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

American Shaolin Flying Kicks Buddhist Monks and the Legend of Iron Crotch An Odyssey in the New China Bill Bryson meets Bruce Lee in this raucously funny story of one scrawny American s quest to become a kung fu master at China s legendary Shaolin Temple Growing up a ninety pound weakling tormented by

  • Title: American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China
  • Author: Matthew Polly
  • ISBN: 9781592402625
  • Page: 461
  • Format: Hardcover
  • American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China

    Bill Bryson meets Bruce Lee in this raucously funny story of one scrawny American s quest to become a kung fu master at China s legendary Shaolin Temple Growing up a ninety pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, young Matthew Polly dreamed of one day journeying to the Shaolin Temple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like CainBill Bryson meets Bruce Lee in this raucously funny story of one scrawny American s quest to become a kung fu master at China s legendary Shaolin Temple Growing up a ninety pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, young Matthew Polly dreamed of one day journeying to the Shaolin Temple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 1970s TV series, Kung Fu While in college, Matthew decided the time had come to pursue this quixotic dream before it was too late Much to the dismay of his parents, he dropped out of Princeton to spend two years training with the legendary sect of monks who invented kung fu and Zen Buddhism.Expecting to find an isolated citadel populated by supernatural ascetics that he d seen in countless badly dubbed chop socky flicks, Matthew instead discovered a tacky tourist trap run by Communist party hacks But the dedicated monks still trained in the rigorous age old fighting forms some even practicing the iron kung fu discipline, in which intensive training can make various body parts virtually indestructible even the crotch As Matthew grew in his knowledge of China and kung fu skill, he would come to represent the Temple in challenge matches and international competitions, and ultimately the monks would accept their new American initiate as close to one of their own as any Westerner had ever become.Laced with humor and illuminated by cultural insight, American Shaolin is an unforgettable coming of age tale of one young man s journey into the ancient art of kung fu and a funny and poignant portrait of a rapidly changing China.

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    One thought on “American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China

    1. Wendy Welch

      There are five compelling reasons why I shouldn't have liked this book.1) It's about martial arts, and Jack (my husband) and I are Quakers. As in pacifists. 2) It's about a sport. I was the smart kid who had her period every week throughout high school so she could avoid playing volleyball.3) A man wrote it. 4) It's about China. Africa and the Middle East are my anthropological areas of expertise, and ergo what I read about more because I can tell when somebody's lying.5) It's about a rich white [...]

    2. Jennifer

      This book was so phenomenal that I wrote a thank-you note to the author. The way he wrote it makes him so likable and human that I didn't want it to end. He becomes a badass by force of sheer will and that's always one of those things I want to hear is possible. The big bonus was learning so much about the Chinese culture. I didn't realize it until I was listening to a story on NPR about 'The New China' and I thought, Yeah, I know all about those customs and traditions! Even if you don't love ma [...]

    3. Jordan Funke

      This was a fun story. I wanted to give it 2.5 stars, but the cultural insensitivity lowered it for me. I liked the author's self-effacing and simultaneous self-promoting style. But I was never able to fully suspend disbelief about how successful and loved and accepted he was being the only non-Chinese in a town full of 10,000 Shaolin practitioners. It wasn't too gory and only glorified violence a little. It completely hooked me all the way through, but I hate that this is the kind of American wh [...]

    4. BrocheAroe

      I hated this book. Rather than being culturally sensitive, this asshole woke up 10 years after his experience and decided he wanted to make some money so he wrote this book. He's totally ignorant and doesn't even use the principles he SHOULD have learned from what SHOULD have been an incredible experience. He gives people who do follow this way of life a bad name. Asshole.

    5. Eh?Eh!

      the cover picture captured me. i do sometimes judge a book by its cover and in this case the contents matched the goofiness, at least initially. i really enjoyed his writing for much of the book - here is this person who goes to learn from Shaolin monksat's such a little-boy-dream thing to do. he interacts with the people he meets and makes a story out of small encounters. he describes his training, the distinct personalities and hopes of each key monk, daily life at the temple, the competition [...]

    6. Sandra

      As a librarian, its been a while since I read a book I couldn't put down. This book is one of them. I've read several books about China but never have I read one that touches on the interesting culture, economy,religion, society and history of China and packages it all with an equally fascinating story as this one does. Polly is hilariously honest about some of his exploits & failures. Polly's observation of poverty stricken central China as they transition to capitalism in the early 90's is [...]

    7. Lisa

      I had a lot of fun reading this memoir about Bao Mosi and his mad kungfu skills!!! It's cool how he speaks Chinese so well. I like his honesty. He's not afraid to look kind of ignorant or silly when he describes events in the book. Love that. I read a review that said something like: a good book but I'm sad that this is the kind of person who represents Americans abroad. I have to respectfully disagree with that. I thought Matt was exactly the type of person I'd want representing America abroad: [...]

    8. Arminzerella

      When Matthew was a teen, he made a list of things about himself that he didn’t like – and then went about changing those things. His first accomplishment was educating himself and becoming an intellectual. From there he went on to tackle his cowardice – by going to China and studying kung fu in a Shaolin temple.It was a lot harder than he’d expected. He met with resistance from his family – they wanted him to finish college, and difficulties finding the temple once he’d reached China [...]

    9. Clarry

      I read this book a long time ago, so my apologies for writing this review from memory. But I had to say, I loved this book. Don't take it too seriously, it's not trying to be a major spiritual journey through martial arts and the Chinese cultures, it's trying to be funny. I first picked it up off the shelf because at the time I was a Wushu practitioner. I opened to a random page where the author is practicing with something called a 7 sectional whip or chain (you don't whip it Indiana Jones styl [...]

    10. Linda

      I have an affinity for anything to do with oriental cultures but I do not have an affinity for martial arts. I chose to read this book because it showed up on the ALA Alex list. I was not disappointed, and I can think of a number of teen boys who would enjoy reading it. The author had much to be proud of having spent the time to learn Chinese before embarking on his two year stay in China to improve his Kung Fu skills. By doing so, he was able to give us a personal look into the lives of the Chi [...]

    11. Jim Peterson

      American Shaolin really captures rural Chinese culture in the 1990s in a place where communism, Buddhism and kung fu all live together. Mathew Polly spent a year in a school outside the Shaolin Temple (not in it) learning wushu and then kickboxing. I've never read a travelogue before, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I think I should check out Bill Bryson now.Though reading this was great fun, it was also very sad. It seems all that's left of kung fu at the Shaolin Monastery is kung-fu-looking gymna [...]

    12. Valerie

      I love armchair traveling almost as much as real traveling, and it is slightly more practical. I picked this book up, because I had read Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman ages ago and liked it, and because my husband is testing for his black belt this summer, and I wanted to learn more about martial arts culture. The combination of self-deprecating humor and honest look at Chinese culture was well done. He mentions selling the movie rights, but I don't recall ever seeing a movie about this. I'll hav [...]

    13. Zach

      Why is it that only disillusioned, rich white kids who drop out of Ivy League schools that they aren't even paying for because Daddy's footing the bill all go on to lead these neat ass adventures and fulfill lifelong dreams? oh wait, it's because Daddy's paying for their dreams. Polly's a hack and a chump!

    14. Matthew

      Get past the awful cover of American Shaolin, because this travelogue-slash-memoir is a little gem. The decidedly cheesy artist’s impression doesn’t do the content justice. Granted, the book calls occasionally for suspension of disbelief. A recollection by author Matthew Polly, at the time a self-confessed skinny nerd obsessed with kungfu who wants to be a bad ass madafacker, of two years spent training in Shaolin, it celebrates certain stereotypes, like that of ridiculously acrobatic monks [...]

    15. Stevendo

      American Shaolin gets a 5 out of 5 stars because it is like no other book I have ever read before!It reminds me of everything I’ve always wanted to do since I was in grade school waking up watching a few carton kung fu shows being viewed on Disney before I go to school. “I wonder where true kung fu is taught,” I would often times ask myself. Then following that question I would have a full day dream consisting of training with kung fu masters somewhere in a secret temple like in those fore [...]

    16. Goran Powell

      If alarm bells ring at a book title beginning ‘American’ rest assured, this is an unexpected gem. Matthew Polly writes with wonderfully self-depreciating humour that makes for a very enjoyable read. Better still, he delivers real insight into modern training at the Shaolin temple. There is a sense of genuine warmth for the people he meets and every word rings true. Polly is not afraid to expose the less spiritual side of Shaolin, with its tourist traps, political intrigues and the unhappy re [...]

    17. Heather

      As a young adult, Polly leaves his studies at Princeton University during the 1990s to travel to China in search of the Shaolin monks. His goal is to live with the monks, learn kung fu, and improve himself. Polly relates his experiences with humor and a tone of self-deprecation as he stumbles through cultural barriers and misunderstandings. As readers, we gain an understanding of the people of rural China and their struggle from the repressive area of Communist policies that sought to wipe out m [...]

    18. Nancy

      What a fun and interesting book! The author, while an undergrad, made a list of his self-defined flaws and decided to improve himself by studying with the Shaolin monks. He spent 2 years there, and not only became skilled in the martial arts but became a deft and often humorous observer of Chinese culture. China already was modernizing, but not much had trickled through into the inner country. He returned ten years later and found a transformed China.

    19. Julie

      This account of the culture clash between Buddhist martial arts monks in modern China and geeky American kungfu wannabe is fascinating, but also laugh-out-loud funny. Don't read it in a restaurant if you don't want Coke coming out your nose. It's really a guy book (considering language I'd say 15 & up), and I would give it to a reluctant reader in a heartbeat.

    20. Yoonmee

      No doubt about it, Polly is a good writer, but I got sick and tired of hearing all about how he, the white boy, saved the day, how he somehow managed to do the right thing, etc. His writing was so engaging, that I almost missed all the horrible, somewhat racist things he was saying about China and the Chinese. Sigh. Might be a good book for discussions with teens about orientalism.

    21. Nathan

      This book came completely out of left field. The marriage of serious martial artistry with the sophomoric sex and poop gags is a weird one, and it's hard to really remember a book that is designed solely to entertain at the expense of any substance whatsoever. A quick, entertaining read, but not much else.

    22. Pam

      This book sat on my shelf for a few months. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to read it. Silly me. It was impossible to put down. I was very upset that Polly's experiences in Shaolin had to come to an end because that meant that the book was over.

    23. Ashley

      I've wanted to read this book for years and I'm glad I finally broke down and bought it. Uproariously funny at times, the narrator is a very relatable young American man smitten with China who takes the plunge and moves to Shaolin to study kungfu. There were moments I disliked--like his "unified theory of religion" and his sexual exploits--but mostly it was a good nostalgic romp, from one former ex-pat to another. I suspects its charm is such that only die-hard travel writing fans or former laow [...]

    24. Ensiform

      As a high school student in Kansas, Polly discovered the intellectual world and began to apply himself, getting into Princeton, where he became enthralled with martial arts and Chinese studies. After reading Mark Salzman’s Iron and Silk, Polly became determined to go to Shaolin to study kungfu. This was in 1992, when there was little information available on Shaolin, and no World Wide Web to initiate global contact, so it took a bit of courage and a bit of temerity for Polly to fly to China, w [...]

    25. Carolyn Browne

      Funny at times, and a unique story, but I found myself bogged down in the middle.Bill Bryson meets Bruce Lee in this raucously funny story of one scrawny American 19s quest to become a kung fu master at China 19s legendary Shaolin Temple. Growing up a ninety-pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, young Matthew Polly dreamed of one day journeying to the Shaolin Temple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 1970s TV series, Kung [...]

    26. Joe Green

      All the good things people have said or written about this book are true. It's a quick, funny read with a number of interesting insights and anecdotes about Polly's two years in China. There's really no reason to rehash the same virtues that others have already done a fine job of exploring. The thing that bugged me about this book and ultimately led me to dock it a star is that Polly comes down with a bad case of Hemingway-itis. Polly pretends to be humble and self-deprecating, but it was hard f [...]

    27. Nshslibrary

      American Shaolin by Matthew Polly is a strange and intriguing book. Matt struggles to find himself. Trying desperately, he decides to train in Chinese Shaolin Kungfu at the Shaolin Temple in China. Matt is a junior at Princeton University, a very prestigious school and decides to leave for 2 years to the Shaolin Temple, the place where kungfu was founded. Along the way, Matt starts to find himself and steadily starts to get rid of the things on the “Things That Are Wrong With Matt” list. It [...]

    28. Soteris

      I had never heard of this book, so when forced upon me by my sensei, I took one look at the cheesy 1970's art work of a blond American fella in a Chinese shaolin outfit standing in some sort of crane or tiger pose(not the same cover as above) and thought, cheese.I was suprised when I started reading it to find that it was actually a true story about a young American man's journey to China and his experiences as an outsider training in the Shaolin community.As a recently returned martial artist I [...]

    29. Sarah

      This adult memoir wins the "Best Title of the Year Award!" And it lives up to its name. I couldn't put this one down, and I hate kungfu movies. So the author did something right. I think this one has wide appeal, especially for high school students, and it definitely shouldn't be purchased for "large psychology collections." Puh-leese. I can't believe I just read that in a review.[return][return]Matthew Polly is a wuss from Topeka, Kansas, who gets into Princeton. But things aren't going right a [...]

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