American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China

Matthew Polly, Author . Gotham $26 (366p) ISBN 978-1-592-40262-5

In this smoothly written memoir, 98-pound weakling Polly makes the age-old decision to turn his nerdy self into a fighting machine. Polly's quest for manhood leads this guy from Topeka, Kans., to the Shaolin Temple, ancient home of the fighting monks and setting for 10,000 chop-socky movies. As much a student of Chinese culture as he is a martial artist, Polly derives a great deal of humor from the misunderstandings that follow a six-foot-three laowai (white foreigner) in a China taking its first awkward steps into capitalism after Tiananmen Square. Polly has a good eye for characters and introduces the reader to a Finnish messiah, a practitioner of "iron crotch" kung fu, and his nagging girlfriend. We get the inside dope on Chinese dating, Chinese drinking games and a medical system apparently modeled on the Spanish Inquisition. The last hundred pages of the book lose focus, and Polly doesn't convincingly demonstrate how he transforms himself from a stumbling geek to a kickboxing stud who can stand toe-to-toe with the highest-ranked fighter in the world. Although Polly may fall short in sharing Shaolin's secrets, as a chronicler of human absurdity he makes all the right moves. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 11/20/2006
Release date: 02/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 978-1-4295-0883-4
Open Ebook - 978-1-4295-0882-7
Paperback - 366 pages - 978-0-349-12015-7
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-101-21684-2
Paperback - 366 pages - 978-1-59240-337-0
Prebound-Glued - 366 pages - 978-1-61383-831-0
Show other formats
Discover what to read next