Shaolin kung fu master finds home in Norcross

Shi DeRu begins his day at 4:30 a.m. by meditating for a minimum of three hours.
Courtesy of Shaolin Institute
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Shi DeRu begins his day at 4:30 a.m. by meditating for a minimum of three hours. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute

Get a taste of authentic Shaolin culture and its ancient teachings in metro Atlanta.

Martial arts and meditation practitioners in Atlanta don’t have to take the 7,500-mile journey to the Shaolin Temple in China to get a taste of authentic Shaolin culture and its ancient teachings.   

Just outside of the northeastern part of the Perimeter in Norcross sits the Shaolin Institute, a martial arts school founded by 31st Generation Shaolin Grandmaster Shawn Xiangyang Liu, who goes by his Shaolin Chan (Zen) name DeRu. DeRu teaches Shaolin kung fu, tai chi, qi gong and sanda (kickboxing mixed with wrestling) at the school that takes its ethos from the Shaolin Temple, which is considered to be the birthplace of Chan Buddhism and the cradle of Shaolin kung fu.   

DeRu, along with his Shaolin brother DeYang, the temple’s current chief warrior monk, are the two most well-known disciples of the temple’s former abbot and chief monk SuXi. SuXi is credited with preserving Shaolin history during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was SuXi that gave DeRu and DeYang their Shaolin names then tasked them with spreading Shaolin teachings in China and throughout the world.   

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Shi DeRu and Shi DeYang, known as "Iron Leg" and "Iron Fist" respectively, are the two most well-known disciples of Shi SuXi. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute

Shi DeRu and Shi DeYang, known as "Iron Leg" and "Iron Fist" respectively, are the two most well-known disciples of Shi SuXi. 
Courtesy of Shaolin Institute
Caption
Shi DeRu and Shi DeYang, known as "Iron Leg" and "Iron Fist" respectively, are the two most well-known disciples of Shi SuXi. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute

“Although lots of people associate Shaolin culture with kung fu and martial arts, my Shifu (teaching father) SuXi taught us that the focus should be on Chan (Zen) and how meditation can create freedom in one’s mind and throughout the universe,” DeRu said. “It’s about transcending location and time to connect with your innermost consciousness in order to become self-reliant and enlightened.”  

For DeRu, kung fu should be viewed as a means to an end.

“Kung fu is grit in anything you do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are practicing piano to become a virtuoso, painting a masterpiece or doing revolutionary scientific research, any pursuit in life with passion, grit and perseverance is kung fu.”

DeRu knows a thing or two about perseverance. He was orphaned as an infant in China due to his family’s historical counterrevolutionary and landlord status before he was taken in and cared for by families and monks around the Shaolin Temple. He would later work his way through college in China studying foreign languages and traditional Chinese medicine before moving to the United States, where he would earn a bachelor’s in English at Mobile College (now University of Mobile) and master’s in exercise physiology from the University of South Alabama.

DeRu is considered to be a living legend in the American martial arts and kung fu communities as the torchbearer for Shaolin cultural and martial arts. Considered a monk by many in China, DeRu doesn’t consider himself to be one, instead viewing himself as a lifelong student of the cosmos and a “man of freedom.”

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Shi DeRu (right) and Shi DeYang (left) with Shi SuXi (center)at the Shaolin Temple in 1991. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute

Shi DeRu (right) and Shi DeYang (left) with Shi SuXi (center)at the Shaolin Temple in 1991. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute
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Shi DeRu (right) and Shi DeYang (left) with Shi SuXi (center)at the Shaolin Temple in 1991. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute

He began teaching tai chi in the United States in 1987 and opened the first Shaolin Institute location in Mobile, Alabama, in 1992. He was named the “Godfather of American Sanda” by Kung Fu Magazine after leading the U.S. Wushu Kungfu Federation National Sanshou Team as its head coach for a decade. His list of former students includes notable former UFC fighters Cung Le and Pat Barry in addition to several other martial arts champions, actors and stuntmen.

Aside from fighting and meditation, a major point of emphasis at the Shaolin Institute is proper breathing and the application of ancient Shaolin healing arts, the secrets of which were passed down from generation to generation at the Shaolin Temple for more than 1,500 years.

Using some of the ancient secrets and techniques, DeRu developed the breathing technique “999 Medibreath” to “open up the inner infinite energy field to directly empower each one’s life” while also improving circulation, blood flow and organ function. The technique is currently being used in Chinese hospitals as a way to increase oxygen levels and energy in cancer patients. He also created Zen Tai Gong, a system that incorporates high conscious meditation, qi gong and tai chi to increase energy levels, enhance immune system function, and bring calmness of body and mind.

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Shi DeRu giving a lecture at the 'Ancient Chinese Culture Conference" in Beijing. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute

Credit: Midooke Zhao

Shi DeRu giving a lecture at the 'Ancient Chinese Culture Conference" in Beijing. 
Courtesy of Shaolin Institute
Caption
Shi DeRu giving a lecture at the 'Ancient Chinese Culture Conference" in Beijing. Courtesy of Shaolin Institute

Credit: Midooke Zhao

Credit: Midooke Zhao

One of DeRu’s students, Othrsource CEO Mark Feinberg, said studying with DeRu changed his life.

“When I first met Shifu, I had tremendous pain in my back and a non-COVID related cough that wouldn’t stop,” he said. “Through Shifu’s 999 Medibreath, Zen Tai Gong and Kung Fu practices, my back feels great, the cough is gone and my mental health is infinitely better than before I started with Shifu.”

Feinberg, a serial entrepreneur who also runs Feinberg Capital as managing director, said he believes Shifu’s teachings and applications have applications beyond the individual.

“Shifu’s wisdom and approach, I truly believe if applied at scale, could absolutely change the world,” he said. “And I don’t say that lightly. I truly believe this.”


IF YOU GO

Shaolin Institute

3040 Business Park Drive, Suite C, Norcross. 770-286-9808, shaolin-world.net.