Kicking the Habit


Monk over Manhattan: Shi Yan Ming rises to the challenge of making Shaolin kung fu fly on the streets of New York

Shi Yan Ming, his students like to say, is "half man, half amazing." But when he's breaking boulders with his skull or flying above ground upside down in a full split, that hardly does him justice. Even when he holds still (which isn't often), the 37-year-old Shaolin Temple fighting monk manages to look more mythical than mortal. He's got the face of a Xian terra-cotta warrior—acrobatically piked eyebrows, rampart-like cheekbones—and the kind of body that helps explain why kung fu is called an art.

Decked out in his ceremonial orange robe, Yan Ming is standing impossibly erect on...

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