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NewCityNet Mad Monks

Watch the Qi-Gong Show.

By Kevin Campbell

APRIL 6, 1998:  The last American anesthesiologist who visited the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Monastery was reportedly most puzzled by the Kung Fu masters' practice of Qi-Gong-the ability to withstand unlimited pain and defy injury through pure concentration-because Qi-Gong defies any reasonable scientific explanation.

But the Shaolin monks are like that. Their brand of Kung Fu, for instance, was created by a Buddhist monk who sat motionless in a cave for nine years devising a plan to perfect mental and physical health during periods of immobility. And when Shaolin Kung Fu was later developed into a fighting technique by mimicking the movements of animals, it became the foundation of all Asian martial arts.

As twenty-two monks from that Ivy League-level Kung Fu school give their first demonstration outside their Chinese monastery, the Qi-Gong components dazzle onlookers who had assumed that beating oneself over the head with iron bars, wooden beams and granite slabs could result in bruises or even death. Turns out all the monks have to do is to channel personal energy to the body part under attack and presto!-no pain or pesky injury.

The monk who bashes a granite slab in half over his head trained for the feat for more than thirty years-but even the 6-year-old master and his 78-year-old mentor exhibit near-supernatural levels of flexibility and agility. Next, the monks each heft two buckets of water and walk barefoot up a short staircase made of knives. To complete such feats without slicing their feet, the Shaolin monks live their lives in training, with even the most minimal regimen consisting of a harsh six hours a day.

Obviously on a roll, the monks continue to draw winces from the McCormick Place crowd by ramming themselves against spears, battering each other in the abdomen with logs, and lying on beds of knives. The next sound they hear is of many hands clapping.

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