Meet New York City's Shaolin Warrior Monk

Shi Yan-Ming's life story is more astonishing than the action movies he occasionally appears in: At age five, he began training in the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Temple in China's Henan province. On tour in the United States in 1992, he made a daring midnight escape and found his way to New York City. There, he founded USA Shaolin Temple, where he teaches philosophy and martial arts to kids and celebrities alike. As you'll discover in the short documentary below, he still has a sense of humor too. His studio's claim to fame? It's run by the "most handsome Shaolin Temple monk on the planet," he says, grinning. "Can't help it! Know'm'sayin'? Represent." When three filmmakers, Erik Hartman, David Rowe, and Douglas Spitzer, interviewed him for their documentary series New Yorkers, they discovered a "huge" Wu Tang symbol in the studio -- the monk counts RZA among his students. Hartman, Rowe, and Spitzer, who work together as Moonshot Productions, describe their ongoing quest to document interesting New Yorkers from all walks of life in a brief interview below.

The Atlantic: What inspired you to do this series?

Moonshot Productions: The New Yorkers series comes from our passion for the city of New York. We get a kick out of all of the wild characters that we see here on a daily basis and wanted to capture that same feel in this series of videos. 

Are you native New Yorkers yourselves?

We are native New Yorkers and if we weren't, we would move here ASAP.

How do you select people to profile? Any favorites so far?

The selection process has no rules. We've gone up to interesting characters on the street and asked them if we could shoot them. We've pulled people from our network of friends and family. We've gone on scouting missions to find characters. We also have a button on the website where people can send in suggestions. 

If we had to pick a favorite, the ice sculptor Mark Mckenzie may be it. He is such an awesome guy and works such a unique and visual job. Guess' video has become a fan favorite as well. 

What do you want people to take away from the videos?

We just hope that people watch and enjoy them. This is a passion project for us so we hope that people can enjoy the videos as both individual characters and as a collection. It's a project that, with funding, we hope to continue for a long time. 

What's next for you?

Moonshot is a versatile company doing digital, commercial and television work. We have a bunch of projects that we are currently developing for TV. 

For more work from Moonshot Productions, visit

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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