Learning Kung Fu in China: My experience in a Shaolin Temple

Living with monks and practicing Kung Fu at the Wu Wei Si Buddhist temple in Yunnan

Wu Wei Si Temple is located in the province of Yunnan, southwest China, near the beautiful old town of Dali. The Wu Wei Si temple is a Buddhist temple where for 500 Rmb (60 euros) a week one can learn Kung Fu or Tai Chi, live with the monks and have a unique experience living in a temple in China.

I was curious to know what it was like to learn Kung Fu in China and live in a Buddhist temple so I modified my route through Southeast Asia to go to Yunnan and learn Kung Fu at the Wu Wei Si temple.

Kung Fu in China - Wu Wei Si Temple
Kung Fu in China – Wu Wei Si Temple

How to get to Wu Wei Si Temple

Wu Wei It is located in the middle of a mountain about 15 minutes by taxi from the ancient city of Dali. You can also go by bus, which leaves you at the bottom of a village and you have to walk up to the temple. It is a good climb, but also the best way to reach the temple for the first time, walking through the forest, following the stairs and the doors that mark the way.

After visiting the ancient city of Dali, I took a taxi early in the morning and went with my backpack to the temple. I had been told that I had to arrive before 8 a.m. so as not to miss breakfast.

When I arrived it was not yet dawn. It was dark and I spent a couple of minutes looking for the stairs at the entrance to the temple and then walking around lost in the temple. There didn’t seem to be anyone there. Finally, after 10 minutes I found the one who would be my future master or, as they say here, my Shifu.

From that day on, what would be a mixture of routine, Kung Fu and tranquility began. You had to stay always in the temple except on Thursday when, after lunch, you were given the afternoon off and you were allowed to go to the city as long as you were back on Friday at noon for the afternoon training.

Kung Fu in China - Yunnan - Wu Wei Si
Kung Fu in China – Yunnan – Wu Wei Si

Everyday life in a Kung Fu temple in China

  • In short, the routine that was followed in the temple was as follows:
    • 5.00: The monks begin to pray with chants, bells and drums until 7 a.m. You can join them if you want, but the normal thing is to put on your mp3 and try to sleep a little longer.
    • 7.30 am: We go for a run to a river about ten minutes from the temple. You take the biggest stone you can carry, and walk back (if you can, with it on your head) to unload it in the temple.
    • 8.00: Breakfast. One day dumplings (the best I have tasted in China) and other day noddles.
    • 9.00- 12.00: Shaolin Kung Fu training.
    • 12.00: At the sound of the bell the training ends and we go to eat.
    • 12.00 to 16.00: Free. Rest. You can sleep, read, meditate… Anything but without leaving the surroundings of the temple.
    • 16.00 – 18.00: Shaolin Kung Fu training
    • 18.00: At the sound of the bell the training ends and we go to dinner.
    • 19.00: The monks pray again for about an hour and a half. You can also join them. (Recommended, even if it is only once to live the experience).
    • 21.00: It is forbidden to make noise. Time to go to sleep.

Learning Kung Fu in China – Customs to respect in Wu Wei Si

In China at mealtimes, some rituals and customs must be followed and respected. As for the rituals at lunchtime within the Wu Wei Si, there are some things that must be taken into account:

  1. When you get there, they give you some chopsticks, a bowl for the rice and another for the noddles. They’re the ones you’ll eat with every day, so take good care of them
  2. Punctuality is important.
  3. Before we start eating, we all say together: “Er mi tou fo” (If I’m not mistaken: the Chinese name for Buddha).
  4. You never take a bite before the Shi fu (temple master).
  5. It is customary to take the bowl to eat with your back straight.
  6. Everything you put in your bowl you have to eat (every last grain of rice).
  7. If some food falls on the floor you have to pick it up and eat it.
  8. Mostly you eat it in silence.
  9. Two or three people leave the table at the same time. Never a single person.
  10. When you finish, you get up and go table by table saying “Er mi tou fo” to those who are still eating.
China - Yunnan - Dali - Wu Wei Si Temple
Yunnan – Dali – Wu Wei Si Temple

Learn Kung Fu in China – Personal experience in Wu Wei Si 

The three weeks I spent in Wu Wei Si were different, even though the routine was always the same. Mind you, they were all equally long but also rewarding.

The first week I was alone with the monks, so I had the opportunity to really see how their day-to-day life is without tourists (in the summer they take in about 20/30 including foreigners and Chinese children). I had time for myself; to be alone, to reflect and, above all, to rest (the first week is the hardest).

The second week, four more foreigners joined us and it went well for me to come back to reality and enjoy a little more company. On New Year’s Eve, I went to sleep at 8 p.m. and woke up at 5 a.m. thanks to my friends calling me from Tarragona. It was the only special moment of celebration. Without a doubt, it was a different New Year’s Eve than the previous ones.

The third and last week in Wu Wei Si, my Kung Fu routine and training started to get heavy. They didn’t seem as hard as in the beginning, so I decided to finish my stage in the temple and go to Kunming to look for a job. Here I leave you the link to a video I found about the Wu Wei Si temple.

Kung Fu in China - Yunnan - Wuweisi Temple - Shifu
China – Yunnan – Wuweisi Temple – Shifu

Farewell to the Shaolin Temple

I intended to find a job, study Chinese and stay longer in China so with much sadness but a great feeling of satisfaction I left the temple to go in search of new adventures.

By the way, an important detail, in the temple you cannot smoke. Thanks to that, and to enough effort, I have not tried a cigarette for more than two months. Thank you for everything Wu Wei Si and see you next time.

If you are thinking of traveling to China you can take a look at my list of China Travel Tips and the 5 things that surprised me the most about China. And above all, if you want to go on a trip to Yunnan, take a look at the 14-day Yunnan tour I organize and the 11-day trip tour, both with guide and driver.

  Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

Kung Fu in China - Yunnan - Dali Shaolin Temple
China – Yunnan – Dali Shaolin Temple


6 Replies to “Learning Kung Fu in China: My experience in a Shaolin Temple”

    1. Hi Philip,
      There is no website, you just have to get there and ask to stay with them.
      This August I am going to go back to Yunnan and I will check if they still teaching Kung Fu ! Hopefully! I will update the information as soon as I know for sure. If you go before me, please let me know! Thanks!

  1. Hey Philip and Marcos 🙂
    Planing to stay one week at the temple but we were told by a hostel in Dali the monastery is no longer doing this. Any updates or jnfo on this?? Thanks!!

      1. Hi all!
        I’m currently living in China and plan to visit monastery around mid-May and try my luck staying and learning Tai Chi there. Will update you upon my success (or not!)
        Marcos, would love to learn more about your hands-on experience before going. Please feel free to reach out if you’re open to chat!
        Have a nice day, and even great trips ahead, friends~

        1. Hi Kate!
          Cool, let’s cross fingers! I would really love if the temple still open and you can enjoy a similar experience like I lived there. We will look forward to your update, thank you very much! Enjoy Yunnan!

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