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“Kung Fu Nuns” to Give First Public Self-defense Workshop for Women

By Anne Wisman
Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-08-08 |
A young nun during martial arts practice. Image courtesy of Olivier AdamA young nun during martial arts practice. Image courtesy of Olivier Adam

The famed “kung fu nuns” of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism will host their first-ever public self-defense workshop later this month in which they will teach women how to defend themselves against sexual assault and other forms of violence. The workshop will take place on 16–20 August in Ladakh, northern India.

The kung fu nuns received their famous moniker after His Holiness the Gyalwang Drupka decided to introduce martial art to the nuns in 2008. According to monastic codes of conduct, nuns are not allowed to engage in any kind of physical activity, let alone martial arts, however the Gyalwang Drupka thought that kung fu could teach the nuns not only how to defend themselves, but also improve their concentration, discipline, and self-confidence in a male-oriented society and an all-too-often patriarchal religious tradition. In addition to their normal monastic routine, the nuns also practice kung fu daily, and receive training from their martial arts teacher twice a year.

Hailing from Buddhist monastic communities in the Himalayas, the majority of the nuns train and live at Druk Amitabha Mountain Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, with smaller communities based in Ladakh and New Delhi.

The nuns are known for championing both gender equality and sustainable living. In recent years, they have brought attention to human trafficking in the region and the threat of global warming by cycling thousands of miles on extended two-wheeled pilgrimages. Following the Nepal earthquakes in 2015, the nuns refused to be evacuated and instead set out to help affected villages in the region. 

Poster for the self-defense workshop. From Kung Fu Nuns FacebookPoster for the self-defense workshop. From Kung Fu Nuns Facebook

The public self-defense workshop is their latest effort to draw attention to and educate people (especially women) on gender issues in the Himalayan region. According to an announcement on the nuns’ Facebook page, the workshop is organized “in solidarity with the women of the Himalayas who have had the courage to speak out about their experiences with abuse, and in the hope of empowering others.” (Kung Fu Nuns Facebook)

In particular, the nuns are referring to a recent incident in which a Ladakhi student studying in the Indian city of Jammu was sexually molested, giving rise to a series of protests against sexual abuse in academic and work environments that were unified under the slogan: “Stand With Nomoly” (nomoly translates as “our respected younger sister.”)

“Reports of sexual and physical abuse, such as molestations and rape, have been on the rise [in the Himalayan region]—including in urban areas, where locals migrate to for education and work,” the statement said. “It is time to bring greater awareness to this epidemic of violence against women.” (Kung Fu Nuns Facebook)

Official data from the National Crime Record Bureau of India indicate that there were 34,651 reported rapes and 82,422 cases of harassment, assault, and other types of violence committed against women in 2015. Due to social stigmatization and shame, however, many women do not report such attacks to the police so the the actual number of incidents is though to be even higher. 


The nuns performance in Ladakh, last fall. The nuns will return to Ladakh to give their first public self-defense workshop for women

Carrie Lee, president of Live to Love International, a charity seeking to improves the lives of people living in Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, and co-organizer of the self-defense workshop, emphasized the need for public awareness and the de-stigmatization of sexual assault: “Sexual assault is a very big issue in India, and it affects the Himalayas just as much. . . . It’s a very difficult thing to talk about, still, and the community has been asking for help from the government. They’ve sort of been ignored, and [the government] does a lot of blaming of the victim.” (Tricycle)

The workshop is open to women of all ages and religions, who can sign up via the details given on the Facebook page and the poster of the workshop. The program will host up to 300 students.

See more

Kung Fu Nuns (Facebook)
Stand With Nomoly (Facebook)
Kung Fu Nuns Planning to Teach Hundreds of Himalayan Women Self-Defense (Tricycle)
The Kung Fu nuns of Nepal (BBC)
Live to Love International

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Gyalwang Drukpa Leads “Kung Fu Nuns” on Bicycle Pilgrimage to New Delhi 

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The Druk Amitabha Kung Fu Nuns: Combining Martial Arts and Meditation

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