Thursday, September 3, 2009


I’ve had this terrible cold for a while and it has been scaring the wits (rhymes with another word that might have expressed their emotions better, but then this is a family magazine after all) out of most people I meet. And I can understand their concerns. The fact is, when I talk these days I sound like someone who is getting his nose and his bottom pinched just as he is about to swallow a mouthful of water… not a pretty sound or sight. In fact, I am a walking spitting sniffling abomination, and with swine fl u having become the rage it is I’m not surprised that no one wants to shake hands with me. But it really isn’t H1N1. It is just a regular cough that always follows months of sleepless exertions and irregularities, and I make it a point to tell whoever, if ever, might remain within earshot after one of my coughing fits. Usually, it’s nobody, but at a seminar I had recently gone to attend, it turned out to be everybody…

Let me explain this in greater detail. On August 31, I was attending a seminar hosted by Kanishka Sharma, a Shaolin warrior from the Shaolin Temple and a Special Forces instructor who once shared anti-terror tactics on this very page, and Sifu Shi Yan Fang, 34th generation Shaolin Warrior from Hubei Province, China. Now as they wrapped up the seminar and I walked up to the two Shaolin warriors and their entourage of students and assistants, I got the sniffles and then that hacking gurgling cough… Over the last few days, I had gotten used to seeing people run for cover when that happened but these guys just stood there and smiled and I even had a stray “bless you” coming my way. I must confess I was a little disconcerted by their indifference to the army of viruses I might have let loose in their breathing zone and so I gave the next round of coughing all I had… But those Shaolin guys, all of them in ochre robes and with shaved heads, didn’t even fl inch. I instinctively offered the olive branch, “It isn’t swine fl u, don’t worry.” Kanishka smiled and said, “Doesn’t matter if it is, the virus won’t survive if it enters our bodies”. I stared for a while to check if he meant what he had just said… but he seemed to have said it in earnest.

I have always been intrigued by images on Discovery and National Geographic of these monks from the Shaolin Temple breaking rocks with their hands and bending spears with their necks, having meat cleavers brought down on their arms and breaking steel bars over their heads. Then, I happened to see the same feats being performed by a troop of traveling monks in Singapore. They brought out a trident that was mounted on a stand and to establish the sharpness of the pointed central spear, threw a large watermelon on the tip of the trident. The trident cut through the fruit and split it in two. Then one of the monks stood in front of the trident, did some slow breathing exercise and then seemed to meditate for a while. And then astonishingly enough, he lowered his belly onto the central spear of the trident and then on that point, which must have still been sticky and wet with the juices of the split watermelon, balanced his whole body and put his arms by his side. If I have been able to paint the picture correctly, what your mind’s eye should be seeing is a man balancing his whole body on the tip of a trident that is meant to impale and disembowel human bodies. When this man stepped down from the trident stand, one could see a shallow depression on the skin that stretched across his near washboard abdominals but the skin wasn’t broken, not even a scratch. Amazing!

So when I met this living breathing Shaolin Master from Hubei at the seminar, I had to ask Sifu (master) Fang how they could manage such astonishing feats. Sifu Fang, though just 26-years-old, had the air of a wise grey master, “Tie Bu Shan…” he said, through his clipped Sino-Anglo accent. “ Iron Shirt training! In Shaolin Kung fu, before you learn to fight, you must learn to make your body strong… from inside and from outside. Iron shirt or ‘steel Jacket’ as it is oft en called, is a method of training the body to withstand blows from impact weapons (like baseball bats) and edged weapons (like knives and cleavers) by transferring energy to that part of the body that is under attack. Masters of the iron shirt technique can transfer energy to the arm, leg, head or torso at the speed of thought thus cushioning the body from the impact.”

Thus encouraged, I moved to the next question which had been hovering at the edges of our conversation. I asked Master Fang if he had seen ‘The 36th chamber of Shaolin’. Master Fang seemed puzzled… “The 36th??” I realised that for a man who wanders in and out of the various chambers of the Shaolin Temple on a daily basis, it needn’t be obvious that I was talking about the film that had made the Shaolin Temple a household name around the world. So I clarified…. “aaaah, the film, yes, yes…” So I reminded him of a scene from the film that had one of the abbots, a grand old man, with whiskers as white as snow, sitting in meditation when the main protagonist, Gordon Liu’s character San Te, disturbs him at his prayers. The abbot first asks him to leave but when Liu persists, the abbot who was sitting many metres away from Liu merely gestures with his hand and an invisible force seems to flow out of his palm like a gale force that picks up Liu and hurls him back. Master Fang and master Kanishka looked at each other and smiled… then Master Kanishka unveiled a demonstration for my benefit. He arranged three volunteers in a row standing behind each other with the second holding the first one around the shoulder and the third holding the second and so forth with the fourth. Then Master Kanishka stood mere inches away from the first volunteer and in a move similar to the one in the film, gently touched the first man on his shoulder… he stayed where he was but volunteers two three and four rolled over like dominoes. It was incredible, and the way they went flying into each other, perhaps impossible to stage. “This is the power of chi (the universal energy), which when harnessed can do magical things. I am an intermediate warrior as is Sifu Fang, which is why I need this gentle touch but if you go to the Shaolin Temple in Hanan, you will see not one or two but many such masters who can send you flying without making physical contact”.

It seemed incredible. And the candour with which he said it and the sincerity with which Sifu Fang nodded, I was inclined to believe what they said and made a mental note of adding it to my personal ‘things to see before I die’ list. I was thirsting for more miracle stories when Master Fang said, “These stories are nice but the real magic of Kung fu is in its ability to heal as well as hurt.” Sifu Kanishka added “before meeting you, I was at a Qigong healing session for a lady who has breast cancer. Shaolin internal energy work is very powerful and has worked miracles in its own way. One of my Masters, Sifu Yanzi has a brother who contracted Hepatitis C. The doctors had given up on him but Sifu taught him Xi Sui Jing (Marrow Brain washing – a form of internal energy training exercise) and he was fully cured within two years. Another master at the Shaolin Temple, Master Shin Shou was diagnosed with Glioma, an extremely virulent form of cancer and most people don’t make it past a year after being diagnosed. It’s been four years since Master Shou was diagnosed and he has been doing a lot of Qigong and living a normal life and the tumors have been receding. These are the miracles that truly matter, far more than the ability to defeat people or use some invisible power. And it is not just Shaolin Kung fu that has the ability to heal. Even other martial arts that work with energy, like Taiji and various forms of Yoga have the power to cure mankind of diseases that many doctors might call incurable.”

Indeed, I couldn’t agree more. While reading this issue’s drop anchor, I realised that the dreaded C is bound to hound us in some form or the other, either in our own bodies or in somebody we love and care about. On such occasions, it is good to know that beyond vaccines and modern medicine, there are also ancient and proven methods that have oft en been as effective, both as deterrents and as a cure, against such fearsome diseases and that such lifestyle choices are available to all of us if we only make the effort.


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