Songshan, Pagodas in Shaolin Temple
Located in the Songshan Mountains, a little more than 50 miles southwest of
Henan's provincial capital, Zhengzhou, Shaolin Temple is famous not only as
one of China's important Buddhist shrines, but also as the ancient center of
historical records, the Shaolin Temple was built during the Northern Wei
Dynasty in the 19th calendar year of the reign of Emperor Taihe (495) and is
one of China's most famous an-cient temples. The Shaolin Temple once had
many monks on its premises. Those monks of the lower level mostly came from
the secular society and some of them knew some martial arts before entering
the temple. Those who knew martial arts taught and helped each other to
improve their skills. They also absorbed the experience of their
predecessors and gradually developed their mar-tial arts into the unique
During the Northern
Qi Dynasty (550-577), Shaolin monks could lift hundreds of kilograms in
weight and were good at Chuan and horse riding. By the end of the Sui
Dynasty (581-618), Li Shimin, king of the Qin state, fought with the
self-appointed emperor of the Zheng state, Wang Shichong. Shaolin monks Zhi
Cao, Hui Yang, and Tan Zong took the side of Li and helped him catch the
latter's nephew Wang Renze to force the self-appointed emperor to surrender.
After Li Shimin was enthroned as the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, he
awarded his followers ac-cording to their military merits and contributions.
Monk Tan Zong had the title of chief general con-ferred on him, while the
Shaolin Temple was given large grants of land and money to expand the temple
complex. The Shaolin Temple was allowed to organize an army of monk
soldiers, who acted as military people in warring times and as monks in
peace time. The Shaolin school of Chuan im-proved and developed through the
trials of battles and wars.
The Shaolin monks in the
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were all taught to practise Wushu. In the 32nd
calendar year of the Jiajing reign (1553), the Shaolin military monks took
part in the battles against Japanese invaders in southern China and
accomplished many military exploits. Wang Shixing of the Ming Dynasty
wrote in his Tour of Mount Song. "All of the 400 Shaolin Temple monks have
good Wushu skills." "Fists and cudgels were wielded as if they were flying
during practice." Cheng Chongdou also of the Ming Dynasty wrote in his
book The Dossier of Shaolin Cudgel Fight: "Shaolin monks are best known
for their cudgel fights." Ming general Yu Dayou, who was reputed for his
anti-Japanese military service, went to teach cudgel fighting skills in
the Shaolin Temple. It was in the latter half of the Ming Dynasty that
Shaolin monks switched from cudgel fighting to fist fighting, so that fist
fights could be promoted to match cudgel fights.
In the Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911), the people living around the Shaolin Temple were very active
in practising Wushu, which boosted the development of the Shaolin school
of martial arts. In the Shao-lin Temple, the rear hall was used for Wushu
exercises, where various kinds of weapons were dis-played on the weapon
stands ready for use at any time. Some monks practised fist fighting to
safe-guard the temple. After years of exercises and practising, foot
prints were stamped on the brick floor of the rear hall and these prints
can be seen clearly even today. On the north and south walls of the
White-Clothes Hall, there are Qing Dynasty murals vividly depicting the
exercises practised by monks in the temple.
In the fifth calendar year of the Yongzheng reign of the Qing Dynasty
(1727), people were not allowed to practise Wushu. However, they could not
be stopped either in the secular society or in the Shaolin Temple, where
Wushu was practised underground.
Apart from the Shaolin Temple on Mount Songshan, the Shaolin Temple was
said to have set up more than a dozen Shaolin affiliates in other temples
in the country. The Shaolin Temple on Mount Nine Lotus in Fujian Province
during the Ming Dynasty was famous for developing the Shaolin Quan.
Around the 1911 Revolution against the Qing Dynasty, the Shaolin martial
arts underwent further developments. Wushu clubs were established all over
the country and most of them took the Shaolin Quan. Lots of patriots
organized sabre and flying sword groups in order to overthrow the dynasty.
They constantly practised their skills and contributed greatly to the
The Shaolin school is very popular in secular society with a myriad of
followers. Over the years it was enriched theoretically and its techniques
perfected to form a colossal system of fist fight
Compactness is a feature of the Shaolin school. The moves and tricks of
this school are short, simple and succinct as well as versatile. While
fighting, Shaolin boxers would advance and retreat straight forwardly.
They need only a small space to execute their style of fist fight which is
des-cribed as "fighting along a single straight line." Shaolin Quart is
powerful and speedy with rhythmic rising and falling of body movements. It
stresses hardness of actions and blows but it also advocates softness in
support of the hardness. The motto of the Shaolin fist fight says
"hardness first and softness second." When jabbing or palming, the arm is
required to be neither bent nor straight, in an attempt to blend external
and internal forces.
There are three South Shaolin Temple groups located in Quanzhou, Putian
and Fuqing in Fujian Province. All the three claim that their temples are
the original Southern Shaolin Temple which directly linked to the ancient
a) Southern Shaolin Temple in Putian
The temple locates in Lin Shan Village, Jiulian Mountain, Xitianwei town,
Putian, it's about 16 kilometers to the northwest of Putian City, the
Southern Shaolin Temple was built in the first year of Yongding of Chen in
the Southern Dynasties (A.D. 557), only 61 years late than Songshan
The temple was burned down once by the Qing Regime during the reign of the
Qing Emperor Kangxi.
Major scenic spots include: the Southern Shaolin Temple, cultural relic
exhibition hall, The Juyi Hall of Tiandi Uprising Group, Honghua Pavilion,
Nine-Lotus Rock, One-Finger-Zen Stone, Purple Cloud Stone and
b) Southern Shaolin Temple in Quanzhou
The Quanzhou Shaolin Temple was first built in the year 611, more than
1,300 years ago. None of the original temple stands, as it had been
destroyed and subsequently rebuilt three times.
In 907, Wang Shenzhi, a rebel who created the 'Min Kingdom' during the
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (and was responsible for trying to
eradicate the surname Shen), razed the temple to the ground as the monks
opposed his rule.
It was rebuilt during the Northern Song dynasty. In 1236, it was destroyed
again, under orders of the Southern Song Dynasty government. Its final
destruction occurred in 1763.
The monks in the temple supported the Qing against the Ming, and Emperor
Qianlong ordered the complete destruction of the temple (and the murder of
all who lived there) in vengeance He also forbade the rebuilding of the
c) Southern Shaolin Temples in Fuqing
The temple in Fuqing is where there are direct historical references to
the Shaolin monks.
Unlike the temples in Putian and Quanzhou, it is named in 12th, 15th, and
16th century publications and excavations produced Song era pottery with
the Chinese characters for Shaofin (ÉÙÁÖ).
The national Cultural Relics Bureau eventually determined that there had
truly been a Shaolin temple in that location.
Shaolin, in popular culture, has taken on a second life. Since the 1970s,
it has been featured in many films, TV shows, video games, cartoons, and
other media. While much of this is a commercialized aspect of Shaolin, it
is also widely credited as keeping the 1500 year old temple in the
consciousness of the world, and from vanishing into obscurity like many
other ancient traditions.
The Abbot of Shaolin, Shi Yong Xin, has decided
to embrace modern day pop culture and has used it to the advantage of the
temple to keep the temple prominent on the world stage.
The 1970s television series Kung Fu starred
as Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk on the run in the Wild West whose Zen
(Ch'an) training is tested along his journey. Carradine's part was
originally to be played by Bruce Lee. Ironically, Lee was pulled at the
last minute before airing for looking "too Chinese" for an American public
accustomed to white actors portraying ethnic minority characters for a
mainly white audience. However, the character of Caine was supposed to be
of mixed Chinese and European ancestry, a fact which may have also had an
influence on this decision. In the 1990s, Carradine starred in the series
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, which followed the grandson and
great-grandson of the original Caine in a large modern city.
In 1977, the cult classic Shaw Brothers film Shaolin Temple was released
and in 1982 a film by the same name starring Jet Li is credited as a major
reason for the revival of the Shaolin Temple in China after the Cultural
Revolution.The film's story tells the legend of the
Shaolin Temple. This film is followed by countless other films, including
another Shaw Brothers film entitled the The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which
depicts the training of the legendary Shaolin monk San Te.
In the 1990s, the American Hip-hop group The Wu Tang Clan arises, often
making frequent references to Shaolin, sometimes as a name for their home,
Staten Island, New York. The references arise from the group growing up in
Staten Island in the late 1970s, and being influenced by movie theaters
playing and advertising Kung Fu movies based on the Shaolin fighting
style. Video games and cartoons begin to also feature Shaolin, such as the
cartoon Xiaolin Showdown. Liu Kang, the main character in the
series, is a Shaolin monk, and Kung Lao from the same series, is also a
Shaolin monk who seeks to avenge the temple's destruction, (led by Baraka
in Mortal Kombat's story), they were so popular, they were turned into
their own video game, Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks. Krillin, a character in
the Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z universe, is also a Shaolin monk, though he
abandons the Shaolin fighting style in favor of Muten-Rôshi's Turtle
In 2000's, Shaolin gets pop-culture recognition by appearing on the The
Simpsons (TV series), where they visit the Shaolin Temple in the episode
Goo Goo Gai Pan, which first airs in 2006. That same year, the Abbot of
Shaolin invites the K-Star martial arts reality TV show to film a TV
series of foreigners competing to survive Shaolin style training.
Two prominent publications about Shaolin were published in 2007, including
the first ever photo documentary on the temple entitled Shaolin: Temple of
Zen, published by the non-profit Aperture Foundation, featuring the photos
of National Geographic photographer Justin Guariglia. The Shaolin Abbot,
Shi Yong Xin, has written the foreword attesting the authenticity of the
project. These became the first photographs seen of monks practicing
classical kung fu inside the temple. American author Matthew Polly, also
has written a book recounting his story of his two years living, studying,
and performing with the Shaolin monks in China in the early 1990s. A
third, more academic book, is to be published by the Israeli Shaolin
scholar Meier Shahar in 2008 about the history of the Shaolin Temple.
While some of these are clear commercial exploitation of the Shaolin
Temple and its legends, they have helped make Shaolin a household name
around the world, and kept the temple alive in the minds of many young
generations. To date, no other temple in the world has achieved such wide
List of styles taught
Xiao Hong Quan - Small flood fist
Da Hong Quan - Big flood fist
Tong Bei Quan - Through the back fist
Liu He Quan - Six harmonies fist
Taizu Chang Quan - Emperor Taizu's long fist( this refers particularly to
the 1st Emperor of Sung dynasty who was a military commander)
Qixing Quan - Seven star fist
Da Pao Quan - Big cannon fist
Xiao Pao Quan - Small cannon fist
Chang Hu Xin Yi Men - Forever preserve the heart-mind link/door
Meihuaquan - Plum flower fist
Luohan Quan - Arhat fist
Tongzigong - Shaolin child training
Dan Dao - Single sabre technique
Long – Dragon technique
Qi Lu Quan - Seven animal fist