The Chosen Way
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
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."
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
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?
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
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?
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
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 me 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 named Ba-Tuo.
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
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.
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 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 fighting skills?
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?
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.
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
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?
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
DM: Many would argue with you that the forms differ greatly
between the Southern and Northern schools. How would you
explain the differences in form?
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?
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 Shaolin Temple?
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 them 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
DM: 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
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
GL: I think it is both the art form as well as the person that makes
a 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
DM: Who is the head of the Northern Shaolin Monastery and how
is he appointed?
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
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
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 martial artist.
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 Head Coach.
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 toga worn over an inner robe. 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 ability.
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 form 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 available?
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?
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
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
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 "Vajra"
which refers to an invincible substance, hard like a diamond,
likened to the Buddhist Doctrine.