Alone in China as a eleven-year-old I simply think the gain for him is so infinitely great that this year will define all his life somehow in advance. It was for me at the time when we said goodbye that the question had always been on my mind: What is it really that motivates him? Martial arts was one thing. The other thing was that he said: “I don’t just want to do martial arts.
I also want to meditate.” Then he noticed the conditions under which he had to live there. We slept very restlessly at first but we both felt he was in good hands. and that there was no point in denying him this wish because it was really his dream. I know that David said during the last week, exactly with these words, that he wanted to live this frugal life. And that astonished me tremendously. It was quickly clear to me that nobody understood why such a little German boy wanted to live in this Shaolin monastery. And David’s plan was for a whole year My mother, my little sister and my father, the four of us went to China to that monastery and looked at it for a week. Then I said:
“I want to stay here.” Shaolin in the center of China. Right next to the walls of the monastery lies the sports field Thanks to China’s opening and his firm will, David Schneider is the first foreign child in the Kung Fu school of the world famous shaolin monastery. We started training early in the morning, at about five or six o’clock until 7:30 am then we had breakfast and at about 9 o’clock we trained again until 11am or 12am. Then we had lunch and in the afternoon we trained from 2:30 pm until 5:30 pm. It is hard, it is hot, 40°C in the shade. But the kids don’t complain. They obey the teachers and train to the limit of pain. It is like school. You can’t just say:
“I’m too hot, I don’t want to do math now.” But you still continued? Hmn. What drove you to say,:
“I’ll continue anyway” You can’t say:
“I don’t want to continue.” David also submits to the hard training. He wants to become a good Kung Fu fighter, and a Kung Fu fighter does not give up. Only a few girls are among the thousand students of the sports boarding school. They also keep going, because the training including food and housing costs the parents 2000 yuan a year. That’s the equivalent of 330 Marks That’s how much a skilled worker earns in china every year. The ambition is great, even among the very small. after all, everyone wants to pass the exam. If you leave the famous shaolin with a certificate after at least two years, you might become an elite policeman even a bodyguard for china’s new millionaires. After training we were often very dirty. Some children even had no money to take a shower or to wash themselves. The hard training makes everyone hungry, including David. When he arrived in Shaolin, he had still believed that the Chinese people here mainly eat rice. Instead there is the so-called steamed bread day in, day out. A tough dumpling of flour, yeast and water. A northern chinese speciality, but the steamed bread was still not David’s favourite dish. What did you miss most about eating? Well.. actually something like hamburgers or something like that. Normally i didn’t eat much hamburg either but in China i really wanted to eat them. And sweets? Yeah. Eating is done outdoors. The sports field is also dining room at the same time. Everybody bring their tin bowls. The Kung Fu students also spend their free time here. Only in exceptional cases may they leave the boarding school premises. There is not much variety. David relies heavily on contact with his classmates. But when he arrived here, he didn’t speak a single word of Chinese. I had a little dictionary with me. I always showed them the words in Chinese that were there, and then they told me what I wanted, or gave me what I wanted. His classmates call David for fun “little foreigner”. He quickly learned Chinese. And also that you have to obey when you are in bed at 9 o’clock in the evening and the gate of the boarding school is closed. Headmaster Chen When David arrived, his lifestyle was foreign to us, so there were misunderstandings. First off we practiced with him in the gym and corrected his Kung Fu. David’s ligaments and tendons are very elastic, even more elastic than our children’s. But his movements aren’t quite as smooth. David is practicing hard.
He endures the pain of training. He swallows all the bitterness. Only the advanced train with the sword. Injuries are rare. The mastery of body and mind is essential in this centuries-old art of weaponry. It is about concentration and exact execution of the exercise. Kung Fu becomes a part of life for the boys and girls here in Shaolin You shouldn’t always think about your mother, or you’ll get homesick, or well … I can’t really say anything about it now. Do you have to be very hard, even on yourself? You don’t have to be very hard, but you have to be tough. The longer David lives in the Kung Fu boarding school, the more often he retreats to his room. He knows the guiding principle:
“Only those who are willing to suffer can become masters.” But David soon has had enough of the blunt training on the sports field. In the famous Shaolin he misses the mysterious Buddhist philosophy of Kung Fu, which he knows from books and films. The ‘little foreigner’ feels alone with his thirst for knowledge. David wants more and he is disappointed that not everything in the famous monastery is as sacred and as far removed from the world as he had dreamed of in distant Germany. Here in Shaolin, worldly interests prevail. The farmers rent military binoculars to tourists. The attraction:
To see the holy mountains with your binoculars This way you can get a little closer to heaven for just a little money. A monument is erected on the mountain. It is supposed to remind of the Indian Bodhidharma, the founder of Kung Fu, who came to Shaolin as a pilgrim in 527 AD. Shaolin Monastery has been in existence for 1500 years. David is a guest at a religious place that had been destroyed several times down to the foundation walls. Only after the turmoil of the cultural revolution were the buildings rebuilt or restored. The monastery could now develop without state interference. David takes in everything foreign eagerly. He buys a picture of Bodhidharma, the founder of Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. He had meditated here in the mountains of Shaolin for nine years. In order to keep his body flexible, he imitated the movements of the wild animals in the breaks between the long sitting phases. From this Bodhidharma developed the 18 basic postures of the original Kung Fu. This is where the actual monastery area begins. Here david wanted to live together with the Buddhist monks in a monastic cell. But his dream was not fulfilled, because foreigners are not allowed to live here. The monks’ kitchen, however, was open to David at all times. For a glimpse of the delicacies prepared especially for the monks. Mostly vegetables and tofu, rarely steamed bread. David asks the cook: “Do you like this dish?” And he answers like all chefs in the world: “Yes, it tastes good.” The cook explains that the monks are not allowed to eat meat or garlic. And David, who is invited to the monks today, like all children, is basically only interested in the one question: Is there also noodles for lunch? The monks accept the young boy from Germany and encourage him to discover the Buddhist world. And they also served him his longed-for noodles. This is the so-called ‘Fat Buddha’. He is so fat because he is said to have absorbed the suffering of the world. In the souvenir shop of the Kung Fu monks the shelves are full of holy figures. Not everything that brings money is necessarily tasteful here either. David wants to buy himself a Fat Buddha. The monks do not live badly from the souvenir business. David takes the little Buddha for the equivalent of 8.50 Mark. His parents have deposited the pocket money for him with the abbot of the monastery. In his room David has built a small altar for his Buddha. David wants to learn more than just martial arts. He meditates. By no means a compulsory program for the Kung Fu students from Germany. I never really believed in God And with Buddha, I know that he existed in reality. When David gets up early, he experiences the morning peace of the monastery. In front of the great Buddha hall he meets a master of Qigong, an original Taoist breathing and meditation technique. The life energy ‘Chi’ is directed by spiritual concentration into certain parts of the body and leads to increased strength and insensitivity to pain. David prefers to stay with his Kung Fu. The headstrong boy has found his own trainer. In the early morning he does some stretching exercise. In the meantime he has also bought traditional monk’s clothes like gowns, wide pants, gaiters and unlaced fabric shoes. In the morning at 8 o’clock the tourists come and drive away the morning silence in Shaolin. The monastery is now a kind of amusement park. Even in this traditional place of asceticism and renunciation, people like to be fashionable and chic. In China, individuality used to be considered unseemly. Sometimes David stands between the monks as if he were one of them. This is where worlds meet. The atheistically educated soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army seem insecure and surprised. The blond little monk. The photo motive of Shaolin. Sometimes it’s fun, but sometimes it’s not so nice when people look at you every day. David hasn’t become any more holy yet. He often remains a very normal and cheeky boy. He’s skipping official training on the field. His sports teacher doesn’t like to see that. I wish from the bottom of my heart that David would perform but he disappears recently and doesn’t train anymore. When he roams around, it disappoints me. All parents have high hopes for their sons. They want them to turn into dragons one day. If David learns too little from me, I lose face. One more here, against the wall. He’s in love with you. Thank you. Thanks. Hey, you’re German, right?
– Yeah – That’s for you. Sometimes it was fun when they photographed me, but sometimes I didn’t like it when they looked at me with their pop eyes. Then they always want to touch my hair and stuff. That’s not so nice. Apart from the Kung Fu training, David has no regular schooling in Shaolin. But David is ambitious. He not only wants to speak Chinese but also to learn to write. A monk has already taught him a few characters. David has asked him again and again. But to learn all 30000 characters he would have to stay longer than one year. Until a decade ago praying in public was forbidden and the temples were closed. Nevertheless, even under Mao Tsé-Tung’s reign, bowing to Buddha was not forgotten. The monks often hike in the mountains to the pond of the dragon when too many tourists take up their monastery. David is always there and always ahead. He asks his companion:
“How do you get over there?” “Around the top.” David is not satisfied with this answer. He finds another place better. “Alright”, says the monk, “then you go there.” David shows self-confidence, which the monks are not used to of Chinese children. They accept him because he shows interest in their religion. Meditation is good for the body to calm itself down. You do it by closing your eyes, breathing evenly, and thinking of nothing else but the inside of the body. Slowly the heart becomes silent, like still water to be fathomed. This is how Chinese people describe the effect of meditation. Even the otherwise so lively David seems to feel this state of relaxation and emptiness. Under the guidance of his friends of the monks he succeeds in finding peace. I did not have friends of the same age. Most of my friends were older than me.
They were grown up Did you think that was a pity? Sometimes I also found it a pity that there were no friends of the same age as me. Was it possible to have fun with them? Sometimes you could have fun with them. Only a few Shaolin monks still live in asceticism and work in modest seclusion on their enlightenment. Most dream of a cinema career as a Kung Fu fighter. The little tiger shows a so-called form. A sequence of arm and leg techniques. All executed on one line. The six-year-old has already taken part in international tournaments. David has an audience with the vice abbot in the main temple. Despite all the splendor David is not intimidated but full of respect. The high-ranking monk says his trip to China is no coincidence in his eyes. Probably David had already been connected with Shaolin in an earlier life. That’s the vice abbot and he is my * and * means that he is like my Buddhist father. If I had no money, or nothing to wear, or any problems, then I went to him and told him that. The vice abbot is worried. A meat manufacturer in the county town has used the name Shaolin for his sausages without permission. The monastery is now conducting a lawsuit against the copyright of his name. The monks don’t want to be exploited anymore. They would like to market the traditional name Shaolin themselves in the future. The Sutra hall is the sanctum of the monastery. It is only opened on very special occasions. Here are stored copies of the 84,000 traditional teachings of the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Numerous legends entwine themselves around Siddhartha. He is said to have been born the son of a white elephant. After he was born, he is said to have called: “I am the greatest in the world. This is my last birth. I will end the suffering of birth, old age and death.” He’s the oldest monk in the monastery,
his name is Shi Su Yun. He knows a lot. And he meditates a lot. Before the wise man talks to us he demonstrates his fitness program. For us Buddhists, there are two concepts: One is the fist that you can see.
And then the invisible, the Zen. Our lives last a hundred years at most. A strong fist is important, but it is only good for this world. Zen Buddhism points beyond life. What I practice is Zen. I am Zen. The holy drum in the temple hall is only beaten during full moon. David hears it today for the first time. He’s looking forward to the devotions in the evening. In the beginning I went out of curiosity and afterwards because I enjoyed it. How does it feel to be there? Well, you feel much calmer in your body. And you don’t think about the worries you have. A feeling of security? Uhum. The little foreigner is always welcome at the evening prayer. Even if he doesn’t understand the old Sutra songs, David does all the rituals out of devotion. The Kung Fu monks encouraged him to pray. The decisive force is the spirit and not the body. They say: A good warrior is not violent, a good fighter is not angry, a good winner is not vengeful. When I am in the monastery I feel much happier than in the church. Early in the morning David likes to be on the road, then he can train undisturbed in the great outdoors. Before David went to China, he suffered from asthma. Here he doesn’t feel it anymore. David’s taking us to the school kickboxing championships. The fighting events are very popular among the students. David does not take part although he was asked to do so by his teacher. His refusal is reasonable, because the fights prove to be too brutal. For David the philosophical side of Kung Fu with its code of honour comes much too short. There are rumours in Shaolin that former Kung Fu students have gone astray. That they were hired as thugs by criminals. The girls fight too. We ask David’s classmates Jing and Wang what they want to do later. Whether they also want to become bodyguards for millionaires. No is the unanimous answer. Seventeen-year-old Er Li, which translates as ‘second beauty’, adds: “I use Kung Fu for self-defense, because the public safety in the country is not too good.” Her friend Jing, on the other hand, wants to join the armed police. Police officers are desperately needed in her home region. With a final certificate from Shaolin, all she has to do is sign up. The girls also have fun in the shooting gallery in front of the monastery wall. Here in Shaolin they are treated no differently than the boys. Only David did some extra tours. I always liked to travel somewhere else. To see something new. And after a week or a few days I was happy to be back in Shaolin. But you didn’t have permission from the director. No. But you did it anyways. Yeah. David prefers to visit his neighbour’s town. There’s a young teacher living here he’s made friends with. He calls her Wu mum. Mrs. Wu always has yellow lemonade, biscuits and good advice. David talks about the kickboxing championships in his boarding school and that he did not take part in them. Mrs. Wu can understand that very well. Many students would have taken bloody noses. David thinks it’s stupid and asks himself,
“What’s in it for you?” He’s entrusting her with his future plans. He wants to start his own Kung Fu school later on and of course also play in Kung Fu movies. That’s what he wants. Mrs. Wu likes that and she is, as always, quite his opinion: “So you want to become an actor? I think that’s okay. David wants to see more of China than just the close surroundings of the monastery. He travels with his classmate to his home village. He hasn’t left the boarding school in two years. His friend is a good kick-boxer. He’s supposed to later take care of order and safety in the business of his wealthy uncle. The friends explore the center of the world. According to old Chinese conception he can be found right here. At the Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory which is more than 700 years old. His friend explains to him how the course of the sun was calculated here once. The year in China is coming to an end for David. Time to say goodbye. One last time he roams the temple halls. What had seemed mysterious and mysterious to him at his arrival is now familiar to him. David learned Far Eastern wisdom here. He meditated, but he also trained until he collapsed. He made his dream come true, and experienced that reality is sometimes less great than he dreamed. Alone in China as a eleven-year-old David has learned that sometimes it can be pretty hard. Back in Cologne. Again skating with the friends. Back home again. And you became a normal boy again? Yes. How was it? It was good. What was good about it? That I was once again left alone in peace, and that no one came every day to photograph or touch me or stare at me. In China, David often remained alone. In Germany he seeks and finds connections immediately. And school? Meanwhile David attends the fifth grade of a high school in Cologne. He had no difficulties getting used to it again. Unbreakable. Unbreakable. David Schneider is pretty good at German lessons. He is better at sports. In Kung Fu the little foreigner is of course the best. Because he appears a bit more mature in some situations, he has a role in the class that makes you notice that the other children are looking up at him a bit. But I have noticed again and again that he uses every opportunity, to – I would say “lay off that adult behavior” – to be very childish and playful. Sometimes I also had the feeling that he might have missed it a bit during the last year.