makes for interesting conversation (especially the part about Bodhidharma cutting off his own eyelids so sleep wouldn’t interrupt his mediation. From those eyelids, it is said that tea plants grew, which were harvested and brewed and used by other monks to stay awake. No one at Shaolin-Do is advocating that), in practical terms, Shaolin-Do focuses on health and fitness, personal growth, and finally, self defense, said Meissner.
“We do traditional Chinese martial arts, kung fu and tai chi and some other ones that are less well known,” said Meissner. “But I really try to direct people to our adult kung fu classes when they’re starting out, because that’s the fast track to health and fitness and self-defense. It’s the more physically demanding, rigorous training, but everyone goes at their own pace and they can modify any of the exercises that we do to suit their current fitness level.”
“Besides being in the best shape of my life, my flexibility, speed, agility, endurance, and self-confidence have all improved,” wrote Heidi Kuehnel in an e-mail of the results she has seen from her training at Shaolin-Do. “I am confident that I will be able to defend myself in any situation. Additionally, I have met and trained with some amazing people, not to mention the parts of the Chinese language, history, folklore and philosophy I have learned.”
Her training, Kuehnel said, “has become a way of life.”
There is one other focus at Shaolin-Do: fun. “You come in here with a bunch of other people who are skilled and who help motivate you and inspire you and you learn new forms, new techniques or, basically every mammal has some kind of play that they engage in, it keeps them healthy,” said Meissner. “If you see any cat or dog, they all play and martial arts I think is one way we human beings kind of fool around and have fun, and ideally nobody gets hurt and it’s just a good way to get your brain chemicals rebalanced and have a good time and combat stress and anxiety.”
Shaolin-Do Kung Fu and Tai Chi, 4210 St. Claude Ave. Tel: 504.944.1880
Or visit www.nolashaolin.com. Free introductory Classes Monday and Wednesday nights at 6:30.