Ethan Perk and his son Yannis (5).
Perk enrolled his son Yannis, a keen kung fu novice, in a seven-day camp at the Shaolin Temple – the birthplace of kung fu. The pair took a five-hour express train from Beijing to Henan province, followed by a one-hour ride car ride which finally took them to their destination.
While at the temple, students and chaperones stayed at the guesthouse on the temple premises. Though there were many teachers available to watch Yannis, Perk decided to sit in on the classes. Part of the package included a half-day trip to Longmen Shiku, the very famous grottos with large Buddha carvings.
No Alarm Clock Needed
Mornings began at 5.30am but there was no need for an alarm clock, because the daily chimes ringing at regular intervals from 4.45am until 10.30pm informed students of their scheduled activities.
Dad joined the 2km morning jog, but expected to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the day. Instead, the teacher instructed him that there were"no observers" and Perk was thrown into kung fu training along with his son. Daily training included a series of stretches, twists, kicks, jumps, and punches. There was also weapons study, which included safely training with a bendable blunt sword.
On a walk back to the guesthouse, the Perks witnessed a student jumping while spinning a three-piece wooden weapon. They later learned that the student has performed as Jet Li’s stunt double!
The Good Part
Father and son studied at the Ta Gou academy, the oldest and largest academy for kung fu students in Shaolin. With only a handful of students and plenty of teachers, Perk and his son had their own private Shaolin teacher. After seven days of hard training, all of the students mastered two of the routines and were able to perform together.
The Bad Part
The lack of a printed itinerary made things a little difficult and accommodations were less than appealing. The guesthouse, a dilapidated five-story building, was the only place foreigners could stay within the grounds. With lots of young students running around outside, the Perks’ room was noisy all day and night. The public bathroom, leaky bathtub, and duct-taped toilet seat are not for the faint-hearted.
Food at the nearby restaurant is mediocre, so pack your favorite snacks. The Perks carried a healthy supply of breakfast foods to give them energy throughout the day.
The most interesting part was watching the students play their favorite non-kung fu activity, a game that mixes the rules of basketball and rugby. Players try to pass the goal line while holding a basketball, as opposing players tackle them in defense.