The sun barely touched the ground but path at Druk Amitabha Nunnery in Kathmandu (Nepal) could hear the roaring sounds of drums already. The nuns at the nunnery started with the morning routine of practicing Kung Fu. One leg folded forward and the other one stretched out backward, these nuns kicked in the air repeatedly, trying to gain perfection in the series of impeccable kicks, that were taught to them, wearing the mandatory traditional tight dark red outfit suited for this practice. An incredible energy can be felt from the subtle balance of these postures and around these nuns too.
These are known as the Kung-Fu Nuns. Putting it in simple terms, Kung Fu nuns are the Buddhist nuns who are trained in the traditional marital art form of performing Kung Fu. My first meeting with Kung Fu Nuns happened unknowingly, in Ladakh while I was starting my journey of backpacking across India but when I saw them performing Kung Fu, I must say that I was impressed thoroughly.
Ideally, one can meet with them at Druk Gawa Khilwa (DGK) nunnery in Kathmandu where they get trained in this form of martial arts along with the mandatory meditation. The purpose of introducing Kung Fu to them was to empower them and promote gender equality in Buddhism.
Promoting Gender Equality in Buddhism through Kung Fu Nuns
Like many religions in India, the voice of women is considered weak in Buddhism as well. But, the leader of Drukpa Lineage, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, wanted to bring a change and envisioned of giving a voice to the nuns of his lineage. With this thought, he introduced them to Kung Fu to bring them at par with men
The nuns in all Buddhist clan are expected to carry out the usual household chores only but these Kung Fu Nuns, who belongs to the far off places of Assam, Tibet and Kashmir, are taught to lead in everything. Once you enter the Druk Amitabha Nunnery, you would see these nuns performing every possible task including driving a 4X4.
How Kung Fu was introduced in Drukpa Lineage
It was in 2008 when his holiness, Gyalwang Drukpa made the announcement of introducing Kung Fu to the nuns of his clan. His visit to vietnam is from where he got the inspiration of introducing Kung Fu. The nuns who were present at the time of announcement admit that they were surprised and excited at the same time at the thought of practicing something new and special, that was introduced for the very first time.
Since then, the nuns practice for around two-three hours everyday. Apart from perfecting in body postures, these nuns are trained in handling the traditional weapons of swords, sticks etc. Some of the nuns on advanced level are also trained in brick breaking, which is performed on special occasions only.
The youngest of Kung Fu Nuns is aged eight while the oldest is 45. These nuns are followers of Theravada Buddhism, a path followed mostly by Tibetan refugees who fled from their homeland.
What Kung Fu taught these Nuns
These nuns says that practice of Kung Fu is more of meditation to them than an exercise. This martial art form help them in self-confidence where they can dare to speak up fearlessly. Now, these nuns use their skill and energy in community development running the campaigns against toxic waste and spreading the messages of women empowerment
In 2015 when Nepal was hit with a massive earthquake, these nuns actively participated in the relief programme, rather than sitting aside. They would trek to the nearby villages to remove the rubble from people’s homes and clear pathways. They would distribute food to the survivors and help pitch tents for the night shelter.
A true inspiration these Buddhist nuns say they use this combat system for personal benefit and make sure men and women are at par with each other with no discrimination
Pro Tip: Please connect with Kung Fu nuns before visiting Amitabha Nunnery. They ain’t available everytime
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P.S. : This post was first written for BBC Travel