Shaolin-Do: An Honest Review and Case Study in law

Martial arts is one of the best ways to learn about different cultures, meet new people. gain physical and mental fitness, and build overall confidence.

From the years of 2001-2005, I was a very dedicated student to the system of “Shaolin-Do”, lead by the alleged Grandmaster Sin Kwang aka Sin The’.  I achieved a brown sash in the system, although, my specific teacher had deviated from the system quite a bit early on in my teachings, bringing in instructors from Boxing, Muay Thai, Praying Mantis Wushu and other systems to spar and do seminars with us. My teacher was very open minded, practical and young, thus we sparred full-contact and frequently cross-trained with other martial artists. Our school was frequently scolded by the Shaolin-Do headquarters in Kentucky for not wearing Japanese gis whereas we would wear traditional Chinese outfits. We felt that we were practicing Kung Fu (wushu) not Karate.

Eventually, I had enough of Shaolin-Do and began learning Xing Yi Quan under disciples who followed Sifu Shou-yu Liang who had immigrated to the west from China.  Later, I went on to cross train in many styles including Boxing, Muay Thai, Jujitsu, Wing Chun, Krav Maga and others. In 2010, I won 2nd place in a NAGA Jujitsu grappling tournament in Hillsboro, Tennessee. Looking back, if not for my open-minded Shaolin-Do instructor, I might still be trapped in the Shaolin-Do system, as I too believed that he had began to have doubts about whether or not he was practicing authentic Wushu. My instructor was a very formidable fighter, but did plenty of cross-training in other traditional and modern martial arts, however, he had been involved with Shaolin-Do since his youth, so perhaps he felt compelled to continue teaching and practicing it? I am not too sure. He did go on to later become a Muay Thai competitor.

My impression of Shaolin-Do is mixed. While the system itself does have some useful techniques, and some of the instructors are legitimately strong and somewhat capable at fighting, most of the schools I visited did very little full-contact sparring, performed their forms (Taolu) awkwardly, and participated in “closed” point-fighting tournaments. That’s right! Shaolin-Do students were encouraged to NOT compete in tournaments against non-Shaolin-Do students. Hmmm, why not? If it is the best system in the world, surely it could hold it’s own against a Kyokushin Karateka or  a Taekwondo fighter.

The atmosphere within the organization was very cult-like in most of the schools I saw, which isn’t uncommon for a traditional martial arts school.  As I got older, I began to visit other Wushu schools and perform in open-tournaments across the country, and the other Wushu players had never heard or seen of the “Taolu” (Kata in Japanese) that I was performing. Even the Xing-Yi-Quan (Hsing I) forms I was taught wasn’t the same or remotely close to the techniques other Wushu schools were teaching.  It all appeared to be made up or atleast altered. Which is fine, however, the Shaolin-Do system presented itself as authentic Shaolin-Kung Fu, not an altered version of it.

Depositions from a lawsuit involving Shaolin-Do confirm these doubts.  The lawsuit, Sin Kwang The’ vs. Jacob Rydbergshows evidence that “Grandmaster” Sin, did in fact fabricate atleast part of Shaolin-Do’s legitimacy. (The case study can be found- HERE) Everything from the forms to the history of his own training, Grandmaster Sin’ recants many of his advertised claims and even admits to making up his own forms. Again, these revelations aren’t to say that the Shaolin-Do system doesn’t have some usefulness, because all systems of martial arts were at one point, “Just made-up”, someone had to create it! But, this isn’t my problem with the system. My problem is that it markets itself as authentic Shaolin Martial Arts when it doesn’t quite appear to be. Then again, finding authentic Wushu in the USA is difficult enough as it is. If you walk into a Kung Fu school and they aren’t familiar with terms like, “Wushu”, “Taolu”, “Sanda”, “Dan-Tien” or the school does not openly compete in Wushu tournaments not sponsored by their own system, and they are wearing Japanese uniforms, It could be a cause for concern and reason to question.

Also, there is a question of “lineage”. Grandmaster Sin’ claims that he was taught martial arts by Grandmaster Ie Chang Ming who was taught by Su Kong Tai Djin.  Names that have almost no historical weight in the Martial Arts community outside of Shaolin-Do. If you mention Ip-Man or Yue-Fei, the Wushu community will instantly recognize such names. But, Su Kong Tai Djin? Who is that?

With the rise of MMA and combat practicality, people are more critical of martial arts lineages and effectiveness than ever before.  Because of the rise of MMA, schools and systems like Shaolin-Do have less impact on the martial arts world today, however, in smaller rural communities, Shaolin-Do is just as rampant as it ever was.  Alas, in this information age, I don’t blame the business marketing strategies of Shaolin-Do or Sin Kwang. It is up to the consumer to research the product he/she is willing to support. I did my research and wasn’t convinced, thus I left the system. Perhaps you will find a different answer.

If you are a teenager in a small town, and have no access to any other martial art or boxing gym, and Shaolin-Do is your only option, if the teacher is open-minded, it could be a decent introduction into martial arts and you may fall in love with the system. However, you owe it to yourself to explore others systems and styles before dedicating your life to something that you later find out wasn’t what you thought it was. This rings true for any style or system. But, if you are happy with your training, feel free to stick to “Shaolin-Do”, but just know that this system does come with some “fine print” and disclaimers to consider.

Martial Arts and Boxing are very important aspects to my life and personal history. In my high school years, I went to a tough school, and Shaolin-Do was an escape-outlet for me. I owe it a lot, and thankfully my teacher was a young-strong guy who encouraged me to cross-train in other styles and had me spar full-contact often. However, if I had to go back and do  those years over again, I would have trained elsewhere. I would have sought out a legit boxing gym, Wing Chun school, Krav Maga, or dedicated more time towards traditional Xing Yi Quan. Eventually, I began to focus most of my efforts on Boxing, Wing Chun, and Xing Yi Quan, but I wish I had done so much earlier.