Shaw was born in Hollywood, California. He spent his early years in South Central Los Angeles and then returned to Hollywood for his adolescence. He became involved with the martial arts and eastern mysticism at a very early age. Both of these subjects have come to define much of his life.
Shaw has had a career in both the arts and the sciences. He first became noticed as an author when his poetry and literary fiction began to be published in literary journals in the late 1970s. Beginning in the mid 1980s Shaw's writings also began to be published on the subjects of anthropology and the social sciences. Though his writings have span many genres, Shaw is perhaps most well known as an author on the subject of the martial arts. This is due to the voluminous amount of written work he has composed on the subject. Over three hundred of his articles on the martial arts have been published and he is the author of several books on the subject.
The foundation for Shaw's writings on the martial arts began when he was six years old. This is the point when he began his study of the Korean martial art of Hapkido. Shaw initially studied Hapkido under the direction of Duk Hyun Son. He later went on to study with Sea Ho Choi, Hee Hwan Yoon and Sung Soo Lee.
Shaw studied and taught Hapkido and Taekwondo until in 1987 he was the first American to be awarded the 7th Degree Black Belt in Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo. In 1988 he earned the rank of 7th Degree Black Belt in Kumdo. In 1996 he was the first non-Korean to be promoted to the rank of 7th Degree Black Belt by The Korea Hapkido Federation. Previous to this he had been certified a Hapkido 7th Degree Black Belt in Hapkido Moohak Kwan. Since that time he has been promoted to 8th Degree Black Belt in both Hapkido and Taekwondo.
Shaw has also written numerous articles and several books on Zen Buddhism, Yoga, Eastern Religion and Asian culture. These writings are based in the fact that from his youth forward Shaw has been involved with eastern meditative thought. He was a direct disciple of Swami Satchidananda. In addition, he studied with such teachers as Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and Thich Thien-An. By the age of eighteen he was a certified instructor of Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga. At this point in his life he traveled to India where he was initiated into various Buddhist, Hindu and Sufi sects and became Sannyasa. Shaw is also a Frater Rosae Crucis of the Rosicrucian Order. He is known to frequently travel in East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia documenting Asian Culture in words and on film. He lives much of every year at his home in Kamakura, Japan.
In association to his writings, Shaw is also an active actor and filmmaker. In 1991 he developed a new style of filmmaking that he titled Zen Filmmaking. In essence, this style of filmmaking is defined by the fact that no screenplays are used in the creation of the film. In an interview in Variety Shaw explains, In Zen filmmaking the spontaneous creative energy of the filmmaker is the only defining factor. This allows for a spiritually pure source of immediate inspiration to be the only guide in the filmmaking process. He also extensively defined this style of filmmaking in a book he authored in 2008 titled, Zen Filmmaking.