October 19, 2021 – Fearless by name, ferociously kind by nature. In the Himalayas, Buddhist nuns aged 8 to 88 use kung fu to empower girls and inspire the world. Living by the message of “Be Your Own Hero”, their story (and moves) are too powerful not to share.
It takes poise, and practice, for a 100-pound girl to topple a 200-pound assailant. Once you have become your own hero, however, it is not just possible but the only possible outcome. This message is central to the teachings of the Gyalwang Drukpa at the Druk Amitabha Mountain order of nuns just outside of Kathmandu. All Drukpa nuns are known as Jigme, which means “fearless one”. They have been studying kung fu for the past 13 years to demonstrate how this powerful martial art can be used to boost self-defense and self-confidence.
Jigme Mingyur Palmo is 26 years old and from Ladakh. She is the youngest daughter in her family. When she was 15, the Gyalwang Drukpa visited Ladakh, and her father told her about the Guru’s teachings. For centuries, women in the Himalayas who sought spiritual equality were forbidden from leading prayers and told they will never become enlightened. The Gyalwang Drukpa works to promote gender equality not only by putting nuns in leadership roles but also by establishing schools, medical clinics and meditation centres throughout the Himalayas that break down gender stereotypes.
- Self-empowering kung fu techniques for situational awareness
- Build confidence through restraint tools
- Martial arts as an instrument of kindness
“When I decided to become a nun, I thought it meant I would meditate in a cave my whole life,” says Jigme Mingyur Palmo. “I soon realized that this is not enough for the 21st century. Now I live for others.”
Firstly, there is the spiritual dedication. The nuns wake up at 3:00 am, meditate, pray, and practice complex Buddhist spiritual rituals. Next, there is the fitness training. As their demonstration will show, Kung Fu Nuns would out-compete your average Olympic decathlete. Kung fu improves physical strength and endurance but also focus. These are all attributes shared widely by the Drukpa nuns to help young girls and women in the region defend themselves. Finally, there is the mobilization. When Nepal was devastated by an earthquake in 2015, the nuns spent a year delivering supplies on foot, rebuilding homes, and educating families about the risk of human trafficking. More recently, they have once again remobilized to provide vital community protection from the pandemic.
When seeing suffering in the world, Jigme Mingyur Palmo believes in becoming her own hero to do whatever it takes – from landing a punch to clearing a rock, welding a beam, or installing a solar panel on a roof – to fight the situation. What’s more she does it with love and kindness.
“The youngest nun in our nunnery is 8 years old and the most senior nun is 88 years old. We are supported by women and men across the world. Every day we hear news of climate change or other suffering. It makes me happy to work towards saving Mother Earth and her daughters.”
Working alongside her is Jigme Konchok Lhamo. She hails from the Lahaul and Spiti district and was just 13 years old when she joined the Druk Amitabha Nunnery. Her family wanted her to be a lawyer. Instead, she sorts the nunnery’s IT system to ensure their dragon spirit is shared with the world.
“I was inspired by the first time I saw the Gyalwang Drukpa’s teachings on gender equality and how a girl child is as important as a boy. That’s when I decided to become a nun.”
One of her favorite pursuits is an annual cycle yatra. “We cycle to different villages and talk about the value of girls in society.” The message is not just spoken, but demonstrated, through self-defense classes that often entail training with heavy swords and wielding machetes.
“Initially it was challenging,” she shrugs, “but with regular practice and determination it has become a natural part of our routine now.”
The nunnery itself has swelled to 800 nuns
Credit: Six Senses Hotels Resorts & Spas