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Title [Martial Arts Globe] The Kung Fu Nuns
Legends tell of mythic Kung Fu monasteries where mighty warriors began. The Shaolin Temple of China is the most famous, considered as the cradle of martial arts, and it is still active. However, there is another monastery that propounds martial arts – the Druk Amitabha Mountain Nunnery in Nepal. This martial sisterhood has been captivating the world with their selfless dedication to worthy causes and their extreme expressions of Kung Fu skill. Beyond serving their communities in need, they do yatras (pilgrimages) on foot and bicycles that are hundreds of miles long. Currently, there are about 800 Drukpa nuns and a long waiting list to be accepted.
Jigme Tsering Chorol, 30, entered the Drukpa order when she was nine. Before joining, she lived with her family and four siblings in Tia village in Ladakh, India. Her grandmother raised her on Buddhist stories and when His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa started a nunnery nearby, she attended classes and puja (prayers) with her family. When her grandmother asked if she wanted to become a nun, she happily agreed. It was when her martial training began. “There was no opportunity for girls in Ladakh to learn martial arts then,” she says. Today she is a senior Drukpa nun and spoke to UNESCO ICM about her discipline and mission.
Women Warriors Empowering Women
Some feel that martial arts and Buddhism are contradictory, but Chorol disagrees. “Kung Fu, like Buddhism, requires focus and discipline and sharpens our body and mind. Because of Kung Fu, I can meditate better, I am more confident, brave and I can help more people.” According to Chorol, helping others is her religion. “We learn and teach Kung Fu to build strength and empower vulnerable women. Martial arts is not meant for violence, but must be used for self-defense and to make this world a better place. Buddhism to us means loving fearlessly, caring fiercely and a constant commitment to help all sentient beings. We maintain our practice through discipline, training and putting compassion into action.”
The nuns focus upon women’s needs. Chorol says that many Himalayan girls cannot go to school and cannot see doctors without permission from their fathers or husbands. Some aren’t even allowed to laugh. “We want to help girls feel good about themselves and defend themselves. Kung Fu shows people [that] girls are strong and smart. We teach them Kung Fu to help them feel brave and safe. During the Nepal earthquake, we saw that many poor families sold their young daughters as they were desperate for money. So we decided to go on cycle yatras across Nepal and India and go village to village to encourage families to value girl child. Women are first to suffer in disasters like COVID-19.”
Fighting Covid and Climate Change
When COVID-19 hit, the nuns turned their efforts to help villagers who had no resources survive the lockdown or education on how to protect themselves from the virus. They distributed food and other essential supplies to 6000 poor families including persons with disabilities and orphanages during the first and second wave of COVID-19 in India and Nepal. “Many villages - especially the women of the villages - were not receiving education on hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks. We educated women on preventing the spread of COVID-19. These women became heroes in their villages as they passed on this knowledge to their children and family members, keeping them safe.”
What’s more, living on the rooftop of the world, the nuns are hypersensitive to the environment. Himalayan communities rely on farming and agriculture for their livelihoods. Plastic waste and climate change are causing flash floods and droughts, threatening these communities and their source of income. “We go on Eco-Pad yatras across the Himalayas for months at end to clean up plastic waste. We also do regular cleaning drives in and around Kathmandu. We have also planted thousands of trees across Ladakh. Our nunnery is a plastic-free zone and we advocate for zero plastic use through our social media and other platforms.”
Practice Fierce Kindness
For the Kung Fu nuns, martial practice is an aspect of their faith. Chorol’s advice for fellow martial artists is straightforward. “When you spar with someone, they are your competitor but not your enemy.” And as true warriors for peace, her sisterhood lives by example. “We not only pray but get off the meditation cushion and go out to the real world. Our practice gives us the commitment to help all sentient beings – no matter their race, gender, background or where they come from! We practice and advocate fierce kindness.”
The commitment and dedication of the Drukpa nuns is inspirational and persuasive. They set an example through their selfless actions and their martial prowess empowers them to serve the needy in novel ways. For young readers of UNESCO ICM, Chorol offers the following wisdom. “To our youth today, especially young girls, we want to say that no one is coming to rescue you. We need to become our own heroes! If we can practice Kung Fu and learn to defend ourselves, so can you. If we can exercise and ride bicycles and lead construction projects and teach children, then you can do all that too.”
For more information, visit www.kungfununs.org.
Video is provided as a reference material.
Ching, Gene. (2021) The Kung Fu Nuns – Warrior Women of the Druk Amitabha Mountain Nunnery [Online]. http://www.kungfumagazine.com/ezine/article.php?article=1577 (Accessed: 20 July 2021).
Jigme Tsering Chorol 2021, personal communication, 25 July.
White, Lori Ann. ‘Buddhist Nuns Fight New Battles with Kung Fu’, Kung Fu Tai Chi January+February 2018, p68-73.
※ Views in this writing are the author's own.