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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

In the Shao-lin Temple's heyday, the Buddhist monks would incorporate martial arts study with Buddhism. Because of this, many traditional Buddhist Temples said fighting in any shape was not allowed. For this reason the Honan Shao-lin monks stood alone and were unique among traditional Buddhist monks.

The Shao-lin Monks studied the fighting concepts so they could better understand the source of violence and thereby overcome it. Physical attack upon a monk would only bring an appreciated response. Never would excess force be used. The Buddhist justified this action by saying they were only repelling an attack back to its source. They reasoned their response to an assault came from the attacker - they were merely redirecting the force back to its source.

Action was only taken in defense of some physical harm; never would they initiate an attack. This is where the idea arose, that the martial arts is a defensive art not an offensive art. Most monks today are in such control of themselves and their environment, that few, if any, conflicts ever transpire.

Throughout the course of time many other Temples sprung up to foster the idea of the union of martial arts and spiritual cultivation. A temple in Fuken surfaced around 650AD and was integrated into the Shao-lin Way. It was here that such styles as the Snake, Dragon, Mantis and Wing Chun originated. Another was at Kwangtung a southern Temple in the late 1700's where more styles such as Choy Li Fut, and various Dragon styles came into being.

Still other Temples emerged such as Wutang Temple, famed for its Tiger style. It merged with HonanŐs Shao-lin Temple around 800AD. Through this union many famous martial artists emerged such as Hung Si Kuan, and Bok Mai.

Lastly there was O Mei Shan, where the Crane style flourished. The monks of O Mei Shan bore the mark of the Mantis and Crane on their arms. This was different than the Shao-lin Temple which bore the mark of the Tiger and Dragon. O Mei Shan was located in Szechuan Provence and integrated into Shao-lin around 1500AD. It is said Chang Kai Shek 's and Mao Tze Tung 's armies used this Temple for artillery practice. This temple was restored in the early 1970's. However, today Shao-lin Kung Fu is no longer practiced there.

Only a Memory of Former Glory

It is unlikely the Shao-lin Temples will ever flourish again as they did in the past. Although martial arts are still practiced throughout China and Taiwan, the ferocity of training will never be the same as in day 's gone-by.

The reason for this lies in the way people goes to war today. Hand to hand combat has been replaced by the gun. Also, China is no longer divided, so the warring states no longer exist. Lastly, there is a central government in control now, so internal fighting is now almost nonexistent.

When the need for Shao-lin fighting disappeared, so did the famous fighting Temples. What is left is only a shadow and memory of the past. Even today we like to think that there are still schools equal to the old legendary Temples, but in fact there are none.

There are present day Shao-lin monks from China who have left and come to the United States. One such monk was recently reported to say in an interview in a noted martial arts magazine that he intends to rebuild an authentic Shao-lin Temple here in America. I don't believe this can ever be done. Times have changed, motivation is different, and most people are not driven spiritually.

We like to think that we can go back in time and create what was. The reality is we cannot move back, we can only move forward. For some it would be nice to relive the 1950's however, we all know this can never be. Nor can we relive the days when the Shao-lin Temples flourished. You can 't relive the history of the past in the present.

The best we can achieve today is to find a school which adheres as closely as possible to the old traditions.

This is not to say training is now useless. In fact, in some cases it can be better. Today's training is more suited for today 's people. History has changed, and we are not at war between states. We have law and order to protect the common people. In this light, training takes on a different priority.

Of course some degree of violence still exists in our society, even with the law to protect us. So self defense training is still beneficial. People are still concerned about maintaining good health, and Shao-lin training still serves that purpose. People are still torn spiritually, or seek a higher understanding, again Shao-lin training can help.

Part I: The Fighting Monks
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