In the 1990's, when China's fabled Shaolin Temple was celebrating its 1500th anniversary as a center of Zen Buddhism and kung fu, American college student Matthew Polly was on a pilgrimage of his own.
The skinny kid from Topeka, Kansas who had grown up on Star Wars and David Carradine was leaving Princeton University to look for courage and spiritual guidance. He went to Shaolin, deep in central China, to study kung fu as martial art and spiritual practice.
What he found was a legend, decimated under Mao, reborn as tourist trap and kung fu paradise. He also found fighting monks, a rich cultural icon, and the courage he was looking for.
This hour On Point: American Shaolin.
Matthew Polly, author of "American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China"
Eric Lee, kung fu grand master, runs martial arts tours to China
This program aired on February 7, 2007.