History of Shaolin Kung Fu
Shaolin Kung Fu Guan

Shaolin Temple 少林寺

"All martial arts under heaven arose out of Shaolin",
is a popular saying in China's Wu Shu world. Chinese Martial Arts also known, as Kung Fu, Gung Fu or Wu Shu as it is known in Mainland China, is more than just a fighting art, it is considered a way of life. There are many schools of Kung Fu found within China but none are better known and more influential than Shaolin Kung Fu.

Shaolin Temple and its legendary Shaolin warrior monks have given birth and inspiration to world renowned styles like Hung Gar, Choy Li Fut and Wing Chun to name a few. Shaolin Temple and its legendary skills can also be found within our pop culture today as inspiration for movie stars like Jet Li and Jackie Chan and for movies like Shaolin Soccer, the Matrix and Kill Bill. Shaolin Kung Fu is considered to be one of China's cultural treasures and its presence can be felt worldwide. As a form of self-defence it has had over 1500 years of realistic and practical application. Shaolin Kung Fu and its fusion with Chan (Zen) Buddhism creates a holistic art form that promotes balance within ones self. To truly understand the true essence of Shaolin Kung Fu you must go to the beginning.

Shaolin Wu Shu originated at the Shaolin Temple located in the Dengfeng County, of China's Henan province, Built in 495 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty. The temple is situated in the Song Yue Shi Mountain range. Because the temple was erected in the forests at the foot of Shao Shi Mountain it was named Shaolin, which means "Young Forest" The temple was erected during the 19th year of Emperor Xiao Wens reign for the Indian Buddhist monk BaTuo (also known as Fo Tuo).

During the Zhou, Yuan, Sui and Tang Dynasty Shaolin Temple rode a turbulent existence at its height commanding over 1000 warrior monks and 600 hectares of land but like the dynasty's around them that rose and fell so did Shaolin Temple. Throughout these dynasties Shaolin Temple was burned and attacked on several occasions.

It wasn't until the Ming and Qing Dynasty's that Shaolin Temple began to prosper once more. Emperor Kangxi (1662-1723) of the Qing Dynasty wrote the title plaque that still hangs above the Shaolin Temple Mountain Gate today. Towards the end of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) Li Shi Min, Prince of Qin, was leading his troops against Wang Shi Chong at Luoyang. Li, having heard of Shaolin Temples famous warrior monks asked them to help. The monks responded and captured Wang's nephew thus, resulting in the defeat of Wang and Li Shi Min becoming the new emperor. Li Shi Min rewarded Shaolin handsomely and inscribed a stele (Inscribed stone pillar) stating the achievements, which is housed today within the temple grounds.

Shaolin monks received many summons for help from the emperors throughout its history. They also fought the Japanese pirates, who plundered the Chinese coastline. During the Ming Dynasty the Shaolin Monks led by Yue Kong and Da Zaohua fought the Japanese pirates in what is known as Shanghai today. They fought bravely wielding iron staffs and relieving the siege on Shanghai.

In 1928 during a battle between feuding Warlords over Shaolin Temple's strategic position, Shi Yousan, a junior officer to warlord Feng Yu Xiang set fire to Shaolin. The fire burned for 40 days and destroyed most of Shaolins great halls that housed both historical artefacts and volumes of martial arts texts. Many of the monks fled but those who stayed maintained Shaolin history, culture and skills to the present day. Such Shaolin monks where, ,Shi De Chan, Shi Su Yun, Shi Xing Zheng, Shi Wan Heng and a few others.

Shaolin Kung Fu and its Progression

The Shaolin Temple is the birthplace of Chan (Zen) Buddhism and Shaolin Kung Fu. The temple is a centre foremost for the study of Buddhism and is secondly for the study and development of Wushu, quite unlike what is portrayed in previous media about Shaolin Temple. Chan Buddhism was founded by Bodhidharma (Puti Damo), the 28th generation disciple of Buddha Shi Jia Mo Ni. Damo arrived at Shaolin Temple in 527 AD and is said to have sat facing the wall of a cave on Wu Ru Peak for nine years behind shaolin temple, before founding the Chan (Zen) sect of Buddhism. Bodhidharma is accredited with passing on the treasures of Yi Jin Jing, Xi Sui Jing and Lohan Shi Ba Shou to the monks of Shaolin Temple.

Many go as far to say that Damo was the founder of Shaolin Kung Fu but this remains a point of contention between many historians. Martial arts were already in practice at Shaolin before Damo's arrival. BaTuo's disciples Seng Chou and Hui Guang are said to have exhibited impressive skills. Seng Chou was known be able to "walk a wall and leap up onto a rooftop with one bound and Hui Guang was said to have been able to keep a shuttlecock in the air by kicking it over 500 times in a row while balancing on the rails around a well.

It is also known that Jin Na Lou Wang was also considered to be a martial arts practitioner after the humble Shaolin cook defended Shaolin Temple with his staff techniques against bandits that had tried to loot the temple in the mid 13th century. It is from Damo's presence at Shaolin Temple however that Shaolin Kung Fu began to further develop and refine itself into one of the worlds most sought after arts.

During the Song Dynasty, The Abbot Fu Yu, invited experts from 18 Wu Shu schools to exchange and teach each other skills at Shaolin. They remained for 3 years and edited the Shaolin Boxing manual, which described 280 routines. During the Yuan dynasty, monk Jue Yuan travelled to Luoyang and Lanzhou where he met experts Bai Yu Feng and Li Sou, and with them went to Shaolin to further exchange Wu Shu skills. Subsequently more than 70 routines of Shaolin Boxing were created. Jue Yuan also created the famous five animal style.

Although Shaolin was known for its martial techniques it originally was known for its amazing staff techniques. It is well documented that Shaolin Temple and its staff-wielding monks were the best at staff in China. Today Shaolin Temple has between 300-400 individual routines within its curriculum. Although many forms of Shaolin Kung Fu have been lost many still remain today.

Present Day Shaolin

Shaolin Temple has had in the last 20 years a meteoric rise once again. In 1981 the movie Shaolin Temple that starred many of Chinas national champions (Jet Li, Yu Hai, Yu Chenghui, Pan Qin Fu and many more), once again shone light onto the marvels of Shaolin Temple. In the wake of this, almost overnight it instantly became a hot tourist spot for martial artists, Buddhists and the general public. It currently receives approximately two million visitors every year.

Shi Yong Xin is the current Abbot of Shaolin Temple, in 1999, he became the first official Abbot in 12 years since his master and the previous Abbot Shi Xing Zheng passed away. Shi Yong Xin has a vision to restore Shaolin Temple and promote its unique cultural heritage to the world. Shi Yong Xin has been very active in his vision and has met with many world leaders such as Queen Elizabeth the 2nd and US Congress to discuss such matters. The Abbot and the Shaolin Kung Fu Guan hope to pass on Shaolin's heritage and culture here in Australia.