Buddha Zhen, (pronounced “Jen) in a blue Chinese Kung Fu uniform with white frog buttons, begins with the one-handed Luohan Salute and Bow of disciples of Bodhidharma who teach Chan Buddhism. Chan Buddhism is a sect or branch of Buddhism founded by Bodhidharma at the original Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan in northern China. In later years, Japanese Buddhist monks traveled to the Songshan Temple to learn this innovative style of Buddhism that had developed a martial art also founded or begun by Bodhidharma who had traveled from India where he had learned a martial art known as Kalaripayattu. This combination of Chan Buddhism and Kalaripayattu would evolve together to become Shaolin Kung Fu. But those Japanese monks who learned some of this Kung Fu and Chan Buddhism were banned by the Japanese government from teaching martial arts to civilians not of the Samurai class. So the Shaolin Kung Fu was stripped from this Chan Buddhism and replaced with “doing nothing” in meditation postures. The word for ‘Chan’ in Japanese is ‘Zen.’
Today, the Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan is an international theme park where people come to study martial arts of many styles and origins not associated with Bodhidharma’s original Kung Fu or the lineage of monks who practiced, and developed this martial art since 600 C.E. By 1,000 C.E. the temple had added many movements and martial arts styles to become the Kung Fu that is taught by Buddha Zhen and is the foundation of his Shaolin Chi Mantis Traditional Buddhist Kung Fu schools. The Chinese Muslims of the area near the Shaolin Kung Fu temple also added their “Long Fist” martial art style to this monastery.
Buddha Zhen has created his Shaolin Chi Mantis martial art style to include also the Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu style that was developed in the 1600s by Shaolin monk Wong Long of the Shandong Shaolin Temple, another monastery located closer to the Pacific Ocean. “Praying Mantis is a very nasty or more sinister style of Kung Fu,” explains Buddha Zhen Shen-Lang, whose Chinese Buddhist name translates to “Spirit Wolf of Truth.” I told my friends and family I would never teach this martial art style to anyone because it is too deadly. When he formed Shaolin Chi Mantis in 1992 in Salt Lake City, Utah; he did add the Northern Praying Mantis martial art style to his advanced level hoping that anyone who got that far in his Kung Fu system “would be a good Buddhist” after progressing through his intensive teachings of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Still concerned about not adding unnecessary violence or bullies into the world, he also added the Yang family style of Tai Chi Chuan to his curriculum and teaches the entire Yang Tai Chi Chuan Short Form in his first semester of classes. Although Shaolin Kung Fu developed its own internal breathing and chi energy lessons, Buddha Zhen decided that the Tai Chi Chuan was a more efficient way to teach Chi Kung also referred to as Qigong (the Mandarin version of the word). This Tai Chi Chuan program of Shaolin Chi Mantis earned accolades from the Governor of Utah and both the Chief of Police and Mayor in Salt Lake City after he demonstrated his ability to rehabilitate prisoners and drug offenders in rehabilitation centers.
While teaching at the Decker Lake Maximum Security Prison he wrote his second student manual, Tai Chi Beginner, which proved so useful it has been a mandatory requirement in every program since then. “I taught at a YMCA in Tujunga for several years without the Tai Chi Beginner book,” says Buddha Z who was born Richard Del Connor in San Diego, California in 1954. “I couldn’t understand why the students weren’t progressing like all the previous classes I’d taught in schools, churches, and continuing education programs. I asked the YMCA director if I could make the book part of my program there. After adding the book back into the curriculum I had students graduating the belt rank levels and developing their health and well-being just like previous years. I’ve never taught without it since.”
This promotional video was shot in 2018 as the first of four Shaolin Kung Fu PROMO videos using the Tai Chi Beginner book as the basis of explaining his Shaolin Chi Mantis martial art style for his new “Online Kwoon” (internet school) to teach his original Shaolin Chi Mantis curriculum he became renowned for in 1992.
After a decade of teaching his SCM classes he created Tai Chi Youth in 1996, as a less demanding program without swords and spears for the majority of his students who didn’t seek the weaponry, Zen Buddhism, or Praying Mantis Kung Fu. “I got tired of watching students fall behind or not desire to continue into the intermediate level of Shaolin Kung Fu,” explains Buddha Zhen. “Tai Chi Youth was created for kids, teens, and anyone seeking the Tai Chi Chuan I was teaching. I took the four-semester beginner program of Shaolin Chi Mantis and stretched it out over three years. People loved it! This school was better suited to most everyone wanting Tai Chi. Those who wanted the weapons I would enroll in my Shaolin Chi Mantis school. Shaolin Chi Mantis became what the Chinese call a “closed door” system or school that required an invitation and initiation. I called it my Green Beret Kung Fu program.”
Since 1999 when Buddha Zhen moved back to California, Shaolin Chi Mantis has been a “closed door” system with closed doors. No one was admitted into the program–until now. Buddha Z changed the rules to allow anyone to enter his school for the first four semesters. To graduate into the SCM intermediate level, the Buddhist initiation requirements must be fulfilled. “This original curriculum is still too difficult for most Americans, or anyone,” chuckles BZ. “I am hoping that this Shaolin Chi Mantis Beginner Program will be a challenge for future generations to measure themselves by. Teenagers and adults can boast of how far they got in this program and use it as a test of their physical abilities. Since 1984 only a couple dozen students have graduated this entire Shaolin Chi Mantis beginner level. In fact, I’m 66 years old now and have never taught it to anyone over the age of 50. This will be a challenge for me. Actually, I’m very excited. I know that by the time I complete all these 188 videos and graduate myself from this beginner level program I will be in the best shape of my life again. This is my own personal challenge. I’m really excited and enjoying making these videos.”
In 2012 Buddha Zhen became homeless in Las Vegas after studying Lion Dance in another Shaolin Kung Fu school there. Traveling back to San Diego, and then Los Angeles in 2013 he was unable to teach enough students to regain his financial independence. This became a six year odyssey of teaching junkies, hookers and few dozen students in various parks in the North Hollywood area. “I became known as the “Kung Fu Cowboy” during those years. I lived in my Tacoma truck with my cat named Bear. Some of those years were rather enjoyable when I was performing in night clubs as the “Philosopher Poet.” I’d read a couple poems and play flute in many of the poetry venues, restaurants and even did some stand-up comedy. Check out my Instagram page for some pictures of my events and activities during those years. But then…”
“In 2018 I was hospitalized and had a surgery to fix a previous botched surgery. While recuperating for months during the summer of 2018 at the Martin Luther King Hospital I qualified for Section 8 financial assistance, being a homeless senior with a cat. Just before the Corona Virus Pandemic I found a really nice two-bedroom apartment in Lancaster, California. When the Chinese landlord met me and realized I taught traditional Chinese Tai Chi Chuan she put me in a wonderful apartment where I’m filming these videos for my online Kwoon.”
“I’m happy as can be locked indoors with my flute, cat, Kung Fu weapons, and my Rickenbacker bass that I’d pawned several years ago. I real am. I’m happy as can be. And with this Shaolin Chi Mantis Online Kwoon, I’m anxious to be the first senior to ever graduate my own Kung Fu beginner program!”
“So hey! See if you can catch up with this recuperating senior. I’ve finished the first 88 videos that comprise the first belt rank level of my school. I hope that other people will be as excited as I am to learn this traditional Shaolin Kung Fu in a traditional Buddhist style. If you can make it all the way through and graduate this beginner program you’ll know ten times more Kung Fu than Bruce Lee ever learned.”