This is a very interesting and detailed history of Shaolin from a true Shaolin Master from the original Shaolin Temple in Henam Province, China. As with all ancient history, this account differs a little from others I have read. The great Master he learned from is listed on an official website of the Shaolin Temple. The story of the thirteen warrior monks who went to save the Emperor’s son is well known. I have a copy of a re-enactment produced by The History Channel many years ago and the actual details are unbelievable! Some day I hope to transfer a copy of the video to my computer and post it here. The Shaolin monks were the greatest warriors in history and most likely still are to this day. I hope you enjoy this post.
History of Shaolin
The Liu Institute was established under the tutelage of the Great Chan Master and spiritual leader of the Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin Temple was founded in 495 A. D., during the 19th Beiwei Dynasty, by Bada, a Buddhist Monk from India, who came to China in 464 to preach Buddhism. Bada’s sincerity persuaded the Buddhist Emperor, Xiaowen, to build a temple in the Shao mountain forest in the Song Mountains so that he would have a place to teach Hinyana Buddhism.When Bada opened his teachings, Hui Guang and Seng Chou were among his first group of disciples.
Hui Guang was brought to the Temple by Bada. On one occasion Bada went to the city of Luoyang, which was then the capital of China. While passing by Tian Street, he saw a boy of about 12 years kicking a shuttlecock around a well for over 500 times without a pause. The boy’s tremendous martial arts skills and physical endurance were beyond comprehension especially when nutrition was a problem at the time. Astounded, Bada took the boy to the Shaolin Temple as his, discerning his aptitude and talent for Gongfu and his finely tuned sensibilities honed by nature.
Seng Chou, another famous martial arts monk, is well known in the history of Shaolin Temple. He was one of the most knowledgeable and respected monks and a great martial artist. He later became a great abbot traveling throughout the country spreading the scripture of Buddhism. He had thousands of disciples. Once, Seng Chou was walking in the forest and saw two tigers were in a fierce fight. He attacked the tigers with a cane. The tigers got angry with him. His great fighting sensibility, his light Qigong and his endurance finally wore the tigers out. He broke the tiger’s fight up and gave the tigers a good lesson by defeating them both, though he broke his cane.
Bodhidharma, known as DaMo in Chinese came to the Temple in 527 A. D. the third year of Emperor Xiaochang. Bodhidharma, the 28th-Dharma successor in the direct line of patriarchs descending from the original founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha, traveled to China in the old Liang dynasty’s capital of Nanjing (Luoyang was Beiwei’s capital in the north and Liang’s capital was Nanjing in the south). Given a poor reception by Emperor Liangwu, Bodhidharma moved across the Yangtze River to the Shaolin Temple. Instead of residing in the temple hall, he took up residence in a cave in the middle of the Five Breasts Peaks. There he stayed facing the cave wall, meditating and studying for nine years. It was said that during this period Bodhidharma reached enlightenment and from it developed a new sect of Buddhism known as Chan (Zen as in Japanese) Buddhism.
The sixth Buddhist patriarch of China, Master Hui Neng, and others refined and documented Chan Buddhism so that it spread throughout China. Chan Buddhism eventually migrated to Japan and became known there as Zen Buddhism. Hewever, many Chan Buddhism scholars believe the founders of Chan Buddhism are Huineng (636-713) and Shenhui (668-760). Many legendary stories depicted Bodhidharma starting early Shaolin exercises. In the beginning, Shaolin disciples spent long hours meditating and did sitting Qigong without much physical exercise. Eventually, they realized that to keep blood and Qi from stagnating, they needed moving Qigong exercise and other vigorous martial arts exercises to balance Yin and Yang energies. Day by day, year after year, the disciples practiced simple Qigong exercises, and other martial arts that were brought to the temple by new monks and monks like Seng Chou. In time, these evolved into the early forms of Shaolin Gongfu, also known as Shaolin Quan. These early forms included Luohan 18 Postures, Soft Boxing, 8 Silk Brocades, Longevity Boxing, Shaolin Luohan and others.
With the spread of Chan Buddhism, more and more Shaolin branch temples were built throughout China. The Shaolin Temple was the first institution established to teach Chan philosophy, medicine, the arts of Gongfu and the way of Chan living. Moreover, Chan was popular with many emperors and aristocrats who worshipped in Shaolin Temples. When Wen-di ascended the throne during the Sui Dynasty, he granted the Shaolin Temple hundreds of Qings of rich land widely dispersed throughout China. However, Wen-di’s generosity made many far-flung temples vulnerable to bandits and peasant armies marauding throughout the countryside. To defend the temples, Shaolin masters and monks organized the Monk Army, thereby introducing Shaolin Gongfu to the battlefield. In the late Sui Dynasty (589-618), the former General Wang Shizhong of Shui dubbed himself Zheng Emperor with his powerful army in Luoyang. The General occupied hundreds of Qings of land bestowed to the Shaolin Temple by Emperor Shui Wen-di. In 620, Tang Emperor Gaozhu ordered his son Li Shimin to put down Wang?s army. Li Shimin could do no better than achieve a stalemate with Wang’s army at Song Mountain, until thirteen Martial monks, led by masters Tan Zong, Zhi Cao, and Hui Yang, quietly infiltrated Wang’s army. The monks managed to capture the most powerful general in Wang’s army, Wang Renzhe, the nephew of General Wang Shizhong. The event was recorded on a tablet that can still be seen at the Temple today.
The Emperor Li ShiMin endowed the temple with the right to train a force of fighting monk-soldiers. The grateful Emperor attempted to persuade the 13 to accept official posts at Court, but they replied that their fighting arts were to protect the Temple and to keep the monks healthy: ‘Since the world is now peaceful we will return to our monastery, but if society needs us we will go to battle again’. The Emperor then gave permission for the Temple to train 500 fighting monk-soldiers for protection.
About 1,000 years later another Emperor asked for help. In 1674, 128 monks led by a former Ming partisan, Master Cheng went to the assistance of the Qing Emperor Guang Xu. Master Cheng had fought against the Manchu Emperors of the Qing Dynasty, but had retired to the Shaolin Temple to study the martial arts. His small army of monks gave great help to the Emperor to defeat the invaders from outside of China, but at the end of the fighting they too rejected the titles he offered and returned to the Temple. This time, modesty did not serve them well. The Emperor was persuaded that it was dangerous to tolerate the existence of a center of independent people with such exceptional fighting skills. He sent an army, which was assisted by a renegade Shaolin monk. They burned the temple. Many ran to the south of China.
Chinese culture, religion and arts were brought to Japan a long time before the Sui dynasty, mainly through Korea. During late Sui, Shende Prince sent Shaoyeimeizi with his first delegations to China study the culture and religion. At this time they first encountered Chinese martial arts.There were many groups of high level Japanese government officials and experts in culture and arts came to China for further studies. At this period, they also learned Chinese martial arts and brought them to Japan.At this time, Jin Famin of Shilla unified the three Kingdoms of Korea peninsula and affiliated his Kingdom with the Tang dynasty. The new King set up his government according to Tang government structure. Many people went to study in China. At the same time martial arts were also brought to Korea along with Chinese music, arts culture, science and social structure. In these early days, they called the martial arts Tang Soo Dao (Tang’s Open Hands).
During the Tang dynasty (618-896), and especially during the Song dynasty (960-1279), there came about many martial arts organizations throughout China’s society. There were martial arts performances with paired weapons sparring, sword and spear play on the street. Many weapons fighting arts came down from the military to the martial arts community and schools of performing arts, physical education and sports training. Madame Sun of Tang Kaiyuan (674-741) was most famous for her intriguing swordplay performance which inspired many poets and artists. Another famous martial artist of the Tang dynasty was Xu Xuanping. His 37 Changquan was similar to traditional Taijiquan. Lei Tai (stage) bare hands fights also came into existence. There were very simple rules with a referee on the Lei Tai and judges on the sides. Many martial arts systems were also developed. Cha Quan was developed from this period on in Shangdong province. Song Dynasty brought much prosperity to martial arts especially Shaolin styles due to the Song empeor. At this period, Song Taizhu, the Emperor of Song, not only studied and taught at Shaolin, but also appointed General Gao Huailiang to reside in the temple to teach and learn. Many of the early forms, such as 32 Changquan, Liubuquan, Monkey, Ape, Praying Mantis, Tongbai, Spades, Spear, and Dragon Sword, were developed by the Song Emperor Zhao Guangyao. Altogether he developed over 170 external forms and 130 weapons forms.
At late Song dynasty 1110-1121, one of the most famous uprisings was Song Jiang with his 36 martial arts brothers at Liang Mountain by the Liang waters. This group defeated the Song government armies numerous times with a very limited number of highly trained martial artists such as Lin Chong, Yan Qin, Lu Zhiseng and Wushong. Many forms later developed after their names such as Lin Chong’s Yuan Yang Kicks. Yan Qing Qinna and Lu Zhiseng’s Monk Spade. The Liang mountains martial arts later also became part of the collection of the Temple. One of the most famous styles practiced in the late century was Mizhongquan which was the result of styles from Shaolin and Liang mountain heros. Mizhoongquan was created in Tang dynasty at the temple. One of the 36 heros of Liang mountain learned it from Shaolin and taught it to Yanqin who modified and developed it into Yan frame. This Yan frame was re-collected back into the temple. Sun Tong from Shandong learned this art from the temple in early Qing dynasty and developed and taught it to other martial artists in Tianjing. One of the most famous martial arts masters in recent history, Huo Yuanjia, learned this style from one of Sun Tong’s best disciples. Another heroic martial art figure is General Yuefei (1103-1143) in south Song dynasty. He created the Yue family martial arts both in bare hands and weapons which not only had great influence on the Shaolin but also to the rest of the Chinese martial arts world in China. The Shaolin school absorbed the best martial art techniques from all schools throughout China. In early Song dynasty (961 AD), Fuju, a highly respected master and head of the Shaolin Temple, invited Gongfu masters of 18 schools to the temple to practice, teach, and write. Together they compiled the Encyclopedia of Shaolin Gongfu, a compendium of all the best techniques from the best schools throughout China.
Shaolin Temple monks had also gone out of the temple to learn from other great martial artists. Monk Juyuan (1224-1232) went with his master’s permission to Lianzhou three times to study Qigong, Luohan, Sanshou, and Qinna from the best northern martial artists, Li Shou-Danghui and Bai Yufeng-Quoyuei, who developed Luohan 18 into 170 forms and created the Best Five, reflecting the animal mimic styles learned form the dragon, tiger, leopard, snake, crane, praying mantis, monkey, and eagle. During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) the Shaolin Temple branched out into various places such as Luoyan, Changan, Taiyuan, Heling and other locations. Fuyu abbot was most responsible for expanding the Temple outside of Shong mountain. He sent various high level monks to reside in those temples teaching not only Chan but Shaolin Gongfu as well. He was very favored by the emperor of Yuan. In 1312 The emperor of Yuan granted him Dasitu (a high ranking position in court) and later lord of Jin when he died.
During this period Shaolin began to spread widely overseas. During the reign of Emperor Taiding (1322-1327) in Yuan Dynasty, a Japanese monk named Dazhi came to study Chan Buddhism and Shaolin Gongfu at the Shaolin Temple. Dazhi studied at the temple for over thirteen years, and later taught Shaolin Gongfu to many in Japan after his return. In 1379, the Japanese monk Shaoyuan resided in the Temple, serving first as the temple?s secretary, and later as assistant to the master. When he returned to Japan, he taught Shaolin Gongfu to the Japanese and was regarded by his people as the soul of Japan. During the reign of Wanli of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chen Yuanzhe, a disciple of the Shaolin Temple, sailed to Japan to teach Shaolin Gongfu. Yuanzhe taught in Japan for several decades, making hundreds of disciples who spread Shaolin Gongfu throughout Japan. These early “China Hands,” as the Japanese called them, were the origin of Karate. In the Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty, there were hundreds of schools and systems of martial arts in every corner of the country. Many major school systems such as Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang came into being during this period There was much development in open hands fights (Shoubo). Shuaijao also became its own system.During the Ming dynasty, Shaolin Gongfu, especially Shaolin staff, combat fighting, Qigong and Sword, developed to the highest point. It was recorded in Shaolin archives that Shaolin had tens of thousands of martial arts monks. Shaolin formed one of the biggest monk army in history ready to fight for the country to protect Shaolin Temple. In Jiaqing 32nd year (1553), Shaolin martial arts fighters were called by the government to fight the invading Japanese. They defeated many large army of invaders.
Due to the incident of Shaolin Masters rejection of Qing Emperor’s offer, the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) opposed the practice of martial arts, especially Shaolin, by the Han people. Qing emperors, were afraid that Chinese of Han origin would overthrow the dynasty and suppressed and forbade any mass practice of the martial arts. Shaolin monks were forced to practice at night behind closed doors and in secrecy. Some of the great martial monks went to the southern parts of China, far away from Beijing. There they taught Shaolin Gongfu to the south. From this diaspora, southern styles were modified and many new forms were developed, such as Flying Whip, Iron Palm, Fire Cane, Tornado Whip, Xuan Hua Ax and others. The Shaolin southern migration eventually spread throughout South Asia and then to the rest of the world. Many popular southern styles like Hongquan (Hung Guar), Yongchunquan (Wing Chun), Shaolin Wuzhuquan were developed during this period. Hongquan was from Hong school, secretly organized by Shaolin disciples against Qing dynasty around 1647. There are two major branches, Hubei Hongquan and Guangdong. Hongquan, which is well known in the U.S., is named after animals or legendary creatures such as dragon, tiger, leopard, lion, horse or monkey. There are 20 open hand forms, 30 major weapon forms and several sparring forms.
After all these hundreds of years’ turmoil and disasters that happened to Shaolin, Shaolin still stands. Shaolin today has over 380 traditional forms and over 18 kinds of weapon forms preserved when the great master Yongqian copied most from the original 48 volumes of the Shaolin system before the warlord Shi Yousan burned the Shaolin Temple into ashes.
During the Republic of China period, Jingwu Physical Education Association was established in Shanghai in 1910, followed by Chinese Martial Artists Association and Soft Hands Martial Arts Association and many more.In 1928, the Republic government of China established the Central Guoshu Institute in Nanjing. This was the first national level Chinese martial arts sports training center. Other provinces and cities began to set up their own Guoshu institutes. The Central Institute held two big national tournaments in 1928 and 1933. The biggest modern bare hand fighting Leitai in recent history was the 1929 Guoshu tournament in Hangzhou, Zhejian province. In 1936, Chinese martial arts team mostly from the Central Guoshu Institute demonstrated in the 1936 Olympics Games. Wushu was now formally demonstrated to the world as a great sport. From then on there were hundreds foreign students who came to China to study the arts and spread them to the world.
In the 1930’s, Zhong Daochang of Japan went to the Shaolin Temple to study Shaolin Gongfu and returned to Japan after several years to establish the largest martial arts organization in Japan, known as Shaorinji Kenpo, with over one million members. There are hundreds martial arts organizations went to visit and study in China during last few decades. Today there are thousands of Shaolin schools and other Chinese martial arts school on five continents. There are thousands martial arts schools in the world derived from Chinese martial arts, especially Shaolin Gongfu.
Modern Wushu today consists of Taolu and Sanshou (full contact free fights by allowing various styles of martial arts techniques). There are over 100 popular traditional styles of Wushu practiced today in China. All traditional Chinese schools of Martial Arts have their own particular styles of Taolu and Sanshou systems. Traditional Wushu is a complete system of philosophy, medicine, sports and arts. Traditional Wushu has over 100 major school systems in China. They are traditionally categorized into two major types of practice: external and internal. External focuses on external muscle power and strength, speed and agility such as Shaolin Changquan, while internal emphasizes internal power, strength, Yin/Yang Qi balance, Qi flow, Qi manipulation and body-mind control such as Taijiquan and Xingyiquan.
Geographically, there are southern and northern styles; based on major mountain locations. There are Shaolin schools, Wudang, schools and E-mei schools. Technically there are two types: Changquan (long range) and Duanda (short range).Contemporary Wushu was founded by a number of great martial artists. Wang Zhiping, the most well-known martial artist in recent Chinese martial arts history, was the number one person responsible for modern Wushu. Grand Master Wang defeated the so-called the most powerful fighters in the world from Russia in 1918. In 1929, in the biggest Guoshu Leitai bare hand fights, he again won the national weightless #1 in China. He led the first Wushu organization in China in early 1950s. Grand Master Wang?s students and students of old Central Guashu Institute reshaped Wushu in the modern era. Another leading figure in modern Wushu is Grand Master Zhang Wenguang who was the 1933 and 1935 national Shuaijiao champion and national martial arts champion in China. He led the Chinese martial arts team demonstration in the 1936 Olympics Games. He is currently living in the Physical Education & Sports University of Beijing. Those masters and grand masters were the most outstanding fighters and traditional martial artists in China.
The Shaolin Temple has had many sufferings and vicissitudes but survived and thrived well in the new era. The Shaolin Temple is known as the birthplace of Chan (Zen) and internal and external martial arts, and medicine practices. It was great Master of the Shaolin Temple 29th generation, compassionate Zhen Chu who led his disciples and local people to fight the Japanese invaders to protect them from enter the Shaolin and preserved the Temple and the Shaolin Heritage so that the Shaolin Legacy may continue until today. During all his life saved thousands of lives from the enemies and from starvation, teaching them the freedom of living. One of his disciples is Great Master Su Xi who carried on his teacher’s touch led his disciples to the high tech communication age.
Great Master Su Xi entered temple when he was about 8 years old. He along with own teacher Zheng Chu helped to preserve the temple in 40s. In the 50s Mao Zhe Dong started a program called “Land Reform” the government claimed everyone’s property and established a system of communes. The communes were further divided into brigades, villages, and production teams. Under this system everyone had a place. In 1958 Chairman Mao made everybody produce iron to surpass the western capitalist America. But nobody produced any agriculture products in the field for two years. Then there was big flood disaster in one part of the country and another dry season in other part of the country. Countrywide famine started. There was no food anywhere. All the tree bark was eaten. People began to eat mud. Millions of people died. But Great Master saved hundred of people by teaching them how to get out of the desperation and teaching them where to find edible herbs and grass and tree bark. He himself almost starved to death giving all of his food (tree bark) to save others. He meditated and preserve his own life for the better of others.
When the country became productive again in mid 60s, Chairman Mao felt he lost his power. He started the Cultural Revolution to regain his power with the help of his wife and her associates who became known as the “Gang of Four”. Total pandemonium followed with the torture and execution of the educated, religious, and other “Enemies of the State.” All government infrastructures were destroyed by the revolution. Another civil war started. For Shi Su Xi and the monks of the temple, the educated and religious people of China were also declared “Enemies of the State”. “Enemies of the State” were kept in forced labor camps. When they were not working they were tortured or forced to wear a large heavy metal plate around their neck that made sleeping or moving around almost impossible. On the plate were words declaring their so-called “crime” so all could see. Those who passed were encouraged to spit on them and kick them. The plate would then be removed when it was time to go back to work. During this time is when the great Master Su Xi’s temple training began to serve him well. Having learned the path of Chan and maintaining his focus on his beliefs, Su Xi endured this treatment. Through his years of torture Su Xi predicted that this system could not last. That many would die. Millions of people died of torture or civil war. Some committed suicide without being able to endure the humiliation.
Then in 1976, Chairman Mao died. There was an internal power struggle between the reformers and the hard line “Gang of Four”. Then 1977 Deng Xiao Ping had the Gang of Four arrested and came to power and the torture finally stopped. China has since slowly changed its attitude towards the educated and religious and has even moved towards Capitalism. The government saw financial opportunities in such places as the Shaolin Temple. In 1980 a movie was filmed about the temple depicting its rich history in Chan Buddhism and development of the martial arts as we know them today. Strangely enough the movie was made two years before the monks were permitted to return to the temple to resume their way of life. In 1982 Great Master Su Xi began to resume his temple duties and began teaching new followers and he was shortly after appointed to be the temple’s Abbot. He is regarded as the living Buddha of this modern era.
Great Master Shi Su Xi’s devotion to Chan Buddhism never wavered since the day he entered the Shaolin Temple. His firm beliefs brought him through unimaginable inhumane times. He used the lessons of Shaolin Kung Fu, and the spirit of Chan philosophy to assist many others through those difficult times. Since returning to the temple he has lead thousands on the Chan Buddhist path. He has changed and saved thousands of lives. As a Buddhist, he believes he has done nothing. He believes that nothing should be praised or said about him because he did only what was expected of him as a Monk. He lives on emptiness of this material world and is only happy to live with the Qi (vital energy) needed to remain at peace and teach others to do so.
He taught many masters, disciples and students. Among them Master Shi De Yang, Shi De Ru, Shi De Qian and Shi De Jian are the closest disciples and most accomplished in the family.
Master Shi Deru, Shawn (Xiangyang) Liu, is the 31st generation descendant, Grand Master of the Shaolin Temple, Henan province and indoor close disciple of the Shaolin Temple Spiritual Abbot, Great Master Shi Suxi. Master Liu is also known as the iron leg. Liu started training in Shaolin, traditional medicine and Qigong in Shaolin Temple, China when he was a very young child. Later he studied many other internal arts.