AMERICAN SHAOLIN by Matthew Polly

AMERICAN SHAOLIN

Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Memoir of the author’s quest for personal growth and wisdom by way of a trip to the birthplace of Zen and kung fu.

Polly confesses to having become obsessed with martial arts at age nine, when he saw an episode of Kung Fu. David Carradine’s character, he writes, “seemed to be as strange and helpless as I felt, and yet he was a total badass.” Leaving hometown Topeka to attend Princeton, he started taking kung fu classes and studying Mandarin. But he still didn’t feel like much of a badass, so in 1992 he headed for the ultimate sleep-away sports camp, the fabled Shaolin Temple Wushu Center in Henan Province in the heart of Communist China. The tall, blue-eyed laowai (foreigner) found Shaolin, established some 1,500 years before, a bit seedy. His Zen masters could curse as well as fight; Polly learned drinking games and dirty jokes along with fighting techniques. Getting whacked upside his head, Bao Mosi (as he was called in Chinese) became tough, dispensing some nasty blows himself. Polly met specialists Master Wu, Coach Big Wang and Monk Dong (don’t ask about his specialty). He ogled beautiful Lotus, one of only five female students, and shook his head over assorted foreign nut cases. Bao Mosi found the combat sports beautiful, “the height of civilization.” His adventure in a Cultural Exchange Mutual Benefit exercise proved that he definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

A nicely developed narrative.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 1-592-40262-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Gotham Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2006