People generally think of nuns as gentle women who quietly live their life to serve god and the community. The kung fu nuns of the Druk Gawa Khilwa Abbey in the Druk Amitabha Mountain in Nepal, however, have broken the mold!
Better known as the Kung Fu Nuns, these followers of the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism began studying the martial art in 2008 to learn self-defense, build physical and inner strength, and help with meditation focus.
The Drukpa lineage is a thousand year old Buddhist tradition that began in the Himalayas when its founder, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, was said to have witnessed the miraculous flight of nine dragons into the sky. The order’s spirituality is rooted in gender equality, physical fitness, and respect for the environment and all living things.
It’s unusual to see nuns participate in intense physical activities, but Gyalwang Drukpa offered kung fu training to help empower and build the confidence of Buddhist nuns, who do not usually enjoy the same privileges given to monks.
There is also no doubt that these nuns practice real kung fu! They can wield swords, machetes, and nunchucks; break bricks; and kick high up in the air. Their brutal training regimen starts at 3:00 am, and after meditation, the nuns cycle, run, climb stairs, and practice kung fu for three hours!
This unorthodox training program has served the Drukpa nuns well. When Nepal was struck by a 7.9 earthquake in 2015, the nuns partnered with the international non-profit organization Live to Love and initially set out on foot to bring relief to stricken villages.
They later coordinated helicopter and truck rescues, distributed food and medicine, provided solar power facilities, and rebuilt homes. They also worked on Live to Love Eye Camps, which provided free cataract surgeries and self-defense classes for women, to give them skills to fight sexual assault.
Each year, the group conducts an “Eco-Pad Yatra”, a pilgrimage on foot that extends more than 400 miles. On these yatras, the nuns pick up garbage and educate locals on environmental issues. They also hold Bicycle Yatras to highlight human trafficking, global warming, green transportation, and world peace.
These activities attest to the toughness of the nuns as they walk and cycle across India and Nepal through tough terrain and under all weather conditions.
While they are proud to be Kung Fu Nuns, these women are certainly more than that. They have regular and spiritual classes, work on various jobs, and are trained as doctors’ assistants or technicians in solar panel work. They are also involved in animal rescue and care, music, dance, and theater.
Over the years, the Drukpa nuns have grown from 30 to 800, which is credited to the progressive beliefs of Gyalwang Drukpa. According to Carrie Lee of Live to Love International, “Traditionally Buddhist nuns are treated very differently from monks. They cook and clean and are not allowed to exercise.
But his Holiness thought this was nonsense and decided to buck the trend. Among other things, he gave them leadership roles and even introduced kung fu classes for the nuns…”
One of the nuns, Jigme Konchok Lhamo, reiterated, “People think that because we are nuns, we are supposed to stay in the temples and pray all the time. But praying is not enough. His Holiness teaches us that we have go out and act on the words that we pray. After all, actions speak louder than words.”
During a Bicycle Yatra, Jigme Konchok Lhamo recalled, “They get shocked when we stop and tell them that not only are we girls, but we are also Buddhist nuns. I think this helps change their attitudes about women and maybe value them as equals.”
The Kung Fu Nuns are certainly breaking barriers and hopefully more people will embrace their message of love, equality, and physical and spiritual strength.
See their unusual and inspiring story below