Shoe-Shop Shaolin

A monk from a legendary Chinese temple brings his kung fu faith to the locals

"Kung fu is your body and your mind working together," Shan tells them.

Shan also teaches the kids how to control their anger. "Just because you're a fighter doesn't mean you can fight," he often tells them. He may be able to take down anyone he sees, but he has never used his skills on another person outside of class. If attackers approached, he says, he would try to calmly talk them out of fighting before fighting back.

The respect they learn in his class carries over into their relationships with their parents. "My son used to be very fat, and he had no confidence," parent Shelly Tang said. "Then we decided to come here, and right now he is so skinny. He has all the confidence he needs. He went from 150 pounds to 126 pounds in one year. He has also learned how to control his temper."

Shan meditates for an hour each morning and evening.
Deron Neblett
Shan meditates for an hour each morning and evening.

Kids come away from the sessions with an appreciation for the reality of martial arts, rather than the glamorous Hollywood versions. Shaolin practitioners were the basis for the 62-episode Kung Fu TV series of the early 1970s, in which David Carradine popularized martial arts as a wandering Shaolin monk who regularly bowed to -- then beat up -- cowboy bullies of the Old West.

More recently, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the equally exaggerated flurry of Jackie Chan action movies have thrilled more audiences. Shan -- a PBS crew is working on a documentary on his real-life adventures -- shakes his head at the fantasies of filmdom. He knows there is so much more to his faith than just kung fu fighting, although he recognizes that it is what brings attention to the monks.

"The Shaolin temple is famous today because of the kung fu," Shan said, "not because of the Buddhism."

While Shan hardly seeks publicity for his work, he says his desire is to share his expertise. So he readily accepted when student Willie Galvan approached him with an offer to conduct a self-defense seminar for Galvan's friends in the Angleton Police Department.

The monk had taught similar skills to police in China, where most officers patrol without firearms. Even guns don't guarantee protection for Houston-area police in surprise attacks, Galvan noted.

"I set them up with Shan because I knew he could help…Not all of the time will you be able to use a weapon, and it is very important to be able to use your hands," Galvan says. "You need to know how to protect yourself if you are taken down."

Angleton Corporal Jay Burridge has taught classes in defense and lauded Shan's seminar, saying the moves are practical and can be adapted to the street. "Basically, everything that he showed us ended up with someone on the ground," Burridge said.

However, the special classes are rare breaks from a rigid routine practiced by the monk. He awakes at 5:30 a.m. every day, studies Buddhism for 40 minutes, does solo workouts on his kung fu, teaches the classes, and wedges in an hour of meditation each morning and evening.

"This is my job. I was sent here for a reason," he says. "I will go wherever I am needed, but for now, I am here in Houston" -- at the top of the stairs above the shoe shop, in his secluded mission.

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