Meet the man who can “walk” on water

Shi Liliang spent nine years learning to walk on water by using 200 floating plywood planks.
By Will Gray

Shi Liliang was inspired to join the Shaolin Monks by 1980s kung fu movies. His daily training involves running with iron bars on his feet, and after nine years he's completed a 120m "walk on water". Shi uses boards to give him buoyancy so he can 'stand' on it for a second. We've chatted with the man who can walk on water to find out how he does it. 

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Watch Shi Liliang completing a 120m walk on water in the video below.

© STR / AFP / Getty Images

What made you want to do this?
Shi Liliang: When I was a child, in the 1980s, there were so many brilliant kung fu movies, like Martial Arts of Shaolin and Fang Shiyu. They showed the charm of Shaolin Wushu and they made me want to do things like 'flight on the water' and 'fly through air'.

When did you join the Quanzhou Shaolin Temple?
I arrived in 2000. I always dreamed of learning Chinese martial arts. I was a driver before I became a monk and I remember once I drove past Quanzhou Shaolin Temple and remembered my childhood dream. That's why I decided to go.

Shi Liliang trains every day, carrying a steel plate on his back and iron bars on his feet. 

Shaolin monk Shi Liliang prepares to perform his incredible walking on water in
Crew prepare the water walkway for Shi Liliang © ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

So when did you join and start training?
I actually started to practice Wushu before I got to the temple, but after I arrived I finally got professional training, so I really could make that dream come true.

What performances do you do?
I do 'flight on water', 'fly through air', 'one figure stand' and 'praying mantis'. I started with the 'two-finger stand' and went to one finger, then 'fly through air', and I now keeping practicing 'flight on the water'.

To someone who doesn't understand, you are running on boards – how hard is it to actually do and what does it feel like?
It's different from running on the ground; you have to use all of your energy to keep your balance and run forward at the same time. It would not be possible to run or stand on water without any support, so I use boards to give me buoyancy so I can 'stand' on it for a second. If I run through all the boards I can 'stand' on the water many times. And that's how 'flight on the water' is done.

Shi Liliang uses boards to give him buoyancy on the water.

Amazing Chinese Shaolin Monk Shi Liliang during his walk on water stunt in Quanzhou, China
Amazing Monk Shi Liliang during his walk on water © ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

How many other people in the world have this skill?
As far as I know, I'm the only one in China.

And what do the other monks think of you?
They would describe me as maverick, mysterious and independent.

Do any other monks have such crazy hobbies?
Yes! One of my seniors could break a stone pillar with his bare hands. But he can't do this any more. Maybe it's due to the lack of practice.

So, how much practice do you have to do 'flight on the water'?
I like to practice calligraphy during the day and keep my training for the early morning and in the night. I train every day, carrying a steel plate on my back and iron bars on my feet. I'll run for almost five kilometers on mountain roads and flat roads carrying 15–20 pounds of weight. I also wear a raincoat for training and running so I can sweat a lot.

Shi Liliang can also ‘fly’ on a five meter-high wall

Chinese Shaolin monk Shi Liliang climbs a wall in Quanzhou, China
Shi Liliang climbs a wall © ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

How many attempts did you do before you made it to this distance?
I've done it countless times since I started. The first time I could only run five or 10 metres, but that was pretty great to me then. With more training I went further and further and ran better and better, so I achieved 20m, 50m and then 100m. I have spent nine years so far to make this happen.

Have you ever applied for a Guinness World Record?
No, but I've been interviewed by Hu Nan television station and showed my kung fu stunt to the public. They tested my record and said my 'flight on the water' and 'one finger stand' are both the top in the world.

His next goal is now 150m!

Crowds watch on as Shaolin monk Shi Liliang walks on water for a stunt
Crowds watch on as Shi Liliang walks on water © STR / AFP / Getty Images

Could ordinary people achieve the kung fu talent like you with professional training?
It's hard to say. None of this happens overnight. And training is hard work. It often hurts, quite a lot. When I began to practice 'flight on the water' my feet were often torn up on the boards.

How far do you think it is possible to go?
My next goal is 150m. And I want to tell my story, so in two or three years I plan to shoot an autobiographical mini film, telling my background, how I arrived in the temple and how I realised my dream of Shaolin Wushu.

Do you believe you have some kind of superpower?
Sometimes I do really think so!

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