The Threefold Training of Shao-lin
What to Look for In a True Shao-lin Kwoon
Shao-lin Kung Fu there is a deep relationship between ethics, religion
and philosophy. The true purpose of its study is to find the subtle connection
between the mind, body and spirit. It is an intensive search into "Who am I?" ,
"What is my purpose in Life?" and "Where am I going?" To answer these
profound questions takes a deep investigation into the self. It requires a
change within the human perceptions of life. Only the best of efforts can accomplish this noble
breakthrough. Only the three scale training of true Shao-lin offers
the solution to the above stated inquiries. Only if your Shao-lin
teacher (Sifu) has experienced this type of training will he or she
know the true Way1. If these three requirements are not satisfied
you will never realize the truth. With this truth Shao-lin takes on a
totally different meaning than you may be aware of. When the true
meanings become clear and evident to you, there will be a major
transformation within you.
When the truth of Shao-lin training is seen for what it is, then a
whole new meaning emerges from the term Self Defense. We come
to learn there are in fact three forms of self defense. The first is
defense of the body, the second is defense from the mind and the
third is in defense of ones spirit nature. To learn the truth of which
we speak you need a guide and teacher who himself has found
truth. By knowing the truth the teacher has the potential to point
the Way to you. If on the other hand your teacher is not trained in
the inner meanings and purpose of Shao-lin Ch‚uan, you will falter
the whole of your life only to be caught in the web of body and mind.
Those who are acquainted with the true traditions of the Shao-lin
Temple in China know that the Shao-lin monks combine their
martial arts training with inner development of both mind and spirit.
In the Shao-lin Temple there is the realization that the practice of
Ch‚uan Fa can greatly help the monks in their practice of the
Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. By the study of "Chuan Fa" (Fist Method2)
the monks are better able to integrate the body and mind
to work together in a harmonious manner. Although, we all like to
think we are in control of our selves, the teachings of Buddhism and
Taoism exemplify the constant battle and disunity of mind, body
and spirit. When we become aware of the haphazard interplay of
the three states of being, we gain the ability to deal with this
interplay and take the necessary steps to correct this disunion.
The Shao-lin monks profess that although we perceive body, mind,
and spirit as separate, they are in fact, all one. The body is that
which we perceive ourselves to be with our senses. The
fundamental characteristic of the mind is the ability to have beliefs.
The spirit is thought to be the vehicle that transports us from
existence to existence. In the Shao-lin Temple each of the three
states of being are studied separately, then integrated slowly till
the three become united in purpose. This integration is
accomplished by three methods: Ch‚uan Fa which tempers the
body, meditation to observe the workings of the mind, and spiritual
studies which nurture the spirit. By the Ch‚uan Fa practice the
monks learn about the body‚s weaknesses and strengths, its
potentials and limitations. With the methods of Chan meditation the
monks gain the insights about the monkey3 mind and how it effects
our perceptions of reality. By the spiritual studies the monks
learned the true meaning of harmonious living with all of nature and
their fellow man. Contrary to what some may believe, fighting just
for the sake of fighting was not taught in the Shao-lin Temple. Of
course this does not exclude use of the martial arts for defensive
purposes only. Under extreme conditions where life and limb were
threatened, the fighting skills were used. However, the law of
Shao-lin Kung Fu always took president, not to do harm to others.
There are numerous martial arts magazines on the market which
deal with the physical aspects of martial arts training. They display
countless intricate techniques of defense, however they fail to bring
to light the real essence and benefits of training. Few if any
publications discuss in any detail the spiritual aspects of Shao-lin
training. Without the threefold training in the martial arts it is
impossible to see clearly our perfect nature. The inner teachings of
Shao-lin focus on the methods of seeing our original nature4. When
your real nature is revealed, the importance of the body and mind
take on a completely different character. An inner peace is
experienced which stems from knowing the real self and its
connection to everything else in the universe. You will find how
thoughts and emotions lose their control over you. The ego will be
lessened in intensity, and less apt to display itself. You will come to
know the spiritual connection between you and your fellow human
beings. The study of the fighting skills alone cannot achieve this
goal. In fact by intensive study of the fighting skills you will risk
emersing yourself further into egotism. This in turn can give you
more problems than those with which you started. Therefore
picking a school that follows the Way of Shao-lin, is of prime
With a thorough search you can find schools which meet the
requirements of good Shao-lin training. Look for the schools that
combine physical skills with spiritual and value oriented cultivation.
Look for a school that emphasizes proper ethics. Look for a school
rooted in a rich heritage of past Masters. Look for a school where
you see the students happy and content in the training. Look for a
teacher who displays love, caring and concern for his students.
Look to see if the teachers are humble yet display excellent skills.
Look to see if the teachers are interested in your personal needs
and growth. When you find such a school you will know you have
arrived at the threshold of a great adventure in learning and self
transformation. A true school of Shao-lin teaches various methods
of Shao-lin Ch‚uan Fa, meditation, and spiritual awareness. When
you see this, you know the teacher knows the truth of Shao-lin.
When a teacher knows truth, he or she then has the potential to
pass this secret onto you. Sadly there are teachers that do not
know truth. How then can they pass anything of lasting value to
you? Therein lies the greatest problem, finding the true teacher.
Now that we understand these facts we should look at what other
qualities compose good teaching.
Teaching can be defined as purposeful imparting of skills or
information or both to another individual or group of individuals for
the purpose of self cultivation and general awareness. Of course
the concept of teaching can be greatly broadened to include the use
of textbooks, videos, etc. But nothing compares to a
student/teacher relationship. Teaching has within it various
method‚s of making learning both enjoyable and informative. There
are several essential requirements for teachers, whatever they are
- They must know the material they are to teach.
- They must be able to articulate and demonstrate the
material as well as maintain student attention on the
task of learning.
- The teacher must be a shining example of the material
to be presented, in this case it is the Shao-lin concepts
of which we speak.
- The teacher must have the desire to teach, for indeed,
to teach a student thoroughly requires enormous patience,
understanding, and desire to pass on the arts.
- A good teacher is only concerned with the growth of his
students and little for his rewards of teachings, whether
financial or egocentric.
Finding a good teacher is of major importance to anyone really
wanting to learn correctly. Some teachers are very proficient in the
physical skills but lack the inner qualities. Some teachers have all
the qualities but are really not committed to passing the art on fully.
Some teachers are out right frauds and have only limited training.
Some teachers have skill but are only concerned with their own
advancements in status, reputation or making a great deal of
money. In today‚s martial arts world the novice has to be very well
informed as to what to look for or surely they may end up with a
poor quality teacher. This kind of training will only achieve a loss of
your hard earned money and, more important of your precious time.
It won't take a novice long, with any amount of research, to see
there is constant ridicule and bickering going on between so called
teachers. Just open any Kung Fu magazine and read the insults
being traded. The questions and comments always remain the same
only the names change: Who is better, Which style is better, I am a
higher rank then you, or I learned from a better teacher than you.
It goes on forever. This kind of childish uninformed nonsense has
no place in real Shao-lin training. This only goes to prove the sad
point that as more teachers emerge from the various schools the
quality of these new teachers has greatly depreciated in meaningful
values. The reasons for this depreciation stems from the quality of
training now being offered throughout our country. The focus today
is on physical skills and not self transformation. The physical skills
are shallow and short termed, with no lasting and beneficial effects.
Only when the metamorphosis from novice to master occurs will
Shao-lin training reveal its true value. This change is not short lived
and without benefits. It will change your very being and will grow
continually. It will last not only for this life time, but if you believe
in reincarnation, it will follow from you life time to life time. This
will continue till you break free of the karmic wheel of life and
death and move forever into the unknown, you may know as
If you but look back into martial arts history you will find
meaningful relationships between the true masters and their
students. True masters simply understood truth and what was
important in life. The old training excluded meaningless egotistical
concerns. This can be seen by the amount of material written by the
true masters. It was indeed limited and in some cases nonexistent.
The true masters are quiet and unassuming. You will never find
yelling and bragging. My own teacher Ch‚ang Tung Sheng wrote
very little in his own hand his entire life. In fact, one time the
government of Taiwan wanted to write the life story of Ch‚ang, but
his replay was " my story is already written into martial arts
history." He refused the offer. Although Ch‚ang was proud of his
art, history, and past teachers he felt no obligation to convince
others of his merits as a great teacher. He was fully satisfied with
his own development. The same could be said of many other noted
masters of Ch‚uan Fa, they were only interested in teaching the art,
and remaining in the shadows. I have never met a high-level
teacher who spent his time bragging about himself or putting down
other noted teachers. This is why a great deal of the classical
writing of Shao-lin didn‚t come from the masters. It was students of
these masters who put pen to paper about much of what the master
Without knowing what to look for in a true Master the novice can
be easily fooled by self proclaimed teachers. Sadly, there is little
anyone can do to stop the flood of poor teachers mixing into the
real martial arts world. There are no laws that regulate the quality
of a teacher. There is no board of examiners which accredits the
true master. There is no full governing council of masters to say
who is who in the arts. There is no standard certificate that says
what degree of skill anyone really has. There is no standard
universal test one has to take to achieve a teacher level in the arts.
With all these evident facts how then can one be sure he or she is
indeed studying with a qualified master? The novice usually falls in
the visual trap of becoming overwhelmed and intrigued by the
defensive capabilities of the martial arts. Any good teacher of
external skills can dazzle a novice with swift kicks or fancy hand
techniques. However, most people have the ability to learn the
physical skills of the art, but what does this prove? It is by learning
the secrets of mind, body and spirit that a true student begins to
mature. It is only because the novice has little or no knowledge of
the three pillars5 of training that he or she will be deceived by a fast
In a traditional school the outer physical training is intermingled
with the inner spiritual training. This is the first major difference
between a master teaching and a false teacher. You need only see
if the teacher is proclaiming the three levels of training. Learning
only the fighting with no emotional or mental controls can in fact be
harmful to you as well as other people around you. Imagine a
skilled fighter with a bad temper and a dull mind. The purpose of
Shao-lin training is not to take revenge upon the world, but rather
to live in the world peacefully and in harmony with all of nature.
The purpose of Shao-lin is to be victorious in our inner battle with
the self. To emerge from this battle as the victor not the loser.
What is this inner battle we are referring to? It is the battle that
rages within each of us every moment of our lives. It is the war with
our emotions, craving, desires and temperaments that fester deep
within each of us. It is our fear, our inadequacies, our desire to
excel in life. It is our longing to love and be loved by others. This is
where our real problem lies. This real culprit lurks deep within us.
Only when this inner emotional storm dissipates will there be a
great calm and inner satisfaction that will transform your entire
being. This victory over yourself does not come from fighting
others. It comes rather by conquering the self. In a true school you
will learn hundreds of self defense techniques but most importantly
you will learn how to move inward to the real core of being. When
this is achieved, the battle will cease, and all the world will open up
to you. A connection will be made to your spiritual nature, you will
realize your purpose in life and go for it. When you find this
connection your life will change from what you know now, to a vast
new world of understanding.
It is the lack of values, and ethics that contributes to our own
shortcomings. True martial arts help instill the courage, and
discipline we need to win the great battle. Because of this lessening
of values and ethics, society is paying a hard price. Child
pregnancies, drug use, vandalism, cheating, killing, stealing, are all
on the increase. The inability to distinguish between right and
wrong dilemmas is on the increase. To understand the growing
importance of ethics in a technologically-driven world is becoming
harder. Fran Wills a teacher in the New York school system said,
"The [ethics] issue is particularly timely when resources are scarce
and there is greater temptation to ignore ethical considerations."
But what are ethics? Webster‚s Dictionary defines ethics in several
- A system of moral principles.
- Rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class
of human actions or a particular group.
- Dealing with values related to human conduct, with respect
to the rightness or wrongness of certain actions and to the
goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.
You would think Webster was a martial artist! The definitions
describe much of what Shao-lin ethics demand. A good teacher
expects quality conduct while in Shao-lin training. Most students
soon learn by their errors what is correct to do and what is not
correct. A teacher will often speak Wu-De6 (ethics) in Shao-lin.
Usually when a novice joins a school the teacher will tell him about
the ethics he must live up to. To break the code of ethics is to
disgrace yourself and your teacher. We also spoke of values which
Webster defines as: ideals and customs. In a traditional Kwoon
customs are followed to the letter. Each kwoon you visit may have
somewhat different customs, this determined by the branch of
Shao-lin Kung Fu from which they come. But you can be sure as a
student you will have to follow your Kwoon customs or face a
problem with your teacher. Customs compromise how you enter
your kwoon or leave it, what style of dress you wear in training, or
the titles you call you fellow students. There are many varying
customs and traditions, some may even be particular to certain
teachers. In any case a student is usually informed of customs by
the teacher or his/her older classmates. To break a custom is
considered impolite and must be corrected, It is a sign that you are
aware of your mistakes and are correcting them. Thus the Shao-lin
transformation process begins. When our ethics change, our values
change, and along with it, we also change. This transformation is
like the changing of a caterpillar to the butterfly.
The Institute for Global Ethics made a very significant statement:
"The immense power of modern technology extends globally.
Many hands guide the controls and many decisions move those
hands. A good decision can benefit millions-while an unethical one
can cripple our future." The Buddha gave us a path to follow, it is
called the Eight-Fold Path. Here then is the Eight Fold Path and
how I define its meaning:
- Right View - To see the workings of life in its proper prospective.
- Right Resolve - Never to give up. To be prepared to perform any task at hand.
- Right Speech - To know the power of words and use them carefully. Be careful when you speak and what you say.
- Right Action - When we decide on a task we do it with careful thought and carefully complete it.
- Right Livelihood - To pick the right livelihood and do your best at it.
- Right Effort - To never be half-hearted in any effort.
- Right Attention - To be mindful of the self. Look inward to see out.
- Right Meditation - To be single minded.
All our decisions stem from the mind. The mind is divided into two
modes. The first is the mind of the world and second is the mind of
the spirit. Both are intricately tied to each other. All of our
decisions are made from our ideas of what life is all about. This also
includes martial arts and how it should be utilized in the real world.
Some may still be confused as to how spiritual and moral ethics
affect martial arts ability. Think for a moment about a real life
situation of an encounter with a bully in the street. A bully insults
you, what do you do? Do you fight over words? Will you fight at the
slightest provocation? If the answer is yes, then you fail to see
where violence stems from. It stems from within you, from your
ego, from your pride. It is still uncontrolled and leads you to
unnecessary violence. A Shao-lin monk would not let a bully upset
his inner peace. He would simply walk away. Of course if attacked,
he would defend, using his skills to ward off the assault. But it
would not be a first choice, rather his last choice. If a bully finds no
challenge in most cases, he will walk away. If on the other hand a
bully finds he can control your emotions, he will proceed to
If you were to ask someone what he feels deep within himself,
there is a good chance he would say he feel alone, separate from all
else. In reality this is far from the right viewpoint, for we are in fact
all connected with everyone else, connected to all of creation. This
feeling of aloneness stems from our lack of understanding of who
we really are. Ask yourself a few questions. Do you feel your life
has true meaning and purpose? Are you really satisfied with the
direction of your life? Do you really study the works of the various
philosophers and sages? Are you aimlessly trying to overcome the
many prejudices you hold? Are you futilely trying to find the
sources of your spiritual strength? The true goals of Shao-lin
training is to overcome these barriers. It is a voyage into your real
self to discover what truly motivates you. The Shao-lin goal is to
know yourself and know your fullest abilities. To discover your
weak points and thereby eliminate them. To discover your courage
and use it to achieve your goals. The true masters of Shao-lin have
already found this union with the real self. They have found real
courage; a courage so strong that they would be willing to die for
what is right. There is no stronger advisory than one who has true
conviction and moves thru life undaunted by the perils of life. You
can not stop such an individuals; they are strong and fearless, yet
loving and giving.
When a new student came to famed Shao-lin Temple it was their
character which was tested first. There are numerous stories about
potential students coming to the front gate of the Shao-lin Temple
hoping to gain entry as a newly picked student. As the story goes
the potential students were made to sit outside the Temple gates
for weeks before being granted entry. The purpose, of course, was
to separate the sincere student from the insincere students. By
making them all wait outside the Temple for weeks only the most
sincere of the lot would stay there for that period of time. This
method saved a great deal of time that would otherwise be spent
teaching an insincere student. The newly accepted students into the
Temple were then taught the Buddhist precepts. Only when new
students gained some degree of spiritual cultivation, would they be
allowed to learn the external Shao-lin skills. In this way the monks
were assured that the skills they taught would be used only for
Complete Shao-lin training changes one completely. The old self is
no more and the new self emerges. There is nothing left except a
general awareness and the joy of truly being able to experience the
moment, and to live in a way that conforms to the harmony of
nature. All this comes from the values and ethics that are called
The final point I must drive home is by far the most important. We
must come to understand the reason for all this hard work on
transforming the self. Because as time moves on, we will grow old
and finally die. If death destroys all we have worked for, why study
at all? To understand the answer to this you must start with faith.
But faith does not imply really knowing, it‚s only a start. Inner
examination will replace faith with fact. The Buddha was once
asked by his disciples how they could find Truth? The Buddha
replied with one of his most famous quotations, " Be your own light,
your own refuge. Believe only that which you test for yourself. Do
not accept authority merely because it comes from a great man, or
is written in a sacred book, for truth is different for each man and
woman." The Buddha implied each of us must look for ourselves,
what you need is the incentive to start. Therefore start with faith
and believe that there must be something to this thing we call life.
By your own looking you will come upon truth.
The greatest sadness in life is when a life is wasted. To live life
and not know why or to use it for no real purpose is the greatest of
losses. Without this transformation I speak of, the quality of our
life will be lessened. Without transformation, death becomes like a
proverbial thief in the night, stealing our lives away. Without inner
control and self awareness, life rushes by us and very little
worthwhile accomplishments will be made. Only when self
transformation occurs will life have merit, and the passing of time
will not hinder your efforts or aspirations. Only through
transformation will life hold quality and design. Then even death
loses it frightful appearance. For once we spiritually understand the
truth we come to realize only the body dies, the spirit moves on.
How and where the spirit moves will be determined by what, you do
in the NOW. This is the reason we must make the great effort. Yes,
Shao-lin training can be the adventure of your life. It can be all you
expect and so much more. It is worth the search to find the right
teacher, so you too can start the mystic journey. A Shao-lin warrior
can face life or death. A Shao-lin warrior fulfills his life completely
and leaves his mark on the world forever. Now is the time for you
to make the quantum leap into the truth. Dive in head first, don‚t
think about it, it has been this thinking that has delayed you. Move
out of necessity, before you lose the chance.
In summary we have provided a list of important signs that reveal a good school
- The true way is a term used in the martial arts to indicate the true path of Shao-lin Chuan Fa. In the martial arts the Way is composed of the various teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and their various codes of conduct and ethics. Back
- Chuan Fa is actually the proper term when describing Kung Fu. The real meaning of the term Kung Fu means "workman, or simply- hard work." It was used to describe their activities. This term was popularized by British traders in China. The British would see the Chinese demonstrating their martial arts and when inquiring what is was they were told it was "Kung Fu" hard work. In reality in China this term is rarely used if at all. The proper term is Chuan Fa or by saying Shao-lin Chuan Fa. If you must use the term Kung Fu, it should be defined as Shao-lin Kung Fu, which is indicative of saying Shao-lin hard work. Back
- The term monkey mind stems from the Buddhas description of the human mind. The Buddha felt the mind acted like a monkey jumping from one thought to another, never was the mind quiet and composed. Many of the Buddhas methods of enlightenment focus on calming the monkey mind so the whirlwind of thoughts may be slowed down and thereby revealing the reality of each passing moment. Back
- Our original nature is said to be the perfect union of the body, mind and spirit. A body that is both healthy and strong as well as perfectly disciplined to follow the Way. A mind that is clear and focused on proper learning. A spirit that is pure and motivated to achieve perfect harmony with the Tao. Back
- The three pillars is the combination of mind, body and spiritual training, that compose true training. Back
- In a traditional Shao-lin Kwoon a Sifu closely observes a students Wu-De (ethics) in order to pick the ones that may succeed him. If a students character is lacking he can never be picked, for this trait will carry over to the next generation of students. If a students Wu- De is bad and the student makes no effort to correct it, he may be asked to leave the Kwoon. There is a Shao-lin saying: Bad brings forth bad and good brings forth good. Back
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