ENCINITAS — Using their strength of mind and body, four Shaolin monks from China accomplished amazing feats during their visit to the West Coast Martial Arts Academy on Jan. 30.
Adults and children, students and visitors packed the intimate studio at 463 Encinitas Boulevard in anticipation of witnessing up close the monks’ legendary abilities.
“What my Shaolin brothers do takes an amazing amount of concentration and dedication,” said the academy’s owner Giuseppe Aliotta in an interview before the guests arrived. “We are very, very honored to have them here.”
The crowd swelled as onlookers jockeyed for position to get a better view of the performance.
Mouths dropped as one monk threw a blunted needle through a pane of glass.
Another balanced himself against a spear at the center of his throat while yet another monk broke bricks stacked on his back.
The monks were unfazed by the occasional children’s chatter and crying babies.
“It really is a testament to their level of concentration and ability to completely focus,” Aliotta said.
Encinitas resident Kathie Oversmith brought her son, Jayce, 7, to the event.
Oversmith said she has seen the positive impact of practicing kung fu in her son.
“He has an increased self-awareness, self-confidence,” she said. “He shows greater respect and physical coordination since becoming a student here.”
Monica Szepy said her son, Niko, 7, has become a dedicated student. “He loves it,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with Giuseppe, he’s a great teacher.”
Indeed, as the room filled to capacity with an overflow crowd outside, Aliotta commanded the attention of the students in the room. “Sifu” — the Chinese word for teacher, as he is referred to by his students — quieted the crowd as the monks prepared to tear thick phone books apart with their bare hands and break large stacks of bricks in half with the force of their elbows.
Elvia Herr began training with Aliotta after she was physically attacked three years ago. “I thought I would come here to learn
self-defense tactics,’ she said. “But it really is an art more than kicking and punching; it’s an entire philosophy.” Herr’s trip to China last year to train with the monks had a life-changing effect. “It’s amazing the amount of energy that the monks generate,” she said.
Aliotta, 35, moved from New York and opened the center in 2003. “Martial arts isn’t just about kicking butt,” he said. “We can teach you to do that but it is also about improving your longevity, your flexibility and clarity of the mind.”
Aliotta’s 110 students range in age from three to 90 years old. “We can teach you at any age how to live a better life, a longer life,” he said.
Aliotta began training with the monks in China in 1997. “Shaolin kung fu principles are all about enhancing the lives of others,” Aliotta said.
Although the monks are not allowed to receive payment for the performance Aliotta said he was collecting donations. “This is their first trip to California and they want to go to Disneyland,” he said with a smile.