to China's long history, its historical information is easily distorted
as it is passed down through generations. Many historians believe that
Shaolin Temple's role in Kung Fu history has particularly been exaggerated.
But because no source can claim complete accuracy since many beliefs are
based on educated guesses and interpretation, we will present the history,
theories, and doubts surrounding Shaolin, allowing you as the visitor
to formulate your own opinion.
was Shaolin Temple?
Shaolin Temple was a Chinese Chan Buddhist monastery located in Hunan
province. It was built during emperor Hsiao-Wen's reign and named after
the surrounding "little forest" is was located in. Several other
temples were built in other Chinese provinces, but the one at Hunan temple
is considered the central temple.
in China where Shaolin temples were built.
Over the years, the People's Republic of China has investigated the origins
and development of Shaolin Temple and a four-volume work titled History
of the Shao-lin Monastery has been created by Yang-Ya-Shan. Yang claims
that Shaolin served as a sort of extension of the army, or a popular martial
arts training center that produced as many as 5,000 monk soldiers in one
period of time.
Temple drew several martial arts experts, and many people contributed
techniques to develop a Shaolin style, which is said to have originated
in the Southern and Northern dynasties (420-589 B.C.). Creation of Shaolin
school of Kung Fu has been attributed to three possible sources: Indian
priest Bodhidharma, Shaolin monks Hwei-Kwung and Sung-Choi, and the collective
efforts of the Shaolin priests over the decades. The latter two hold that
martial arts developed far in advance to Bodhidharma's visit to Shaolin
the same vein as the Bodhidharma theory, the first movements were developed
by Bodhidharma, and were based on the movements of 18 types of animals,
including the tiger, deer, leopard, etc. The monks (many of which were
martial arts masters) and visiting masters adapted the movements into
a system of self-defense called Shaolin Ch'uan Fa, or Shaolin Boxing (also
known as the 18 fists of Luohan). Later on, the 18 fists were combined
with 72 new styles and pressure point techniques to form 173 exercises.
Three martial arts masters also redefined the 173 exercises into Five
Imitation Style Boxing, modeled after the movements of the tiger,
leopard, snake, crane, and dragon. These five are still very popular
in Shaolin Kung Fu, which had branched out into more than 300 styles.
Due to temple burnings, government bans on practice, and the secretive
manner in which the martial arts were spread, much of the original curriculum
has been lost along the way. In order to provide a more detailed history,
the following timeline contains some of the important events in Shaolin
history and their dates accepted and speculated dates.
Emperor Xiao Wen asked Indian Buddhist monk Batuo to construct a monastery
in Hunan province (see map).
It was named Shaolin, or "new forest" Temple because it was
built in a forest that had been cleared or burnt down.
Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma traveled to China to spread Zen Buddhism.
He sought to enter Shaolin Temple, where monks were translating Buddhist
texts. Once admitted, he found that the monks were extremely weak. He
introduced breathing exercises to build their inner energy, or chi. These
were based on the movements of 18 types of animals, including the tiger,
deer, leopard, etc., and formed the early basis of Shaolin Boxing.
there were wild animals and bandits in the surrounding area, the monks
(many of which were martial arts masters) and visiting masters adapted
the movements into a system of self-defense called Shaolin Ch'uan Fa,
or Shaolin Boxing (also known as the 18 fists of Luohan).
Because Hunan temple suffered many attacks, a second temple named Fukien
Temple (see map) was built to serve as an additional
training center for Shaolin Kung Fu.
The Wutang Tiger Temple (see map) was added to the
Shaolin temple order. Since it was often attacked, the monks were educated
in weaponry and defense.
Dynasty (960-1279 AD)
During this time one of the Shaolin abbots, Fu Ju, invited martial arts
masters to study and teach at Shaolin temple for three years. Around 280
forms of Shaolin Boxing were developed.
Dynasty (1206-1333 AD) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD)
Jue Yuan, an experienced martial artist, entered Shaolin Temple to study
martial arts. He later revised the 18 fists of Luohan into 72 Styles.
Yuan began searching for other masters to improve these styles and traveled
to the cities of Lan Zhou and Louyang. He met two skilled martial artists,
Li Sou and Bai Yufeng, who returned with him to Shaolin Temple. Together
they redeveloped Shaolin Boxing, combining the 18 fists and 72 styles
with pressure point techniques into 173 exercises. The three masters also
redefined the 173 exercises into Five Imitation Style Boxing, modeled
after the movements of the tiger, leopard, snake, crane, and dragon. These
five are still very popular in Shaolin Boxing.
this time the O Mei Shan temple (see map), meaning
Great White Mountain, was added to the Shaolin order. It was known for
its healing medicine practices.
Dynasty (1644-1911 AD)
The Ming Dynasty ended with the Manchurian invasion and conquering of
China. Many refugees fled to the Shaolin temples. Since the temples posed
a threat to the Qing loyalists and Manchus, the two major temples (Hunan
and Fukien) were burned. Much of the teachings were lost in the fires
and practice of Shaolin Kung Fu was outlawed. The remaining monks had
to practice what they remembered in secret.
1800 AD the temples were reopened and a fifth temple, Kwantung (see map),
was added. Shaolin martial arts practice was still restricted by the occupying
The Ming loyalists tried to reestablish the Ming Dynasty through the Boxer
rebellion. The Shaolin martial artists, armed only with their boxing techniques,
were defeated by the sophisticated weaponry of the opposing forces. The
monks were continuously attacked and many fled to the United States and
other Asian countries.
The Shaolin temple was burned again. The Cultural Revolution followed,
when the practice of martial arts and religion was entirely banned.
World War II
The Shaolin Temple was reopened by Abbot Su Xi. Many styles were developed
and adapted from original Shaolin Boxing in an effort to revive the Chinese
martial arts tradition. Five new animal styles were added: monkey, eagle,
crane, snake, and mantis. Several other styles have emerged as well.
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