What’s it like being a Shaolin warrior monk? As Shaolin Master Shi Xing Mi tells us, it’s a lot more than just kung fu.
“The Shaolin Temple was actually the birthplace of Chan Buddhism, also known as Zen,” he says.
Shi studied the Shaolin Way for over two decades before eventually being granted the title of secular warrior monk of the 32nd generation. Since then, he’s travelled the world to help spread what he calls “ancient wisdom for the modern times”.
His latest venture is a wellness programme, held in collaboration with the picturesque Four Seasons Hangzhou at West Lake.
The programme runs from September 29 to October 4. Each day is split into four separate sessions led by Shi, each focusing on different areas that range from meditation and mindfulness to kung fu-inspired yoga.
Mornings begin with Shaolin meditation—said to improve memory, mood, and sleep—Chi breathing exercises, and Qigong. The schedule picks up the pace from mid-morning onwards, with intensive Shaolin-style physical training and yoga: It’s not quite the Kung Fu you’ve seen on the big screen, but it’ll surely give you a taste of the monastic life.
Finally, each day winds down with a mindfulness session that applies the Shaolin philosophy of wellness, a sort of ’spiritual detox’ that’s said to enhance one’s emotional wellbeing and mental outlook.
“The real wisdom of the Shaolin way is in the overall philosophy, which understands the need to take care of our physicality, but in harmony with the mind and spirit,” says Shi.
“These three elements form an ecosystem that represents each one of us—neglecting any element in that ecosystem damages it entirely.”
Shi—born Walter Gjergja—grew up in Milan at the height of Bruce Lee’s popularity. He spent his childhood watching the early Jackie Chan movies, enthralled, and as fate would have it, one of the first Shaolin Cultural Centres in Europe opened down the road from his childhood home.
So at age 13, Shi, immediately signed himself up for after-school kung fu lessons. He would later make the long and circuitous journey to the Shaolin Temple itself in the late 90s, long before the advent of Google Maps, and lived at the Temple for many years to study the Shaolin philosophy of Chan (“Often, I was the only non-Chinese face around the monastery area,” he says).
After completing his training, Shi returned to the corporate world for some time: “But by then, the Shaolin Way was a part of me.”
He adds, “And that let me back to the Temple, where I realised that my mission was to help people, rather than to manage them.”
He then spent many years under the tutelage of Shaolin Temple Grand Master Shi De Yang, before finally becoming the first non-Chinese descendent of the 32nd Shaolin warrior-monk generation.
As for the most valuable piece of wisdom that he’s gleaned in his years of study and meditation? That one of the most important things in life is to simply take care of yourself, says Shi.
“You are the most important thing that you have, and the most special gift that you can give to others,” he says.