Shaolin Kung Fu

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Shaolin Kung Fu refers to a collection of Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery. Of the tens of thousands of kung fu wushu styles, several hundred might have some relationship to Shaolin; however, aside from a few very well known systems, such as Xiao Hong Quan, the Da Hong Quan, Yin Shou Gun, Damo Sword, etc.[citation needed], it would be almost impossible to establish a verifiable connection to the Temple for any one particular art.

Huang Zongxi described Chinese martial arts in terms of Shaolin or external arts versus Wudang or internal arts in 1669. [1] It has been since then that Shaolin has been popularly synonymous for what are considered the external Chinese martial arts, regardless of whether or not the particular style in question has any connection to the Shaolin Monastery. Some say that there is no differentiation between the so-called internal and external systems of the Chinese martial arts[2][3], while other well known teachers have expressed differing opinions. For example, the Taijiquan teacher Wu Jianquan:

In 1784 the Boxing Classic: Essential Boxing Methods made the earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery as Chinese boxing’s place of origin.[5][6] Again, this is a misconception, as Chinese martial arts pre-date the construction of the Shaolin Temple by at least several hundred years. [3][7]

According to the Jingde of the Lamp, after Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk from Kerala in South India,[8] left the court of the Liang emperor Wu in 527, he eventually found himself at the Shaolin Monastery, where he “faced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire time”.

According to the Yì Jin Jing,

The attribution of Shaolin’s martial arts to Bodhidharma has been discounted by several 20th century martial arts historians, first by Tang Hao on the grounds that the Yì Jin Jing is a forgery.[12] Stele and documentary evidence shows the monks historically worshiped the Bodhisattva Vajrapani’s “Kimnara King” form as the progenitor of their staff and bare hand fighting styles.[13]

Huiguang and Sengchou were involved with martial arts before they became two of the very first Shaolin monks, reported as practicing martial arts before the arrival of Bodhidharma.[14] Sengchou’s skill with the tin staff is even documented in the Chinese Buddhist canon.

Records of the discovery of arms caches in the monasteries of Chang’an during government raids in AD 446 suggests that Chinese monks practiced martial arts prior to the establishment of the Shaolin Monastery in 497.[15] Monks came from the ranks of the population among whom the martial arts were widely practiced prior to the introduction of Buddhism. There are indications that Huiguang, Sengchou and even Huike, Bodhidarma’s immediate successor as Patriarch of Chán Buddhism, may have been military men before retiring to the monastic life. Moreover, Chinese monasteries, not unlike those of Europe, in many ways were effectively large landed estates, that is, sources of considerable regular income which required protection.

In addition, the Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue, the Bibliographies in the Book of the Han Dynasty and the Records of the Grand Historian all document the existence of martial arts in China before Bodhidharma. The martial arts Shuai Jiao and Sun Bin Quan, to name two, predate the establishment of the Shaolin Monastery by centuries.[16]

The oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 that attests to two occasions: a defense of the monastery from bandits around 610 and their role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621.

Like most dynastic changes, the end of the Sui Dynasty was a time of upheaval and contention for the throne. Wang Shichong declared himself Emperor. He controlled the territory of Zheng and the ancient capital of Luoyang.