By Diana Diriwaechter
When I had an opportunity to visit the Shaolin Temple in Henan in 2009 while traveling in China, I immediately jumped on the chance. I had always loved classic Kung Fu movies and it was a fantasy of mine to see where it all came from. I was so impressed with the discipline and skill of the students I saw on that visit that I was inspired to study Kung Fu in America when I returned home.
It was not easy finding an authentic Shaolin school in the United States. It took nearly 4 years after my visit to the temple until I finally found a school and Shifu who I felt was teaching the authentic traditions. Just like in the movies, Kung Fu training is hard. People, especially in the United States, struggle with the discipline and dedication required to learn Kung Fu. But, if you read fitness articles you will find that cross training and interval training are popular. If people who like those trends would visit a Shaolin Kung Fu class they would realize this is exactly what we do in every class, and also what the Shaolin have been doing for hundreds of years. This is ancient science, perfected over centuries, to target your whole body and your mind. On top of this you're not just getting in shape, you are also learning a useful skill.
I think Kung Fu is well suited for women as well as men. Women are often concerned about their health, staying fit or losing weight. Kung Fu can help with all of these things. The physical conditioning and fitness is obvious but it also helps with mental training and self esteem. If you can develop a strong mind and determination, the physical training will follow easily. On top of transforming your body it also can teach you self defense which for women unfortunately is still an important skill to have. It can help develop young girls self confidence. I think women can also especially shine when learning the forms because they are often very expressive. Of course the forms have specific technical purposes and help you understand your body but there’s also room to express yourself. The mix of soft and hard power provides so much room to add a personal touch to the practice. I feel that a form is especially successful when it is not just technically correct but also expresses some personality and spirit beyond the movement.
It's a misconception that you have to be young to learn Kung Fu. I'm in my 40's and am in the best shape of my life. Of course I often wish I was younger, especially when I see teenagers performing flips and flying kicks. While I may never do that, I’m happy with what I can do. A good Shifu understands your limits and can help you expand them. I’m improving everyday and can do things I had no idea I was capable of. The best part is I now have more patience and a deeper understanding that was missing when I was younger. I wish that people my age can understand how important and helpful the internal arts can be. You can always master new skills and improve yourself which feels great. Kung Fu has become a way of life for me. It is something I will continue doing until I die, I'm sure of that.