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Monday 26th June 2001, 1630 BST
Shaolin monks prove a big hit
Bristol Colston Hall - June 21st
Monks practicing
Monks practising before the show

Before the performance, hype surrounding the monks' show, described it as a unique style of martial arts that requires incredible physical and psychological strength.

They were not exaggerating.

Dragon on stage
Dragon rehearsal

Everything they said they could do was true. Things like shattering wooden staves against their arms, breaking iron bars against their heads and balancing the entire weight of their bodies on spears.

Nearly 1,000 people turned up to see the show at Colston Hall, and judging by the applause they seemed to be impressed.

It's true the Shaolin Monks have developed their skills over 1,500 years, but their show today has been modified to tell their story in a contemporary style.

The performance wasn't just amazing set pieces of kung fu that followed one another, it was a theatrical production that both engaged the audience and entertained them.

Monk with weapon
Monk with weapon

The show told how centuries ago the monks were threatened by invasion and so developed a unique style of martial arts to protect their existence.

They became the ultimate masters of kung fu - Buddhist soldier monks who refined defensive body movements to a rare standard.

By touring across Europe and the UK, the "Wheel of Life" show is delivering remarkable feats of physical endurance, to audiences which are only going to be staggered by what they see.

Shi Yan Wei and Shi Yan Xi

Before their performance at Bristol's Colston Hall, two of the monks spoke to me about why they decided to devote their lives to one of the oldest disciplines that exists.

Shi Yan Wei, 27, became a monk when he was aged 12: "It is the very best environment to exist and train in," he said.

"Martial Arts improves the body, health and makes you strong. I will stay at the temple for the rest of my life."

Shi Yan Xi, 22, joined the Shaolin Monks aged 15. He said it is part of his spirituality: "The martial arts helps express my basic will and beliefs.

"The kung fu and the Buddhism go hand-in-hand and this gives you an 'inner peace'."

Monk on fingers
Monk on fingers

The tour has the blessing of the Fangzhang (First Abbot) of the temple, the Venerable Shi Yon Xin.

He authorised the show as an authentic illustration and celebration of the order's history, religion and physical prowess.

Money raised from the tour goes towards the upkeep of the temple in China, and helps to support the monks during their stay there.

Tony Arnese

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