Finding the Shaolin Center has made a remarkable impact on my life. Having sustained a severe back injury, my goal was to avoid surgery. Practicing Tai Chi has been an indispensable part of my recovery. Seeing the remarkable change it has helped me achieve, my doctor now considers it an essential part of my ongoing therapy. Studying Tai Chi at the Shaolin Center has helped me re-integrate my movements and gain greater mobility. It has given me insight into the ways I use my body and enabled me to move with more grace, fluidity, and strength and translates into increased physical, mental and energetic function in my daily life.
In the early phase of my recovery, a friend told me, “injury is the greatest teacher”. That was tough medicine to take while in the heart of pain. Having traveled the road of recovery, one of the things I find myself thankful for is that I found Tai Chi at a relatively young age. I wish it hadn’t taken injury to bring me here … but I’m so glad I’m here.
I happened upon the Portland Shaolin Center by chance … or maybe not. I later went to check it out and met with the Head Instructor, Joe. Great person and awesome martial artist. As I started coming to classes, I was also privileged to receive instruction from Joe’s black belts. They are all, to a person, cut from the same cloth as Joe; that is, they are respectful, patient and awesome martial artists.
One of the many good things about this school is the focus on positives for all students, and that is a constant of all who Joe allows to teach. Large lower belt classes are assisted by black and brown belts, and the class is divided in to smaller groups according to their skill level. Always under the keen supervision and input from Joe and the black belts.
There is a sense of camaraderie among all participants, which is passed on down from Joe and his instructors. For a person new to Portland, this is a blessing, and I now have a new family.
Martial arts have been a major part of my life for years, but it is the Shaolin community that I feel most comfortably and effectively supports and motivates training, dedication, and meditation in all pursuits, martial or otherwise. The small Portland studio has provided a cozy setting for development of a close-knit and accepting group; now it has the chance to grow into a spacious temple that can effectively house its spirit. For both personal expansion and lodging of a body of dedicated people, I cannot promote this school enough.
If I had to pick a single word to describe how I feel about the Portland Shaolin Center I would say nourishing. I have felt this from the beginning and it becomes deeper as I arrive at my one year mark.
The physical training provides a demanding workout. The kung fu has a wide focus, ranging from simple punch/kick techniques to complex animal and weapon long-forms. The importance of yin/internal teachings is also an integral piece of the training.
The teachers have an enthusiastic and enjoyable approach to conveying their knowledge. I have found them all to be humble, positive, and possessing amazing skill and patience. My fellow students are a heterogenous mix (backgrounds, profession, sexual orientation, gender, race, interests) all there to learn kung fu without ego.
If there was a single part of the School that makes it so fantastic it is the community feeling. This sentiment ties all the above together in a warm package. I do not need to think about it, I know/feel that I am a part of a great group of people as a member of this community.
I dabbled a little in martial arts before finding my true home here. Admittedly, I’d always been a bit of a Goldilocks. This style is too Jean-Claude Van Damme. This style is too … Thich Nhat Hanh. I wanted something beautiful and difficult, intense and compassionate. I didn’t want to have to be super agro and pretend nothing hurts. But I also didn’t want to engage in the Kabuki of subservience.
At first I was a baffled by the informality of the school. I came to understand that it didn’t stem from a lack of respect, but rather from a lack of interest in creating a hierarchical culture of reverence. This openness has allowed a very unique community to form. Wayward geeks and coders, social workers, artists and carpenters—the school is full of amazing Kung Fu nerds who care deeply about how they engage with the world.
One of my favorite moments at the school was when a young man came in; he was pasty white from gaming and probably on his second six-pack of cherry Coke, and he wanted to know if we were authentic.
“I heard that it used to be in the real upper levels of Shaolin you had to pick up a huge vat that burns a dragon and a tiger onto each forearm. Is that true?”
The teacher shrugged, “Who cares? It’s cool.”
This, I realized, was the perfect answer. The scene the young man spoke of came from the 70s TV show, Kung Fu. What I liked about the teacher’s response was that it didn’t out the guy for it, nor was it pedantic. Instead, it recognized what was really there. We all have Kung Fu fantasies. We all want to be Bruce Lee or Tony Jaa or we wouldn’t be here. These things keep our practice playful. Kung Fu is hard. The body has limits. It’s so much easier if I don’t have to leave my imagination outside the door.
I have never had a bad class at the school. There has never been a time when I walked out and didn’t feel better about the world and myself.
It has taken me a long time to get around to writing this testimonial because I’m not sure I can adequately capture in a few paragraphs how much the Portland Shaolin Center has enriched me as a martial artist and as a person. When I first walked into the school three years ago, I was on the hunt for the ‘right school’ for me; I had quite a bit of prior martial arts training, but had taken a long break and felt I’d been missing something important in my life that entire time. For some people, martial arts is like the best kind of parasitic infection: it gets into your blood and doesn’t let go. I was dying to train, but I knew I wanted certain things:
I must admit, I was worried about being able to find a place that satisfied most, much less all, of the things on my wish list. I visited many schools, and Portland Shaolin, despite being on the other side of town from where I lived, was the one that hit all the right notes, and did it in spades.
Three years later, I know without a doubt that I made the right decision. When I’m not at home, or at work, I want to be at the school. There are times I’ve been there for two hours but still don’t want to leave because I’m having too much fun, and you know, “we could run through that form one more time.” Or days when I’m tired and lazy, or had a bad day at work, or am sore from the last day’s class, but I get up and go to kung fu anyways, because it’s worth it, every time.
If my list matches your list at all, come. Come for the martial arts, stay for the community. It’s something special.
I think nearly everyone who attends Portland Shaolin Center feels pretty identically about the school. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty difficult to write anything new about how great this place really is.
I could easily write a three page essay about all the different points on why this is a fantastic school and describe each aspect from curriculum to atmosphere to the instructors, etc. in a completely positive light.
I could also write a five page essay on what all this means to me personally because attending this school for the last three and a half years has affected me so deeply that it has changed who I am as a person only in positive ways.
So, I’ll leave it at this: if you’ve ever had an interest in martial arts or self-defense, this school is for you; if you simply have an interest in staying in shape, this school is for you; if you want to find a Kung Fu family that will support you, this school is for you.
I took karate for ten years earlier in my life, and always wanted to return to some kind of martial art, but not until I was in a position to commit to an art, and not until I found a school I wanted to commit to. I’ve now been at Portland Shaolin for a year, and it’s the perfect commitment for me now and into the future.
It fits everything I was looking for in a school for martial arts, which was pretty hard to find. I wanted to:
The atmosphere at Portland Shaolin is welcoming to new students, but is also increasingly friendly and communal as you get to know the various instructors and other students. There’s tons to learn, and you will not get bored. The material seems practically never-ending (in a good way!) and different instructors all bring different perspectives to the table, so even the same piece of material can get more interesting over time.
It’s a very scholarly atmosphere, but at the same time, not just academic. On any given day I might get an impromptu lesson in anatomy, psychology, Chinese history, eastern philosophy, or how not to hit yourself with a chain whip. But these lessons occur in-between sets of push-ups and sparring practice. It’s an over-all serious workout for your body and brain.
They’re currently expanding the school to twice it’s size, which should be great in all kinds of ways. Just watch the trailer for the school on the home page of their website, it sums up the school perfectly: They’re serious about the content and the work it requires, but they’re also having a great time all the while.
My first experience with this school was when I came to observe the end of one class and the beginning of the next. As students were arriving and leaving, most of them paused to introduce themselves and welcome me. The teacher welcomed me, too, and answered any questions I had. Everyone seemed eager and happy to be there. The atmosphere was challenging, safe, and completely supportive, respectful with some humor thrown in.
I have now been practicing kung fu and tai chi for almost two years. My first impression has been confirmed many times over. As an older student, I was unsure about how I would fit in, but from the beginning, I have been encouraged, supported, challenged, and included in every way. The instructors are amazing martial artists as well as skilled teachers. The camaraderie among the students, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, is genuine and fun. We all do our best, and we help and support each other.
One of the most important benefits of this school is how my training extends beyond class and permeates the rest of my life. I am healthier, of course, but it’s much more than that. I have a more positive outlook, with less stress and worry. I handle conflict in a more productive way. People think that being a martial artist is about being tough, but in this school, we learn how to be warriors of body, mind, and spirit. This cultivates peace rather than aggression.
I am so lucky to be part of this unique school.
I had never had martial arts training before, but after the first class I quickly realized two things: One, that I needed this in my life; and two, that Portland Shaolin was where it needed to happen. Over three years later, my enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled.
The material is challenging, but the only pressure is internal; no one is going to rush you to test before you’re ready or expect you to be further along than you are. Instructors and classmates want you to both succeed and have fun. Having fun, of course, is the easy part. But with the well-designed curriculum and the high quality of teaching, gaining proficiency isn’t far behind.
I’m excited that Portland Shaolin is growing – it means that this awesome space they’ve created can only get better.
I want this to do justice to the school, and the people it’s made of, but I don’t really have the ability to verbalize how much it means to me. The instructors bring the intensity needed to keep us focused and safe. They are generous and kind enough to give us the individual attention and care that we need to grow, while still setting martial examples to which we can aspire. Sometimes it hurts a little, but it is never destructive. It’s more than I ever expected, and the surprises continue. For a guy my age, it’s a fountain of youth.