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Meet the Monk Who Brought Kung Fu to the United States

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Shaolin Temple founder Sifu Shi Yan-Ming. (Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
(Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)


After training at the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China since the age of five, Shifu Shi Yan Ming defected to the United States in 1992. He studied kung fu, Chan Buddhism, and acupuncture during his time at the Shaolin Temple. Among a few monks selected to participate in a kung fu tour across the United States, Yan Ming snuck out of his hotel room during the final stop of his tour in San Francisco. ”I had American dreams,” Yan Ming said in an interview with the New York Times. ”In China, there are too many limitations. Here, you can do a lot of things if you have the ability. You can express yourself. That’s why everybody loves the United States.”

Two years after escaping, the monk opened the first Shaolin Temple in the United States in New York City’s Chinatown. In the years since then, Yan Ming has trained hundreds of students in both kung fu and Buddhism. He has been credited with the spread of kung fu to American pop culture (friends include Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch) and his temple is nearly synonymous with the martial art. Watch the video below to learn more about Shi Yan Ming and his journey.