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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Part I: The Fighting Monks