Northern Shaolin Temple - Honan Province (He Nan Si)

Southern Shaolin Temple - Fujian Province (? Si)


Wudang Temple - Hubei Province (Wu Dang Si)

Emei - Omei Temple (E mei Si)

Shantaung Temple (Shan Dong Si)

Kwantung Temple (Guang Dong Si)

Hua Temple (Hua Si)

Fukien Temple (Fu Jian Si)

Shaolin History: The Buddhist and /Taoist Legacy of Shaolin's Fighting Monks

                The ancient Shaolin Temples may be compared to a martial arts university. Each temple had several
Shaolin Masters who were experts or specialists in a particular area of training. Thus, the students could learn from the best in every field. There were 3 classes of Shaolin devotees namely monks, priests and practitioners. The most difficult part was to gain admission to one of these temples. Young students had to wait outside the temple for an eternity before they were accepted or rejected based on their temperament and attitude based on the monks discreet observations. They had to endure months or years of doing menial chores before they were accepted as disciples. Those accepted would receive an education in philosophy, fine arts and the martial arts.

In order to graduate from the temple, they would have to exhibit phenomenal skills and pass through 18 testing chambers in the temple. If they survived the first 17 chambers, they would have to grip an iron couldron with their bare forearms and have the raised relief of a tiger and dragon burnt into their arms. These marks were the signs of a true Shaolin Master.

For thousands of years the Shaolin Masters drew upon their experiences to refresh and renew the Shaolin art with new styles and forms of training. At the same time, the priests and practioneres instructed worthy laymen in various styles. In time, many of these laymen initiated their own variants of the training they had received. The priests and practioners also brought back to the temple innovations in the martials arts that they encountered in their travels.

The following are the various temples that existed at one point in time and a brief list of styles attributed to have been developed by them.

     Northern Fist, Ground Dragon, Monkey, Praying Mantis, Cotton Fist, Eight Drunken
     Immortals,10,000 Lotuses Blooming, Golden Snake, Staff, Spear, Jointed Sticks, Single
     Broadswords, Double Broadswords, Tiger Hook Swords, Double Edged Sword, Three Sectional,
     Chain Whip, Double Daggers, Double Hand Axes, Single and Double Butterfly Knives

     Southern Fist, Golden Centipede, Sparrow, White Monkey, Wild Horse, Iron Bone Training, Iron
     Palm Training, Iron Shirt Training, Short Fist.

     Shantung Black Tiger, Tan Family Leg Techniques

     White Crane, Eagle Claw, Golden Cock, White Swan, Ostrich.

     Tiger-Crane System, Fist of Ch'a, Golden Roaches, 10,000 Bees Attacking.

     T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Pa Kua Chang, Hsing I Chu'an, Liu Hsing Ch'uan, T'ai Chi Broadsword, Spear, Ta
     Mo Sword and Double Sword and Spear, Seven Star Sword.

     Classical Fist of Hua, Modern Fist of Hua, Chang Ch'uan.

History of the Shaolin Temples

Very little is known about the Shaolin Temple and its training regime. The most credible history states that when Emperor Hsiao Wen of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534) located his capital at Loyang, he built the Shaolin Temple on the northern side of Shao-shih Mountain south of Sung Mountain in Honan Province. Here it was that Bodhiruchi translated Buddhist scriptures intoChinese, where Tamo was reputed to havestayed, and where Hsuan Tsang (because it was "a very quiet place") wished to repair on his return from India with more than six hundred volumes of Sanskrit scriptures.

The Temple had twelve upper and lower courts and was ringed almost completely by mountains, festooned with bamboo, cassia and cedar trees, and laced with waterfalls. The western terrace was where Bodhiruchi did his translations and where Tamo meditated. At the end of the Ta Yeh period (A.D. 605-617) thieves attempted to burn the pagoda containing Tamo's remains. When it would not burn, everyone regarded it with awe.

Tamo (P'u-t'-ta-mo or, as he is generally called, Bodhidharma) is a great, if mysterious, figure in both boxing and in Ch'an (Zen). Beyond the fact that he actually lived and came to China, little is known about him. Even the traditional histories are not consistent regarding details of his life. He traveled to China in about A.D. 500. After a visit with the Emperor at Nanking he proceeded north to the Shaolin Temple in Honan. It is said that for nine years he sat facing a wall, listening "to the ants scream". He is represented in art as a man of almost demonic power. Once when meditating he fell asleep. Legend has it that this so angered him that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground, whence sprouted tea shrubs, the leaves of which thereafter were used by the monks to
deter sleep. He died at a ripe old age.

Tamo's boxing role is even more ambiguous than his Ch'an role. It is said that the blue eyed monk became disturbed by the inability of the other monks to stay awake during meditation. To counter this tendency and to improve their health, he purportedly introduced exercise, which were the forerunner of Shaolin boxing. Now it is known that boxing existed in China before Tamo's coming, but how systematized it was in moot. He is said to have left two manuscripts, only one of which has come down to us, the Muscle Change Classic (I-chin Ching). No verification of Tamo's authorship exists for this and the available versions are of a much later time. W. Hu states that the earliest mention of it in literature goes back only to 1835.

Of much more pertinence than the dating and authenticating of the various versions of the Muscle Change Classic is its relevance for boxing. The exercise detailed in this work are static tensing postures, calisthenic in nature and function. If it is assumed that Tamo created them - and this is impossible to prove they remain distant from boxing tactics. Therefore, it must be concluded that Tamo probably did not introduce boxing.

Some authorities state that there was a second Shaolin Temple located in Fukien Province. Said to have been built by a priest named Ta Tsun-shen over one thousand years ago, much of the data on this temple cannot be verified. D. Bloodworth is merely one of a long line of tale - spinners when he relates the story that the monks at the Shaolin Temple in fukien chopped the wood for their stoves with their bare hands, because monks in Buddhist monasteries were forbidden by their faith to use knifes or axes. Indeed, the chief monk was reputed to have said: "We may not have knifes, so make every finger a dagger; without spears, every arm must be a spear, and every open hand a sword".

Tradition has it that during the reign of Emperor K'ang (1662 - 1723 ) imperial troops sent against marauding bands in the western border areas were defeated. When the Emperor asked for volunteers, 128 of the Fukien Shaolin monks responded and routed the enemy without themselves suffering a single casualty. Subsequently the Emperor was persuaded by Manchu officials to send a force against the Fukien temple on a purported charge of sedition. The temple was burned and only five monks survived the battle. Out of this grew the anti-Manchu Triad Society or Hung League, with the battle cry "overthrow the Ch'ing and restore the Ming".

Both temples reportedly were burned down by the third Manchu Emperor, Yung Cheng, but rebuilt by Ch'ien-lung (1736 - 1795). Temple burning is not unusual in Chinese history, and the Shaolin Temple may have been burned and rebuilt earlier also. For example, in the great persecution of the Buddhists in A.D. 845-6 some 4,600 large temples and 40,000 minor ones were destroyed. Despite the burning, the Shaolin Temple was the hub of boxing activity for more than a thousand years. Shaolin boxing originally contained eighteen forms. Emperor T'ai Tsu (r 960-76) reportedly evolved thirty-two forms of Long Boxing and Six Steps Boxing off the basic core. A century later Monk Chueh Yuan modified the system further to embrace seventy-two forms. The Shaolin Temple was not only a repository of boxing knowledge and a rigorous training academy but, as important, a stimulus for other boxing styles. Graduates of the Shaolin Temple spread boxing to every part of China.

Wan Lai-sheng, an excellent boxer but an uneven historian, has outlined Shaolin as follows: THE FIVE SCHOOLS. All used five basic forms: Dragon, Snake, Crane, Tiger and Leopard. The five schools, O-mei han, Wa-tang, Fukien, Kwantung and Honan. Subsequently, Wan says, Shaolin split into northern and southern types and boxing of the south was embraced in five schools: 1. Ta-hung Men, 2. Liu-chia Ch'uan, 3. Ts'ai-chia Ch'uan, 4.Lchia Ch'uan, and 5. Mo-chia Ch'uan.This break-down is disputed by historians and is given here only because it parallels traditional belief, particularly in the south.

Buddhism & Taoism in China

As early as the year 65 AD, the first Mahayana Buddhist community had settled in China along the ancient silk trade route between India and China. This settlement was built during a time that China was composed of many feudal kingdoms. Many of the common people as a result were on troubled times and had converted to the simpler and older beliefs of Taoism, which preached the individual search for a higher form of physical and mental existence based on withdrawing from daily man-made traditions and instead finding a path in the natural elemental and spiritual forces of life. Many had became disillusioned with the countless artificial rules of conduct decreed by Confucianism and Legalism, which believed in solving socio-political problems through regulations and laws. Taoism caught the attention of the common folk who already believed in the cycles of nature and the existence of spiritual forces, and it spread rapidly throughout China, especially in its southern regions.

Mahayana Buddhism also believed in the futility of worldly ways, but instead preached the endurance of suffering through spiritual pursuits such as prayer, scripture reading, and good works in order to reach the final emancipation promised by Nirvana (Pure Land of Bliss). When Buddhism reached China, it first attracted the attention of scholars, courtiers, and the nobility, appealing to their intellectual sensibilities. Thus, started the beginning of Indian culture and philosophy influencing Chinese custom and thought. By the year 316 AD, China was divided into warring tribal states and much strife occurred as barbaric tribes invaded the north. The time period became characterized by a great revival of religious fervor of all types and many temples and shrines were built throughout the land. Buddhism gradually spread, as did Taoism. In fact, Buddhism became such a powerful force that violent power struggles broke out between adherents to Taoism and Buddhism.

Over time, Mahayana Buddhism in China and India became more entrenched in ritual and religious dogma. People believed that translating scripture and performing elaborate rituals and good works alone assured one of a place in 'heaven". Dhyana Buddhism developed in Southern India and it preached a return to purer spirituality and a more austere and conservative demeanor, where salvation could only be achieved by inward nlightenment. Material things were secondary and so was a blind following of scriptures, deities, and good works without true understanding of their intent. Buddhidharma, legend has it, the 28th Indian Patriarch of Buddhism, left his country to preach Dhyana views in China. Sometime in the early 500s AD, he reached Nanking (near Canton in south China) and spoke with the Buddhist Emperor Liang Wu Ti of the Liang southern dynasty. After unsuccessfully trying to enlighten the Emperor by telling him that his good works and scripture translating were artificial and done in vain if they were made solely for the purpose of gaining entry into "heaven" and not truly heartfelt, he left and crossed the Yangtze River to northern China. There he sought entrance to Shaolin Temple, staying until his death in 539 AD.

The Head Monk there feared his reformist type of Buddhism, which viewed book learning as irrelevant, would disrupt the monastery's traditional views and workings and refused him entry. Buddhidharma stayed outside the temple in a cave and meditated continuously. He dedication to his beliefs earned the respect of the head monk and he was allowed entry after a number of years. Once there, he preached the Dhayana views that Supreme wisdom had nothing to do with performance, rituals, or translating scriptures, but instead came from deep meditation and natural living. He opposed the Chinese ways as highly ritualistic and ceremonial extravagance.

Buddhidharma soon saw that the weak physical state that the monks were in (because they neglected their bodies to be pious and humble), would make long periods of meditation impossible. He explained that the body and soul were united; one cannot be catered to at the expense of the other. Legend has it that he introduced the idea of physical fitness as part of meditation with systematized exercises to strengthen the body and mind together by invigorating the intrinsic vital life force (called 'Chi' - "energy" - in Chinese). These early calisthenics were known as the: (1) Muscle Change Classic or Change in Sinews; (2) Marrow Washing; and (3) Eighteen Hand Movements of the Lohan or Enlightened Ones. The idea that the breath could be regulated and then used to promote invigorating physical changes in the body that produce stamina and endurance was a major development towards welding physical movements with health benefits (known as Chi Gung).

Taoists held similar beliefs and practices concerning the cultivation of Chi, breath, and physical movements (known as Nei Gung). Taoist priests and scholars found other similarities with Dhayana Buddhism and were soon attracted to the Shaolin Temple's teachings and came to study there. Taoism taught the avoidance of direct force through contemplation and natural reasoning and saw merit in Shaolin's peaceful and non offensive philosophical foundation. Eventually a hybrid form of Buddhism, called Ch'an in Chinese (and Zen in Japanese where it also soon spread in popularity), emerged that exhibited Buddhist structure, based on insightful editational reasoning, and Taoist embellishments, based on their Five Elements cycle, the theories of the I Ching and the Ba Qua diagrams, along with a merger of various deities and spiritual beings (such as the Eight Taoist Immortals, etc.).

In fact, a Shaolin monk named Hui Neng, who lived from 638 to 713 AD, had early on become known as the real father of Ch'an Buddhism (Bodhidharma became known as its First Patriarch) because of his successful blending of Dhayana Buddhism with the already prevalent Taoist thought of the learned. Both were essentially paths to immediate enlightenment and total spiritual thought and it was not difficult to follow the two paths concurrently, since they did not cling to religious dogma and personalities.

Various Emperors took up either Mahayana Buddhism or Taoism. But, most Emperors, civil servants, and court members instead practiced Confucianism and Legalism since it supported their rulings more than a spiritual route would. Because of their non commitment to worldly ways, Buddhists and Taoists were not trusted by these governmental peoples. So, periodically, it became unsafe to preach one of the other philosophies as temples were dissolved or burned down regularly over the centuries. It was safer for Taoists to stay at Shaolin and the Ch'an Buddhism practiced there was not to far off from their own ideas. Then, during the T'ang dynasty (618 - 907 AD), Mahayana Buddhism reached its peak and started ebbing while a popular form of Taoism began to rival it (which was based more on the worship of spiritual beings and the supernatural). By the end of the T'ang dynasty, Mahayana Buddhism lost its momentum and played a minor role in all subsequent dynasties. At Shaolin, Ch'an Buddhism became its own unique sect, followed by the select few that lived there.

The Legacy of Shaolin

China again saw a decline in the martial arts, as they were generally discouraged during the post war period. Some martial artists were killed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, which attacked anything old as part of "feudal and superstitious" days. Many left China as best they could and entered into Hong Kong, America, and other parts of the world, spreading ideas that had their roots in Shaolin far and wide. After the 1970s, at Mao's death, the government eased its views against martial arts and a government sanctioned style of gymnastic, sport oriented "martial art" was instituted, known as Wu Shu. The traditional Chinese martial arts were given great scrutiny and many studies commissioned to catalog its many styles and preserve its history. The original Shaolin Temple was even rebuilt and had it doors opened for tourists to see. Monks were allowed to return and older monks were allowed to resume teaching the surviving Shaolin Martial Arts.

As its practitioners were dispersed, we today were able to enjoy bits and pieces of Shaolin's surviving teachings outside of China. Much of Shaolin's history is enshrouded in legend or is still lost waiting to be rediscovered by those interested in preserving its traditions. The practice, and eventual mastery, of the Shaolin Temple's Ch'uan Fa (Boxing or fighting methods) is a great legacy that has been handed down through the centuries for about 1,500 years. So much so that today Shaolin Ch'uan and other traditional Chinese martial arts are considered a Chinese national treasure. Shaolin is now known as one of the foremost fighting systems in the world. Its methods and ideas have spread all over the world (Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Hawaii and the continental US, Europe, Australia, and even Russia) and influenced the development of many other martial arts (karate, kempo, Jujitsu, silat, kung fu, etc.).

The legacy of Shaolin is both simple and profound, which is that there is more to the martial arts than fighting. Shaolin through its Buddhist and Taoist roots, united two things with the fighting arts: health and virtue. Health is received through the vitality that the breathing and physical exercises bring the body by developing the Chi (and medicinal practices such as herbalism, tui na, acupuncture, etc.). Virtue is received, through the promotion of spiritual pursuits that meditation, philosophy, and the teaching of moral ethics bring the mind by developing the higher powers. Together, they unite the two (body and mind) as one soul. As one can see, through all of Shaolin's trials and tribulations, it has always continued to evolve to fit the times and to teach those that have need of its lessons. By practicing and mastering traditional kung-fu techniques and forms, we are able to receive direct transmissions through time from the original fighting monks of Shaolin. Few are lucky enough to have the opportunity to receive a legacy that has been handed down generation by generation, person by person.

The Shaolin Animals

The 'classical' and 'non-classical' animal styles are all complete fighting styles based upon the movement and characteristics of animals familiar to the Shaolin monks (the dragon, is, of course, mythological). Each animal embodies a particular range of strategies. A well-rounded fighter is assumed to be familiar with all the animals, in order to be able to choose strategies appropriate for different situations. Monks traditionally specialize in one style that is well-suited to their physiques and characters.

The five classical animals each correspond to a particular aspect of training, and each embodies a strategy.

Strengthens the bones. Relies on frontal assault, aggression, and power. Lots of breaking, ripping, and tearing.

Trains for muscle strength. More precise than the tiger. Relies on great muscular strength. The Leopard employs many crushing techniques and a lot of internal strikes with the hands. It gets in close to do it's damage.

                              White Crane:
Trains flexibility. Prefers to work at a distance from the opponent and at angles off-line from his attacks. Requires great flexibility for its attacking and evasion techinques. The Crane has excellent balance and is very at distrubing the balance of others. It has strong wings and uses them often and effectively.

Trains spirit. Uses simple, basic techniques with a challenging strategy of movement complementary to the opponent's (when he advances, I retreat; when he retreats, I advance). Prefers zig-zagging motions. The Dragon has a lot of floating motion and a lot of swinging around and whipping.

Trains qi (Internal Energy). The Snake goes for vital points. The eyes and throat being common targets.

The non-classical animals are more concerned with particular strategies and techniques, and not as much with an all-encompassing worldview of combat. Nonetheless, they include some very fine fighitng systems.

                              Praying Mantis:
Praying mantis style is a very famous style, developed in the 1700s by a fighter named Wang Lang. He supposedly developed it specifically to defeat the monks of the Shaolin Temple. The story is that he had been a very successful fighter who decided to test himself against the monks and failed miserably in his first fight. He then supposedly devoted years of his life to developing a fighting system with which he could defeat them. The result, we are told, is Praying Mantis style (named, it is said, the praying mantis whose defeat of a much larger cicada inspired Wang Lang to study its movements) The monks, in a pattern that was repeated many times in history, adopted the resulting style into the curriculum of the Temple.

Praying Mantis as we learn it is a combination of a set of sophisticated deflections, counters, and grappling movements with Monkey style footwork (see Monkey style, below). The fundamental strategy of Praying Mantis is to wait patiently for an opening (often in the form of an attack), then tie the opponent's arms with a grappling technique and strike into soft areas and nerve centers.

                              Shaolin Bird:
Shaolin Bird style is one of the older fighting styles, being derived from the very old Lo Han style by way of the later China Hand style that seems to form the basis of much of the familiar Korean and Okinawan styles. (Many of the movements in Okinawan karate and such styles as Tang Soo Do closely resemble movements in China Hand and Shaolin Bird styles).

In Shaolin Bird style the hard, linear strikes and kicks of Lo-Han and China Hand first begin to acquire some of the circularity and fluidity that is characteristic of many later Chinese styles.

The strategic assumption is Shaolin Bird style is that the opponent is larger and stronger. The Bird stylist compensates by leaping in to deliver a flurry of strikes, and then leaping back out of range; or, again, by goading the opponent into a charge and sidestepping while striking. Bird style relies on quick transitions between low and high attacks and stances, sudden reversals of direction, long-range jumps to cover ground quickly, and well-developed stamina. Bird forms emphasize elbows and finger thrusts to soft targets.

Monkey style is an advanced style that demands much of its practitioners. Like Shaolin Bird style, it assumes that the opponent is larger and stronger, and compensates by making it hard to reach or hold onto its practitioner. The Monkey stylist jumps, flips, rolls, and climbs to avoid his attacker. He attacks from peculiar angles, and contorts his body to strike when the opponent believes himself safe.

A monkey stylist, if faced with an opponent who likes the lunging attacks and strong stances of, let us say, a Shotokan stylist, might sidestep the lunge, climb onto the opponent's knee to elbow into the head, and then dive into a roll to escape retaliation. Monkey stylists strike with the backs of the forearms, with the elbows, and with hook kicks and ape kicks (like a front snap, but twisted inward to strike like a roundhouse, but with the leg turned the opposite direction). Monkey stylists like to tease their opponents into rash action and take advantage of their rashness.

                              Eagle claw:
Eagle claw style is an animal style derived from the grappling art of Shaolin Chin Na. It relies on very powerful seizing, pinching, twisting, and locking techniques to immobilize or punish an attacker. Eagle claw stylists work hard on developing their grips to facilitate application of painful locks and nerve pinches. Like jujutsu, Eagle claw employs leverage and joint manipulation to defeat an opponent.

                              Other styles:
There are many more Shaolin animal styles. A suggestive list might include White Ape, Wild Horse, 10,000 Bees, and Golden Centipede.