Matthew Polly

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Matthew Polly is an American author who in 2007 published his memoir American Shaolin. In 2011, he published the book "Tapped Out" about the two years he spent training to become a mixed martial artist.

Polly was born and grew up in Kansas and graduated from Topeka West High School.[1] In 1992, at the age of 21 years, Polly took a leave of absence from Princeton University and traveled to China to train at the Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Chan (Zen) Buddhism and kung fu.[1]

In exchange for $1,300 a month Polly was allowed to stay and train with the monks. He spent two years at the temple and became the first American accepted as a Shaolin disciple.[2] His experiences included training seven hours a day six days a week, involving running, breathing exercises, calisthenics, kung fu and gymnastics. He became a formidable kickboxer, and won a challenge match against a kung fu master from another province. He also became an "iron forearm" expert, where his arm became impervious to pain by calluses formed by bashing his arm against a tree for 30 minutes per day.[2]

In 2003, he wrote a series of travel articles about his experiences in China for the online magazine, "Return to the Shaolin Temple", [3] and again in 2004 with a series on Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. [4]

April 13, 2005, he appeared as a guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.[5]

Polly wrote about his experiences in China in American Shaolin, published in 2007 by Gotham in the US (ISBN 1592402623) and by Abacus in the UK.[2]

Throughout his book Matthew Polly uses several words in the Chinese language pidgin. During his time in China, Matthew Polly learns a lot about Chinese culture. One aspect of the Chinese culture that intrigues him is the language. Even though he spent quite a bit of time learning the language before he left, Matthew Polly realizes that his vocabulary is that of a 6th grader’s and he has much to learn. Here are some of the Chinese words that he uses in his book.

Amituofo – May the Buddha bless you; Baijiu – rice liquor; Bao Mosi – Matthew Polly; Bendan – stupid egg; Chabuduo – more or less; Chi ku – suffer; Ditang Quan – floor boxing; Gagie – change; Gigong – breathing exercises that were used to increase internal power; Guangdon – Canton; Huoche – train; Jianlibao – Chinas national soft drink that has an orange flavor; Kaifang – openness; Kon fuzi – Confucius Laowai – literally old outsider or foreigner; Luan – chaos; Qi – vitality, breath, energy. Sort of like the force in Star Wars; Qie cuo – challenge match; Qin na – joint manipulation; Shao lin – young forest.; Sanda – Chinese-style kickboxing; Shi – monk; Shu – arts; Tiyu xiuyuan – sports universities; Tongzhi – comrade; Wu – martial; Wushu – a type of kung fu that focuses on speed, grace, beauty, and acrobatic ability; Xianggang – Hong Kong; Xiuxi – a rest time in the afternoon; Zhongguo tong – china expert.


  1. ^ a b Blankenship, Bill (2005-04-13). "A Shaolin Taught". Topeka Capital-Journal. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. 
  2. ^ a b c de Bertodano, Helena (2007-04-03). "Ready for the iron crotch, Grasshopper?;Men". The Times. Times Newspapers Limited. 
  3. ^, "Well Traveled" feature starting at Dec. 1, 2003,
  4. ^, "Well Traveled" feature starting at May 3, 2004,
  5. ^