Shaolin Kung Fu
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Ever since 1669, when Huang Zongxi first described Chinese martial arts in terms of a Shaolin or “external” school versus a Wudang or “internal” school, “Shaolin” has been used as a synonym for “external” Chinese martial arts regardless of whether or not the particular style in question has any connection to the Shaolin Monastery.
In 1784 the Boxing Classic: Essential Boxing Methods made the earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery as Chinese boxing’s place of origin.
Since the beginning of the 17th century, the Shaolin Monastery garnered such fame that many martial artists have capitalized on its name by claiming possession of the original, authentic Shaolin teachings.
Legend: According to the Jingde Records of the Transmission of the Lamp, after Bodhidharma left the court of the Liang emperor Wu in 527, he eventually found himself at the Shaolin Monastery, where he â€œfaced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire timeâ€.
According to the YÃ¬ Jin Jing, after Bodhidharma faced the wall for nine years at Shaolin temple, he left behind an iron chest. When the monks opened this chest they found two books: the â€œMarrow Cleansing Classic,â€ and the â€œMuscle Change Classicâ€ within.
The first book was taken by Bodhidharma’s disciple Huike, and disappeared; as for the second, the monks selfishly coveted it, practicing the skills therein, falling into heterodox ways, and losing the correct purpose of cultivating the Real. The Shaolin monks have made some fame for themselves through their fighting skill; this is all due to their possession of this manuscript.
History: The attribution of Shaolin Kung Fu to Bodhidharma has been discredited by many martial arts historians, first by Tang Hao on the grounds that the YÃ¬ JÄ«n JÄ«ng is a forgery. The oldest available copy was published in 1827 and the composition of the text itself has been dated to 1624.
Huiguang and Sengchou were expert in the martial arts before they became two of the very first Shaolin monksâ€”years before the arrival of Bodhidharma. Sengchou’s skill with the tin staff is even documented in the Chinese Buddhist canon.
The discovery of arms caches in the monasteries of Chang’an during government raids in 446 AD suggests that Chinese monks practiced martial arts prior to the establishment of the Shaolin Monastery in 497. Monks came from the ranks of the population among whom the martial arts were widely practiced prior to the introduction of Buddhism.
There are indications that Huiguang, Sengchou and even Huike, Bodhidarma’s immediate successor as Patriarch of ChÃ¡n Buddhism, may have been military men before retiring to the monastic life. Moreover, Chinese monasteries, not unlike those of Europe, in many ways were effectively large landed estates, that is, sources of considerable wealth which required protection that had to be supplied by the monasteries’ own manpower.
In addition, the Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue, the Bibliographies in the Book of the Han Dynasty and the Records of the Grand Historian all document the existence of martial arts in China before Bodhidharma. The martial arts ShuÄi JiÄo and Sun Bin Quan, to name two, predate the establishment of the Shaolin Monastery by centuries.
Tang Dynasty (618â€“907): The oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 that attests to two occasions: a defense of the monastery from bandits around 610 and their role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621.
Like most dynastic changes, the end of the Sui Dynasty was a time of upheaval and contention for the throne. Wang Shichong declared himself Emperor. He controlled the territory of Zheng and the ancient capital of Luoyang.
Overlooking Luoyang on Mount Huanyuan was the Cypress Valley Estate, which had served as the site of a fort during the Jin and a commandery during the Southern Qi. Sui Emperor Wen had bestowed the estate on a nearby monastery called Shaolin for its monks to farm but Wang Shichong, realizing its strategic value, seized the estate and there placed troops and a signal tower, as well as establishing a prefecture called Yuanzhou. Furthermore, he had assembled an army at Luoyang to march on the Shaolin Temple itself.
The monks of Shaolin allied with Wang’s enemy, Li Shimin, and took back the Cypress Valley Estate, defeating Wang’s troops and capturing his nephew Renze.
Without the fort at Cypress Valley, there was nothing to keep Li Shimin from marching on Luoyang after his defeat of Wang’s ally Dou Jiande at the Battle of Hulao, forcing Wang Shichong to surrender. Li Shimin’s father was the first Tang Emperor and Shimin himself became its second. Thereafter Shaolin enjoyed the royal patronage of the Tang.
Though the Shaolin Monastery Stele of 728 attests to these incidents in 610 and 621 when the monks engaged in combat, note that it does not allude to martial training in the monastery, or to any fighting technique in which its monks specialized. Nor do any other sources from the Tang, Song and Yuan periods allude to military training at the temple, so even if it is possible or even likely that the Shaolin monastic regimen included martial arts, there is no documentation of it. According to Meir Shahar, this is explained by a confluence of the late-Ming fashion for military encyclopedias and, more importantly, the conscription of civilian irregularsâ€”including monksâ€”as a result of Ming military decline in the 16th century.
Ming Dynasty (1368â€“1644): From the 8th to the 15th centuries, no extant source documents Shaolin participation in combat; then suddenly, the 16th and 17th centuries see at least forty extant sources attest that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, but martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore.References to Shaolin martial arts appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry.
These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang Dynasty period, refer to Shaolin methods of combat unarmed, with the spear, and with the weapon that was the forte of the Shaolin monks and for which they had become famousâ€”the staff. By the mid-16th century military experts from all over Ming China were travelling to Shaolin to study its fighting techniques.
Around 1560 YÃº DÃ yÃ³u travelled to Shaolin Monastery to see for himself its monks’ fighting techniques, but found them disappointing. YÃº returned to the south with two monks, Zongqing and Pucong, whom he taught the use of the staff over the next three years, after which Zongqing and Pucong returned to Shaolin Monastery and taught their brother monks what they had learned. Martial arts historian Tang Hao traced the Shaolin staff style Five Tigers Interception to YÃº’s teachings.
The earliest extant manual on Shaolin Kung Fu, the Exposition of the Original Shaolin Staff Method was written around 1610 and published in 1621 from what its author ChÃ©ng ZÅngyÃ³u learned during a more than ten year stay at the monastery.
Conditions of lawlessness in Henanâ€”where the Shaolin Monastery is locatedâ€”and surrounding provinces during the late Ming Dynasty and all of the Qing Dynasty contributed to the development of martial arts. Meir Shahar lists the martial arts T’ai Chi Ch’Ã¼an, Chang Family Boxing, BÄguÃ quÃ¡n, XÃngyÃ¬quÃ¡n and BÄjÃquÃ¡n as originating from this region and this time period.
Pirates: In the 1540s and 1550s, Japanese pirates known as wokou raided China’s eastern and southeastern coasts on an unprecedented scale.
The geographer Zheng Ruoceng provides the most detailed of the 16th century sources which confirm that, in 1553, Wan Biao, Vice Commissioner in Chief of the Nanjing Chief Military Commission, initiated the conscription of monksâ€”including some from Shaolinâ€”against the pirates. Warrior monks participated in at least four battles: at the Gulf of Hangzhou in spring of 1553 and in the Huangpu River delta at Wengjiagang in July 1553, Majiabang in spring of 1554, and Taozhai in autumn of 1555.
The monks suffered their greatest defeat at Taozhai, where four of them fell in battle; their remains were buried under the StÅ«pa of the Four Heroic Monks (Si yi seng ta) at Mount She near Shanghai.
The monks won their greatest victory at Wengjiagang. On 21 July 1553, 120 warrior monks led by the Shaolin monk Tianyuan defeated a group of pirates and chased the survivors over ten days and twenty miles. The pirates suffered over one hundred casualties and the monks only four.
Not all of the monks who fought at Wengjiagang were from Shaolin, and rivalries developed among them. Zheng chronicles Tianyuanâ€™s defeat of eight rival monks from Hangzhou who challenged his command. Zheng ranked Shaolin first of the top three Buddhist centers of martial arts. Zheng ranked Mount Funiu in Henan second and Mount Wutai in Shanxi third. The Funiu monks practiced staff techniques which they had learned at the Shaolin Monastery. The Wutai monks practiced Yang Family Spear (æ¥Šå®¶æ§; pinyin: YÃ¡ngjiÄ qÄ«ang).
Influence outside of China: Some lineages of Karate have oral traditions that claim Shaolin origins. Martial arts traditions in Japan and Korea, and Southeast Asia cite Chinese influence as transmitted by Buddhist monks.
Recent developments in the 20th century such as Shorinji Kempo practised in Japan’s Sohonzan Shaolin Temple (Shorinji in Japanese) still maintains close ties with China’s Song Shan Shaolin Temple due to historic links. Japanese Shorinji Kempo Group contributions to Song Shan Shaolin Temple in 2003 received China’s recognition.
Outside of China: While sometimes represented in Western films as a mystical or even mythical school of martial arts, actual access to the Shaolin Temple has until recently been restricted to China and visitors to the Temple itself. In the last few years, notably under Abbot Shi Yong Xin, there has been a concerted effort to place teaching monks outside of China in order to spread Shaolin martial arts and as ambassadors of Chinese culture. Official schools have arisen in the USA, UK, Germany, Australia and other countries. There has also been a critically acclaimed stage show, “The Wheel of Life”, in which a troupe of monks demonstrates fighting and qÃ¬gÅng skills within the context of a historic episode from the Temple’s history.
The Shaolin Wahnam Institute has many subbranches worldwide. This school is based in Malaysia and headed by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit, 4th generation successor of Venerable Jiang Nan of the Southern Shaolin Monastery. His lineage traces back through his previous teacher, Ho Fatt Nam, who was taught by Yang Fatt Khuen, who was, in turn, taught by Ven. Jiang Nan himself.
The first photo documentary book about the real Shaolin monks, emphasizing their Zen background, and classical kung fu forms, was created by National Geographic Traveler noted photographer Justin Guariglia, and published by the Aperture Foundation in 2007. The Abbot, Shi Yong Xin has written the foreword to the book, attesting to the authenticity of the project.
List of styles presently taught at the temple:
- Xiaohongquan – Small hong fist
- Dahongquan – Big hong fist
- Tongbiquan – Through the back fist
- Liuhequan – Six harmonies fist
- Taizu Changquan – Emperor Taizu’s long fist
- Qixingquan – Seven star fist
- Da paoquan – Big cannon fist
- Xiao paoquan – Small cannon fist
- Changhu xinyi men – Long protect heart will gate
- Meihuaquan – Plum flower fist
- Luohanquan – Arhat (enlightened follower of Buddha) fist
- Tongzigong – Shaolin child training
- Dan Dao – Single sabre technique
- Long â€“ Dragon technique
- Chi Lu Chuan – 8 Animal
- 72 Shaolin Arts