Sign up FAST! Login

What happens when you drop out of Princeton to move to the Shaolin Temple and master Kung Fu?

What happens when you drop out of Princeton to move to the Shaolin Temple and master Kung Fu


Stashed in: China!, Zen, Risk!, Focus!, @bakadesuyo, Awesome, 10,000 Hours, Beijing, Badass!, @nealstephenson, Kung Fu Panda

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Eric Barker writes:

 My friend Matt Polly is the author of American Shaolin and Tapped Out.

And, yes, at 21 he left Princeton to move to China, find the Shaolin Temple and study Kung Fu.

It’s an incredible story (which he detailed in his first book American Shaolin) and so I decided to interview Matt about risk-taking, the 10000 hour rule of expertise and getting your ass kicked by monks.

The interview is awesome. Well worth reading.

I love the Neal Stephenson quote at the beginning:

“Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.”— Neal Stephenson

On risk:


When you look back on the whole dropping out of Princeton, going to China and studying at the Shaolin Temple, do you think, “I took a calculated risk”, or “it was something I was passionate about” or “I was nutswhen I was a kid!” How do you think about that now?


I look at it kind of like it was a different person, like I was nuts. You know how you kind of look at your childhood self and it’s you but it’s not quite you? It does feel a little nuts to me. It’s something nuts that I’m proud of doing and I think that was the important thing.

When I see a lot of my friends who went to the same type of schools, most of them never took a risk. The way they got there was by just taking that next step up the ladder. At a certain point, it felt to me like they didn’t know what the next step was and so they never followed their passion to do anything and there’s a certain emptiness, I think, about that.

On the other side though, taking a risk often puts you outside the system. The whole kind of American capitalist system rewards people who follow the rules. You join a corporation, they give you healthcare. You try to do freelance and do it on your own, well, you’ve got to pay for everything. I do sometimes joke that if I were ever asked to speak to college graduates I would tell them not to follow their passion.

At the end of the day, I think if you take the risk, even if you fail, you’ve taken your shot at it and there’s not that feeling of that you didn’t have your shot, you didn’t take a chance. I think in the end, that’s worth it but I’ll tell you, there are days when I do wonder.

The greater risk is the risk of regret and never knowing what might have been.

You May Also Like: