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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in theNew China » User review

An Odyssey into the Author's Ego Maybe

  • Mar 16, 2009
  • by
I read this book before taking a trip to the same temple to train with monks. Polly's book is generally autobiographical and I got to observe many phenomena he described in his book. I can vouch for much of his authenticity and appreciate the vividness and detail he puts into his descriptions. I also appreciate the effort he put into his travels and the contributions his trip made toward Shaolin's relationship with the US.

Polly is a very clever writer with a very good education and this is very clear at the very beginning of the book, but I fear that sometimes he lets that get to his head.  Polly never loses his American identity while he's abroad for two years, which can be positive, but even when he acts like he will try anything once he can be extraordinarily self-conscious and entitled. Some of this makes me question whether it is true, whether it was added to the book for drama, whether he even had a martial arts background, whether he's just whiny, or whether it is a common male attitude that is usually beaten out of the men at the temple. The whiny option is certainly possible because I occasionally feel that way when really pushed, but some of the book suggests significant disrespect.

During one of his first week's of serious training, young monks come and watch his class and laugh. When he inquires, the teacher innocently responds that they don't have TV and he gets angry. The audience doesn't come back after that. Some other shocking material in the book involves sharing very personal details, secrets and feelings of his monk friends. Not only are their names published, but even if the names are aliases, those monks are international performers and their photographs are in the book. The end of the book has an update on the monks with a list of who has defected and where they are living. As arrogance goes at one point in the book he has a character state that his training is finished. That he has learned everything. I have never heard something so ludicrous in my life. By far the worst character trait displayed, in my opinion, is his attitude in regards to his discipleship. The Abbott agrees to take the author as a disciple as a great symbolic gesture and I'm not sure what the author's true motivation is. All I know is that he spends many pages criticizing the Abbott and discussing politics and money rather than seeking insight into his experience.

I would have happily taken a balanced book that was perhaps exciting and voyeuristic while discipline and holy while scandalous. However, my problem is that I have some experience with martial arts and Shaolin kung fu. I don't think Polly was nearly respectful enough. I don't think he is very Shaolin and I think it shows in the events of the book, the observations, and the insight. He knows some kung fu and he knows about the culture now but I don't think he necessarily gets it.  I don't think that he even tried to. He wanted to learn how to defend himself and he achieved that superficial fitness goal. He got a boost of confidence. Good for him. It's a good thing that the journey from A to B was enertaining.

I myself am very glad that Polly's book brings Shaolin to the lime light and brings public interest, attention and wonder to one of my favorite things. The book taught me many things I did not know about the temple and the fighting monks and it primed me for my trip. I hope the author can look back on his trip and attain some self knowledge.

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March 17, 2009
Very interesting, and I certainly envy you the opportunity to study at the temple! It sounds as though you probably were closer to enlightenment before you went than the author was afterwards. I'm going to assume that you've read Mark Salzman's book IRON AND SILK or at least seen the movie made of it. I know that most people who read the book first were terribly disappointed with the film version (and after reading it I can certainly see why), but having approached the material backwards I enjoyed the film.
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Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Great book, learned alot about eastern culture and the differences amongst us in the western world. American Shaolin is a must read because it makes you feel like your living the speakers life, it is a unique and interesting book.
review by . June 10, 2010
What was your emotional reaction as you read? Why?       Inspirational, It shows readers that anyone can pursue what they're dreams are and overcoming their fears Who would you recommend this reading to and why?       Yes! Like I said its inspirational, inforative, and interesting. You learn about the shaolin culture and what they "dont tell us" about their lifestyles Consider the setting.       Old rural …
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Erin ()
Ranked #451
I'm a vegetarian and kung fu fanatic. I'm learning Chinese language and cooking. I an open to learning any vegetarian cooking for that matter. If you have recommendations for good, tasty, healthy recipes … more
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