Shaolin Temple Essay Research Paper SHAOLIN TEMPLEBackground

Shaolin Temple Essay, Research Paper


Background of Shaolin


The Shaolin Temples served a great role in Chinese History. They were not just simple temples for monks to stay in and do religious practices, they were temples of martial arts; temples where every day is a new training. Not only were the temples involved in martial arts, they once played a big role in political movements too. The Shaolin Temple went through many changes throughout the generations. In the following, one will be able to understand how Shaolin temples have evolved during the past thousand years and be introduced to the many different kinds of martial art forms practiced even today in the modern world.


If the legends of Shaolin were actually accepted as truthful fact, then one would have to believe that the best martial art in China originated in one small place over a period of ten years! Furthermore, one would have to accept that all these forms of fighting originated from one single Indian Buddhist monk! Though a legend is a legend and shouldn t be taken as truth, this is one incredible legend!

According to oral myths and legends passed down throughout generations, an Indian Buddhist monk arrived to China in about A.D. 520.1 This monk was P u-ti-ta-mo or often known as Ta Mo (Bodiharma). He settled at the original Shaolin Temple located at Sung Shan in Honan province. It was said that Ta Mo was the First Patriarch to his type of Buddhism known today as Cha an (Zen). There at the Temple, he taught the concepts of Zen as well as skills of temple boxing.2

Meditation was Ta Mo s main teaching. He spent nine years meditating while sitting in front of a wall. Interesting enough, during this time his legs withered away due to lack of use! Ta Mo became very disturbed when he found out that the monks at Shaolin often fell asleep during their meditations. Because of this, he designed special exercises to increase their stamina to maintain weariness. In the I-Chin Ching (Muscle-Change Classic), a work that is attributed to Ta Mo, we can find eighteen basic exercises for the purpose of improving one s general health. These exercises are believed by some people to be the basis of shaolin, the category of hand-to-hand martial arts named after the temple at which Ta Mo meditated.


Little is known about the history of the Shaolin Temple. Most that had been said by scholars has not been confirmed. There are many variations of how the Shaolin came to be. Even today, there is no certainty about how everything all started and the ways the Temple had effected the Chinese society.

The first Shaolin (Little Forest) Temple was located at the foot of China s mountain range, the Sung Shan which is in Honan province. The temple was built by Emperor Hsiao Wen of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534 AD).3 Built around the same time as the Honan Temple, a temple called the Fukien Temple was integrated into mainstream Shaolin around 650 AD and became the \”Second Temple\” of Shaolin.4 It was a much larger temple than the Honan temple and served as a second main temple when the one in Honan was occupied or damaged. The third Shaolin temple was integrated into Shaolin around 800 AD. It was an old temple named Wutang Tiger Temple located near Manchuria and the Korean Peninsular.5 Later, during the Ming dynasty(1368 AD-1644 AD), the O Mei Shan (Great White Mountain) Temple was added to Shaolin. It became a library and medical temple.6

By the seventh century the temples had greatly expanded to include land and building housings for approximately 1,500 monks. Five hundred of the monks were monk-soldiers trained at the temple by the request of Emperor Tai Sung. On a stone tablet still in existence, the story of how thirteen monks were sent into battle to help the Emperor when he was in danger was recorded.7 The monks did such a great job that the Emperor asked them to remain at the court afterwards. Instead they wanted to return back to the temple and promised to return when ever the Emperor needed them. From then on, the Temple trained monk-soldiers.

In 1674, 128 monks led by a monk named Heng Kwan Tat were sent to help Emperor Ching as soldiers.8 Again they were a great help and again, they rejected the rewards the Emperor offered and returned back to the temple. Afraid that the Shaolin monks would turn against him, Emperor Ching s generals advised him to take charge. Large amounts of Ching loyal troops, armed with cannons surrounded the Honan Shaolin Temple and utterly destroyed it.9 Many monks died. Ones who escaped either fled to other monasteries, continued living nearby, returned to the Temple at night to practice their arts or went wandering, teaching martial arts. Shaolin monks were now outlawed. They had to go into hiding and could no longer be monks openly.

Towards the start of 1800, the Shaolin Temples were reopened and included the 5th Shaolin Temple Kwantung (located around 200 km s southwest of Fukien).10 The rulers were still in fear of the Fighthing Shaolin Monk, and therefore only allowed the monks to be used as religious purposes and not martial arts. The Shaolin Temple slowly healed as time went on.

As history has pointed out, Shaolin Temples are not just religious temples, they are famous for their martial arts. Even the Emperors from the past asked them for help during political battles. There were other encounters of the burning of the temples where invaders from outside China attacked Shaolin causing many damages. But by far, the most damages were caused during Emperor Ching s reign.

Styles/Forms of Shaolin

Nothern and Southern Shaolin Systems

There are two styles of Shaolin. One is the Northern Foot and Southern Fist developed in Northern and Southern territories. Northern Shaolin is believed to have originated at the Honan Shaolin Temple, while the Southern Shaolin is believed to have come from the Fukien Shaolin. Both Northern and Southern styles make use of five interesting animal forms: dragon, snake, crane, tiger and leopard. Both Styles have their own uniqueness. The Northern style focuses more on long range, high kicking techniques, flexibility, jumping and mobility. Soft movements and power are usually taught first then harder external techniques are introduced later. And finally there would be a mixture of hard and soft. Southern styles emphasize hand techniques, short punches and fighting-methods. It is the opposite of Northern style. The monks learn the hard techniques first, and soft introduced afterwards.11

How can the two styles be so different when they are both apart of Shaolin? The answer lies in their geographical origins. Enemies in the North were often mounted horsemen from mountainous and wooden terrain. The Northern styles apply frequent, rapid changes of direction to break down the opponent s defenses. That is why high-flying kicks were used more often than the flat Southern plains. Northern styles include Tai Chi Ch uan, Pa Kua, Hsing I, Praying Mantis, Monkey Style and Eagle Claw. The Southern Styles were usually named after family names (Gar=Family) and include: Hung Gar, Lau Gar, Mok Gar, Choy Gar and Li Gar. Other stlyes evolved from both Northern and Southern styles, theses styles include: Choy Li Fut, White Crane and Wing Chun.

Northern Styles

Chang Ch uan (Long Fist)- Characteristics of Long Fist are weeping arm movements, wide deep stances and high kicks. It is known as the mother system from which other kung fu evolved. Choy Li Fut and Praying Mantis both have the influence of Long Fist. This form was founded during the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-97). During this time masters set up martial arts school in each villages of China. Every school taught the Long Fist method. Different villages developed varieties or specialties. These styles evolved to provide peasant farmers a form of good exercise as well as to provide a good system of self-defense. Today Long Fist is still practiced as the basis of the modern day Wu Shu.

Tai Chi Ch uan- This style is a form of moving yoga. There are five styles with the Taoist philosophical core represented by the Ying Yang symbol in common. There are several versions of the style s origin. One version was devised by a Taoist priest , Jang San Feng during early Yuan Dynasty (AD 1206-1333). He learned his martial arts skill from Shaolin Temple and was concerned that the training relied on heavy breathing and gross physical strength. One day as he was sitting in front of his window he saw a snake fighting with a bird. He noticed they sometimes use soft movements and sometimes hard movements with steady, light breathing. From that observation he developed Tai Chi Ch uan. From a Chinese movie called Zhang San Feng a different version was told. Jang San Feng somehow turned into a mad man. He was playing with a ball outside one day and was very fascinated with the way the ball bounced with so little energy. He kept throwing and bouncing the ball and knocking people out. One day he fell and knocked himself out. That made him regained consciousness and got better, he started studying the way gravity works and later developed the Tai Chi Ch uan.

Pa Kua- The name of this style means eight directions. It is based on a system of continuous circular motion. Training involves: walking in circles, launching attacks, spinning into other circles and appearing from being cyclonic to drunken. Pa Kua is quite a recent development founded at the end of the Ching Dynasty (AD 1644-1911)

by the Chinese Boxer, Hai Chuan Tung. Weapons are a feature part of Pa Kua training (the spear, broadsword, staff and double edged sword).

Hsing I-Is one of the oldest and most sophisticated kung fu systems. Hsing I means shape of mind . It was formed at the beginning of the Ching Dynasty by Chi Chi Ki in the province of Shansi. The system consists of forms depicting fire, water, wood, metal and earth. A major component of the system are the twelve animal forms: eagle, bear, dragon, snake, swallow, Tai bird, monkey, tiger, horse, chicken, falcon and lizard. Hsing I does not imitate the movements of the animals but aims to put the spirits of each animals into each of the techniques.

Eagle Claw- Is based on extensive knowledge of pressure points. Students are trained to locate and attack all of these pressure points in a total of 108 pressure points. Ninety-six of these points are Dim Mak (vital) that results in the opponent s being crippled or killed. Seventy-two of the points are not Dim Mak points and can neutralize most aggressive intentions. The Eagle Claw is not a widely taught system due to the dangerous knowledge involved.

Monkey Style-The five basic forms are drunken monkey (very cute and funny to watch), stone monkey, lost monkey, wooden monkey and standing monkey. The essence of being a monkey fighter is learning how to think and act like a monkey. Characteristics of a good monkey fighter are that he/she is sly and tricky; poisonous to opponent, like a poisonous snake; able to bluff to it s opponent; able to destroy opponents attacks; and most important of all, unpredictable when fighting. An interesting story is that the drunken monkey style was originated because prison guards used to give monkeys wine and watch them for entertainment. This style is perhaps the hardest to learn.

Praying Mantis- This form was said to be devised by master Wong Long in East Shan Tung. It is based on long studies of insect s fighting techniques and the main weapon in this form is the mantis claw. The system was developed during the Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644) when general level of kung fu was considered lower due to Mongol overlords invading China and prohibiting the practice of martial arts.

Southern Styles

Choy Li Fut- Chan Heung founded this style from teachings of the Shaolin Temple in 1836. It was an independent style influenced by a monk named Choy Fook. Fut in Chinese means Buddha recgonizing the style s roots at Shaolin. In the modern world, Choy Li Fut is the most popular kung fu system among Asian martial artists. It contains a huge variety of hand forms and weapons. The empty hand forms contain anything from 100-300 moves. There are over 100 external and internal forms for students to learn. There are more weapons in Choy Li Fut than in any other system. The weapons are grouped according to four categories: long, short, soft, and hard. The main concept of Choy Li Fut is to use the body as a dart. Choy Li Fut also has series of animal forms: leopard, dragon, tiger, snake, and crane.

Wing Chun-Is of the best known forms in the West and it was the system Bruce Lee first learned. Wing Chun is named after Yim Wing Chun, the woman who founded it. The Wing Chun system is based on the theory that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and so dispenses with many of the flowing circular forms found in other styles. A Wing Chung fighter draws an imaginary line down the center of their body as an axis around blocks and strikes performed. There are two weapons sets using the long pole and butterfly knife.

Hung Gar-Hung Gar emphasizes in power and internal strength. The system consists of stability, strong deep stances and the development of powerful striking techniques particularly with the hands. It was founded by Hung Hei Gune, who learned from a Shaolin Monk named Gee Shimn Sien See. Hung Gar is well known for its tiger fork set (a long handled trident). They also have distinctive butterfly sets called ji ma do and single staff set, ng long bat kwa quen.

White Eyebrow Kung Fu- This is a short middle hand system. The aim is to develop and be able to release power when fighting. Its founder is Bak Me who was originally a taoist priest and revolutionary. The White Eyebrow exponent never attacks first, they wait for opponents to strike first so that weak points become apparent. This form system comprises some eight hand forms and basic weapons such as the butterfly knives, spear, staff , double-edged swords, chain whips and tridents.

Tibetan White Crane- White Crane is not Chinese but actually originated from Tibet. It is a long arm style. Practitioners keep their armsout-stretched like the wings of a bird flying. The arm swings are like a ball and chain. There are four basic fits in white crane: Pow, Chuin, Kup, and Chow. Unlike the kicking techniques of other styles, White Crane kicking techniques are actually intended for real combat. The kicks are delivered at great speed and arms used for balancing and delivering combinations of attacks.

Shaolin Today

Over the many years, Shaolin temples have evolved from religious temples to martial arts institutions to political soldiers and back to the martial arts schools. Martial artists today from all over the world travel to Shaolin to study the traditional Chinese martial arts. The Shaolin Temples have also become a tourist attraction. Every day tourists gather in a circle at Shaolin to enjoy the kung fu demonstrations by Shaolin monks. Shaolin Kung Fu no longer remains inside the temple but is widely spread throughout the world. The original forms of kung fu have evolved to include fascinating new styles. Shaolin Temples are even sites settings for movies to take place. Shaolin group even travels around the world to do performances. In summer of 1997, they were even here in Vancouver at the PNE. It was a spectacular performance. Although Shaolin have been through many tough times, today it is well known around the world and is still standing strong and bold in China.


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