Our photo theme this week is “Get Physical” — physical education and culture that spans dynasties. Kung fu, qigong, elderly square dancing, and everything in between.
If you’ve been following our photo series this week, you’ll know that we started you off gently on your journey to physical enlightenment. From a basic horse stance, to pregnant yoga, and eventually a heart-pounding Maoist cardio routine. But really, this is what you’ve been training for — straight up kung fu superpowers.
The 72 arts of Shaolin differ depending on who you ask. Different sets have been described in different books, but the standard text in the English-speaking world is from the book Authentic Shaolin Heritage: Training Methods of 72 Arts of Shaolin, written in 1934 with help from the Shaolin Temple’s abbot. The arts themselves range from simple (conditioning exercises to make your fists stronger), to novel (training elasticity in striking by punching out the flame on a candle), to outlandish (exercises that allow you to run across lily pads, or kill someone with an energy punch).
As a young and wide-eyed martial arts nerd in high school, there’s no way I was going to pass up on a literal textbook of ancient kung fu powers. Flick through a couple of these pages, and you’ll get an idea of what the book is like. It really has everything — basic calisthenics, recipes for homemade muscle liniments, even classical Chinese forms of swimming. Consult this training method for Hand of Five Poisons (“many wanderers exercise that kind of gong fu”), which is actual witchcraft:
On the eve of Qing Ming festival, dig out a lower layer of clay weighing 10 kg. The clay should be of light yellow color. Put it into an earthenware vat for drying. During the festival Duan Wu put a red snake, a gecko, a spider, a toad, and scolopendra into clay, that is so called “five poisons”. Pound them together with clay. Add then 5 kilogram of iron shot into clay, 5 kg of vinegar, 2.5 kg of strong spirit, 1 kg of bronze shot. Place the obtained mass on a bench. Strike at it every day in the morning and in the evening. If you train yourself in consecutive order and tirelessly, you will get success in three years. If a man is struck by such an arm, he can perish, therefore such a blow can not be thoughtlessly delivered. To avoid delivering the blow unintentionally, it is better to exercise the left arm. The hands after training must be washed with special solution prepared according to a secret recipe. Otherwise in three days the hand begins to rot and no cure will help.
We’re pretty sure that last part is just in there to scare away those who would use the Hand of Five Poisons for evil (unrelated, we are currently accepting leads on locating a Scolopendra in Shanghai). But we do have to remember that these practices are hundreds of years old, and witchcraft was kind of in vogue all over the world at the time. Nonetheless, some of the methods are pretty clever, and a lot of the exercises seem like they’d be pretty effective. Check out some snapshots from inside the book.