According to legends these Five Ancestors of Shaolin escaped from the first burning of the Shaolin Monastery, but there was no mention whether it was the northern monastery in Henan Province or the southern monastery in Fujian Province. Jisin Simsi, or the Venerable Chee Seen as I spelt the name elsewhere in my webpages, rebuilt the monastery, which was recorded to be at the Jiulian (or Nine Lotus) Mountains in Fujian Province This monastery was also later burnt by the Qing Army with the help of Lama monks from Tibet. Many masters today think that the Five Ancestors of Shaolin escaped from the northern monastery
It is illuminating to compare this popular legend with available facts. It is now established that there were at least two Shaolin monasteries in China, one in Henan which is now restored by the present Chinese government, and the other in Fujian which is no longer standing but its original site has been found.
Historical records show that the northern Shaolin Monastery was burnt three times. The first two times were in the distant past, and the last time was in 1928 when a warlord set the temple burning for more than two months. But before this time, Shaolin Kungfu was no longer practised in this northern monastery. The third burning was because a rival warlord used the temple as his base. Not much was recorded about the southern monastery except that Shaolin Kungfu was keenly practised there and it acted as a revolutionary centre to overthrow the Qing Dynasty.
As the last burning of the northern monastery was during the early Republican period (1911- 1945) and not during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was not feasible that the Five Ancestors escaped from this northern monastery. There could be a remote possibility of another burning of the monastery before this but not recorded in history. However, even this remote possibility is negated by the fact that the type of kungfu practised and passed on to posterity by all the Five Shaolin Ancestors is characteristically southern Shaolin, not northern.
There are two more relevant and interesting facts. One, the southern Shaolin Monastery was at Quanzhow, and not at the Jiulian Mountain. Modern Chinese archaeologists have found its site, and the present Chinese government has erected a stone-tablet to mark the site. Nothing, yet, has been found at the Jiulian Mountain. Two, historical records show that this southern Shaolin Monastery at Quanzhow was built by imperial decree during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and not by the Venerable Chee Seen during the Qing Dynasty.
Piecing together evidence from both historical facts and legends, I believe that the Five Shaolin Ancestors escaped from the southern Shaolin Monastery at Quanzhow. The Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery was then a rallying centre for revolutionaries against the Qing government. According to legends, the Manchurian prince Yong Cheng infiltrated into the southern Shaolin Monastery as a kungfu monk. After familiarizing himself with the secrets of the monastery as well as of Shaolin Kungfu, and after becoming the Qing emperor, he dispatched an army with the help of kungfu experts from Tibet to raze the monastery to the ground.
Later, a lady kungfu master named Lui Sei Leong infiltrated into the palace, fought her way single-handed through layers of imperial guards and assassinated the emperor Yong Cheng, who himself was a kungfu expert. Lui Sei Leong then renounced worldly life and became a nun. Some people believed she was Ng Mui. Ng Mui wandered over China but spend much of her time in Yunnan. Her two favourite disciples were Yim Wing Choon, who later founded Wing Choon Kungfu, and Foong Sai Yoke, whose mainstream training was from the Venerable Chee Seen.
Pak Mei was a Taoist priest although he trained in the Shaolin Monastery which was Buddhist. He escaped to Er-mei Mountain in Sichuan where he developed Pak Mei kungfu. His two outstanding disciples were Li Pa San, who later initiated Li Ka (or Li Family) Kungfu, and Kou Chun Choong, the military governor of Guangdong and Guangxi.. Later Pak Mei supported the Qing government and led the attack on the Shaolin Monastery built by Chee Seen. Pak Mei was a great fighter. He was expert in many arts, including Golden Bell and Tongzigong, or Child's Art. Dragon Style Kungfu was initiated by him.
The Venerable Chee Seen (Jisin Simsi) was the only Buddhist monk of the Five Shaolin Ancestors. Through hard work he rebuilt another southern Shaolin Monastery at Jiulian (or Nine Lotus) Mountain, but the Qing Army caught up and burnt it too, led by Pak Mei and his disciple Ko Chun Choong. Chee Seen had many distinguished disciples, and his best ten are mentioned below.
It is not surprising that no archaeological evidence has been found for the Shaolin Monastery at Jiulian Mountain. Even in modern times before the northern Shaolin Monastery was restored by the present Chinese government and the site of the Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery found, many people, including many Chinese, though that the Shaolin Monastery was only a myth, without concrete reality.
The fourth of the Five Shaolin ancestors, Fung Tou Tuck, was also a Taoist priest. After the burning of the Quanzhow Shaolin Monastery, he fled to Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province, where he developed the Wudang version of Shaolin Kungfu . This Wudang Shaolin Kungfu is usually shortened to Wudang Kungfu, which one must note is different from the Wudang Kungfu of Zhang San Feng a few centuries before him. Fung Tou Tuck sided with Pak Mei and joined in the attack on the Shaolin Monastery at Julian Mountain.
Miu Hein was the only lay person amongst the Five Shaolin Ancestors. He escaped to Guangdong where he spread his Shaolin specialty, the Shaolin Flower Set. His only daughter, Miu Chui Fa, a lady kungfu master, was one of the two female disciples of Chee Seen, the other being Li Choi Ping. Miu Choi Fa's third son was Fong Sai Yoke.
According to the southern Shaolin tradition, once a year disciples engaged in free sparring to choose the best ten fighters who would sit in ten special chairs on both flanks of the monastery hall. (This tradition was carried on by my master Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, but was later discontinued.) The "ten great disciples", or "sap tai tei tze", of the Venerable Chee Seen were the Venerable Harng Yien, the Venerable Sam Tuck, Hoong Hei Khoon, Luk Ah Choy, Miu Choi Fa, Thoong Chein Kern, Lin Swee Hin, Fong Sai Yoke, Li Choi Ping and Ma Ling Yi. Please see more information below.
The tenth great disciple was responsible for filling a gigantic symbolic oil lamp, which would last for a full year. One year, Ma Ling Yi was drunk and broke the lamp while performing his duty. He was punished, but he bore the grudge deeply. He left the monastery secretly and told its secrets to Kou Chun Choong, who later organized an attack on the monastery.