The modern Shaolin, the kung fu mom and the young warrior: London's kung fu family
Updated 19:45, 10-May-2023
Yubin Du

A small town just north of London might not be somewhere you would expect to find a Shaolin temple. And Matt Jane might not be your typical kung fu warrior. But the 35-year-old has established one of Europe's foremost centers for the ancient martial art. 

In Cheshunt, a town of 45,000 people a dozen miles north of London's city center, there is a Chinese-style temple for people who love practicing martial arts. The owner is Jane, a Londoner who went to China at 16 years to train for five years as a Shaolin warrior in the mountains of central China's Henan Province. 

Jane – also known as MJ, or 'The Modern Shaolin' – and his wife Chun, 'The Kung Fu Mom,'  have won international renown through appearances on blockbuster TV shows such as America's Got Talent and its British equivalent. 


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In addition, they have gathered millions of fans around the world through social media videos featuring jaw-dropping feats like standing on iron rods or cracking bricks on a bare head. 

"The world is so much more open given social media, and the power and wisdom of kung fu can be spread across the world," MJ tells CGTN Europe. "I'm very happy to be one of the individuals to help spread this culture, which has helped change my life and in turn can help change other people's lives too."


The show that changed his life forever

MJ's passion for martial arts began with movies he watched as a small child – "I had posters all over my walls of Jet Li, Jackie Chen and Bruce Lee" – but it was a non-fiction presentation that really caught his imagination.

"It wasn't until I was 11 years old that I saw a show called The Wheel of Life, about Shaolin monks practicing kung fu," recalls MJ. "They were touring the world, and this was the first time I'd seen kung fu live on stage in front of me.

"I saw things like finger handstands, iron bars being broken across the head, flying in acrobatic movements – things I thought were not real from the movies. And now seeing them first-hand, it gave me a dream – to become a Shaolin warrior."

Outside the Cheshunt temple. /MJ
Outside the Cheshunt temple. /MJ

Outside the Cheshunt temple. /MJ

At 16, having struggled through the British education system, he decided he needed a new focus in his life and traveled to China. 

"I went to a Shaolin temple where I trained and lived like a Shaolin warrior, waking up every day in the early hours of the morning, running up mountains, crawling back down on my hands and knees, doing headstands on concrete for hours and hours," he says. 

"I learned a lot about becoming an adult whilst living at the temple. The very simple, basic day-to-day routines really touched me and gave me a new insight into how life could be and essentially should be."

Ten years after he first watched The Wheel of Life, MJ became the first and only non-Chinese Shaolin warrior to be part of the show. 

"My dream had come true, and I found myself touring the world with the Shaolin monks," he says. "It was incredible."


The making of the kung fu family

MJ met his future wife Chun in a restaurant in Dengfeng, Henan Province. She was immediately attracted to him – and didn't realize he had a linguistic advantage. 

"I encountered Matt when I was just 18 years old," Chun says. "I told my friend in Chinese 'He's got beautiful eyes' – but I didn't realize he understood Chinese, and his face turned red."

The attraction was mutual, and MJ set about impressing some very important people. 

"He danced for my mom and sang for my mom – so my mom fell in love with him straightaway," Chun laughs. "He looks after my little brother like a father, and I thought  'He's very much good husband material.'"

The family members now pass on what they have learnt. /MJ
The family members now pass on what they have learnt. /MJ

The family members now pass on what they have learnt. /MJ

When she was 19, Chun discovered she was pregnant. The young couple decided to get married and move to the UK. Setting up home in Cheshunt, they started the temple to offer local youngsters martial arts classes and a taste of Chinese philosophy. 

In the same year, their son Xiao Tian was born. He grew up alongside their new venture, practicing kung fu from his first years. Now nicknamed the Young Warrior, he is the proud holder of an Official Guinness World Record for performing backward handsprings on a platform supported by his colleagues. 


The value of martial arts 

MJ teaches his students and followers not only the physical skills of kung fu but also the philosophy behind Chinese martial arts. The gestures used by warriors often have significance behind them – for instance, the greeting formed by placing one palm on the other fist, which is a call "to stop the fight."

MJ says kung fu has helped him find happiness and a better way to live – and his mission now is to enable others to follow the same path. 

"All the virtue of martial arts is finding the perfect blend between positive and negative, yin and yang," he says. "Through meditation and physical martial arts training, you can find balance."

In the modern world, where young people can easily become disenchanted and distracted, learning how to direct the power of mind and body can be the solution to avoiding conflict, he believes.

"To be honest, it wasn't just about kung fu – it was a way of life which I'd never seen before," he admits. "Growing up in London, I had quite a big ego and didn't have a wide opinion of the world, because I hadn't seen much. 

"Going to China, I learned a lot about myself. Kung fu wasn't just about learning to fight. Instead, it was about learning to live."


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