The Real Shaolin Temple Comes to America
New York Shaolin Kung Fu community changed its face forever this
July 8, when the fabled Shaolin Temple opened its first American branch
in Flushing, Queens. The Temple will be run by The Society of Shaolin
Temple, under the leadership of Master Shi Guo Lin. On the same day,
the newly formed Society created an alliance with the American Center
for Chinese Studies, led by myself, Master Frank DeMaria. The Society's
mission, and the purpose of the alliance, is to teach and develop the
practice of Ch'an (Zen) meditation and the martial arts through classes,
lectures and seminars, all open to the public.
The creation of the Society and the union between the two schools are
the first steps in a massive campaign to bring authentic Shaolin skills
and philosophies to the American public. Master Shi Guo Lin and I
believe that these skills and philosophies have been hidden behind the
Temple's walls long enough, and the Shaolin Temple has sanctioned our
efforts to release them to the world. To begin our endeavor we have
arranged a series of informative interviews designed to shed light on
the true teachings of Shaolin, and to promote the methods and goals of
The Shaolin Temple Society.
For more messages from Grandmaster, see the Archives.
Also, since the inception of our web
site numerous e-mails have been received questioning various aspects of
Shao-lin training. These too are answered. The amount of material is
very large and will be presented here in a series. We have selected the
most important and meaningful questions received over the years. Because
of the large amount of material presented here we did not attempt to
separate the questions into specific categories, but broke them down
into sections entitled: Styles and Techniques, Wu De Ethics and
Master Shi Guo Lin, the Society's Director, entered the Shaolin Temple
in Henan, China at the age of 15. He has attained the ranks of Master
Shaolin Fighting Monk and National-Grade Master of Qigong. Master Shi
Guo Lin's instructor is Shi Yong Xin, the present successor to the
Abbotship of the Shaolin Temple. My instructor was the renowned Shuai
Chiao Grandmaster, Chang Tung Sheng. This is the transcript of our
first interview. Master De Maria's questions are indicated by "DM,"
and Master Guo Lin's responses are indicated by "GL."
Grandmaster Frank DeMaria (left) Master Shi Guo Lin after becoming brother schools
DM: First, please allow me to formally welcome you to the United
States. It is truly a pleasure to have you here in New York. When you
came to the United States, you visited a number of martial arts
schools. Why did you pick The American Center for Chinese Studies as a
Brother School, and what are your goals for this alliance?
GL: I have visited many organizations since coming here to the US, and
the American Center for Chinese Studies has made the greatest
impression. The ACCS teaches both Buddha Dharma and the Martial Arts,
and we share the desire to spread Ch'an and the martial arts tradition.
I believe it is Karma that Master DeMaria and I met, because our
beliefs and purposes are so similar. Together, we can spread the
ancient traditions of the Shaolin Monastery, cultivate the mind through
Ch'an Meditation and strengthen the body through Chinese martial arts.
We are both strong advocates of the harmonization and unification of
Ch'an and Shaolin Martial Arts.
DM: You are the first one ever to have obtained recognition from the
Head Abbot of The Shaolin Temple for the sole purpose of setting up a
branch of The Shaolin Temple in the United States for spreading the
true Shaolin Kung Fu to the American people. Is the new Shaolin Temple
Society the only official representative of the authentic Shaolin
Temple in Mainland China?
"I believe it is Karma that Master DeMaria and I met, because our
beliefs and purposes are so similar." - Master Shi Guo Lin
GL: A lot of people outside of the Shaolin Monastery try to use the
name "Shaolin," which may either harm or benefit the name of the
Shaolin Temple. However, many of these people do not understand the
true meaning of the term "Shaolin Martial Arts." I was given full
responsibility by the newly-appointed Abbot of The Shaolin Temple and by
the Honan Province Buddhist Association to represent the Shaolin
Monastery here in the US, and to teach the true meaning of the practice
of martial arts. My purpose is to spread the true meaning of the
practice of Shaolin Kung Fu. The Society of Shaolin Temple in
Flushing, New York is, therefore, the first organization outside of
Mainland China to be the official representative of The Shaolin
Monastery in spreading the true Shaolin traditions.
DM: The American people have heard a great deal about the legendary
Shaolin Temple, and you went there to become a monk at a very early
age. Could you please tell us why you decided to become a monk, and why
you chose to go to the Shaolin Temple?
Grandmaster Frank DeMaria (left) Master Shi Guo Lin exchanging brotherhood awards
GL: I come from a Buddhist family, and my village is near the Henan
Shaolin Temple. This is why I chose the Shaolin Temple. Also, I began
studying the martial arts under my father when I was very young. It
was then that I developed my love for the martial arts. Having a great
interest in Buddhism and martial arts, I decided to study them both at
the Shaolin Temple. This met my spiritual needs and fulfilled my desire
to train in the martial arts.
DM: I understand that you come from a Buddhist family and were raised
with all the Buddhist traditions, such as never eating meat and
following the precepts of the Buddha. Yet, you were still very young
when you decided to join the Shaolin Temple. What did your family think
about your leaving home at such a young age to become a monk?
GL: Even though I was raised in a Buddhist family, I was a natural
vegetarian. Lay Buddhists are not required to abstain from meat, but
even as a child, I would get nauseous at the sight of meat. I never
liked it. And when I left home to become a monk at the Shaolin Temple,
I had the full support of my parents. Because I was a natural
vegetarian, my parents thought I had a very strong Karmic affinity with
Buddhism, so they had no problem with me becoming a monk. My
grandfather also agreed with my becoming a monk and it was he who sent
me to the Temple.
DM: We know that the Shaolin Temple is about 1500 years old. Could you
give us the exact year it was built and by who's order?
GL: The Shaolin Temple was built in the year 495 A. D. by order of the
Emperor of the Northern Wai dynasty, for a high ranking monk from India
"The Temple's primary
concern is teaching of the Buddhist doctrines. Many fail to understand
this simple truth." - Master Shi Guo Lin
DM: Do many of the Chinese people today in mainland still want to
become monks, and is Buddhism still a driving force in China?
GL: Even today many people still want to go to The Shaolin Temple to
become monks. But many of them want to become monks for the sole
purpose of learning Shaolin martial arts, and not for studying
Buddhism. Actually, it is very difficult to become a monk at the
Shaolin Temple. Fortunately, I now see a revival in Buddhism in China.
DM: What makes it so difficult to get into The Shaolin Temple?
GL: We at The Shaolin Temple know that many young people go there for
the sole purpose of learning the Shaolin arts. The Shaolin Temple is
primarily a place for Buddhist learning, so we are very careful about
the motives of the people who come to the Temple. The Temple's primary
concern is teaching of the Buddhist doctrines. Many fail to understand
this simple truth.
DM: Why is Shaolin Kung Fu so unique to the Shaolin Monastery? Why do
other Buddhist Monasteries throughout China not teach the martial arts?
GL: Historically, The Shaolin Temple has taught martial arts as a
vehicle to further the spiritual cultivation of its monks. Other
Temples did not use this method of aiding their Buddhist cultivation.
DM: Is it true that not all of the monks at the Shaolin Monastery
practice the Shaolin arts? Is it a choice that each monk makes when he
enters The Shaolin Temple?
GL: The majority of the monks at the Shaolin Temple do study the
martial arts to aid their cultivation of Ch'an. However, there is a
minority of monks who do not practice the martial arts.
Instead, they may practice Chi Kung to enhance their health. But
generally speaking, most who come to Shaolin take advantage of the help
the martial arts gives in spiritual cultivation.
Martial Arts and Spirituality
DM: How does the practice of martial arts help in spiritual
GL: The study of martial arts requires great concentration. When a
person focuses his mind on practicing his martial arts, he clears his
mind of all distracting thoughts. This is analogous to Ch'an
meditation, where a person tries to settle his mind of all distracting
thoughts. This also involves the question of "body and will." Even
when a martial artist practices his form with his body in motion, he is
still cultivating his mind. It is the same with meditation. When a
person sits in meditation, he is cultivating his mind even though he is
motionless. In the martial arts, a person is in motion, yet is still
cultivating his mind.
"The practice of
meditation and the martial arts are only phases a cultivator goes
through in his search for enlightenment." - Master Shi Guo Lin
The Buddha said that there are "84 thousand Dharma doors," meaning
that there are many ways for a person to cultivate his mind towards
enlightenment. From this it follows there are many expedient paths
that one can follow in self cultivation. That is why the Shaolin Temple
chose martial arts to be a vehicle for meditation. The practice of
meditation and the martial arts are only phases a cultivator goes
through in his search for enlightenment. Whether we use meditation or
martial arts, we are still cultivating our minds.
DM: How would you respond to the media-driven impression of most
Americans that Shaolin is mainly a fighting art, something used only to
enhance one's self defense abilities?
GL: When we see Shaolin Kung Fu in the movies and on television, we
must remember that this is only theatrical showmanship. Because it is
entertainment they are trying only to bring out the excitement of the
arts. However, a true practitioner of Shaolin does not focus on
violence. A true Shaolin monk uses the martial arts for his search for
true spiritual cultivation, and to help others in their personal search
for inner peace and enlightenment.
DM: Does this mean that a Shaolin Monk would not use his martial arts
for self defense and, if he did, to what extent would he use his
GL: Of course a Shaolin Monk would use his Shaolin Kung Fu to defend
himself or his
monastery. However, a Buddhist monk has to follow the principle of
showing compassion to all living beings. He would not go as far as
killing or maiming anybody. He would try to inflict the least damage
possible to any person who causes trouble.
DM: In the past, it has been said that there are some Shaolin monks who
have taken lives in the heat of battle. Would you say what we have read
and heard is false?
"A Shaolin Monk who needlessly kills cannot represent
Buddhism in general." - Master Shi Guo Lin
GL: The Shaolin Temple has a long history, so it is likely that in the
past a Shaolin Monk has indeed taken a human life. However, this was
done during periods in history where it could not have been avoided.
There were times of war when outsiders were trying to plunder the
Shaolin Temple. But a true Buddhist monk does all he can to avoid
taking a life. A Shaolin Monk who needlessly kills cannot represent
Buddhism in general. In addition, a monk might take a life, but in the
spirit of a Bodhisattva, that is, he does so to save the lives of
others, takes responsibility for what he has done, and willingly accepts
the karmic consequences of his actions.
Northern and Southern Styles
DM: I have heard there is more than one Shaolin Temple. One in the
North of China and one in the South of China. In fact, some say there
is even a third Shaolin Temple. What can you tell us about this?
GL: Yes, this is true. The Temple in the South of China is located in
Fujian Province . I have heard that there have been as many as ten
Shaolin Temples in the past, but these were all branches.
DM: What is the difference between the Southern Kung Fu and the
Northern Kung Fu?
GL: Although the Southern Shaolin Temple does practice what you would
call "southern style," and the Northern Shaolin Temple practices what
you would call the "northern style," the underlying Kung Fu principles
are the same.
DM: We understand that the underlying principles such as inner power,
balance, coordination and proper flow are the same between all arts, but
how would you explain the outward differences in appearance between
Northern and Southern techniques?
GL: There is a difference in the use of technique. You have heard the
phrase, "Southern fist and Northern legs," indicating that the two
Monasteries take different approaches. However, the difference is
mainly a matter of emphasis.
DM: Many American martial artists say that the Northern techniques are
better than the Southern techniques, and others claim the opposite. How
would you respond to those preferences?
Chen Tai Chi Master Ren Guang-Y (from left), Gwolin, Grandmaster DeMaria and a
member of the Shaolin Temple member
GL: I believe the Southern styles have a greater emphasis on the fist,
and Northern styles favor the legs. But from my experience at the
Shaolin Temple, I really believe that there is no difference in quality
of techniques. Both in fact are equal, each as good as the other. It
is mainly a matter of taste which makes people choose between them.
DM: Many would argue with you that the forms differ greatly between the
Southern and Northern schools. How would you explain the differences
GL: I agree that forms do change from school to school. However, I
think that this does not change the underlying principles, which make
all of Shaolin excellent. This underlying principle is Ch'an
cultivation, which is inherent in both schools. Ch'an will always
remain Ch'an, no matter which school it comes from.
DM: Your answer makes it clear that both Northern and Southern schools
share the same excellence of technique. But you also mention there is
in fact a difference in the various forms of each style. Where did
these differences come from?
"Form and structure
are not what make Shaolin great. The mind makes what we do great."
- Master Shi Guo Lin
GL: I think that the differences come from the differences in history.
There are many factors which contribute to the change in styles, such as
weather, terrain, habit, and customs. So many people have contributed
to Kung Fu's growth throughout the centuries that it is no wonder there
are so many variations in form and structure. But form and structure
are not what make Shaolin great. The mind makes what we do great. This
mind I talk about is common in all Shaolin, both North and South.
DM: I have heard that there may be as many as 360 styles of Shaolin
Kung Fu. How many would you say have been recorded and taught at The
GL: At present, approximately 200 forms are practiced at The Shaolin
Temple. There may very well be more than 360 different styles, but we
have focussed on about 200 of them.
DM: Do you think it is possible for any one monk to learn more than one
hundred different forms and retain then all?
GL: Because we train intensively each day, it is possible to learn and
retain over 100 different forms from various styles. This is made
possible because of the total dedication to practice and mind
GM:> Of all the many martial arts in the world today, is it Master Shi
Guo Lin's feeling that the Chinese Shaolin arts are the most
sophisticated and most effective?
GL: I personally believe that the Shaolin arts are among the best in
the world. This is so because the very essence of the martial arts is
concentrated in Chinese Kung Fu.
DM: We have been told that Chinese martial arts are in fact the
forerunners of all martial arts, and that Karate, Judo, Taikwondo and
the others are all but extensions of the Chinese arts. Is this true?
GL: It may very well be Shaolin martial arts have a 1500 year history.
During this time, the Shaolin arts have been transmitted to every
corner of the globe. Therefore, I feel it is safe to say that Shaolin
is in fact the mother of many styles of martial arts.
DM: You agreed that Shaolin is a very effective and sophisticated art
form. Taking that a step further, do you think it is the art form that
makes a person great, or the person that makes the art form great?
GL: I think it is both the art form as well as the person that makes
the martial artist great, but what a person learns is also of utmost
importance. One man can not possibly learn all the styles of Shaolin,
but the Shaolin arts have had the time to undergo improvement after
improvement, making each form very powerful and effective in and of
itself. If a man is naturally good and he has a poor style, the man
cannot excel. However, if a man is not good, with a good style he can
learn to be good. Of course, natural talent always plays a role in
everything we do, but the style also counts a great deal.
DM: Who is the head of the Northern Shaolin Monastery and how is he
Master Shi Guo Lin (right) and Rev. Shi Yang Xin
GL: Right now, The Shaolin Temple does not have an official Abbot. The
last Abbot passed away in 1987. My master, Rev. Shi Yang Xin is the
acting Abbot and successor to the past Abbot. Although he has been
appointed the next Abbot, and has taken on all the duties of the Head
Abbot of The Shaolin Temple, he has not yet been sworn in.
DM: Who decides who will be the Head Abbot of The Shaolin Temple?
GL: In the past the Head Abbot was appointed by the Emperor after
being chosen by the present Head Abbot to be his successor. However, in
the absence of an Emperor, the Chinese Government has the
responsibility. My teacher, Shi Yang Xin was chosen by the last Head
Abbot as successor. The Chinese government recognizes this, and we
expect he will soon be officially sworn in as the new Head Abbot.
DM: What are the Head Abbot's main responsibilities, and does he also
practice the Shaolin arts?
GL: The Abbot oversees all the activities at the Shaolin Temple. and
Yes, he also practices the Shaolin arts, and happens to be an excellent
DM: You acquired the title of Head Coach at the Shaolin Temple. How
did you get this title and who appointed you to this position?
GL: Two reasons. First, the young monks at The Shaolin Temple are my
martial arts brothers and I had their trust and respect. Of course,
there are other monks at The Shaolin Temple whose kung fu skills are
even better than mine, so that was not the only reason. I am also the
senior disciple of my teacher. For these reasons, I was selected to be
DM: What are your responsibilities as Head Coach?
GL: The main responsibilities are to oversee the daily meditation and
Kung Fu practice.
DM: The robes that Shaolin Monks wear are all of different colors.
Does this indicate rank in the Shaolin Temple?
GL: The robes I believe that you are referring to are called the
"jia-sha" an outer toger worn over an inner rob. The color of the jia-
sha does signify rank. Generally, monks who wear a red jia-sha are
ranking. There are also different types of jia-sha that are made up of
various numbers of strips of cloth. For example, the Abbot can wear a
jia-sha made of twenty-five strips of cloth. There are also jia-shas
of nine strips, seven strips and five strips. All monks are supposed to
have a set of these three types (9, 7, 5 strips) of jia sha to be worn
for different occasions.
DM: Americans tend to associate rank with color belts worn in
Karate-type systems. If Shaolin monks do not use color belts, how does
Master Shi Guo Lin indicate rank with his students?
GL: The Shaolin Temple does not have a formal ranking system such as
the belt system. A person who has achieved a high level knows he has
done so, and does not need a belt to show others. A person's rank is
not shown on the outside, but rather is shown in his heart and physical
DM: In American martial arts schools, a student is taught both
classical form as well as self defense techniques. Is this the same
practice in Shaolin Temple?
GL: Yes. At the Shaolin Temple, the monks are taught much the same
way with forms, self defense, Chin Na and so forth. However, I feel
that here in American these techniques are not complete. The
cultivation of the mind is missing. This is the complete way.
Techniques and forms are only part of the total scope of Shaolin. At
Shaolin, we also have meditation, which clears the mind. A clear mind
can see and react much quicker than a clouded mind. This is what
enhances techniques and form.
DM: You know that in America street violence is somewhat different
than in China. Here, an attacker may be armed with a gun. How does
Shaolin handle American-style violence?
GL: If a person confronts me with a gun, the circumstances will
determine the outcome. If there is a great distance between us, there
is little I can do, for one pull on the trigger will take my life.
However, if the distance is short between me and the gun, there are
methods for me to use to disarm the assailant.
DM: There are numerous types of martial arts weapons by both the
internal and external styles. Which types of weapons are taught in the
Shaolin Temple, and why are these chosen over the many types that are
GL: I feel there is no difference between internal weapons and external
weapons. In fact, there is little difference between weapons at all.
If a person picks up a weapon and it is not coordinated with his chi,
the weapon is useless. Which weapon you choose to learn is not as
important as the inner chi that controls the weapon. However, to answer
your question, the main weapons are the staff, spear, Jen and Dau.
Although we do use other weapons, these are the most common.
DM: Tournaments are very popular in America. Is there tournament
competition among the monks? If not, why?
"The true purpose of martial arts is to improve our character and to
help us reach enlightenment.."
- Master Shi Guo Lin
GL: No, we do not have formal competition at The Shaolin Temple. We do
have personal sparring between monks to test our skill levels, but the
purpose of martial arts is not to see who is better or who is worse.
The true purpose of martial arts is to improve our character and to
help us reach enlightenment.
DM: Master Shi Guo Lin has been in American a few years now. What is
your general opinion of the state of martial arts in America?
GL: I have met many martial artists here in America, and I feel that
many of them overemphasize the physical aspect and neglect the spiritual
training. The practice of pure violence can never bring inner peace.
However, if the physical skills are tamed by a clear and calm mind, the
benefits can be greater than you can imagine.
DM: American martial artists are always searching for the so-called
"original styles" of Kung Fu. Each school claims they have the
"original style," unchanged since its inception in Shaolin. How would
you respond to those who seem to think the original of anything is
always the best?
GL: No matter what form one practices, the one thing I see that is lost
is the original meaning behind learning forms. Also, "original" does
not necessarily mean "best," for Shaolin is always improving with time.
Originality is not the question. The real value in any style is the way
the internal meaning is understood.
DM: Shaolin is most known for its "external" art forms, but we also
know that the so-called "internal" arts were in fact derived from
external Shaolin Kung Fu. Does the present day Shaolin Temple practice
any internal arts such as Tai Chi, Pa Kua or Hsing-I?
GL: Many people see the so called "hard styles" and equate them with
"external" martial arts, and "soft styles" with "internal" martial
arts. In reality, there are no differences between internal and
external martial arts. External martial arts include the internal
factors, and the internal martial arts include the external factors.
This is Yin and Yang. You can not have Yin without Yang nor Yang
without Yin. In The Shaolin Temple, there is a Kung Fu called Jin Gang
Chuan which means "Adamantine fist." This style is very close to what
people understand as the "internal" martial arts. The term "Jin Gang"
is a translation of the Indian Sanskrit "Vagra"
which refers to an invincible substance, hard like a diamond, likened to
the Buddhist Doctrine.