In the course of his life, he has been poisoned, stabbed, and paralyzed. Attempts have been made to drown him. A poisonous snake was placed in his room. He is, however, very much alive today! Am I talking about 007? Who is he? He is the Historical Venerable Monk Shi Yan Fan, the first Western monk to be ordained in China and assigned to bring Kung Fu to the West.
Born Franco Testini, he grew up in Brindisi, Italy as a poor child on the streets with no chance at education. Faced with no prospects, he became involved in street fighting and violence in his early life. Finally, he got tired of hurting people. His enemies still persisted in their battles against him, placing a bomb under his sister’s car and then stabbing him in both legs and dumping him in the sea to die! However, he was miraculously rescued from the water by a Korean monk, and this was the beginning of his spiritual odyssey to enlightenment.
The monk who rescued him knew that Franco had to disappear from Italy in order to survive, so he took him to Korea to study Kung Fu. Mario studied there for three years, and then went to China to the main Shaolin Temple. It was there that Franco got his darhama name, Shi Yan Fan. Because of his dedication and diligence, Shi Yan Fan was selected as the perfect ambassador for Shaolin to the West by the Head Abbot of the Shaolin Temple, Shi Yongxin. Shi Yan Fan’s extraordinary chi (life force) drove him onward through a grueling month of training to receive Jeiba, which qualified him for induction into the elite ranks of the Shaolin Monastery in China. This was a remarkable accomplishment in itself, as Shi Yan Fan is the only Westerner ever to receive Jeiba, which is an ancient sacred ordination ritual in which scars are burned into the scalp with incense.
The Venerable Abbot Shi Yan Fan arrived in America, and specifically California, in 1994, during an earthquake. He immediately started helping people who were hurt in the quake. He is, indeed, the manifestation of the David Carradine character in the legendary TV show Kung Fu, taking the Buddhist motto “Do no harm” to the nth degree. The Venerable Abbott has met and influenced many people along the way since then, and he continues to help them with their problems whether they be physical, psychological, or spiritual.
Shi Yan Fan opened the Shaolin Temple in its present location in Sherman Oaks, CA in 2008. The temple has become a mecca for respite and growth, offering spiritual and physical training. This unique temple offers a myriad of classes from Tai Chi to Kung Fu to Quigong, in an atmosphere of peace, encouragement, and bonhomie.
Murray Rosen, a frequent visitor to the temple, had this to say: “The story of Shi Yan Fan is a true inspiration to me. He is a true role model, having overcome a multitude of physical and psychological obstacles at every stage of his life to become a caring and giving person and a spiritual being of the highest order. Earlier in his life, while demonstrating martial arts maneuvers, he was injured and subsequently paralyzed; he had to spend a year in bed, but recovered by undergoing intense therapy he himself coordinated, all the while keeping an ongoing positive visualization of his progress. Shi Yan Fan’s recovery from injury is indicative of the kind of person he has evolved into and is just one chapter in his life story that offers me hope and direction in my own life. When I go to the temple, I feel a sense of both tranquility and purpose, as a result of the beneficence of Shi Yan Fan, and this has enabled me to embark on my own spiritual journey.”
The pathway Franco Testini followed to become the Venerable Abbot Shi Yan Fan has been fraught with danger and challenges of the highest degree, but the realization of that pathway is both stirring and uplifting. His work for humanity continues daily at the Shaolin Temple, where he is a fount of wisdom in regard to the application of Buddhist and Taoist philosophy to everyday life. Come visit and start on your own pathway to enlightenment!