I’m in a Shaolin State of Mind

June 19, 2006

Review by Kim Lumpkin

toxic universe logoAs David Carradine taught us, few tough guys are tougher than a warrior monk. The combination of calm intensity and focused power is something we all admire, but few can duplicate. Sifu Shi Yan Ming (simply referred to as “Sifu” throughout the book), a martial arts instructor who trains others in his own Shaolin Temple in New York, is a perfect example of such a master, and for those who can’t train with him in person, this book is an attempt to convey as much of the experience as possible.

The first section of the book is devoted to Sifu’s background and establishes his sincere devotion to his art (it’s pretty impossible to question the dedication of someone who “endured suspending a 50-pound weight from his testicles, an exercise called ‘The Egg,’ which toughens the groin until it can withstand a direct kick.” There are plenty of pithy phrases to reflect his philosophy, such as, “The true way of the warrior is not to seek dominance over others but to achieve mastery of yourself.” His involvement in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai gives him street cred, and he has trained other celebrities as well. Thanks to its martial arts cachet, this is actually the kind of workout that guys who otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead reading an exercise book might think looks cool enough to give it a shot.

As for the workout itself, it’s not for the easily distracted or discouraged. If the exercises are done half-heartedly, it will feel as if no progress has been made (believe me, I tried it). It also becomes increasingly time-consuming as each exercise optimally begins with a repetition of all the previous ones. But even a basic introduction to these exercises can improve one’s posture, grace, and concentration. Each exercise is clearly depicted by a series of photos of Sifu in action; not as good as getting direct instruction from the master, but easier to follow than the diagrams given in most exercise programs (and Sifu’s seriously intense expressions in every shot are a pretty good motivator, too… you know this is a guy who practices what he preaches).

There is certainly no shortage of workout books that combine physical fitness with a fresh outlook on life, but even when Sifu pours it on a bit thick (“Today, remind yourself that you’re beautiful. You’re handsome”), his unflagging encouragement never seems phony. The best part about this workout is that it teaches the kind of focus and discipline which are in far too short supply these days.