Synopses & Reviews
Bill Bryson meets Bruce Lee in this raucously funny story of one scrawny American's quest to become a kung fu master at China's legendary Shaolin Temple.
Growing up a ninety-pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, young Matthew Polly dreamed of one day journeying to the Shaolin Temple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 1970s TV series, Kung Fu, While in college, Matthew decided the time had come to pursue this quixotic dream before it was too late. Much to the dismay of his parents, he dropped out of Princeton to spend two years training with the legendary sect of monks who invented kung fu and Zen Buddhism.
Expecting to find an isolated citadel populated by supernatural ascetics that he'd seen in countless badly dubbed chop-socky flicks, Matthew instead discovered a tacky tourist trap run by Communist party hacks. But the dedicated monks still trained in the rigorous age-old fighting forms some even practicing the 'iron kung fu' discipline, in which intensive training can make various body parts virtually indestructible (even the crotch). As Matthew grew in his knowledge of China and kung fu skill, he would come to represent the Temple in challenge matches and international competitions, and ultimately the monks would accept their new American initiate as close to one of their own as any Westerner had ever become.
Laced with humor and illuminated by cultural insight, American Shaolin is an unforgettable coming-of-age tale of one young man's journey into the ancient art of kung fu and a funny and poignant portrait of a rapidly changing China.
"In this smoothly written memoir, 98-pound weakling Polly makes the age-old decision to turn his nerdy self into a fighting machine. Polly's quest for manhood leads this guy from Topeka, Kans., to the Shaolin Temple, ancient home of the fighting monks and setting for 10,000 chop-socky movies. As much a student of Chinese culture as he is a martial artist, Polly derives a great deal of humor from the misunderstandings that follow a six-foot-three laowai (white foreigner) in a China taking its first awkward steps into capitalism after Tiananmen Square. Polly has a good eye for characters and introduces the reader to a Finnish messiah, a practitioner of 'iron crotch' kung fu, and his nagging girlfriend. We get the inside dope on Chinese dating, Chinese drinking games and a medical system apparently modeled on the Spanish Inquisition. The last hundred pages of the book lose focus, and Polly doesn't convincingly demonstrate how he transforms himself from a stumbling geek to a kickboxing stud who can stand toe-to-toe with the highest-ranked fighter in the world. Although Polly may fall short in sharing Shaolin's secrets, as a chronicler of human absurdity he makes all the right moves." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest mofo in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad." Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
"A nicely developed narrative." Kirkus Reviews
"Matthew Polly traded his ivy-covered walls of academia to study kung fu in China. American Shaolin takes readers along his often hilarious journey to discover his own strength." Penthouse
"In his action-packed quest to immerse himself in Shaolin's insular culture as thoroughly as any Coke-drinking guy from Kansas can, Polly transforms himself from a gangly wannabe into a formidable kickboxer. Since he never loses his sense of humor...Polly is an easy amateur to root for." Entertainment Weekly
"A delightfully wry book....Polly writes with admirable verve and humor that comes at his own expense. His affection for the Chinese is infectious." National Geographic Adventure
"I picked up American Shaolin and read it straight through. It is first rate. Polly's book tells more about what's going on in China and has more insights into the real China than anything in recent years. It is a wonderful true-life story with profound, behind-the-headlines observations about Chinese life. A tip of the Stetson to Matthew Polly."
Dan Rather, former anchor of the CBS Evening News
"A sensibility more alien to my own than Matthew Polly's is hard to imagine. I consider foreign cultures to be really...foreign. I don't spiritually quest; I go to church. As for the martial arts, I own a gun. But I loved American Shaolin. Reading it was like being abducted by an alien a brilliant, funny, and hospitable alien who took me to another universe of sensibility. There I enjoyed myself immensely."
P.J. O'Rourke, bestselling author of Parliament of Whores
"A funny, offbeat tale of a man and a nation coming of age." J. Maarten Troost, bestselling author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals
"A lot of people talk about becoming a real live ninja and don't do a thing. That's bullcrap. But this guy actually did it! In conclusion, Matthew Polly is the complete opposite of a wimpy baby." Robert Hamburger, author of REAL Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book
"[A]s much as American Shaolin
is about the author's quest, he also graciously shines his writer's spotlight on his Shaolin teammates and the Chinese people, giving voice to those whose existence is shrouded in legend and hearsay. In this respect, American Shaolin
does an admirable job of separating myth from reality." Gerry Donaghy, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review
Traces the author's childhood dream of studying the martial arts at the famed Shaolin Temple in China, his initial disenchantment with the tourist-trap school that turned into respect for its dedicated monk instructors, and the training that led to his eventual representation of the Temple in international competitions.
Laced with humor and illuminated by cultural insight, this coming-of-age tale explores one young American's quest to become a kung fu master at China's legendary Shaolin Temple. 8-page photo insert.
An aging amateur takes his shot at glory in the world of mixed martial arts.and#160;As a younger man, Matthew Polly traveled to the Shaolin Temple in China and spent two years training with the monks who had invented the ancient art of kung fu. Fifteen years later, his weakness for Chinese takeout and Jack Danielandrsquo;s had taken its toll. Firmly into middle age and far removed from his past athletic triumphs, Polly decided to risk it all one last time. Out of shape and over the hill, he jumped headlong into the world of MMA.and#160;In Tapped Out, Polly chronicles his grueling yet redeeming two-year journey through an often misunderstood sport. From Thailand to Russia, Manhattan to Las Vegas, Polly studied with the best trainers, concluding with a six-month fight camp at Randy Coutureandrsquo;s legendary gym. He explores the history of fighting sports and joins a fascinating subculture of men who roll around on sweaty mats with one another in appreciation of the purity of contained combat. And in the end, Polly straps on the gloves, gets into the cage, and squares off with a fighter fifteen years younger.and#160; An honest and humorous look at a hard-core sport, Tapped Out is a fascinating look into the fastest growing sport in America and what it takes to be an MMA fighter.
The raucously funny story of one young American?s quest to become the baddest dude on the planet (and possibly find inner peace along the way)
Growing up a ninety-eight-pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, Matthew Polly dreamed of one day journeying to the Shaolin Temple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 1970s TV series Kung Fu.
American Shaolin is the story of the two years Matthew spent in China living, studying, and performing with the Shaolin monks. The Chinese term for tough training is chi ku (?eating bitter?), and Matthew quickly learned to appreciate the phrase.
This is both the gripping story of Matthew?s journey and an intimate portrait of the real lives of the Shaolin monks, who struggle to overcome rampant corruption and the restrictions of an authoritarian government. Laced with humor and illuminated by cultural insight, American Shaolin is an unforgettable coming-of- age story of one man?s journey into the ancient art of kungfu?and a poignant portrait of a rapidly changing China.
About the Author
Matthew Polly is the author of the national bestseller American Shaolin. A Princeton University graduate and Rhodes Scholar, his work has appeared in Esquire, Slate, and The Nation. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.