The other week I saw a documentary about the Shaolin monks of northern China, who are renowned for their astonishing martial arts skills and unbelievable pain thresholds. While the documentary demonstrated their strict training regime it also showed insight into how the have begun to leverage their fame into a huge money making operation.
1. Adapt to new markets
With a history spanning over 1,500 years much of this has been in isolation. However, in the last decade the Shaolin have been identifying new areas to generate revenue. Travelling exhibitions, DVDs, Websites, Hollywood consultations and even charging admission fees for the general public who wish to visit the temple. Armed with his prayer beads, laptop and mobile phone, the Venerable abbot Shi Yongxin has transformed his monks from an ancient society into a worldwide brand. While it would have been easy to resist the changing landscape and continue with their centuries old tradition, they sought out new markets, tried new ventures and succeeded immensely.
2. Protect your brand
The Shaolin name has become a powerful brand, synonymous with unbelievable super human feats of strength and concentration. But, in a similar fate suffered by other leading brands, there are always others attempting to exploit the name for their own personal gain. As with any industry imitators are quick to appear which is why the Shaolin place great importance on protecting their intellectual property, copyright infringement and branding, through their dedicated team of lawyers.
3. Ignore the critics
The new direction the Shaolin have taken has received significant criticism , accusing them of not abiding to their traditional values. It would have been easy to refuse the idea of generating varied flow of income, to remain afraid of change because of what others would say. Many people said it would never work, that society would never accept this, but they all have been proved wrong.
4. Recruit the top talent
For many Chinese children, becoming a Shaolin monk is the highest honour one can hope to achieve. But acceptance to the temple is a near impossible task in itself. The Shaolin hold no auditions nor are there any trials. They only recruit the top kung fu students from kung fu schools all around the country. Instead of waiting for the talent to come to them, they actively go out in search of it.
5. Practice the basics
The Shaolin practice for five to six hours every day of the year. Much of their training is repeating the same moves over and over again. Something as simple as a straight punch will be repeated thousands of time over the course of a year. After all, there is no point being able to break iron bars on your head if you can’t do a simply kick. It’s often easy to get caught up in the spectacular but it is irrelevant if you don’t have a solid understanding of the fundamentals.
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