History of Shaolin

A Brief History of Shaolin

Building Shaolin

Towards the end of the 5th Century an Indian Warrior/Buddhist Monk, Buddhabhadra traveled through China teaching Buddhism. He impressed the Emperor with his wisdom and Buddhist interpretation, he was offered a permanent office and place at the Palace. However, he proposed that his teachings may be better served if he were in a more accessible place. The Emperor offered quite a bit of land by the province of Henan, in the Sacred Mountains on the side of Shao Shi (Shi meaning Mountain). They chose a spot in an area of Lin (Young/New Trees) as the place for the Temple. This came to be the name of the Shaolin (Sillum in Cantonese) Temple. While in the temple, Buddhabhadra encouraged the monks to follow a simple life of literature, philosophy, and meditation. Their personal views on life were that of nonviolence, tolerance, honor, and humility.

Bodhidharma Visits Shaolin

In a small tribe of Southern India a prince, Bodhidharma was born. He became a Mayhayana Buddhist at an early age and, as part of his training, he practiced hard exercises and training in addition to meditation and study. In 500 AD, he traveled east into China preaching the ways of Buddhism. Upon reaching the temple in Honan, he found the monks very weak. Their pious lifestyle consisted of constant seated meditation and a great lack of physical activity (which left them weak and vulnerable if ever attacked). He then spent the next 9 years in a cave 30 minutes away from the Temple meditating on the problems within the Shaolin walls. Eventually, he developed a series of exercises designed to strengthen the monks physically as well as mentally. They were called, "Muscle Change Classics", "Marrow Washing Course", and "The 18 Hand Movements of the Enlightened One". This marked the beginning of Shaolin Kung Fu (Kung Fu - hard work and perfection). The monks took his exercises and blended them with local self defense techniques creating what was known as the 'Lo Han' style. From that moment on, the monks at the Shaolin temple dedicated themselves to the perfection of their fighting arts. Continuously upgrading and developing their system of self defense, the monks added the techniques of Chin Na (joint locks), Shui Jiao (wrestling/throwing), and Chi (internal energy). As a result, the Shaolin monks were quickly recognized for their superior skills. It was said that a Shaolin Warrior monk was worth 1,000 soldiers.

Shaolin Advancement

During the Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279), many people became interested in Kung Fu animal styles. With the Song Dynasty support for martial arts, many Kung Fu styles came into existence; styles such as Rooster, Toad, and Dog. There were also other such as 10,000 bees, Mantis, and Tiger. With Shaolin's system of learning from travelers, many of these styles found their way into the temple.

1130 A.D. General Yueh Fei created the 'Eagle Claw' system. He derived his newly found system by using principles he learned from Shaolin master Chou Ton and by his skills as an army general. The Eagle Claw system strength lies within its Chin Na (grabbing and locking) techniques. He is also noted for creating the basic root of the internal art of Xing Yi.

Creating a Shaolin Warrior Monk

Many who knew about the Shaolin Warrior’s wanted to be associated with one, wanted to obtain one’s skill or mainly wanted to become one. If the Shaolin Temple were to let everyone one in there would have been chaos therefore there needed to be a way to separate the fame seekers from the future Shaolin Warriors.Once accepted, they spent their first years doing chores. Aside from these duties, they also received an outstanding education in writing, basic math, religion, poetry, history, and music which are known as the six noble skills. It was a very hard but this method picked the best Shaolin Warriors. Records show a very tough schedule of physical and mental exercise with only 4 hours sleep most nights, long runs before breakfast, very hard martial art exercises, chi and iron body training, and endurance training on top of their Buddhist studies, and obligatory daily meditations. This would go on for several years. Those who failed were not allowed to stay in the Shaolin Temple and were asked to leave. Those that completed the training were accepted replacing the Shaolin Warriors who retired or killed.

Legacy Today

 Despite its complex history, Kung fu is still growing in the world today. In present time you can see variations in some of the styles as masters are changing their forms to meet today's needs.