About Shaolin Temple

Brief History of Shaolin & Its Martial Arts

The Shaolin Temple is a world-famous Buddhist temple in China, mainly known for their fighting monks or martial monks in history and their Chinese Martial Arts, a.k.a. Kung Fu

At the end of the 5th century, an Indian Monk named Ba Tuo arrived in China. Emperor Xiao Wen of the Chinese Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), had deep respect for Ba Tuo and ordered the construction of the Buddhist Shaolin Temple (少林寺) at the foot of the small side (少室 Shaoshi) of the Song Mountain, near Dengfeng, Zhengzhou, in the Henan Province of central China.

Tradition states that later another Buddhist monk, named Bodhidharma, arrived at the Shaolin Temple. Over time, he became known as Tamo and arrived teaching a different approach to Buddhism that later came to be known as Chan in Chinese and now more popularly known by its Japanese counterpart, Zen Buddhism.

At first, he wasn’t understood by the monks. So, he climbed straight up the mountain peak behind the Temple and sat in deep meditation for nine years in a small cave.

After those nine long years, he began to teach the Shaolin monks meditation and then, a bit more. He noticed that the monks were growing physically weaker from all of the seated meditation he was teaching them. It was intense practice, for long periods of time.

So, he taught them a series of exercises to stimulate circulation of blood and other internal liquids; and also to help limber up the muscles and joints due to the many stretching positions found in the movements. Some of them are still practiced in the modern era, like the Yi jin Jing, the Shiba Shou, etc.

According to oral tradition, these exercises were probably the earliest forms of Shaolin Kung Fu.

By the end of the Sui Dynasty (581-618), the Imperial Court was tottering. In order to safeguard the Shaolin Temple, an army of martial monks began to materialize.

The Shaolin guard monks headed by Zhi Cao, Hui Xi and Tan Zong rescued Li Shimin (598-649), the Qin Prince, captured Wang Renze, and forced Wang Shichong to surrender.

After taking the throne of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Li Shimin offered official posts to the Shaolin monks, and issued an order that the Shaolin Temple would have guard or martial monks; an official decree from the highest level!

This is recorded in an inscription on a stone tablet at the Shaolin Temple. From the end of the Tang Dynasty through the Five Dynasties (618-960), the Shaolin Temple had a weak existence, but was strongly revived during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). 

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), all monks at the Shaolin Temple practiced martial arts, and Shaolin Kung Fu became well known nationwide. The Shaolin martial monks also took part in the fight against the Japanese invaders, and won several victories.

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