Nuns are perceived as inferior to monks and usually spend their time working in the kitchens and gardens of Buddhist monasteries.Learning ancient martial arts is definitely off limits for them, so how did the nuns of Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery come to practice kung fu up to two hours every day?

For centuries, Buddhist nuns have been banned from practicing the deadly martial art of kung fu, but a few years ago the Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery in Nepal became the home of the world’s first order of kung fu nuns.

Roughly 26 years ago, members of the of the 800-year-old Drukpa order rebelled and formed the Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery, a place where women are treated with the same respect as men.

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“When I was very small, I was already thinking that it was not right to suppress women in our society,” His Holiness The Gyalwang Drukpa, leader of the Buddhist sect, says. “But then when I grew up, I started to think what can I do for them? Then I thought what I can do is to build a nunnery and then give them an opportunity to study and practice spiritually.”

This 30-year-old nunnery is a unique example of gender reversal in the rarefied world of monastic life, where monks often occupy the premium positions, leaving nuns to the tedious chores. But the Kung Fu nuns learned the skills at par to the men: plumbing, electrical fitting, computers, riding bicycles, the English language and, of course, praying.

Every day, they exchange their maroon robes and philosophical studies for a intense 90-minute session of hand chops, punches, shrieks and soaring high kicks.

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"The main reason for practising kung fu is for fitness and for health, but it also helps with meditation and self-defence," 14-year-old Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, who was sent to the nunnery from Bhutan four years ago, told AFP.

The progressive views of the the Gyalwang Drukpa have boosted the number of young women who want to become nuns dramatically. “Many of them say, wow, if I become a nun I can study, I can practise, I can do these rituals, I can live together with all these other lovely nuns and lamas will visit us and give us teaching,” Jetsunma says. “It’s a beautiful life option to getting married, having a baby every year, working in the fields, doing the cooking, doing the cleaning. You know for them this is a huge opening up in a whole world that had previously been closed to them.”

Apart from perfecting them in body postures, these nuns also gets trained in handling few traditional weapons based on their individual caliber. These include the swords, sticks etc. There are also more selective one like bricks breaking by means of a mass which is performed on special occasions only like on the birthday of His Holiness. It is performed after consciously checking the emotional state of the performer.

In 2015 when Nepal was hit with a massive earthquake, these maroon-dressed nuns actively participated in the relief programme, rather than sitting aside.

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They would trek to the nearby villages to remove the rubble from people’s homes and clear pathways. They would distribute food to the survivors and help pitch tents for the night shelter. Early this year these nuns peddled around 2200 km from Kathmandu to Delhi to spread the message of women empowerment and importance of ecological balance amid economic development. The cycle ride was spearheaded by His Holiness himself.

Kung Fu also helps them develop self-confidence, subduing the shyness. They now dare to speak up fearlessly. The nuns began learning kung fu in defense of accepted gender codes in the Buddhist monastic system. But over time, they have not only harnessed the ancient Chinese martial art for meditation only. Now they are use their skill and energy in community development running the campaigns against toxic waste and spreading the messages of women empowerment.

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