Shaolin - The History

Discussion in 'Kung Fu' started by Anth, Mar 27, 2008.

  1. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    The Founders

    For over fifteen hundred years the Shaolin Monks from China's Henan Province have applied the discipline of martial arts as a unique manifestation of their religion. The name Shaolin has become synonymous with the finest and most extraordinary feats of discipline, strength and courage; and with the growth in popularity of modern Kung Fu, the reputation of the Shaolin Monks has become established throughout the world.

    The Soldier Monks


    In the early years immediately following the founding of the Shaolin Temple in 495 AD, the first Soldier Monks created a set of eighteen different fighting actions - the original Kung Fu - which utilised all parts of their bodies. These were combined with the use of various weapons made from simple farming tools and were initially a means of providing daily exercise and as a form of meditation. Later they were used as a means of self defence.


    The Defenders

    Nowadays the Monks are renowned as much for their peaceful existence as for their elite fighting skills but, as in centuries past, they continue to practice their Kung Fu disciplines and remain ready to defend their Temple.​


    The Protectors

    As the acknowledged founders of Kung Fu, the Shaolin Monks have experienced a turbulent history. Over the past fifteen hundred years they have engaged in battles to protect the Chinese Emperors against warlords and foreign invaders and to defend their Temple against attack. Their involvement in these military campaigns further developed the martial art we know today as Shaolin Kung Fu.​


    The Monks Practice Martial Arts

    In the year 497AD the scholar monk Buddhabhadra (Ba Yuo in Chinese) left his native India and settled in the Songshan Mountains of Henan Province. He became very interested in Chinese Wushu (martial arts or Kung Fu to Westerners), although it is not known if he received any training himself. His disciples, Seng Chou and Hui Guang, however, perfected their skills, and according to historical records, Seng Chou was able to "walk a wall" and leap up on to a rooftop with one bound to demonstrate the formidable strength in his legs. For Hui Guang, it was said he could keep a shuttlecock in the air by kicking it 500 times without stopping while, at the same time, balancing on the rails of a well. Hui Guang and Seng Chou were the first Shaolin Monks to practice martial arts.

    The Monks Embrace Zen Buddhism

    Bodhidharma is the other famous character in Shaolin history. The Indian form of Buddhism, Hinayana, found its way into China in the first century BC, but didn't fit Chinese conditions. It was, therefore, not well received by the Chinese because of the differences between India and China, such as natural conditions, social customs, languages etc. But everything changed following Bodhidhama's founding of the Ch'an Sect. Ch'an is the Chinese form of the Sanskrit word dhyana, which means contemplative concentration, but is better known in the west by its Japanese rendition, Zen. Bodhidharma came to China in 527AD. There, he taught his disciples this new form of Buddhism, which was more suited to the Chinese culture and settled at the Shaolin Temple. Because the Shaolin monks embraced this new form of Buddhism, which is tolerant of most things except killing, robbing, looting and illicit sex, the Ch'an Sect spread rapidly and came to dominate more than 70% of Buddhist temples throughout the country.



    The Monks Provide A Retreat

    What contributed to the Shaolin Monks' awesome abilities was the geographical location and distinct historical circumstances of their Temple. Its location in the Central Plains of China became an ideal retreat for retired generals, assorted malcontents and fugitives from the law who were drawn to the Temple because of its tolerant atmosphere. Most of these people were already Wushu experts and could, therefore, pass on their skills to others. The Monks Become Soldiers

    The monks became soldiers to protect the Temple from bandits. At this time China's monastic economies were expanding as a result of royal patronage. The Temple grew considerably in size and importance when Emperor Wen Di of the Sui dynasty donated 1,648 acres of land on which it built exquisite halls and pavilions and acquired many employees and attendants to maintain and farm the extensive grounds. This obvious wealth made it a target for marauding bandits and thus the Monk-Soldier was born.




    "Dhamra Chakka" Wheel of Life

    In the last fifteen hundred years of China's history, these Buddhist Monks have participated in battles for the Imperial Government against warlords and foreign invaders. They were usually rewarded with more land or high ranking positions within the Imperial army. It was this mass participation in military campaigns that marked a turning point in the development of Shaolin Kung Fu.​

    Special thanks go to Triple A for allowing us to use information and photographs found on there official website
    Hans Larrave likes this.
  2. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    I do not wholeheartenly believe there exists authentic Shaolin Monks nowadays
  3. Brad66

    Brad66 Valued Member

    Authentic or not I like them and their art and philosophy. In my eyes they are great. I would call them authentic. Its what I do.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2009
  4. Fire-quan

    Fire-quan Banned Banned

    Let me ask you a question. If Westminster Abbey had its priests removed by force, then sixty years later, the Church took it back, and put new priests in, would they be authentic priests of Westminster Abbey?

    What makes a Shaolin monk authentic isn't unbroken tradition of teachers living at Shaolin; it's the religious tradition - as in, being an authentic Buddhist monk. There were fighting Shaolin Temple Buddhist monks as late as the twenties and thirties according to Zhao Dao Xin. If they were forced to live elsewhere for a few decades, does that negate their tradition?
  5. CKava

    CKava Just one more thing... Supporter

    The problem I should think Firequan is that in the case of Shaolin 'the Church' did not take it back, instead the government who ousted the priests 60 years previously then installed new priests and monks and developed the area into a tourist attraction. There may be proper monks there but I think being a bit skeptical is not a bad idea.
  6. 19thlohan

    19thlohan Beast and the Broadsword

    The bigger problem is that most of them , possibly all of them, are not even monks. They are college students that are paid to shave their heads and work for a tourist attraction.

    Also the history of Shaolin given above is fiction.
  7. Brad66

    Brad66 Valued Member

    I may be wrong, But i do know that through history shaolin and the monks have falen in and out of favor with the chinese government. The temple was burned several times both the northern and southern temples and the monks were killed. All I know is I enjoy it and thats the history ive always heard.The Monks can do some really amazing things. I give them credit for what they do.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2009
  8. Fire-quan

    Fire-quan Banned Banned

    The appointment of senior clerical figures in the Church of England is closely controlled by the British Government. The Archbishop of Canterbury is, if I'm not mistaken, appointed by the Prime Minister.

    These issues have always been complex - it's a bit of a Western fantasy to think that major Buddhist temples in China were somehow independent before Communism. Just like, we now think it terrible that the Chinese Government appoints Tibetan Lamas, whereas, the Chinese government has been involved with the appointment of senior Lamas for generations. The relationship between state and religion is rarely completely separate.

    Having said that, I'm sure there are some fake monks. The Chinese coach I trained with trained at Shaolin as a child, and said that behind closed doors, there are indeed some serious Buddhist monks with high level martial art, but that they tend to be in authentic seclusion. There's a monk nick-named 'the Tiger of Shaolin' who was left at Shaolin as an orphan, and has superb martial arts.

    I think we should also remember that in Asia, a Buddhist 'monk' doesn't always mean the same as a Western monk - look at Thailand, where lots of young men take time out to be a monk, before getting married etc.
  9. CKava

    CKava Just one more thing... Supporter

    You have a fair point about the relationship between religions and state authorities however I wasn't arguing that no such relationship existed. I was arguing that your analogy comparing Shaolin to a fictional scenario didn't hold up for the reasons I identified, namely, Shaolin was never reclaimed by anything analogous to 'the Church', it was instead 'restored' by the CCP.

    You're right that it is a fantasy that major temples were entirely independent however it is equally false to suggest that the situation today is just the same as it has always been. There were times when Buddhism was the official religion of the Chinese dynasty just as there were times when it was persecuted, there was however no time until the rise of the CCP when the China's official state policy was atheism and general hostility to religion. This approach has however softened in recent years yet it's still fair to say that religion in China is still a heavily state controlled endeavour.

    As for the Chinese government appointing Lamas emmm... well Chinese dynasties have been involved in the politics of Tibet many times in the past and have offered support to various lamas and been involved in Tibetan politics however it certainly has not been common for China to directly select and appoint their own chosen figures over those selected by the leaders of the traditions themselves. The fact is that whatever way you slice it China's current involvement in Tibet's general and religious affairs is not historically the normal state of affairs.

    And in regards to 'monk' meaning something different in different societies that is true. However, the Mahayana tradition in China does have quite a long history of celibate monks. Thailand is also quite a different scenario given that it is a Theravadin Buddhist country and that it's temporary ordinations are a substantially different thing than taking full Buddhist vows. On top of that fully ordained monks in Thailand are required to be celibate! Nevertheless it is fair to say that not all Buddhist monks are required to be celibate... but it's a bit of a non-issue as being a gymnastic actor or martial artist who performs for tourists is, under any definition, not a monk and this is what many of those at the present day Shaolin site undeniably are.

    There may be genuine Buddhists and Buddhist practice there and I don't doubt that this is the case however again I think being skeptical is the appropriate position to take.
  10. Fire-quan

    Fire-quan Banned Banned

    That's slightly different to what I stated. I think the Chinese government does in fact have a very signifcant role, historically, in selecting at least some of the senior Lamas. There's a 'Dragon Urn' or something like that - sorry to be so vague - where they put names of candidates in. The real politic is that Beijing has long been involved with the appointment of Lamas.

    Point being, we see the appontment of the Abbot of Shaolin by the Government as a Communist outrage - which it may be, but in reality, appointment of senior religious figures by the government is part of the way China worked, long before communism.

    All your other points are well made, and I accept them. My coach was offered a tour of America, pretending to be a Shaolin monk.
  11. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    In looking upon the authenticity, we must look upon what was Shaolin built for, and practiced there for its main intention.

    Just because some kid trained there under someone in martial arts, doesnt make them a authentic Shaolin Monk.
  12. Brad66

    Brad66 Valued Member

    Yes i realise this and im not a monk, i dont want to be a monk,and i never claimed to be a monk, but i look up to them and you got to admit they have some serious skill.
  13. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    Anyone training in a martial art with deidcation has some "serious skill"

    The thing is these people are capitalizing on something that wasnt for intentions of being. I think people are too naive, gullable, and hold on to awestruck.

    They are not Shaolin monks in true authenticity. They might as well let their hair grow, wear regular workout clothes, and partcipate in tournaments.

    Oh no, but, they wouldnt be able to market themselves. :bang:
  14. Brad66

    Brad66 Valued Member

    OK i can agree with marketing it, but who isn't. Every martial arts school is a business and that takes marketing to be successful. I also realize the Chinese government is corrupt but politically in the united states we have to remain friends with them. China has alot to share with the world and so what if they make a little money long the way. Look what the united states does. Besides whats the difference between looking up to the monks in kung fu and every aikido,aikijutsu,and juijutsu (sp) School looking up to the samurai? We all have our heros. Remember we all charge for martial arts classes.
  15. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    You seem to be missing the point. A Buddhist Monk, which Shaolin was built for, people practiced, is not supposed to be disposed with marketing and personal gains. The thing is these people are capitalizing on something that wasnt for intentions of being.

    I have no ill feelings about someone marketing themselves. But I had studied Buddhism, and these monks are a charletain disgrace.

    Decades ago, I fell for the Shaolin Monk thing. A friend turned me onto this,

    And I went from there. I went as far as to even study Buddhism. (Against immediate family wishes)

    Knowledge of martial arts, should not be observed from a first hand observation, but more in depth.

    One of my instructors always has stated:

    "Don't take my word for it, research for yourself"
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2009
  16. Brad66

    Brad66 Valued Member

    Your right. sorry. When it comes to Buddhism you have a good point.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2009
  17. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    I am not trying to "rain on anyone's parade". But it is what it is. (Hmmn, good analogy - a parade)
  18. benkei

    benkei Valued Member

    Just to clarify for you guys re the dragon urn, at one point a few hundred years back China controlled Tibet just as they do now and appointed their own process to select a new Dalai Lama (not just a random senior lama). They are planning on using the exact same method when the current Dalai Lama passes, which as all Tibetans have said, will be meaningless because it will simply be the governments way of further destroying what is left of Tibetan religion and culture.
  19. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    And this has what bearing upon Shaolin?
  20. tifire

    tifire New Member

    They are monks, just not "real" monks. I say not "real" because Shaolin monks including the abbot (or the head) are more commercial than they should be. There are hundreds of martial arts schools near Shaolin Template claiming they can teach authentic Shaolin Kunfu. The abbot of Shaolin is more interested in "selling" Shaolin heritage including Shaolin Kung Fu. They tour around the world. They collect money from tourists and pilgrims.

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