The Shaolin Bandwagon

Discussion in 'Other Styles' started by 47MartialMan, Jul 15, 2015.

  1. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    Of my 40+ years experience, in the martial arts, nearly two-thirds, also contained continuous research of data related to martial arts, and its origins. In a discussion of Shaolin and Kung Fu, many controversies will be created. The subject of martial arts, its origins, the Shaolin controversy, are constantly being debated in the same nature as religion, sports, and world events.

    I am going to start with the reason that I started a research quest in the martial arts. Long ago, before the “almighty” Internet, publications were available. But there were limitations to perform searches for documented or recorded data, even per government. As friends and family knowing that I am a martial artist, would bequeath unto me, through gifts, many publications, such as books and magazines. This ever-growing private library, to state, contains over 150 books, and over 1000, magazines, statues, art, etc.,which at last value for insurance reasons reached into thousands. Which are only a replacement value and not a current one, per auction.

    Shaolin and Buddhism

    Based upon the many myths surrounding this unique place cause many misconceptions. There is a point that many people accept these as truths and the people who "*portray" monks nowadays as "true-authentic". People involved with Chinese associations and arts like Kung Fu, feel challenged and become offensive when anyone should speak out and indifferent to their beliefs. *Portray is subjected to what they are doing to what they should be actually doing

    The moment someone has something opposite view or attempt to refute these, no matter what logical discussions are provided, people want to cling onto their beliefs. People want to cling onto the illustriousness and their perception of the subject. They want to continue to believe for it continues their astonishment. It is in the analogy of a roller coaster ride, it is a thrill to be on it, but can have a reversed sadden feeling when it is over.

    To understand Shaolin is NOT to understand Gung Fu. One must research when Shaolin was built, why was it built, and where was it built. Not just a rhetorical response or answer, but an in-depth one has to be emanated. The assiduous research on Buddhism must remain as an integral part of the whole process.

    For the beginning years, in my martial art studies, I was told and found the existence of Shaolin. I followed the whole “watching animals” and “Bodhidharma” tale. (Which Bodhidharma was not the originator of Kung Fu, Shaolin, or Che’n /Ch’an/or Zen) Soon after, the entertainment industry had “caught up” with movies and television. One such television show that touched on Shaolin was the early, or newly developed series, Kung Fu. Many books and periodicals also jumped on the “bandwagon”, because they had seen a commercial value of it. This commercial value would not stop there.

    I had a Chinese Kung Fu instructor, one of a few, back between the late 60’s through the early 70’s, who were teaching me his "family martial art". Along with impressive skills and teaching, he had the same in his credentials on how he was qualified to teach. Because the Internet was not available, and because researching a teacher or lineage of such was not even thought of, his credentials went un-challenged for many years. His credentials were, he was from Henan and practiced at Shaolin. His instructor, a Shaolin monk, was the 27th Generation, Abbot, Xu Zhon Wei. Who had only five apprentice disciples, which not considered as mere students. This would make my Chinese Kung Fu instructor within the range of 29th to 33rd. I’ll come back to this.

    When I started college, in the later 70’s, I came across a person whom practiced, or was a follower in Buddhism. Ever so curious, as I had always been, I started communication with him and we had many discussions. After some time, to my surprise, he had explained that Shaolin, was not a authentic temple of Kung Fu as many martial art scholars laid claim. To state also, that such tales were elaborate and exaggerated from small facts, told by a raconteur. This was because, back then, it was the only means of entertainment in impecunious cultures or areas. To say with my mentality at that moment, I could not believe. I suppose I was in “denial”.

    His further explanation, per a Buddhist sutra (aka-sutta, doctrine) was told from one called the “Kalama”. Which deals basically with “blind following” and confusion. From this, my Buddhist acquaintance, or friend, went on to explain, that things need to be furthered researched for a better insight. And, that Ch’en or Ch’an Buddhists were self-sufficient whom “make their own way”. Which has one to ponder, “How can a Monk, from that sect, charge for fighting lessons (verses Meditation lessons)?” Another thing to ponder, from the further research on Ch’an/Ch’en Buddhism, has one to wonder that why would such a devotee, to such a temple, that had a specific origin and philosophy, meditation as insight to enlightenment, become one with a main affixation with teaching a fighting method for monetary compensation? And yet, such a temple, with its devotees, was in a remote mountain region, to escape contact of regular social order. Why would such, become known, through commercialism and other propaganda, to put forth claims of being a skilled instructor in fighting methods and do so openly?”

    Thus, with the newly discover information on Buddhism, and the Ch’an sect, with its relation to Shaolin, had me to further discuss such with that particular Chinese instructor. That instructor, though retired from teaching new students, still had many skills. And he and I enjoyed occasional conversations. I open the many discussion that I had with my “Buddhist Friend”. Therefore I went back to discuss this with said Chinese Instructor

    To which, my Chinese instructor stated, that his background is true, but he has some of his own mis-understandings. Such as:

    Though true, he had lived in Henan province in his early youth, with any family, teenagers had to go beyond their area to seek work. With that, he met some other martial art instructors.

    Though true, in those boyhood years, he did train “at” Shaolin with a monk. But here is where he, himself has some other mis-understandings:

    He had stated, training “at” Shaolin was different than today. Back in that era, around post WWII, being secluded from world events, he was somewhat fortunate. Also, he had met that monk, whom had 4 other village kids in practicing martial arts, right on Shaolin property. At that time, Shaolin was not visited frequently from the abundance of commerce, as it is now. He went on to state, that they had to “clean” their own area every time they were to practice. Looking back, he, himself, has some speculation if the monk was a true monk, especially one of the Ch’an Shaolin order.

    Until now, this Chinese instructor of mine, was in the mental state that he had trained “at Shaolin with a monk”. Thus, he had passed this mentality onto his students. Although somewhat true, it goes to demonstrate that it could have not possibly been "authentic" as one would be lead to believe. Does that make him less qualified? Does that make him not having skill? I would say not. But it does pose the question to all these other “Shaolin Instructors” and “organizations” that benefit on the name of Shaolin. Why can’t their skill alone be sufficient to demonstrate their ability without latching onto another name?

    Because of the huge commercial value at Shaolin, the Chinese government is happy to place individuals and structures, to promote this venue. Thus happy to document such individuals and send them also to many other countries. Shaolin is good business.

    My suggestion, to anyone, is to post questions and examine this info onto themselves. Research Buddhism and the Chan sect. Then compare that to many extreme religious orders that tend to profit from such exploitation. I invite any replies.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2015
  2. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    Okay, makes sense. A number of years ago, during one of my early visits to the PRC to visit with my wife's family, my FIL took us and a few other family members to visit a temple, which IIRC, was very far north of Beijing. How far north, I can't recall - I'll have to ask the wife if she remembers - I do know it had to be pretty far up as the local street vendors selling food often had an almost Caucasian (Russian/Slavic?) look to them. I could've sworn I saw a local woman with blue eyes.

    Anyroad, it was simply described as a Buddhist Temple. There was no sign of martial arts at all - though we had by no means full access to the place, in fact, it seems we were rather limited in the areas that we could go.

    The things that stood out to me were: 1) spending A LOT OF TIME on one's knees burning incense in honour of departed relatives. They had this area where visitors and tourists could do that and when Ba-ba and wifey weren't taking pictures ( which they did excessively ), they were burning incense in this large open room.

    I wish now I'd paid more attention but I warn't into any of that at the time and was knackered by the intense pace that my Chinese in-laws moved at when they took holiday and had just wanted the day to be over.

    2) Ringing bells. The only time I recall seeing more than a fleeting glimpse of a monk was when he did this bell-ringing ceremony. There were no crowds and no real show to it ( as they do in the west, for entertaining the crowds ). It was simple and dignified - for some reason that stood out in my mind.

    But there was no 'Kung Fu', Wu-shu or even physical training. It was simply burning incense and ringing bells.

    So in essence, the Shaolin ( the actual Shaolin monks of the time ) were simply a Buddhist sect that, through a mixture of a few basic facts, comedies of error and embellishment ( the modern public view being based almost entirely on the embellishment aspect ) have become almost synonymous with Chinese Martial Arts, when in fact, the association was far less and to the extent that there was MA being taught, it was a very insignificant portion of what this Buddhist sect were all about?

    Interesting. I'll have to come back and digest a bit more.
  3. SWC Sifu Ben

    SWC Sifu Ben I am the law


  4. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Great post Mr Man. I'll go out on a limb and say without a doubt most of what everything thinks they know about Shaolin is on close inspection not true when compared to materials outside the martial arts, or independently verified, but on the other hand a lot of what claims to be Shaolin-influenced is easy to "test". The Shaolin developed many arts of various forms, and art has decorated the temples for over a thousand years which is where some of their story was memorialized. Some martial arts schools certainly stretch the "connection" to Shaolin more than others. Hung Ga has a strong, old, and well documented lineage and links to Shaolin in terms of material (e.g. Shaolin meditation, qigong, weapons, and fist techniques in the curriculum). Then you have the strip mall "Shaolin dojo" schools where somebody dresses up as a monk and maybe brushed shoulders with someone else dressed up as a monk and so on...not much different than all the black belt and gi wearing karate masters out there for certain :) I'll bet some of these people trained with someone once who knew something or another about "Shaolin" but it's a very poor approximation.

    Undoubtedly though the martial prowess associated with the name "Shaolin" comes from the fact that the temple was a key military asset for many dynasties for obvious reasons. People came to Shaolin Si for all sorts of reasons: reflection, healing, enlightenment, or because they were ostracized. Fast forward a few centuries, and generals and soldiers are actively visiting, being trained there, manuals are being written, and even in some cases visitors are changing the training to be more militaristic! At at least a few points Shaolin was indeed a premiere place for training in combat and weapons...a lot of that ended up being documented in places like the Bubishi, later influencing other Asian cultures like Japan and Okinawa. The Tang Emperor who first dignified the Shaolin as warriors started a process by which they would remain cultural icons for another 10+ centuries until their final "disintegration" at the hands of the Ching government. And even then look at what happened! They spread beyond the Ching's grasp, outside China and to the greater world. Their influence had already spread far and wide partly on reputation partly on amazing physical prowess we've come to associate with them. No matter what happens at Henan today, or how commercialized or exploited it becomes, Shaolin is still equivalent in the minds of many of the "cleric/warrior", not unlike the Knights Templar. Few religious sects in history have been called upon consistently by government forces to fight against invaders foreign or internal, or become known for their fighting prowess. You mentioned Ninjutsu in another post, I think that's a little different with respect to the history and verifiability...a lot of Shaolin history is verifiable in fact it's fame in China is a large part of why there is so much literature out here (history, fantasy, and in between, given their "epic" nature). The Shaolin were like comic book heroes of ancient China, supermen with hands and blades even the most ragged ruffian would think twice about messing with. The Shaolin had a "street rep" and a lot of public support, which is why it was no surprise that by the time the Ching invasion had settled, the Shaolin became a more or less "underground" movement, splintering in to the various other movements that today (for better or worse), "represent Shaolin". Heck man there is a rap group in Staten Island New York that "represents" Shaolin", and at least one member who actually trains with Shiyan Ming, as "real" a Shaolin monk as anyone could find if they tried :) How well does the Wu Tang Clan "represent" Shaolin? You can have Chan without Shaolin but no Shaolin without Chan, so you brought up what is probably my favorite point...why bother calling it Shaolin without Chan? And if you're not at least somewhat in the ballpark of familiarity with Chan (meaning at some point you got transmission from the right person on some thing) are you "Shaolin"? You can jump all over the room and claim to be trained in "Shaolin Tiger Style" but without Chan what exactly are you doing but dancing around? Animal movements, weapons, this type of stuff is common to many martial arts inside and outside China. What makes Shaolin different is the focus on mental discipline and the physical discipline that comes with it...without that mental training and development of focus (which let's face it has a 1500+ year history, martial arts aside!)'s just not "representing Shaolin". Charging money for learning it I am kind of ambivalent about...anybody who teaches an art they've learned be it music, painting, or martial arts is reasonable in asking for a reasonable fee. $100 a month is perfectly acceptable to learn any art and some would consider that cheap! But then with things like the Shaolin "camps" that cost thousands of dollars, that's where the marketing ploys really show their presence. Shaolin martial art and training SHOULD be as cheap and "blue collar" accessible as it was in the 7th century! Anyone attempting to market or sell it as a luxury for the wealthy is suspect and not worthy of the name, in my view.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2015
  5. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    The military history of Shaolin Si in Henan (as opposed to many other Buddhist cloisters) is actually extensive. There are vast missing gaps in the middle of their history largely due to the fact that new dynasties in China enjoyed desecrating and destroying the records and temples and artifacts and even graves of the last. Shaolin Temple happens to be one of those places that was better preserved, largely due to imperial favor from one ruler to the next, and the fact that the Shaolin were often willing to fight to defend the public, and became famous for it along with their skills, as a sort of mercenary militia. Likewise they were endowed with favors, titles, government positions, land, treasure, and most importantly, imperial protection. That was pretty much a consistent theme from the mid first millennium all the way through the 18th and 19th centuries. Like an early cultural center it became a mixing pot of Buddhism, Taoism, and other ascetic practices.. and of course all of it occurred against a context of constant dynastic warfare. Shaolin is thus forever "marked" by association with war in the same way the Knights Templar are with the Crusades, and that reputation is in my view the chief cause of their continued association with martial art in China. Shaolin was never the "wellspring" of Chinese martial art, it took the place of cultural trading post, and not just in military matters but religion, philosophy, alchemy, and so on. So, many martial arts stories, both true and "tall tale" often find their way through Henan. But a truly objective historical review, if you look close enough, shows very similar activity in other provinces, non-Chan temples. War was literally everywhere in China. Much of what is today associated with Shaolin is truly Taoist, or "grew up" nearby as opposed to within the temple grounds themselves. Shaolin Si had a habit of being assigned credit for many things as an "umbrella" in the same way Bodhidharma was post-humously assigned credit for the creation of Shaolin kung fu styles, and as the temple's martial deity. Prior to his name being honored, all of that was associated with Buddhist warrior deities like the Vajrapani, whose mystical weapon in Indian mythology was eventually "changed" to the be the simple Chinese long staff the Shaolin are famous for.

    Meanwhile, Poor Sun Tzu who was never a Shaolin monk, is probably the most effective martial "artist" in Chinese history, never developed his own fighting style, but is one the most effective military commanders in world history so much so that modern generals still read and absorb his tactics, which are more broadly applicable than any hand to hand martial art I think can think, in 2015 :)
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2015
  6. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    There is a pride inherent in almost every culture. As with most social structures, or cultures, peoples within try to maintain the preservation through what is termed as tradition. Asian cultures seem to hold onto traditions as far as the "concept of face". The abstract concept of "face" can be described as a combination of social standing, reputation, influence, dignity, and honor. Causing someone to "lose face" lowers them in the eyes of their peers, while saving or "building face" raises their self worth.

    Chinese culture tries to continue until this day, maintain and encompass a cultural influence within the concept of "face". Simply, if something was wrong for centuries, it is looked upon and accepted as "old" or "tradition", rather than it being incorrect. China has accepted many different faiths of religion from that same view. Therefore, when it comes to the "Label of Shaolin", Chinese Martial Arts and Martial Artists tend to cling on the inaccurate term and its meaning (Also ref Kung Fu).

    Shaolin Gong Fu (Kung Fu) is not an authenticated martial art system. What people are misled by is that Shaolin was built to study the Chen study of Buddhism. It had no violent action or physical combat. Buddhist monks were peaceful. Bodidarma only taught them 3 Natas (translated by some scholars as Katas) to help their health for long hours of meditation.

    Shaolin was a sanctuary for rebellious fighting barons. Since these people were in there, they had to dress incognito as monks. From this, it could be logical to think that some disciple monks would train. The older monks (abbots) were not fighters. Perhaps, the head Monks/Abbots, allowed the fighting study per the psychological order of surfeit to suppress violent action resulting from satiety or disgust. In other words, if something is of excess, then the desire for it is expelled. Then again, if a Monk of the Ch'an, became a fighter, how does this align with Ch'an

    Now, Shaolin is propergandersized, commercialized, and abused like anything else that may have accredited or monetary value. False monks there are now recruited from local villagers/villages and imported Chinese Wu Shu practitioners to “put on a Tourist Show”

    Shaolin Gong Fu now represented, is like a Samurai Sword made in the 20-21st Century using modern and vast production methods, i.e. “Stainless Steel.” Or “Bowie Knives” made from 440 Rockwell Steel with a vinyl sheath. Or the leather World War Two Bombardier Jacket recently manufactured and sold. These items exist to sight and touch, but not as they were at first made and intended. Would you rather own the authentic one or a remake?

    Kung fu is a bad misnomer. It was first mentioned (reportedly) by a French Ambassador/Jesuit Missionary, Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, (1718-1793), during a visit to China. He had asked what it was the boxers were doing and out of humor one had replied “Gong Fu”. So the Ambassador/Missonary thought it was a fighting system and noted it in his written journals.

    A very scant few Chinese Chuan Fa Arts dismiss the term, along with the “Shaolin Bandwagon” altogether.

    I have researched texts and meeting with many Buddhist Practitioners, Buddhist Monks, and older Chinese Masters, all who have “opened my eyes”; with a “sting” I may add.

    So, where has per the Samurai Swords, Bowie Knives, and WWII Bombardier Jackets are remanufactured, so too Shaolin Kung Fu (misnomer). It existence through authenticity has been lost. Such the case of Shaolin Kung Fu, that a person is taught or subjected to believing that they are being taught. And, at a later time, they will also state and claim to teach Shaolin Kung Fu onto others. The dilemma is that while true: A.) Shaolin did exist. B.) Some monks of Shaolin did practice defensive or fighting methods. Shaolin did not originate as, and was not to exist as a separate martial art style. One has to only research the true development, existence, and the purpose of Shaolin. In actuality, Shaolin was built and existed for the Chinese to study and practice the Chan method of Buddhism. And for someone to make claim of being a martial art instructor or fighting monk of that monastery is totally having fallacy as to its real function. Senior monks and/or instructors should have knowledge and practice of Buddhist principles and disciplines.

    If one states that they teach or study Shaolin Kung Fu, for that matter, then every martial artist practices it also. For the claim is not one to represent an actual martial art, but to point out that the person making the claim, studies a martial art. Also, that the claimant want others to recognize that making such claim to support that their own art is authentic, better, or more intriguing.

    Iron Fist-I respectfully disagree with most of your post #4 (]not all) and your post #5 is very interesting. But I feel you are led down the road of romanticism and on the "bandwagon"
    As much as I dislike and paste from another thread;

    Bare in mind, as I had stated, I am not out to belittle.
    Somehow, some way, this romanticism has to come to a reality
    Ignorance is bliss and all that, does not imply to those who know the reality from certain untruths.

    For example; likewise someone going back to study TKD with their daughter
    There is no harm in learning, provided that what is represented is thoroughly understood and that there isn't false advertisement or non-accurate propaganda to intice

    On another example of certain prejudice;
    Why is someone slammed or challenged when they state they are learning from a Ninja Master, verses someone stating they are learning from a Shaolin Monk (the latter hardly being challenged)
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2015
  7. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    First and foremost, the Shaolin legends are romantic and that is not a bad thing whatsoever brother, but I am a student of both that as well as the historical truths buried therein.

    I will gladly support all my claims with peer reviewed research, feel free to ask specific questions be specific about what you disagree with in post #4 or #5 :) Most of what I write I am just paraphrasing previous research :)
  8. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    The paragraph is our friend.

    You've brought up many interesting points - too many to delve into in one sitting - but one in particular stands out at the moment as it is both an immediate practical issue for me and at the same time, it splinters into points and questions regarding the cultural makeup of present day Chinese - the reality contrasted against the romanticism as seen through the eyes of Western MA enthusiasts:

    I know this a tricky, potentially contentious question that cannot be answered in anything approaching absolute due to the many variables at play not to mention such things as cost of living index adjustments and so forth, but ... what would a reasonable, customary fee resemble?

    I'm coming from a boxing background and the sort of fees that I paid would probably be considered unrealistically low, I realise - $50 to $75/month, depending where you're at, for all the training you could stand, no belts to test for, no other kinds of fees except for licensure fees which went to the local boxing committee if you needed an ammy lic.

    Anyroad...I've nothing to really base what a healthy charge would be for a TCMA school, factoring out regional cost indices and the like.

    Contracts: We did a 6 month (which was our longest) at $50, monthly after that...our kid's TKD school in Ohio was month to month but that was a most unusual school in many aspects...I've heard horror stories regarding contracts :dunno:

    Are there a lot of fees associated with Kung Fu?

    I've been married to a Han Chinese (and her family) for over twenty years and I ... I want to be careful how I say this ... Wealth...the accumulation of wealth is highly regarded in Chinese culture. A man's duty to "accumulate wealth for the family" (meaning to pass down to future generations) takes on an almost...religious significance in ways that are not really understood by Westerners - not understood in quite the same way.

    I think that if anything, that is what makes a chinese monk truly unusual because the idea of selfless devotion to anything other than the rightness of being seen as a man who has fulfilled his purpose to accumulate wealth for the family runs counter to very deeply rooted, if not spoken, ideas in Chinese society.

    This is a simplistic, cartoon view shaped by my own cultural limitations but its the best stab at it that I can make this evening.

    So - to the point. Its a dichotomy in China that monks are highly revered yet do not engage in generating wealth. They are excused from that duty, that burden in some manner. Its understood.

    As rare as this would be in China, I don't see how one could find that isolated, cultural anomaly living here in the West. It takes a great deal of ambition for immigrants to uproot themselves from their homelands and immigrate to the West. It also takes a great deal of money, planning and family support.

    Its my understanding that, to the extent monks exist in the PRC, they are very poor, even by SE Asian standards and come from less than ideal backgrounds.

    One can find all sorts who train in a CMA, perhaps, that had some root in Buddhist antiquity but the idea of an actual Buddhist monk from a poor, isolated area in the PRC would be very unlikely, I would think.

    Am I missing something or have I confused separate issues?

    According to what I was told by some of my wife's family, there is a second group that is associated with Shaolin or some militaristic order - and those are the one's who did come to the West but their, whatever would be seen as a complete polar opposite from the image of the selfless, sacrificing monk - I suppose the 'darkside' of the force, would be one way to put it and from what I heard, guns - rather than martial arts, were/are their preferred choice for dealing with conflict.

    I'm sketchy about what I heard and undoubtedly have gotten much totally wrong, so I'll leave that before it becomes totally ridiculous.

    Back to the main point, how much and how about contracts? :)
  9. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Moved on MAP 2017 Gold Award

    Walls of text. All I see are walls of text.
  10. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    I'm laughin so hard.
  11. Johnno

    Johnno Valued Member

    I agree.

    Short, concise posts for the win.

    Leave 'em wanting more!
  12. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    Better than seeing "ghosts of dead people" :p
  13. ap Oweyn

    ap Oweyn Ret. Supporter

    Thread title corrected: BandwagoN

    Carry on. ;)
  14. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Hey folks just hopped in sorry for the walls of text I'll try to arrange my thoughts with a bit more structure. It does not come easy to me I tend to just keep writing and writing and.. :)

    My golden source for peer reviewed history on Shaolin is typically Meir Shahar, and his book does a great job of detailing the military and cultural history of Shaolin and its effects on China and beyond. I don't readily subscribe to what a lot of "martial artists" claim/teach about Shaolin because in most cases they're just wrong on a factual level. That can also apply to people claiming to be monks or trained by monks...these can often be the most factually incorrect folks, sadly. I take a more serious, down to earth approach with this subject, comparing claims with the anthro or archaeo record (which like all such studies, is not settled by any means...there's always more to dig up!)

    I am a student of anthropology with an interest in both the "romantic" and "verifiable" aspects of Shaolin, so I hate having to tell people, "no, that's not right". The facts about Shaolin are not too difficult to verify, they just swim in an ocean of non-facts or misinterpretations. Bodhidharma's role is probably the best example of that. Most people are not aware of how and why he became to be honored for various things, until you actually read the materials and understand the TIME LINE, and where and why certain changes are made in oral or written transmissions. You can't do that just by studying with one "Shaolin" teacher, or even knowing a real Shaolin monk. Neither of those people have typically done a real historical survey on the subject, instead they are just passing on what they were told.

    When I say Shaolin is "romantic" I refer to their status as cultural heroes inside and outside China, but if we "turn that off" there is still an amazing amount of archeological material to work from (albeit missing bits and pieces of certain dynasties, lost forever or perhaps just buried further than we've dug).

    Perhaps one of the most important FACT CHECKS available from the historical record is that Shaolin monks were human, and the "Shaolin ideals" are certainly not the reality. Shaolin monks ate meat, had sex, killed people, sometimes quite horribly. Although the Buddhist canon they ascribed to tended to forbid those sorts of things, they happened anyway. There was also, similar to the Christian churches, attempts to "white wash" certain things and events. Meat eating is probably an easy example to was "official" forbidden but done anyway. Life taking was forbidden BUT just as with Catholic doctrine, exceptions are made for soldiers.

    So, take care when ascribing things like purity, peacefulness, non-aggression and so forth to the Shaolin order. That may be more "romantic" a perception than the uglier physical reality, which is that they fought and killed and died for centuries in China, and few monastic orders in world history have such a violent history as the Shaolin do. On historical examination the order does not always seem to be very Buddhist, but of course that depends on your own definition of Buddhist. The Shaolin were more or less "militarized Buddhists" out of survival necessity.

    I like to think of the Shaolin as doing their best to stay Buddhist and Taoist against the backdrop of one of the most violent civilizations in history, a tall order. Like many other religious sects, the Shaolin were victims to circumstance. Like the Templar they were long honored, but eventually persecuted when the regimes changed. Today they are glorified by millions or even billions, but let's face it, self-glorification of that type is about as non-Buddhist as you can get. It's definitely a weird juxtaposition that an order with goals of selflessness and purity of thought would end up being considered martial heroes, but that's basically what happened. And I'm positive it upsets a lot of sincere Buddhists too, who see it as a cultural mangling.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015
  15. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

  16. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    This is still I think the best one.

    The staff sections in it were published in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies making it some of the best peer reviewed research out on the real history...and it does not cover the temple post revolution at all, really, it sticks to the record and contains a treasure trove of amazing Buddhist artwork that I think is important as anything else in the Shaolin legacy. The martial arts facet of Shaolin truly does hide a whole other dimension, but it's still pretty lengthy itself. Many famous generals wrote treatise about Shaolin, both applauding and critiquing their methods. In fact I'd even argue that no other Buddhist temple in China has had more written about it (fiction and nonfiction) than Shaolin Si.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015
  17. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    Agree. But this is only because of the popularity after the 70's with its association with martial arts.

    And there is nothing wrong with that

    But, again, I have to reiterate:
    I will not "completely dismiss" a school that claims or uses the terms Shaolin, Kung Fu, Qi Gong, Ninja-Ninjutsu, etc. It is that I am at odds with the incorrect representation made to entice, intrigue, and use erroneous propaganda through exploitation for commercial gain
  18. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    The 70's association is mostly cinema and so forth I'm not referring to that, really brother not talking about anything documented in the 20th century or beyond, I'm specifically referring to documentation and other material prior to the 20th. I believe if you check you will find that there is no other temple in China, Buddhist or otherwise, that is more commonly found across Chinese art, fiction, nonfiction, government and military record, as well as outside China. A great majority of that written material is surprisingly martial art related, from the Tang era military exploits of the Shaolin all the way though the early Ching artwork that illustrates Shaolin as an active martial academy as well as epicenter of Chan Buddhism. Maybe put ultimately, had the Shaolin temple merely been just any other Chan temple, we'd never have heard of it and wouldn't even be discussing it. But it's been special for a great length of time, part by circumstance, part by direct involvement in the development of that country (not to mention other countries like the Japan, Okinawa, the Koreas, and so on).

    Shaolin Si was certainly not the only temple of "note" in Chinese history, or the only one with military history associated with it. Certainly not all "fighting monks" came from or associated with Shaolin Si, but the "classic" temple certainly had the reputation both among the common folk as well as the other classes within Chinese social structure with the marriage of combat and chan/zen. I think that's what makes Shaolin relatively unique and interesting, but also a big part of the reason why a "bandwagon" exists at all. Shaolin is clearly one of the greatest cultural and historical treasures in human history, but also a very exploited one, so I agree with the disdain over "marketing" and so forth. If "Da Mo/Bodhi Dharma/Bodhi Tara" was around today he would certainly grumble about it all and smack some heads around, for sure. I'm sure I've told you before my personal insight is that the real treasure of Shaolin was never "kung fu", it was always Chan and the rewards of enlightenment.

    All the scripture, sutras, koans, military exploits, "quan fa" development, the dissemination of qi gong manuals and guides on daoyin and so forth, those are all merely fruits of Chan (and there are really too many to ever count if you look at greater Asia and beyond). I think you'd have to compare the influence of Shaolin si to something like the Renaissance or the Age of Enlightenment to find something as comparably prolific in the West in terms of the development of philosophy, art, literature. There are many parallels to explore, which is why I often find it more useful to examine Shaolin outside of the modern martial arts context, and more in the historical philosophical and military history context. You won't find a lot of that material "in class", what I think people tend to find instead is "supporting material" for whatever is being taught. For a martial art (be it kung fu karate muay boran and so on) that can be generally described as "the ancestors in this style kicked butts", and while that kind of claim is always open to skepticism, in the case of Shaolin, it just so happens there is a vast record of the monks from that particular temple "kicking butts", dwarfing the exploits of any other temple in the region or beyond. :) Still, it takes effort to strip all their exploits, fame, and so forth down to the simple, non-verbal truths that Shaolin Chan is supposed to exemplify...Shaolin is in a way a victim of their own success.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
  19. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    I think the BBC had a documentary named "Shaolin Physics". I wish I CAN FIND IT or perhaps purchase a dvd-(anyone with info on obtaining)
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015
  20. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    I've been wondering about this from the perspective of archival film. For example how do we really know how Long Fist flowed? Could it have been in a different way than we think? If one observes closely - much has changed in the way modern practitioners of western arts fight compared with the 1800's, etc.,. I'm also curious as to the true effect that BL and his flowing style and athleticism has actually influenced how we perceive ancient CMA to have looked like.

    Below are old archival footage from western boxing, wrestling and Muay Thai. Do similar films from Chinese boxing, Kung Fu - whatever term you wish, exist?




    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015

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