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The Shaolin Workout: 28 Days to Transforming Your Body and Soul the Warrior's Way    by Sifu Shi Yan Ming order for
Shaolin Workout
by Sifu Shi Yan Ming
Order:  USA  Can
Rodale, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My first reaction to The Shaolin Workout was that the photography is dramatic and impressive. My second was a more negative one, in reaction to the subtitle, '28 Days to Transforming Your Body and Soul the Warrior's Way'. Anyone who trains in martial arts knows that it takes many years, not days, to effect any significant change. But I assumed this was something the market demanded of a fitness-related book (everything is instant gratification nowadays, even when it's not at all realistic) and pressed on.

The author, Sifu Shi Yan Ming, is 'a 34th-generation warrior monk hailing from China's Shaolin Temple, birthplace of Chan Buddhism 1,500 years ago and mecca of all martial arts.' When they hear Shaolin, most Westerners probably think of David Carradine's Kung Fu television series, but though the mythic Temple (whose history is summarized in the book) went through difficult times in Communist China, it is now undergoing a renaissance. Sifu, whose background is also presented here, opened his first U.S.A. Shaolin Temple in New York's Chinatown in 1994 and has been teaching in the Big Apple ever since. He has also appeared in, and been consulted on, various action films.

The Shaolin Workout includes a very accessible presentation of the goals and philosophy common to all martial arts - I particularly liked Sifu's calling Chan Quan (or kung fu) action meditation and his explanation of the meaning of chi. The book conveys what it's like to train on a regular basis, the range of ages that get involved in martial arts, the sense of camaraderie that develops amongst students, and the respect for an instructor who lives what he or she teaches. Before getting into the workout itself, Sifu explains how to mentally prepare, and how to train, including the incorporation of daily meditations that introduce concepts of Chan Buddhism to promote mental clarity and self confidence.

The workout is organized into four one-week sections, each with an inspirational introduction and containing seven sessions that build on earlier exercises. The first section focuses on stretching to increase flexibility and balance; the second introduces basic kung fu strikes, stances and kicks; the third and fourth continue with more advanced techniques. Exercises are presented with clear instructions and a sequence of color photos of Sifu performing the movements (his flexibity is extremely impressive). Many of the basic moves bear similarities to techniques in other martial arts. Presentation of the training schedule ends with a reminder that the true value of training in kung fu 'is the calm, confidence, and respect you develop from being the master of your own body, mind, and life.'

Sifu says early on that 'the more you train, the more you'll want to train', and encourages readers to join a class, and to commit to training every single day. His Shaolin Workout will be of great interest to kung fu practitioners - as well as to those who train in other martial arts - for its historical and philosophical explanations as well as the specific techniques shown.

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