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Shaolin Temple History


Shi Guulin and Abbot Xi Yongxin

At the end of the 5th century, a monk named Ba Tuo, arrived in China from India. Emperor Xiao Wen of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), a devout Buddhist, had deep respect for Ba Tuo and ordered the construction of the Shaolin Temple at the foot of the Shaoshi Mountain. Here, Monk Ba Tuo would disseminate Buddhism in the peaceful surroundings of lush forests to Buddhists who came from all over the country. Ba Tuo not only on imparted and taught Buddhism, he also wanted his disciples to be intelligent, capable, and good at martial arts. His favorite disciples were Hui Guang and Seng Chou for their superior Kung-fu. Clearly, from its founding days, the monks at the Shaolin Temple practiced martial arts.

Later, Bodhidharma also a Buddhist monk, arrived at the Songshan Mountain and taught Zen at the Shaolin Temple. Facing the cliff on the peak behind the Temple, he sat in meditation for nine years. The monks grew weak from sitting in meditation for long periods so they created a series of martial arts to stimulate circulation and to limber up muscles and joints. Yi jin Jing (The Boxing of Limbering up Muscles and Joints), Arhat Boxing, Shiba Shou (18-Style Hand Exercises) were probably the earliest Shaolin Kung-fu.

By the end of the Sui Dynasty (581-618), the Imperial Court was tottering. In order to safe­guard the Shaolin Temple, a guard monk army was organized. The Shaolin guard monks headed by Zhi Cao, Hui Xi and Tan Zong rescued Li Shimin (598-649), the Qin Prince, captured Wang Renze, and forced Wang Shichong to surrender. After taking the throne of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Li Shimin offered official posts to the Shaolin monks, and issued an order that the Shaolin Temple would have guard monks. This is recorded in an inscription on a stone tablet at the Shaolin Temple.

From the end of the Tang Dynasty through the Five Dynasties (618­-960), the Shaolin Temple had a weak existence, but revived in the Southern Song Dy­nasty (1127-1279). During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), all monks at the Shaolin Temple prac­ticed martial arts, and Shaolin Kung Fu became well known nationwide. The Shaolin guard monks also took part in the fight against the Japanese invaders, and won several victories.

According to the description of Songshan Travel Notes written by Wang Shining of the Ming Dynasty, "There are over 400 monks in the Shaolin Temple, and all of them are good at martial arts." During demonstration, "the wrestling with fists and cudgels are flying in clouds." The martial arts training of villagers near the Shaolin Temple became very popular and promoted the development of Shaolin Kung-fu. Over the years, the essence of various schools of Chinese martial arts was integrated in the Shaolin Temple, making the temple a center of martial arts. The Shaolin School of martial arts came into being from years of development and became well known far and wide.

Besides the 172 routines of Shaolin Boxing, there are 72 techniques including 36 external and 36 internal exercises. The original woodcut edition of Shaolin Boxing Manual was preserved at the Shaolin Temple. But in 1928, the Shaolin Temple was destroyed by a fire, and all of the ancient books and records burned into ash. However, Shaolin Martial Arts at that time had already formed into a system, so most of the skills of Shaolin Martial Arts have been passed down to the present today. The new generation of Shaolin guard monks are unearthing the lost martial arts as they continue to inherit and develop Shaolin Kung-fu.