Ami Tu Fuo – How I was living with Shaolin Monks for one month in China
Martial Arts are an important part of the Asian culture. In China it’s Kung Fu which originates from the Shaolin Monks, Buddhist monks who were studying the movements and the stances of the animals to use them for defending themselves against attackers.
Living with Shaolin Monks in a Kung Fu temple in China has always been my dream since I started training martial arts. When I came to China I told myself I have to go to a Shaolin Temple to experience this. First I found out about the original Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng in the Henan Province. It’s the birthplace of Shaolin Kung Fu originates, and so I thought about going there. Later I found out it’s just like Disneyland, full of tourists and lot’s of shows but nothing really authentic.
Then I heard about a small Shaolin Temple in Southern China were they take foreigners. You can stay there, live with the monks and learn Kung Fu with them. How cool ist that! So I decided to go there.
After walking up hundreds of stairs to the temple I arrived very excited about training with the Monks, got a nice welcome, paid the compulsory donation (500 ¥, ~80 USD per week), got some fresh linen and moved in my own room. In the temple everything is made out of wooden planks. The room has no window, only a wooden frame with some cloth on it. So you always have fresh air in the room – if you want it or not. In December when I was there it had something like 5-10 °C at night, but at day time it was sunny and warm. 🙂
Wu Wei Si translates to action without action. It’s a small temple with a few monks living there and a Shifu, the master who is exactly how you imagine an old Chinese Kung Fu master. An old Chinese with no hair but a thin pointed beard. He is a funny guy who is always in good mood and everything he does is perfectly in balance.
When I came to the temple there was also Lukas, a cool guy from Switzerland. He was staying there for six whole months! 😉
Every day starts the same. At 5:30 the monks hit the gong and start chanting their prayers. You are free to join. After that you do a little morning exercise like running to the river, carrying a stone back to the temple, doing some pull ups (we did at least) and a little stretching.
And that’s just the beginning of the training. You do six hours training every day. One hour morning exercise, three hours training in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. You can choose if you want to do Kung Fu or Tai Chi. I did Kunk Fu of course. 😉
We got taught by 16-year-old kids who were living in the temple since eight years. They took the training not too seriously and played around with their smartphones while we were training – until the Shifu suddenly appeared watching the training. When the kids saw him they put their phones away quickly and went “okay, training!”. 🙂
Three times a day the training got interrupted by a monk hammering a metal stick against a flagpole. The signal that it was time to have some food! 🙂 The food was so good, every thing vegetarian and more than we could eat. You are not allowed to start eating until the Shifu starts eating. You all stand up and he greets everyone with Ami Tu Fuo, then everyone replies with Ami Tu Fuo, sits down and starts eating.
The temple is such a peaceful place, very spiritual and very authentic. For me it was like heaven on earth. It’s on a mountain in the nature, squirrels are jumping around the whole area and there are barely any tourists. When I came there I planned to stay there for a week or so. But I was so amazed by this wonderful place that I extended my visa and stayed for a whole month. I came there to learn Kung Fu, but I felt that there was another, deeper reason why I happened to be there.
Very spiritual, the prayer room
In this one month I learned a lot about Buddhism, some Chinese, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, a lot of Kung Fu, how to eat consciously and even how to stand straight.
I came to learn KungFu, but I found a heavenly place where the most I learned was about myself
Sounds just like a great experience. Is that place just for guys or can women join also?
Yeah, it really was a great experience! Woman are free to join.
I am very serious to go and I am flying next week after reading your blog. May I contact you for more details? I am a woman and I can speak chinese well but cannot read. Is that difficult to find the temple fr Dali. You said hundred steps of stair. How long would that take? I am a fit person and confidence I can do that. Please please share me more details. Thanks.
Good to hear! It takes about half an hour (maybe 45 min) from the main road where the tuk tuk drops you off to walk up to the temple. But don’t worry! Time doesn’t matter there! 😉 As long as you don’t arrive in the middle of the night. If I can help with anything else, just write me via the contact form. 🙂
Thanks a lot Stevie! I appreciate it. Just saw your reply. I have bought my air ticket, finally. I am just going to stay for a short one, Friday morning arrives at Wu Wei Si Temple (from Dali old town) and Sunday evening check out to catch midnight train to Kunming from Dali. Do you have any message for me? Something I must take note? I am going there in Jan 2017. Thanks again.
Can I ask if I can bring luggage bag/ trolley bag or must bring back pack? Thanks.
Yes, luggage bag, trolley, whatever you have will be fine. They won’t deny you because of your luggage! 🙂
Interesting post Stevie. This is something I would have loved to do before getting married. Apart from the physical, it must have been a really spiritual experience as well. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
It’s never to late man!
This sounds like a really cool experience! Thumbs us for the great mood, peace and quiet and … SO much training!
do you know the lower age limit?
I don’t think there is an age limit, but I’m not sure about that.
Thank you so much for the detail about how you got there. I’ve been planning a trip there in September and no one ever mentioned how they got there. Without any Chinese speaking ability I have been nervous about that aspect. Still a little nervous about trying to find the train and figure out where I’m going, but less nervous than before. Thanks again!
You’re welcome! Have a good time there and let me know about your experience!
Hi Steve, very inspired by this. Is there another form of contact with you for a little further info. Would be immensely appreciated.
Yes, in the top menu about me, then contact. 🙂
I missed this story from you. Great experience and vegetarian food? Wow! I am curious what food was there!
Yeah, the food was delicious! All vegetarian, no onions and garlic like in Ayurvedic tradition. Spicy food with lots of vegetables, rice or noodles and sometimes most delicious baozi dumplings for breakfast filled with sweet bean paste. Everything very yummy and more than we could eat! 🙂
Sounds great! Tempting. Guess I will be like Kung-fu panda with all the food there.
I should see more pics when you return to Vienna!
did you spoke any chinese? or do they all speak english?
im planning to go there, do you have any tips?
I spoke some Chinese, but it’s not necessary. The kids who teach speak English and some others might do so. My tip is, just go there and see how it is and if you like it. But don’t expect too much. It’s not that you are coming out after a week and are a Shaolin Master.
So cool…. I would love to do that! Loved this whole culture since I was young and, of course, kung fu! 🙂 Thank you for the awesome photos!
Wow. What an experience. I would love to do this one day. You are so blessed to be able to travel.:)
Is it possible to live with them permanently without a fee?
As a foreigner? I don’t think so. But you can go there and ask them. 😉
I have previously trained in Kung Fu (Lao Gar) but am interested in taking my training to black belt level. How long does this take with the Shaolin monks? I am interested to know so I can start saving as I would love to live and train with them!
You can stay there as long as you want. But you pay per week. Anyway, I wrote about my experience which is more than one year ago. I have no idea how it is there now. All the best with your training!
How do I make contact with this guys
You can’t. You just go there and talk with them.
Realy would love to get away form z rat race for about a year would you say that could be done with them.
I don’t know what you mean with z rat race. But you can go there and ask them.
By the time I finish my three months of Jiu Jitsu here, I may just have a cool pointy beard like that haha! Thanks for telling me about this! Cool to read about what you got up to 🙂
Haha! 😀 Yeah, a three months Jiu Jitsu camp in China sounds awesome too. Is it Brazilian or traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu? I’m an instructor for traditional Jiu Jitsu back home in Austria, training since 14 years now and teaching kids since several years. I don’t get to train too much now when travelling though.
Hey hi Steve, sounds great. so how did you re-new your visa? How much did your training food accommodation cost please?
Hey Jane! I renewed my visa in Dali City (Xiaguan). It’s easy there and took about a week. There’s lots of information on the internet about the visa extension in China.
As I wrote in the article the cost for the food and accommodation was 500 Yuan per week.
If someone were to have the intention of staying their for 4-6 months, how would they go about doing that, in regards to communicating with the Sifu, raising finances, obtaining a proper Visa, etc.?
You just go there and start the training and if you like it you stay longer. You pay week by week. About the visa it totally depends what country you come from and what visa regulations you have. But you can find all the information about obtaining and extending the visa on the internet.
Hi Stevie, is there a set amount of time you have to stay? How important was having any Manderin?
Hey James! There is no minimum time to stay, but you pay per week in advance. Mandarin is not necessary because the kids who were teaching us spoke some English.
Hey! I’m wondering about going to this place for some weeks in december this year. But I have no training in Martial Arts. I am just a regular generally very well fit man. But living with monks in a temple has been a life dream for me. How is the level of the training, and what do the shaolin monks expect us to know from before? or being capable of doing?
Hope you will answer, and I really enjoy the pics you have of Norway! (from Norway myself :))
Hei Per! No prior experience with Kung Fu or Martial Arts is needed. As I’ve written in the post the teachers are 15 year old kids who don’t take the training too serious themselves. So the training will be as hard as you want it to be. You will have to decide about the intensity of your training and your commitment with it yourself. Also there is no one who kicks you in the ass if you don’t take it serious enough. If that’s good or bad you can decide yourself. Anyway, I was there long time ago. I don’t know how it is there now. So I wouldn’t recommend going to China just for this temple.
Hi! I’m planning on going one week from December 8th. Will you be there?
Hi, is it possible to stay in the temple for more than a year? If so would you have to pay the 80 usd per week?
Also, would it be possible to live there indefinitely? If the kids were living there since 8 yrs how did they get there?
Why don’t you go there and ask them? The kids are Chinese, so it’s different. Yes, it was around 80 USD per week when I was there.
OMG that must have been sooooo amazing. If I was to stay there a month could I really learn kung fu. I feel it would be the perfect place, without all the worldly distractions.
Sure, you can learn Kung Fu even in one day. In one month you learn more than in one day and less than in one year. 😉 Anyway, if you go there keep in mind, I was there more than one year ago. I have no idea how it is there now.
kenny, if you are going solely to learn kung fu as in be able to defend yourself with it you are going for the wrong reasons. It takes about 10 yrs for the especially gifted to master their animal style. Go simply to experiance life as a monk. But dont expect to do anything with the kung fu you learn. Especially since your teachers who are teenagers that dont take training seriously themselves.
Thanks so much for this excellent post. It has greatly inspired me to pick up an old dream of training kung fu in China. I had studied Wing Chun when I was younger, but once I started college it fell by the wayside along with that dream of China. Now I’ve finished college and have 3 months to kill before my PhD studies begin. I am heading to Nepal to trek the Annapurna Circuit, and I randomly found this post. Now I am completely inspired to head to China ASAP after Nepal and spend as much time as I can training. Again, thank you for writing this!
Best of luck on your current adventure! I will try to spend some time keeping up with your more current posts as you seem to have an absolutely fantastic lifestyle that is motivating and inspiring. Keep it up!
Hey Michael! Thanks for the kudos. 🙂 I haven’t done the Annapurna Circuit yet, but it must be amazing. I wish you all the best for your trip in Nepal and China. Old dreams should never be forgotten! 🙂
Stay tuned, I will publish and update on my blog soon.
Hi! I’m going to visit this tample next week. Can you tell is there any day when the new “group” start traning? 🙂
Hi stevie! I’m 16 looking to go on a gap year in 2018 once i have left school and i would love to go to a temple! can i ask what training you done? like did they teach you about breathing and zen etc and how to transfer your pain and about life energy? how real was the experience because I have heard of a lot of temples being more laid back and not as authentic specifically for tourists please if you can go into great depth about what it was like and how everything was!! 🙂 thanks
Hello Harry! No, it was basic Kung Fu trainig. Not highly sophisticated. Kicks, Punches and some technique sequences like Katas. The basic stances of course, some strengh training and a lot of streching.
Hi Stevie! I absolutely loved reading ur experience there, but I have one question…in those daily exercises, is praying to Buddha (for example) required or praying in general? Btw I hope u have a great time in Finland!
hi was wondering if it mattered if u were fat or are not very athletic. would it still be possible to go anyway and just try ur best?
It’s absolutely no problem. The monks are very easy going and you do what you can do and put as much effort in your training as you wish. There is no one who drills you or pushes you to train hard.
I noticed that a lot of those that went to train with the monks are male. Are females invited to these? have any females trained with them before?
Yes, there were some girls training there when I was there. It’s no problem.
Hey Stevie !! Good read..sounds like fun..was wondering if u wld knw a little abt ppl or places which are more apt for healing and training.. I have been diagonised with panic attacks just some 20 days back ..looking for some miracle to get past this ..i feel maybe the chinese monestry might have some answers.. Was there any pathology healing done where u were staying ..fingers crossed .
It definitely is a great place where I found a deeper sense than just the training. The buddhist temple was for me also a place to find inner peace.
The monks have a special ceremony every Sunday when they pray to the Medicine Buddha. And every full moon and every new moon there are even bigger ceremonies at the medicine temple.
I wish you all the best for your wellbeing, lots of peace and harmony!
I’m really glad that I found this post. My fiance and I are getting married in January and plan on going backpacking in China for our honeymoon. Staying at a monastery has always been something we’ve wanted to do but all the ones we have managed to find online don’t seem too authentic!
Are couples allowed? We’d be happy to stay in separate rooms, of course.
Could you perhaps share some other “must-do” or “must-see” things in the area or even suggest places for us to stay when we are not at Wu Wei Si?
We are big nature fans and would also like to get immersed into the culture while we are there!
PS. We’re from South Africa.
Thanks in advance! 🙂
Congratulations on your marriage! Backpacking in China is a great idea for your honeymoon! 🙂 About the Wu Wei Si Temple, first it’s quite a long time since I’ve been there and I have no idea how it is there now. So don’t expect anything when you go there. The area around is really beautiful so it’s worth going there anyway. Dali is a quite touristy city but very alternative and untypical for China, so make sure to plan to spend some days in Dali Old Town. Nearby is also the big Erhai Lake which is beautiful to explore by bike or scooter. Very close is also the small village of Xizhou with picturesque and old buildings – check it out!
Hey! First of all, great article! Me and my friend would love to experience something like this and it seems really awesome, I have just one question for you: is it mandatory there to do the martial art? Because thing is – I would love to go there mostly because of the martial arts aspect, not so much buddhism, but my friend would like to meditate, find zen etc., not so much into crazy training? Is it possible to be there and just get into buddhism or are you supposed to learn the art? 🙂 Thanks!
Hey man! I’m glad you like it! Most people will go there for the training. I don’t know if they take people who don’t want to train, but if your friend doesn’t want to do KungFu he can train Tai Chi, which is a kind of moving meditation and has many aspects of zen. Anyway, it’s long time since I’ve been there and I don’t know how it is there now. Cheers, Stevie 🙂
Hey stevo, fellow stevo here, thanks for the article bud and hats off on replying to all these comments even though 90% of them you already answered in the original article, thats true zen right there lol
Hehe, thanks man! All the best to you Stevo! 😀
Mi name is Ricardo I´m from Mexico, I was searching for some information about living with shaolin mokns when I crossed with your blog, It’s really cool all the things youe have been doing. I’m thinking about travelling just like you, but I’m a little bit insecure about how to pay for all the trips and expenses if I quit my job, I was wondering if you could share with me some of your experience and how do you do it.
Thank you very much
hey stevie this is just what i am looking for… i really really want to go I’m from the uk. how do i get around the visa as from what i know i need to inform / invitation to get a visa ? any advise would be much appreciated .. cheers buddy 😉
from what age you can enter shaolin temple?
Hoping one day soon, I can do this, as soon as I grow myself some balls! Hehe
Thanks for the info 🙂
Im planning on going to a shaolin temple i. Febuary 2017,
Im looking to stay about a year and i want to learn kung fu, the chinese language and just to get some rest from everything here in my country.
I have a few question, how do i get a visa for a year, how do i get health care insurance their and is it even possible to stay that long?
I hope you can help me.
Best regards Bas.
I don’t know about the visa. Mine was for two months only (one + another one extended). About staying there I would go there for a week and see if you like it there at all. Then you can talk with them about staying longer. I also have no idea how it is there now.
I’m planning to go there in february 2017 too, thinking about staying got a month.
If all goes as planned, we’ll probably meet there 🙂
I would like to ask for some advise/tips.
Im planning on leaving in febuary and i were wondering.
How does it work with healthcare,
Do i take toothpaste etc?
How to wash clothes?
What are usefull things to take?
Im going there for a year
Thanks in advance
Hi, are females able to go as well? I’d very much like to give this a try.
Sure, there were some girls when I was there. 🙂
Hi, I’ve heard of some people staying for few months+ and am wondering since there’s no electricity how do they keep fresh clothes/showering during that entire process? Curious what the monks do as well for this!
You don’t need electricity for showering and washing clothes.
Hey there Steve i just finished reading this article and am very interested in visiting and learning more about it in person, I’ve always had a passion for kung fu and the Chinese ways, I know I’m a year to late to reply lol but I was wondering about how you were to join the temple? Do you just show up ready to join and start the next day? Or do you contact them some way in advance? Thank you for your time it would mean alot to hear back from you!
Hey Michael! Yes, you just show up and join them. There is no way to contact them in advance.
Just have to agree with Stevo, you showing some true zen by replying to all those same questions 😉
Thx for writing the article and especially for the pics. I live in kunming and also heard those stories about this magical place in the mountains of dali, just to discover now I’ve already been there and hung out for almost also day to escape dali’s tourism 🙂
Therefore I also have a clearer picture now, it’s off the big tourist spots but it’s also not really far off in the mountains, as well as I already imagined it not to be so serious with the training, as most places in China besides Sichuan and the Tibet area. Thx so much, greetings from a fellow Austrian
Ps I might still go back there for a week in January as I am anyway visiting friends in old dali town, I ll keep you updated about the conditions!
Hey Hanna! I’m glad that you enjoyed reading! Good to hear that there are some fellow Austrians around! 🙂 Yes please keep us updated! Enjoy China! 🙂
Hi bro, trough hard work training, how long does it take to be like them, I mean to be same level like them,
And is there electricity there, I wanna carry my electronics
Go and find out! 😉
About how much did the whole trip cost? flight to china, train expenses, bus and taxi fairs, guesthouse fairs in Dali Old City?. Just trying to budget out my trip in total.
It was part of my one year trip around Asia. I don’t remember the costs for the guest houses in Dali or the trains. But I’m sure you can find it out on the net. Happy travels!
I doubt it would take ten years to learn kungfu! six hours a day, for one year you would make some pretty big progress. You wouldn’t be a master, but you would know how to defend yourself.
im going there in february if anyone wants to join :)email me at email@example.com
Hi I’m looking to move to either Thailand or china to engulf my life in martial arts. When I was 12 I had surgery that paralyzed my left side and though I’ve regained a lot of it since then I can’t do some thingstuff yet still like run or stuff that’s acrobatic yet. Can I still go to the monastery and train and do everything they do even tho I might need some extra time to do like the morning run or some of the training they do might need to be modified til I get strong enough to do it normally? Also I’m looking to spend a long time in monasteries to train as in a minimum of a year or 2. Is this length doable? And I’m working on figuring everything out stI’ll but I still need mess for my seizures at night. Can I leave the monastery every few months to go get more mess in the city?
Sure, as long as you try and do what you are able to do they will be totally fine with that! About the length, go there and see if you like it and then you can decide and talk with them about staying longer. You can leave the monastery once a week.
Hi Stevie, how are things? Great posts here! I’m keen to do this but was planning on doing it next week on my Chinese new year holidays. I’m a bit weary that I’ll go all the way to DaLi and all the monks will be off for CNY or something! Would you know now I could get some more information on this? Really appreciate it, this looks incredible. Cheers!
Sorry, I have no idea about that! Good luck anyway!