Kung Fu Training At Wu Wei Si Monastery

China's flag
Asia » China » Yunnan » Dali
April 14th 2010
Published: April 13th 2010
Edit Blog Post

Wu Wei Si is a Buddhist monastery nestled in the picturesque Cangshan mountains, not too far from Dali Old City. I had heard about this place through word of mouth and figured it would be different way of experiencing some Chinese and Buddhist traditional culture. The monastery itself dates back about 1200 years. Mahayana Buddhism is the form practiced here. This form of Buddhism differs slightly from Theravada Buddhism in that it is believed that nirvana (a transcendent state in which one breaks free from karma and life/death cycles, the final goal of Buddhism) can be achieved by anyone within a lifetime by putting mind and sometimes body towards the goal. Those that have reached enlightenment may delay nirvana to help others achieve this goal. I was to spend the next week training in the ancient art of Kung Fu, learning more about this philosophy and living a monk lifestyle.

I arrived in the afternoon, after making my way up a steep mountainous incline with all my gear, and was met by a peaceful pathway to the temple. At the temple I encountered a young monk who greeted me and then tested my moral character with simple questions pertaining to my purpose and wishes about studying here. Then he gave me the rules. Only serious students were allowed to stay, there was no electricity on the temple grounds, the food consisted of a vegan diet, alcohol and smoking were prohibited, shoes, long pants and sleeved shirts had to be worn at all times during training, curfews had to be respected, pictures of the monastery itself were allowed but none of the monks (I broke this rule slightly), intimacy between men and women would not be tolerated, when walking past an elder monk one had to place his hands together and say "Amitofu", which can signify a greeting, a blessing, or a multitude of other meanings. Some use this word as a mantra, as part of a quest to attain spiritual enlightenment. Finally, he requested that I not highly publicize the place upon leaving because they wanted it to remain relatively quiet and not overrun with tourists. Although I suppose writing a blog about the experience is a form of publicity, but then again I doubt too many people really read my blog entries so at this time I wouldn't consider it popular publicity.

Once I agreed to the rules I was shown to my room. Two other foreign students were there as well. One was a Dutchman while the other was Swiss, having also just arrived. I shared a room with him. I set my stuff down on the straw mattress provided. Soon after a Frenchman arrived, who had previously trained there for a long time. A few other foreigners had left just previous to my arrival. Young locals may live and practice at the temple for years. Some may stay for a lifetime. Occasionally, a foreigner may train for many months and sometimes more than a year.

5 AM: I awaken to a loud gong, followed by chanting. I continue drifting in and out of sleep. Buddhist rituals begin within the temple.

6 AM: Wake Up

7 AM: Morning Training. We run a short distance down the mountain until we reach a pile of rocks. Taking one, we then balance it on our head and walk all the way back up with it.

8 AM: Bell is sounded. Breakfast is served, this generally consists of noodles or some rice porridge. Each of us has our own bowl and chopsticks which we must take care of. Certain table etiquette must be maintained such as no elbows on the table and lifting up the bowl while eating. Everyone says "Amitofu" before we can begin eating and Shifu (master) always begins eating first. He resembled a Kung Fu master that one might imagine out of Chinese folklore, having a long beard and carrying heavy rosary beads. All food in the bowl must be eaten, even something that drops from ones bowl must be picked up and eaten. When leaving the table, a minimum of two or more people can leave the table together and must say "Amitofu" to each of the other remaining tables.

9 AM - 12 PM: Kung Fu Training. We begin with stretching, followed by assisted stretching and then various exercises. Next is plenty of Kung Fu movements and Katas. The training is not for the weak of heart. Literally. Some also practiced Tai Chi.

12 PM: Lunch. The food is quite good, albeit could become a little mundane. Everyone is usually famished by this point. Since we don't eat meat, dairy or eggs, tofu is used as the protein element of our diet. Everyone drinks the regular "tap" water which seems to come from the mountains (never during a meal, only after), and although initially weary of this, I don't have much choice to do otherwise. No one became sick.

1 PM - 4 PM: Free time. I often did calisthenic and weight training, meditation, writing, or simply wandered through the temple grounds and surrounding nature.

4 PM - 6 PM: Kung Fu Training. More of what I described above. Very Intense.

6 PM: Supper. Assortment of veggies, tofu and always rice as the staple.

6:30 PM - 7:30 PM: Buddhist prayer and rituals in the temple. I'm not obliged to do this but the monks do like it if we partake and it is worth doing to get a fuller monastery experience. I thoroughly enjoyed this spiritual aspect.

9:30 PM: Bedtime. The curfew is non-negotiable and everyone goes to sleep at this time. Besides without electricity there isn't all that much to do once darkness hits.

Everyday played out more or less like this. The monastery life is all about routine and discipline. There were about fifteen monks living here, plus a few old women who did the cooking and cleaning (although
Ancient TreeAncient TreeAncient Tree

Said to be about 1200 years old
the monks themselves did clean up after themselves a lot). Many of the monks were quite young, trained hard, and were very disciplined considering their age. I was amazed at what some of them were capable of. I witnessed one jump an entire flight of stairs with weights strapped all along his legs. Many others could perform unbelievable acrobatic feats and seemingly had superhuman strength and flexibility. I felt privileged to be able to view these acts in person.

Being in the monastery also afforded me much free time between training in the afternoon. I put this time to use by doing my own exercises in the training ground, and using some free weights that were available. I practiced a bit with the variety of spears and swords in the armory, this was quite fun. One of the older monks was an absolute master with these, and I caught myself staring and awestruck. I went for short hikes into the countryside, on one of them I discovered an old graveyard full of past monks, many of the tombs must have been hundreds of years old. I read and wrote a lot in peace. I took advantage of the seclusion

Good luck symbol in Buddhism
to practice meditation, finding a quiet spot and letting my mind go blank. I gazed at the old giant tree, about the same age as the monastery itself, partly hollowed out and battered by the passing ages. Sometimes, after evening rituals, I would join the monks and sit around a fire with them. Throughout the week I did my best to communicate with them. Many of the young ones were decently versed in English. Otherwise we would use non-verbal communication which often got the point across, with less detail of course.

The training was intense, and by the end my body felt broken, but in a good way. My muscles burned, my ligaments stretched far beyond what I was used to. I completed my first Kung Fu Kata, quite well in my opinion but I must continue practicing to perfect it. So could I see myself living like a monk? The training itself was awesome, but certain restrictions would be difficult to live with. I learned much about the ideology of Buddhism and was grateful to be immersed in it for my time here. I was made more aware of being mindful and ever present. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to experience this and will remember its lessons for a long time to come. And I may yet return one day.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 27


Flexible BuddhaFlexible Buddha
Flexible Buddha

Reminds me of Dhalsim from Street Fighter

15th April 2010

Hey! I can't believe that you and Billy actually did it, you actually left on a backpacking tour across Europe. I am stunned, you guys said this for like 10 years, but you actually did it. Anyways...Hello from Laval, and Have a great trip! Say hi to Billy! SPOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON!
16th April 2010

Wow I never thought I'd here from you again. Actually I'm traveling through Asia (not Europe), been at it for about 4 and a half months now. I only traveled with Billy for a month though then wen't off on my own. He's been home for a while now. I still have a few months to go I figure. Asia is awesome. So how has your life been going? There is no SPOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNN!!!
16th April 2010

Bonjour x 2
I realized it lake two nights ago, I was like "wait..did I say Europe". I know how to read, it's just that I can't spell Asia. It sounds like a pretty awsome trip, I wonder if you will come back a buddhist (again spelling sucks). Life has been going great thanks, work alot, etc. Enjoy the rest of your time their and have a safe flight back. Go Habs Go! <----Never thought you'd hear me say that too. Life is full of suprises............but the Bruins are better. The END.
21st April 2010

Hey Danny! That's so cool! I'm just googling the temple and I get on your blog ;) Good writing! I'm in Lijiang now (mama naxi's and i just met someone who met you as well here... small world!)! Anyway, where are you know? Take care and safe travels! Eva (from the Wu Wei Si Monastery)
22nd April 2010

LOL! Good stuff, made it to Chengdu after 25 hour bus ride and then walked till my legs cramped up, but well worth it!
21st December 2010

Do you have to make a reservation to get in or you just walk in??
25th March 2013

Almost Studied There (Cost?)
I was in Dali in 2009 and almost studied at the temple. Do you remember the cost?
10th November 2014

ive heard a litle about this monastery but only through travellers blog posts, is this a place one could go to live train and study with the monks for extended periods of time, like 1-3 years, how inviting would they be of something like thaty??
18th February 2015

I met another traveler there who had stayed for about 6 months. Pretty sure you'd be able to stay for an indefinite period of time as long as you respect all the rules of the monastery.
11th April 2015

Hi Danny thanks for sharing this :) im trying to find some info about the Wu Wei Si Monastery But i found very little, can you tell me how much have to pay to live and trian there please? im looking to go for about 3 months, and also is it possible to find internet out side the monastery? may be at a near by village? im a married man so would be good to contact home some time. Thanks a lot for you time looking fowerd to hear from you. e-mail: nicolaimicallef@hotmail.com
26th July 2015

Can women stay here?
Hi does anyone know if women are allowed to stay here also, or is it just for men? Thanks
30th July 2015

is it safe
Hey do you think a 16 years old can do it? And is it safe to go there?
12th August 2015

Yeah it's totally safe and men and women can stay there. If I remember correctly it was only a few dollars a day to stay. Once you get to Dali you will be able to find a lot more info about the monastery through the locals.
18th September 2015

Hi there, lovely reading about your experiences- just wondering if women are allowed to train here and live here or is it forbidden??
6th November 2015

Women were welcome too.
13th April 2016

Read your article and was curious to know what style of kung fu do they teach. Thank you.
17th December 2016

please help
I am a 20 year old young man looking to join a temple, unfortunately my founds are a little ... limited. is there anyway i could join a temple indefinitely, for free an/or scrub floors and dishes to pay for my stay?
17th December 2016

I'm not sure I can answer that question. I suppose it's entirely possible, and in fact you'll find that almost anything is if you're dedicated enough, but it might be better to work and save up for a bit and then set out on your journey, especially if you're coming from a far away region. It's never a bad idea either to have some reserve funds while on the road in case an emergency situation arises.
4th August 2017

Women and men intimacy ?
Quick question. What's the definition of intimacy in this context. Like, does it count as intimate if it's a man and a woman talking alone in an open area? (I'm just not sure about the culture there and how they define intimacy)
5th August 2017

From what I understood, it would appear that intimacy was defined as public or private displays of affection. Simply talking to a member of the opposite sex was completely fine.
2nd October 2017

interested in kung fu
i would like to know more about learnng kung fu in monastries secretly like this in china. it would be much appriciated if you could give me more information about it... thank you.
10th December 2017

We would like to experience but if....
Hi.. We are planning to visit this amazing holy place. but we are wondering if we just go there without any pre arrangments with them will they allow us to enter and stay for a week?! Thank you in advance
13th December 2017

I just showed up there, but keep in mind that was seven years ago. Not sure how much has changed since then!
18th March 2018

Wu Wei Si
Hello, soon i will be making my way to China to study Tai Chi. Most likely Wu Wei Si temple, Dali. Hopefully for 6-12 months. I have a few questions for which answers i couldn't find on the web. 1. VISA.   I've heard it is relatively easy to get 1 month tourist visa, and then maybe extend it for up to a year.   Will Wu Wei Si provide me with the letter of acceptance once i'm there ? And will i be able to extend it in Dali ? And is it expensive?   Better yet, how could i get a letter of acceptance as both the invitation letter and proof of accomodation before i apply for the Chinese visa, but without going through an agent ?   Like maybe from some other temple or school ?    I'm on supertight budget, agents are usually expensive. But it would be nice, if i could get a 1 year visa, or at least 3-6 months before i go there. As far as i know its the same price, no matter how long the visa, but i'm not sure how easy that would be.   Any tips on that, please ? 2. SHOES.   Can't i buy them over there, like in the temple or in Dali ? How do the monks get theirs ? 3. SOCKS.   Since i'm In Chiang Mai Thailand, and thick cotton socks ( like the sports type ) are nowhere to be found, i could only find very thin cotton or synthetic ones. Will i easily find them in Dali ? How do the monks get theirs ? 4. COFFEE.   It will be hard to start the day so early without one. I have a little electric water boiler, will i be able to use that by the charging station ? If not, could i use a camping stove ? 5. RATES.   Do they have some long term stay special rate scheme ? 6. INTERNET.   Is it possible/easy to get a chinese sim card with a data package to have some internet access without going to Dali ? (doesn't need to be fast/reliable). 7. MONEY.   I'm guessing Atm's in Dali would provide, right ? ( I was in Iran a few years back, and only Iranian bank cards worked, easy to get stuck.. )   Thanx a buch for any info. entity•°⊙ [ you can call me dex, if you need to call me something.. ]
10th May 2018

I would think it'd be best to contact the Chinese Embassy closest to you. It would all most likely depend on your nationality. Back then, as a Canadian, I was able to extend my visa twice, and I had a total of 3 months in the end. Not sure if you can get exemptions or extensions for being a student.
9th November 2018

Starting day/sleeping bag
Hi, thanks a lot for your article. I'm planning to go to Wu Wei Si very soon, for a week. Can we start living there and training there in any day? I might arrive on Monday. What time is best to arrive? Also do we need to bring our own sleeping bag? Thanks a lot for the help.
14th November 2018

When I went it seemed as though you could head up there during daylight with no specific days to begin training. I remember there being plenty of warm blankets in the dorm.

Tot: 0.182s; Tpl: 0.023s; cc: 39; qc: 156; dbt: 0.0326s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.9mb