This Monk Can 'Walk' on Water

After nine years of training, Shaolin monk Shi Liliang completed a 125-meter "walk on water."
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
By Will Gray

Growing up in China in the '80s, Shi Liliang loved kung fu movies. The action-packed films inspired him to join the Shaolin monks and master stunts rarely seen off the screen. His daily training involves running with iron bars on his feet, and after nine years he's completed a 125-meter "walk on water." Shi uses thin boards to give him the slightest bit of buoyancy, allowing him to complete his walk. We spoke to the man himself and learned what it takes to do the (seemingly) impossible.

Watch Shi Liliang completing a 125-meter walk on water 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 made me want to do things like "fly 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 the air," "one-finger stand" and "praying mantis." I started with the "two-finger stand" and went to one finger, then "fly through the air," and I'm now 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 crazy hobbies?

Yes! One of my seniors could break a stone pillar with his bare hands. But he can't do it anymore. Maybe it's due to the lack of practice.

So, how much practice do you have to do for "flight on the water"?

I like to practice calligraphy during the day and keep my training for the early morning and night. I train every day, carrying a steel plate on my back and iron bars on my feet. I'll run for almost 5 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 5-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 5 or 10 meters, but that was pretty great to me then. With more training I went farther and farther and ran better and better, so I achieved 20 meters, 50 meters and then 100 meters. 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 the 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.

Could ordinary people achieve the kind of kung fu talent you have 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 150 meters. And I want to tell my story, so in two or three years I plan to shoot an autobiographical mini film, showing my background, how I arrived at the temple and how I realized my dream of mastering Shaolin Wushu.

Do you believe you have some kind of superpower?

Sometimes I do really think so!

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