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A Brief History of the Shao-lin Temple

Part I: The Fighting Monks
Part II: Union of Martial Arts and Spiritual Cultivation

For the sake of those of you who may know little or nothing about the Shao-lin Temple, let me try to give you some idea of what the Shao-lin Temple and its training has been composed of.

The novice to the world of martial arts would believe the Shao-lin Temple was a place dedicated to pure Shao-lin fighting. In fact, student monks learned history, manners, customs, tradition, and of course, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies. It did not stop there. Painting, music, medicine, agriculture, cooking and much more were taught along with the martial arts.

It is important to emphasize over and over again, the monks did not put fighting skills at the top of the list of their learning criteria. In fact, there are a few sayings which depict the monk 's feelings about battle. One states: "To fight is the lowest form of arbitration." Another states, "One who engages in combat has already lost".

All the arts taught at the Shao-lin Temple were aimed at leading a monk closer to enlightenment as well as using all his skills and knowledge to help others. What in essence makes a monk a Shao-lin monk is all the various types of training taught at the Temple. The martial arts aspect of his training alone did not qualify him to be called a Shao-lin Monk. It was his spiritual development above all else that qualified him as a Shao-lin Monk.

Not all the monks at Shao-lin Temple chose to learn the martial arts. Some preferred to focus on their spiritual development with little or no interest in martial arts. With or without martial arts training they were still called Shao-lin Temple monks. The only distinction you might hear said, is the term Shao-lin Fighting Monks which indicated they also learned martial arts.

Still, no matter how much Shao-lin Kung Fu they knew, fighting was to be avoided at all costs. The martial arts training was only a means to help temper the body, not to hurt others. Only when there was no way out would they defend themselves, and even then the amount of force used against them would be returned to the attacker. (The Shao-lin Monk knew to take a human life would mean the losses of his own soul.)

More Than One Temple

Many believe there was only one Shao-lin Temple, but in fact there were five Shao-lin Temples throughout the course of Chinese history. Some say there were more than five Shao-lin Temples. The exact number is insignificant to our study.

The best known of the Temples was in Honan, located in Lo-yang, a small mountain town southwest of Beijing. This is the Shao-lin temple that we associate with the numerous martial arts styles we see today. However, this temple was destroyed in the Boxer Rebellion of 1901. It has since been rebuilt by the Chinese government, but most of the original styles are no longer there.

In today's Shao-lin Temple what is taught is under the control of the Chinese government. In fact many Americans who have traveled to the Shao-lin Temple say real Ch 'uan Fa is no longer being taught there, but rather Wu Shu that is being taught by government officials posing as authentic Shao-lin monks.

This is one of the main reasons many authentic monks have fled the Temple and have come to the United States.

Part II: Union of Martial Arts and Spiritual Cultivation

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