Saturday, June 9, 2007
Matthew Polly had always kept a running list in his head of Things That Are Wrong with Matthew: “Cowardly,” “Spiritually Confused,” “Still a boy/not a man,” “Ignorant.” In 1992, he decided to tackle the list by going to China to train in ancient martial arts and meditation with the monks of the hidden Shaolin Temple. Ten years later, Polly weaves the story of his journey to enlightenment with iron forearms in American Shaolin. With a better than average command of the Chinese language and customs for a laowai, Polly makes his way to the Temple and starts to catalog his unusual adventures and encounters with the Chinese people—chatty cab drivers; giggly hotel key girls; avaricious Temple officials; and coaches who scream for perfection and then . It all culminates in an international kungfu competition and a challenge match with a kungfu master. Polly’s pace is as fast as a whip kick to the head and his descriptions of the amazing skills of his teachers and class mates are jaw dropping. In a friendly, deferential and sometimes smart ass tone, Polly invites the reader along on his astounding journey to check off the items on his list, only to check off the most important entry upon his return to Kansas. Fans of the pacing and story line of Friday Night Lights will enjoy American Shaolin.