Shaolin Kung Fu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Shaolin kung fu)
Jump to: navigation, search

Shaolin Kung Fu (Chinese: 少林功夫; pinyin: shao lin gong fu), also called Shaolin Wushu (少林武术; shao lin wu shu) or simply Shaolin quan (少林拳), is one of the oldest and most famous martial arts[citation needed]. Shaolin kung fu originated and was gradually developed in the Buddhist Shaolin temple in Songshan mountain, Henan province, China,[citation needed]. Shaolin kung fu has various barehanded and weapon styles, every style with a few routines for health and fight. Shaolin is considered the biggest school of kung fu[citation needed].

Besides the core style of Shaolin temple, the name Shaolin is used as a brand for the so-called external styles of kung fu. There are many such styles outside of Shaolin temple, mainly in southern and northern China, that use the name Shaolin.


Southern and Northern dynasties (420-589 AD): Shaolin temple established[edit]

Chinese people have practiced martial arts prior to the establishment of Shaolin temple in 495 AD. 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 establishment of Shaolin kung fu. The Chinese martial art of wrestling, Shuai Jiao, predates the establishment of Shaolin temple by centuries.[1] Since Chinese monasteries were large landed estates, sources of considerable regular income, monks required protection. Historical discoveries indicate that monks have had arms and have also practiced martial arts before the establishment of Shaolin temple.[2]

In 495 AD, Shaolin temple was built in the Songshan mountain, Henan province. The first monk to preach Buddhism there was the Indian monk Buddhabhadra (佛陀跋陀罗; fo tuo ba tuo luo), simply called Batuo (跋陀) by the Chinese. There are historical records that Batuo's first Chinese disciples, Huiguang (慧光) and Sengchou (僧稠), both had exceptional martial art skills. For example, Sengchou's skill with the tin staff is even documented in the Chinese Buddhist canon. After Batuo, another Indian monk, Bodhidarma (菩提达摩; pu ti da mo), simply called Damo (达摩) by the Chinese, came to Shaolin in 527 AD. His Chinese disciple, Huike (慧可), was also a highly trained martial arts expert. There is implications that these first three Chinese Shaolin monks, Huiguang, Sengchou, and Huike, may have been military men before entering the monastic life.[3]

Reality and myth are mixed together in the whole history of Shaolin and its kung fu. According to some stories, Bodhidharma, after arriving at Shaolin temple, sat in meditation for nine years. Feeling worried of the monks' physical weakness, he left behind two books: the “Marrow Cleansing Scripture,” (洗髓经; xi sui jing) and the “Muscle Changing Scripture” (易筋经; yi jin jing). Shaolin monks made some fame for themselves through their fighting skills due to their possession of these manuscripts.[4] Though this story is, however, a myth,[5][6] it has some roots in reality. Though no historical record mentions Bodhidharma as being practicing martial arts, he was the founder of Chan Buddhism. It was after him that the concept of martial art and Buddhism became the same. This was the birth point of religious martial arts, which is very important.

Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907 AD): Shaolin soldier monks[edit]

During the short period of the Sui dynasty (581-618), the building blocks of Shaolin kung fu took an official form, and shaolin monks began to create martial art systems of their own. The 18 methods of Luohan with a strong Buddhist taste were practiced by Shaolin monks since this time, which was later used to create more advanced Shaolin martial arts. Shaolin monks had developed very powerful martial skills, and this showed itself until the end of the Sui dynasty.

Like most dynastic changes, the end of the Sui Dynasty was a time of upheaval and contention for the throne. 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. 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.[7] 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.[7] 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, 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. 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 irregulars, including monks, as a result of Ming military decline in the 16th century.[8] Stele and documentary evidence shows the monks historically worshiped the Bodhisattva Vajrapani's "Kimnara King" form as the progenitor of their staff and bare hand fighting styles.[9]

1517 stele dedicated to Vajrapani's defeat of the Red Turban rebels. Guanyin (his original form) can be seen in the clouds above his head.

Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)[edit]

From the 8th to the 15th centuries, no extant source documents Shaolin participation in combat; then 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.[8] 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.[8]

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 famous, the staff.[10][8] By the mid-16th century military experts from all over Ming China were travelling to Shaolin to study its fighting techniques.

Around 1560 Yú Dàyóu travelled to Shaolin Monastery to see for himself its monks' fighting techniques, but found them disappointing. Yú 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 Yú's teachings.[citation needed]

The earliest extant manual on Shaolin Kung Fu, the Exposition of the Original Shaolin Staff Method[11] was written in around 1610 and published in 1621 from what its author Chéng Zōngyóu learned during a more than ten year stay at the monastery.

Conditions of lawlessness in Henan—where the Shaolin Monastery is located—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'uan, Chang Family Boxing, Bāguàquán, Xíngyìquán and Bājíquán as originating from this region and this time period.[8]


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 monks—including some from Shaolin—against the pirates.[8] Warrior monks participated in at least four battles: at the Gulf of Hangzhou in spring 1553 and in the Huangpu River delta at Wengjiagang in July 1553, Majiabang in spring 1554, and Taozhai in autumn 1555.[8]

The monks suffered their greatest defeat at Taozhai, where four of them fell in battle; their remains were buried under the Stūpa of the Four Heroic Monks (Si yi seng ta) at Mount She near Shanghai.[8]

The monks won their greatest victory at Wengjiagang.[8] 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.[8] The pirates suffered over one hundred casualties and the monks only four.[8]

Not all of the monks who fought at Wengjiagang were from Shaolin, and rivalries developed among them. Zheng chronicles Tianyuan’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.[8] 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 (楊家槍; pinyin: Yángjiā qiāng).

Shaolin kung fu contents[edit]

Shaolin temple has two main legacies: Chan (), which refers to Chan Buddhism, the religion of Shaolin, and Quan (), which refers to the martial arts of Shaolin. In Shaolin, these are not separate disciplines and monks have always pursued the philosophy of the unification of Chan and Quan (禅拳合一; chan quan he yi). In a deeper point of view, Quan is considered part of Chan. As late Shaolin monk Suxi said in the last moments of his life, "Shaolin is Chan, not Quan."

Internal and external arts[edit]

Huang Zongxi described martial arts in terms of Shaolin or "external" arts versus Wudang or internal arts in 1669.[12] It has been since then that Shaolin has been popularly synonymous for what are considered the external Chinese martial arts, regardless of whether or not the particular style in question has any connection to the Shaolin Monastery. Some say that there is no differentiation between the so-called internal and external systems of the Chinese martial arts,[13][14] while other well-known teachers hold the opinion that they are different. For example, the Taijiquan teacher Wu Jianquan:

Those who practice Shaolinquan leap about with strength and force; people not proficient at this kind of training soon lose their breath and are exhausted. Taijiquan is unlike this. Strive for quiescence of body, mind and intention.[15]

In 1784 the Boxing Classic: Essential Boxing Methods made the earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery as Chinese boxing's place of origin.[16][10] Again, this is a misconception, as Chinese martial arts pre-date the construction of the Shaolin Temple by at least several hundred years.[14][17]

Training at the Shaolin Temple[edit]

While most warrior monks tend to be focused on performance geared toward the touring troupes, a smaller cadre of Shaolin warrior monks seek the traditional route that focuses somewhat more on self-defense and authenticity of techniques. In many ways, the contemporary performing warrior monks are comparable to contemporary wushu artists who focus on beautiful, elaborately dazzling form rather than original martial application and fighting prowess. The 72 arts of Shaolin temple are more indicative of the older, original Shaolin temple fighting system and theory. These are authentic Shaolin training methods that can produce extraordinary skills and abilities; examples of these skills include iron body techniques, jumping and wall scaling techniques, pole-top leaping dexterity training, pressure-point and nerve manipulation, and a host of other feats. Besides, performing monks are not pressured to practice or study Zen, while inside the temple, at least a show of deference for the Shaolin customs is expected by the masters of their chosen warrior monk disciples.

List of styles currently taught at the temple[edit]

Shaolin kung fu styles[edit]

Shaolin Kung fu has more than hundreds of extant styles. There is recorded documents of more than a thousand extant routines, which makes Shaolin the biggest school of martial art in the world. In the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Shaolin monks chose the best 100 styles out of these styles. Then they chose 18 famous styles out of those 100. However, every lineage of Shaolin monks have always chosen their own styles. Every style has one or a few routines. Every routine teaches new methods for health and fight. To learn a complete system, Shaolin monks master a number of styles each. Shaolin kung fu also has various weapons. The most famous styles of the kung fu of Shaolin temple can be listed as:

  • small Flood style (小洪拳; xiao hong quan),
  • big Flood style (大洪拳; da hong quan),
  • Explosive style (炮拳; pao quan),
  • Through-the-Arms style (通臂拳; tong bi quan),
  • 7-star & Long Guard the Heart and Mind Gate style (七星 & 长护心意门拳; qi xing & chang hu xin yi men quan),
  • Arhat's 18 hands (罗汉十八手; luohan shi ba shou),
  • Arhat style (罗汉拳; luo han quan),
  • Vajrapani style (金刚拳; jin gang quan),
  • Facing&Bright Sun style (朝&昭 阳拳; chao & zhao yang quan),
  • Plum Blossom style (梅花拳; mei hua quan),
  • Emperor's Long-range style (太祖长拳; tai zu chang quan),
  • Guard the Home, also means Special, style (看家拳; kan jia quan),
  • Chain Hands and Short-range combat (连手短打; lian shou duan da),
  • 6-Match style (六合拳; liu he quan),
  • Soft style (柔拳; rou quan),
  • Heart and Mind (心意拳; xin yi quan) aka Confusing Path style (迷踪拳; mi zong quan),
  • Imitative styles (象形拳; xiang xing quan),
  • Drunken style (醉拳; zui quan), which is an imitative style,

and many other styles.

Each of these styles has one or a few routines which teach its special methods for actual combat (散打; san da) and keeping health.

Influence on other martial arts[edit]

Some lineages of Karate have oral traditions that claim Shaolin origins.[18] 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 (少林寺拳法) practised in Japan's Sohonzan Shorinji (金剛禅総本山少林寺) still maintains close ties with China's Song Shan Shaolin Temple due to historic links.[19] Japanese Shorinji Kempo Group financial contributions to the maintenance of the historic edifice of the Song Shan Shaolin Temple in 2003 received China's recognition.[20]

External Links[edit]

- Shaolin Yin Shou Gun - A segment of a staff form which had originated from the Shaolin Temple on Song Mountain. According to Meir Shahar, such techniques were the hallmarks of the temple's martial teachings during the first centuries in which martial arts were taught in it.

- Shaolin Jingang Bashi - A rare style originally taught at the inner court of the Shaolin Temple on Song Mountain. The style features a lot of movement commonalities to the large group of arts nowadays referred to as the 'Northern Shaolin' family of styles.


  1. ^ Canzonieri, Salvatore. "The Emergence of the Chinese Martial arts". Han Wei Wushu (23). 
  2. ^ Henning, Stanley (1999b). "Martial arts Myths of Shaolin Monastery, Part I: The Giant with the Flaming Staff". Journal of the Chenstyle Taijiquan Research Association of Hawaii 5 (1). 
  3. ^ Canzonieri, Salvatore (February–March 1998). "History of Chinese Martial arts: Jin Dynasty to the Period of Disunity". Han Wei Wushu 3 (9). 
  4. ^ Lin, Boyuan (1996). Zhōngguó wǔshù shǐ 中國武術史 (in Chinese). Taipei 臺北: Wǔzhōu chūbǎnshè 五洲出版社. p. 183. 
  5. ^ Tang Hao 唐豪 (1968) [1930]. Shàolín Wǔdāng kǎo 少林武當考. Hong Kong 香港: Qílín tushu. 
  6. ^ Henning, Stanley E. (December 1981). "The Chinese Martial Arts in Historical Perspective". Military Affairs (Society for Military History) 45 (4): 173–179. doi:10.2307/1987462. JSTOR 
  7. ^ a b Shahar, Meir (2000). "Epigraphy, Buddhist Historiography, and Fighting Monks: The Case of The Shaolin Monastery". Asia Major Third Series 13 (2): 15–36. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Shahar, Meir (December 2001). "Ming-Period Evidence of Shaolin Martial Practice". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 61, No. 2) 61 (2): 359–413. doi:10.2307/3558572. ISSN 0073-0548. JSTOR 3558572. 
  9. ^ Shahar, Meir. The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008 (ISBN 0824831101)
  10. ^ a b Henning, Stanley E. (Fall 1999). "Academia Encounters the Chinese Martial arts". China Review International 6 (2): 319–332. doi:10.1353/cri.1999.0020. ISSN 1069-5834. 
  11. ^ Chéng Zōngyóu 程宗猷 (c. 1621). Exposition of the Original Shaolin Staff Method 少林棍法闡宗 Shàolín Gùnfǎ Chǎnzōng (in Chinese). 
  12. ^ Henning, Stanley (Autumn–Winter 1994). "Ignorance, Legend and Taijiquan" (PDF). Journal of the Chenstyle Taijiquan Research Association of Hawaii 2 (3): 1–7. 
  13. ^ Francis, B.K. (1998). Power of Internal Martial Arts: Combat Secrets of Ba Gua, Tai Chi, and Hsing-I. North Atlantic Books.
  14. ^ a b Wong Kiew Kit (2002). Art of Shaolin Kung Fu: The Secrets of Kung Fu for Self-Defense Health and Enlightenment. Tuttle.
  15. ^ Woolidge, Doug (June 1997). T’AI CHI The International Magazine of T’ai Chi Ch’uan Vol. 21 No. 3. Wayfarer Publications. ISSN 0730-1049. 
  16. ^ Zhāng Kǒngzhāo 張孔昭 (c. 1784). Boxing Classic: Essential Boxing Methods 拳經拳法備要 Quánjīng Quánfǎ Bèiyào (in Chinese). 
  17. ^ Order of the Shaolin Ch'an (2004, 2006). The Shaolin Grandmaster's Text: History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch'an. Oregon.
  18. ^ Bishop, Mark (1989). Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques. A&C Black, London. ISBN 0-7136-5666-2. 
  19. ^ Japan's Sohonzan Shaolin Temple
  20. ^ Shorinji Kempo