A reasonably good review of two auto-bios that, despite the involvement of Kung Fu, are refreshingly BS-free:
Polly speaks Chinese, and is not afraid to eat bitter, so his very funny book is both a record of superb physical accomplishment - he fights and wins a couple of challenge matches with coaches from rival schools - and a loving tribute to his teachers, the fighting monks, ordinary young men interested in pop music, videogames and sex who also happen to have astounding physical skills. The school itself is run by grasping communist placemen, who spend the foreign students' fees on lavish cars and dinners, and pay the actual kung fu masters a pittance for their hectic schedule of teaching and performing - which leaves little time for actually being monks. This systematic betrayal, along with the increasing lure of tourism, eventually takes its toll. When Polly returns a decade later, in 2003, he is saddened to see that what goes on at the temple no longer bears much relation to tradition, but has become merely the nerve centre for the shows that tour the world, "the long-running hit musical Shaolin's Martial Monks".
A question that both of these books ask is: why does the idea of "kung fu" still hold such glamour and mystery in the west? What is the point of spending years eating bitter to be proficient in unarmed combat, when you might meet a mugger with a knife or a gun? Or, if you are going to learn to fight, why not choose boxing? As Preston's title suggests, the answer is partly the legacy of Bruce Lee, who was not a particularly outstanding martial artist by Chinese standards, but who was gifted with great beauty and charisma and a willingness to show off some stunts that western audiences had rarely seen. The other part of the answer is a kind of Orientalist spiritualism: a new-agey pick'n'mix adulation of "ancient Chinese wisdom" and meditation - which very often turns the western teaching of taiji, in particular, into flowery, non-violent nonsense.
It's ironic, because arguably there is something like "ancient Chinese wisdom" encoded in the traditional martial arts - it's just that it's not to be found anywhere but through the hard physical discipline itself. Polly had spent years studying Zen texts, but his experience of feeling "peaceful" came after an intense, complex workout. And there is a very funny moment when he has his western romantic projections about the wise Orient debunked, as before a tournament fight he asks his coach what strategy the Buddha would suggest against his next opponent. "He taught us the principle of universal love. You could try loving him," the monk deadpans. "But the Buddha had lousy kung fu."