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The history of Shaolin Temple & Kung-Fu

entrance1Of the tens of thousands of temples which have existed in china during the last two millennia, only the Shaolin Temple stands out as having the most significant impact on the development of Chinese society. The Shaolin Temple of Henan province, China, affected Chinese society from the following two historical and socio-cultural perspectives.

The development of Buddhism and its impact and acceptance in Chinese society; and
The conception and development of Chinese martial art and its place in Chinese Society

2,500 years ago Buddhism was founded in Nepal. About 2,100 years ago Buddhism spread to India. 1,500 years ago an Indian Monk called Bodhidharma traveled to China and he developed the teachings of Chan Buddhism.

495 A.D.

The Shaolin Monastery is built in Henan Province. The first abbot is "Ba Tuo". Ba Tuo received the land at the foot of the Shao She mountain from the Chinese emperor to build the monastery. The name Shaolin comes from the Shao She Mountain and from the forest that surrounds it. The Chinese word for forest is "Lin" and for temple it is "Su". Shao Lin Su = Shaolin Temple

The Three Lineages of Shaolin:

The Shaolin temple has had three distinct lineages (successions of abbots) in its history:

Ba Tuo's Lineage
The first lineage was very short. It consisted solely of Ba Tuo, the founder of the Shaolin temple. Ba Tuo's lineage was short because he taught Xiao Xing Buddhism. This narrow, restrictive form of Buddhism had so many rules (250 for men, 500 for women) that it was impractical for most people. As a result, Ba Tuo had few disciples. However, the two former generals Qui Wong & Sheng Tsu become his students and bring martial arts to the temple. His lineage ended when Da Mo became abbot of the Shaolin temple.

527 A.D.

Da Mo's Lineage
1) Bodhidharma (his Indian name) or Da Mo as he is called in Chinese, arrives in China. Da Mo is very influential as he is bringing the teachings of Chan Buddhism to the Shaolin Temple. Chan is known in the West mostly through its Japanese form of Zen Buddhism. Chan and Zen have the same roots but they developed into different philosophies over the centuries. Upon becoming abbot of the Shaolin temple, Da Mo made a sort of prophecy. He tied six knots in the belt of his robe and stated that his lineage would end upon the fifth abbot following him. After Da Mo, his disciple Hui Ke was named abbot of the Shaolin temple. After Hui Ke; Sheng San, Gao Xing, Hung Jen and Hui Neng were each appointed abbot in turn.

Each received the robe of Da Mo upon becoming abbot. During the six generations of Da Mo's lineage, the teaching of Ch'an Buddhism was done using a mind to mind, heart to heart philosophy, avoiding unnecessary verbal instruction. Hui Neng changed this philosophy by writing down the teachings of Ch'an. These writings allowed Ch'an to spread outside the Shaolin temple, but they also signalled the end of Da Mo's lineage.

Da Mo found the monks at the Temple in poor health. He introduced 4 forms to improve their health:

1. Yi Jin Jing (Chi Kung): muscle and tendon washing form

2. Xi Xue Jing (Chi Kung): bone marrow washing form

3. Lohan Shi Ba Shou (Kung Fu): 18 Lohan movements from which develop the 18 Lohan forms. Later the 54 Lohan forms and then the 108 Lohan forms develop from the original 18 movements.

4. Wu Xing Shou (Five Animal Kung Fu Forms): Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Crane and Snake forms

The following are the five abbots of the Shaolin Temple that followed Da Mo.

2) Hui Ke (487- 594)

3) Sheng San (520-612) very little written known about him, probably due to the persecution of Buddhism during his life

4) Gao Xing (580-651) ; leader of the "East Mountain School"

5) Hung Jen (600-674)

6) Hui Neng (638-713): the illiterate wood cutter; hugely influencial; his own life story is considered a sutra; first abbot who wrote down the principles of Chan Buddhism.

With the death of Hui Neng a new lineage of monks starts at the Shaolin Temple. The first generation of this lineage is Fuyu.

Fu Yu's Lineage - 1st Generation Fighting Monk:
Fu Yu became abbot at the beginning of the Sung Dynasty. This was a very warlike period in China's history and people everywhere were in danger from brigands and armies. Fu Yu invited the best martial artists to come and share their knowledge while training at the Shaolin temple. Three times, for a period of three years each time, martial artists from many places came to the Shaolin temple to share their knowledge. The Shaolin monks recorded the forms and techniques which they observed into a library which was kept at Shaolin. It is for this reason that the Shaolin Temple is often considered the birthplace of martial arts. However this is incorrect. The Shaolin Temple can be seen more as a modern day University that simply studied martial arts and then combined the useful techniques into a new system. This system is now known as Shaolin Kung Fu.Fu Yu's lineage continues unbroken to this day.

Shi Yan Ming - 34th Generation Fighting Monk:
Shi Yan Ming was born in the year of the dragon and grew up at the Shaolin Temple in Henan province, China. He is the founder and abbot of the USA Shaolin Temple in New York. Shi Yan Ming teaches authentic Shaolin Kung Fu, Chi Kung, Tai Chi, Mediation and Chan Buddhism.

Leaving Shaolin
Before the Qing dynasty in China, disciples of the Shaolin temple who wished to leave had to pass through five tests in order to be permitted departure.

The first was to defeat the Lohan Tang. A Lohan is a kind of bodyguard and the Lohan Tang were the 18 best fighters from the 5 Shaolin Ch'an families. The departing disciple would have to face and defeat each of these 18 fighters.

Upon defeating the Lohan Tang, the departee would then face the Da Mo Yuan. These were four fighting monks charged with protecting the abbot. After defeating the Da Mo Yuan, the departee would face the San Jing Gung. These were three fighting monks chosen to defend the library of manuscripts preserved at Shaolin. After defeating the San Jing Gung, the departee would face the Mu Yi Xiang.

This was a hall of wooden dummies which were set to react to hair triggers. If triggered, each dummy would strike with enough force to knock a man unconscious. If the departee could navigate to the end of the hallway of wooden dummies, his last trial was to carry a cauldron full of hot coals outside by pressing his forearms against the sides of the cauldron. The cauldron had a dragon on one side and a tiger on the other.