• Cushing

Visit with Matthew Polly, Author of American Shaolin

Members of the Cushing community enjoyed a wonderful visit with Matthew Polly, author of American Shaolin, which was one of our six summer reading book choices. 
Members of the Cushing community enjoyed a wonderful visit with Matthew Polly, author of American Shaolin, which was one of our six summer reading book choices. In addition to chronicling his journey to China to master kungfu, Mr. Polly impressed upon students the importance of taking chances and setting goals. “In fact, sometimes when you jump off the diving board,” he said, “you have no way back but forward.”

Mr. Polly was born and grew up in Topeka, Kansas, and attended Princeton University. At Princeton, he studied Chinese language as well as the intellectual history of China. Fascinated by the thinking of a Taoist philosopher, Chuang-tzu, Mr. Polly signed up for Chinese classes so that he could read his and other texts in the original language. Referring to his early interest in kungfu as “an obsession,” Mr. Polly writes in his book about discovering this martial art through a TV show called Kung Fu, starring David Carradine.

Feeling that he was making little progress in kungfu because of the academic demands placed on him at Princeton, Mr. Polly took a leave of absence at the end of his junior year so that he could travel to China and learn kungfu at the Shaolin temple, the birthplace of both kungfu and Zen Buddhism. So began the odyssey that is chronicled in American Shaolin. Learning quickly how to “eat bitter,” as the Chinese refer to suffering, Mr. Polly began a grueling regimen of training that would include not only kungfu, but Chinese kickboxing and “iron kungfu,” in which a part of the body is made practically impervious to harm through the constant daily repetition of striking that particular part.

Though the primary thrust of the book is Mr. Polly's education in the art of kungfu, American Shaolin goes much further, revealing his education as a student and observer of Chinese culture. From his conversations with people ranging from taxi drivers to farmers to local politicians -- and of course with the monks -- we get a personal account of the writer's immersion into the daily lives of the people with whom he lived. It is difficult to finish the book without a deeper appreciation of the customs, traditions, and lives of the people with whom Mr. Polly interacted.

After leaving China, Mr. Polly went on to receive a B.A. in Religion and East Asian Studies at Princeton in 1995 and, as a Rhodes Scholar, a Masters in Politics and Philosophy at Oxford University in 1998. In addition to American Shaolin, Mr. Polly has written numerous articles and his new book about his experience in the world of mixed martial arts titled Tapped Out is due out Nov 17th.

Cushing Academy

39 School Street
Ashburnham, Massachusetts 01430

Cushing Academy

Cushing Academy exists for students and develops curious, creative, and confident learners and leaders. Founded in 1865, Cushing is a co-ed, college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12 and PG. Our students, who come from over 30 states and 30 countries, excel in our outstanding academic, art, and athletic offerings. We welcome you to visit our community and beautiful 162-acre campus in Ashburnham, Mass., just one hour from Boston, to experience all that Cushing has to offer.