A Slice of Shaolin

His students call him Shifu, a rare martial arts title for an Indian, earned under the watchful eyes of Shaolin’s Kung Fu monks
Students meditating at Shaolin Wushu Cultural Centre India, Bengaluru
Students meditating at Shaolin Wushu Cultural Centre India, Bengaluru

BENGALURU: Within a quaint interior of J P Nagar is an unusual space where unsure, diffident and insecure souls, young and old, transform into self-confident personalities with robust character. The rented premises of Shaolin Wushu Cultural Center India seems unpretentious, but is packed with ounces of unvanquishable strength. It is here where about 120 students, from age 4 to 60-plus learn the traditional art of Wushu, a compound of all Chinese traditional martial arts.

A result of a daring adventure and unstifled belief of its founder, Keerthi Prasad B S, the centre is the only one in South India that can boast of an authentic certification from the cradle of Chinese Kung Fu, the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng county, China.

The passion for the martial arts began when Keerthi saw a documentary on the history of Shaolin Temple. Further research in an era when the internet was at its nascent stages, he realised the Indian connection. “Shaolin Temple was built by an Emperor to accommodate the Indian master Buddhabhadra or Batuo’s preachings, who was the first abbot of Shaolin. Later, another Indian monk, Bodhidharma arrived at Shaolin Temple, initiating the Chinese Chan tradition,” he says, clearly reflecting his pride in the India connection, and the desire to bring a bit of it to the country.

By 1999, when Keerthi passed out of II PU, he was sure about his future. Having convinced his father about his passion, he began his pursuit in Bengaluru but was disappointed by the lack of authenticity in the teachings. To avoid his passion from atrophying, and to save money, he started freelance photography and took up a job of medical transcription. He managed a student visa for six months to the Shaolin Cultural Centre, Dengfeng, which is an international hostel for aspirants wanting to learn martial arts.

“The language barrier, the food, the strenuous training, and being away from family for the first time took its toll in the beginning and I wanted to quit. But then I would remind myself of the very reason I had decided to be there; to learn something which is valuable and could be shared to another part of the world,” he recalls.

Today, Keerthi is a Shifu (teacher), qualified to teach the art of Wushu. He is a direct 34th generation disciple of Shaolin Temple abbot Shi Yong Xin and was named Shi Yan Ban.
He also trained under the Shaolin Monks Reserve Force and has obtained 7th Duan Wei Certification, making him the only person in South India to achieve the distinction.

Keerthi founded the Shaolin Wushu Cultural Center India in 2011, after getting married and eager to begin a stable life with his wife’s support. What makes his fidelity towards the belief in traditional martial arts more profound is the efforts he has taken to bring a tradition from East Asia to India and propagate it with his minimal resources.

“Our system is taught through a structured syllabus of traditional and modern elements, including sparring, traditional forms, weapons, chi kung - a form of gentle exercise, and a series of combat and self defense sequences,” Keerthi says.

The Centre actively participates and organises many social cause events such as blood donation camps, street self-defense for public as well as specific classes for ladies, and training for under privileged kids. It also has a cultural exchange program where students in India get a chance to train at the Shaolin Temple.
The ambition now is to spread the art across South India. “The traditional art of Wushu makes you feel alive and responsible. It makes you feel that you can make a difference, you feel complete. And I want this feeling to be spread across, at least in the southern part of India,” he says.

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The New Indian Express