Chinese martial arts before Shaolin temple
Chinese historical records, like Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue, the Bibliographies in the Book of the Han Dynasty, the Records of the Grand Historian, and other sources document the existence of martial arts in China for thousands of years. For example, the Chinese martial art of wrestling, Shuai Jiao, predates the establishment of Shaolin temple by several centuries. Since Chinese monasteries were large landed estates, sources of considerable regular income, monks required protection. Historical discoveries indicate that, even before the establishment of Shaolin temple, monks had arms and also practiced martial arts. The establishment of Shaolin Kung fu is, however, the most important of these stories. In 1784 the Boxing Classic: Essential Boxing Methods made the earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery as Chinese boxing's place of origin.] This is, however, a misconception, but shows the historical importance of Shaolin kung fu.
Southern and Northern dynasties (420–589 AD)
Shaolin temple established
In 495 AD, Shaolin temple was built in the Song mountain, Henan province. The first monk who preached Buddhism there was the Indian monk named Buddhabhadra (佛陀跋陀罗; Fótuóbátuóluó), simply called Batuo (跋陀) by the Chinese. There are historical records that Batuo's first Chinese disciples, Huiguang (慧光) and Sengchou (僧稠), both had exceptional martial skills. For example, Sengchou's skill with the tin staff is even documented in the Chinese Buddhist canon. After Buddhabadra, another Indian or Persian Central Asian monk, Bodhidarma (菩提达摩; Pútídámó), simply called Damo (达摩) by the Chinese, came to Shaolin in 527 AD. His Chinese disciple, Huike (慧可), was also a highly trained martial arts expert. There are implications that these first three Chinese Shaolin monks, Huiguang, Sengchou, and Huike, may have been military men before entering the monastic life.
Some popular stories consider Bodhidharma as the founder of Shaolin kung fu.
The idea of Bodhidharma influencing Shaolin boxing is based on a qigong manual written during the 17th century. This is when a Taoist with the pen name "Purple Coagulation Man of the Way" wrote the Sinews Changing Classic in 1624, but claimed to have discovered it. The first of two prefaces of the manual traces this qigong style's succession from Bodhidharman to the Chinese general Li Jing via "a chain of Buddhist saints and martial heroes."(p165) The work itself is full of anachronistic mistakes and even includes a popular character from Chinese fiction, the "Qiuran Ke" ("Bushy Bearded Hero)" (虬髯客), as a lineage master. Literati as far back as the Qing Dynasty have taken note of these mistakes. The scholar Ling Tinkang (1757–1809) described the author as an 'ignorant village master'."
Like other stories of Shaolin, this story has, after all, some basis in reality. Bodhidharma was the founder of Dhyana (Chinese: 禅; pinyin: chán; Japanese: zen) Buddhism.
Sui and Tang dynasties (581–907 AD): Shaolin soldier monks
During the short period of the Sui dynasty (581–618), the building blocks of Shaolin kung fu took an official form, and Shaolin monks began to create fighting systems of their own. The 18 methods of Luohan with a strong Buddhist taste were practiced by Shaolin monks since this time, which was later used to create more advanced Shaolin martial arts. Shaolin monks had developed very powerful martial skills, and this showed itself until the end of the Sui dynasty.
Like most dynastic changes, the end of the Sui Dynasty was a time of upheaval and contention for the throne. 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. Wang Shichong declared himself Emperor. He controlled the territory of Zheng and the ancient capital of Luoyang. Overlooking Luoyang on Mount Huanyuan was the Cypress Valley Estate, which had served as the site of a fort during the Jin and a commandery during the Southern Qi. Sui Emperor Wen had bestowed the estate on a nearby monastery called Shaolin for its monks to farm but Wang Shichong, realizing its strategic value, seized the estate and there placed troops and a signal tower, as well as establishing a prefecture called Yuanzhou. Furthermore, he had assembled an army at Luoyang to march on the Shaolin Temple itself.
The monks of Shaolin allied with Wang's enemy, Li Shimin, and took back the Cypress Valley Estate, defeating Wang's troops and capturing his nephew Renze. Without the fort at Cypress Valley, there was nothing to keep Li Shimin from marching on Luoyang after his defeat of Wang's ally Dou Jiande at the Battle of Hulao, forcing Wang Shichong to surrender. Li Shimin's father was the first Tang Emperor and Shimin himself became its second. Thereafter Shaolin enjoyed the royal patronage of the Tang.
Though the Shaolin Monastery Stele of 728 attests to these incidents in 610 and 621 when the monks engaged in combat, it does not allude to martial training in the monastery, or to any fighting technique in which its monks specialized. Nor do any other sources from the Tang, Song and Yuan periods allude to military training at the temple. According to Meir Shahar, this is explained by a confluence of the late Ming fashion for military encyclopedias and, more importantly, the conscription of civilian irregulars, including monks, as a result of Ming military decline in the 16th century. 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.
Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
From the 8th to the 15th centuries, no extant source documents Shaolin participation in combat; then the 16th and 17th centuries see at least forty extant sources attest that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, but martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore. References to Shaolin martial arts appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry.
These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang Dynasty period, refer to Shaolin methods of combat unarmed, with the spear, and with the weapon that was the forte of the Shaolin monks and for which they had become famous, the staff. By the mid-16th century military experts from all over Ming China were travelling to Shaolin to study its fighting techniques.
Around 1560 Yú Dàyóu travelled to Shaolin Monastery to see for himself its monks' fighting techniques, but found them disappointing. Yú returned to the south with two monks, Zongqing and Pucong, whom he taught the use of the staff over the next three years, after which Zongqing and Pucong returned to Shaolin Monastery and taught their brother monks what they had learned. Martial arts historian Tang Hao traced the Shaolin staff style Five Tigers Interception to Yú's teachings.
The earliest extant manual on Shaolin kung fu, the Exposition of the Original Shaolin Staff Method was written in around 1610 and published in 1621 from what its author Chéng Zōngyóu learned during a more than ten-year stay at the monastery.
Conditions of lawlessness in Henan—where the Shaolin Monastery is located—and surrounding provinces during the late Ming Dynasty and all of the Qing Dynasty contributed to the development of martial arts. Meir Shahar lists the martial arts T'ai chi ch'uan, Chang Family Boxing, Bāguàquán, Xíngyìquán and Bajiquan as originating from this region and this time period.
From the 1540s to the 1560s, pirates known as wokou raided China's eastern and southeastern coasts on an unprecedented scale.
The geographer Zheng Ruoceng provides the most detailed of the 16th century sources which confirm that, in 1553, Wan Biao, Vice Commissioner in Chief of the Nanjing Chief Military Commission, initiated the conscription of monks—including some from Shaolin—against the pirates. Warrior monks participated in at least four battles: at the Gulf of Hangzhou in spring 1553 and in the Huangpu River delta at Wengjiagang in July 1553, Majiabang in spring 1554, and Taozhai in autumn 1555.
The monks suffered their greatest defeat at Taozhai, where four of them fell in battle; their remains were buried under the Stūpa of the Four Heroic Monks (Si yi seng ta) at Mount She near Shanghai.
The monks won their greatest victory at Wengjiagang. On 21 July 1553, 120 warrior monks led by the Shaolin monk Tianyuan defeated a group of pirates and chased the survivors over ten days and twenty miles. The pirates suffered over one hundred casualties and the monks only four.
Not all of the monks who fought at Wengjiagang were from Shaolin, and rivalries developed among them. Zheng chronicles Tianyuan’s defeat of eight rival monks from Hangzhou who challenged his command. Zheng ranked Shaolin first of the top three Buddhist centers of martial arts. Zheng ranked Funiu in Henan second and Mount Wutai in Shanxi third. The Funiu monks practiced staff techniques which they had learned at the Shaolin Monastery. The Wutai monks practiced Yang Family Spear (楊家槍; pinyin: Yángjiā qiāng).
Shaolin temple has two main legacies: Chan (禅), which refers to Chan Buddhism, the religion of Shaolin, and Quan (拳), which refers to the martial arts of Shaolin. In Shaolin, these are not separate disciplines and monks have always pursued the philosophy of the unification of Chan and Quan (禅拳合一; chan quan he yi). In a deeper point of view, Quan is considered part of Chan. As late Shaolin monk Suxi said in the last moments of his life, "Shaolin is Chan, not Quan."
On the Quan (martial) side, the contents are abundant. A usual classification of contents are:
- Basic skills (基本功; jīběn gōng): These include stamina, flexibility, and balance, which improve the body abilities in doing martial maneuvers. In Shaolin kung fu, flexibility and balance skills are known as "childish skills" (童子功; tóngzǐ gōng), which have been classified into 18 postures.
- Power skills (气功; qìgōng): These include:
- Qigong meditation: Qigong meditation itself has two types, internal (内; nèi), which is stationary meditation, and external (外; wài), which is dynamic meditation methods like Shaolin four-part exercise (si duan gong), eight-section brocade (八段锦; bā duàn jǐn), Shaolin muscle-changing scripture (易筋经; yì jīn jīng), and others.
- The 72 arts: These Include 36 soft and 36 hard exercises, which are known as soft and hard qigong.
- Combat skills (拳法; quánfǎ) skills: These include various barehanded, weapon, and barehanded vs. weapon routines (styles) and their combat (散打; sàndǎ) methods.
There are many of different schools of Shaolin kung fu with different approaches. Even at the Shaolin temple, considered as its birthplace, training schedules have varied from era to era, and it also varies from lineage to lineage among the monks. Besides, different practitioners have different priorities and so they have different exercises and different timings. There is no single defined schedule. However, the main streamline of daily activities in Shaolin temple is well defined. Since the ancient times, daily life of the monks at Shaolin temple has included studying and practicing Chan Buddhism, studying and practicing kung fu, and engaging in temple affairs, such as cleaning the temple, working on the farms, guarding the area, etc. The typical daily training schedule is:
5:00: Rising from bed
5:15–5:30: Sitting qigong
5:30–7:30: Morning run and kung fu practice
7:30-8:30: Morning meal
9:00–11:30: Performing temple tasks, like working at farms, chopping wood, and tending to commercial affairs; monks who are elders or children attend Buddhist classes
12:30–5:00: Afternoon kung fu practice: martial exercises and combat skills
5:10–6:40: Evening Buddhist lessons
9:00–10:00: Personal Time
10:00: Going to bed
At the morning training session, basic skills are practiced. Morning training begins with empty stomach, by warming up, which includes loosening up the body via rotating the joints and then by stamina training via endurance exercises such as various kinds of running, jumping, push-ups, etc., for 15–30 minutes. Then the "child skills" such as flexibility and balance are practiced for about a half-hour. Flexibility training is done via stretching exercises, and balance training is done via keeping the body balanced in different childish skills postures for a while. Usually, morning training takes 1 hour, but monks may train themselves by doing more basic exercises and other exercises such as practicing combat drills and routines, etc.
Afternoon training session usually begins at about 2:00-2:30, and may even begin at 3:00 at hot summer days. At this session, mostly the combat skills are practiced. These are usually practiced for 1–2 hours. In between, they may have a few 15-20-minute rest times, and may do other kinds of exercises at this session, which make the session to last for 2–3 hours.
Like the usual system of Chinese martial arts, Shaolin combat methods are taught via forms (套路; tàolù). Some forms, like Small Hongquan, have just one section, and some, like Big Hongquan, have 3 or maybe more smaller parts, which every part can be considered a form itself. Some forms that are technically closely related are coupled together and are considered of the same style (sub-style is a better choice for the word), like Small and Big Hongquan, which altogether make the Shaolin Hongquan style; or Small and Big Paoquan, which make Shaolin Paoquan, Small and Big Tongbiquan, which make Shaolin Tongbiquan, Qi Xing and Chang Hu Xin Yi Men Quan, etc. There are some styles with one form, like Taizu Changquan, and styles that have been expanded into 5, 10, 13, 18, or even more forms. For example, Luohan 18 hands, which was originally one form, was expanded into 18 forms until the late Ming dynasty; Luohanquan, which originally just had small and big forms, has been expanded into a system of 18 forms called 18 Luohanquan; Shaolin big Hongquan nowadays has 13 forms; etc. Indeed, these styles are not complete or stand-alone, this is just a classification of different forms of Shaolin kung fu based on their technical contents.
Shaolin kung fu has more than hundreds of extant styles. There is recorded documentation of more than a thousand extant forms, which makes Shaolin the biggest school of martial art in the world. In the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Shaolin monks chose 100 of the best styles of Shaolin kung fu. Then they shortlisted the 18 most famous of them. However, every lineage of Shaolin monks have always chosen their own styles. Every style teaches unique methods for fighting (散打; san da) and keeping health via one or a few forms. To learn a complete system, Shaolin monks master a number of styles and weapons. The most famous styles of Shaolin kung fu are:
List of known styles
- Arhat's 18 hands (罗汉十八手; luóhàn shíbā shǒu): known as the oldest style.
- Flood style (洪拳; hóngquán): with the small form (小洪拳; xiǎo hóngquán) known as the son of the styles, and the big form (大洪拳; dà hóngquán) known as the mother of the styles,
- Explosive style (炮拳; pàoquán): known as the king of the styles,
- Through-the-Arms style (通臂拳; tōngbìquán),
- 7-star & Long Guard the Heart and Mind Gate style (七星 & 长护心意门拳; qī xīng & cháng hù xīn yì mén quán),
- Plum Blossom style (梅花拳; méihuāquán),
- Facing&Bright Sun style (朝&昭 阳拳; cháo & zhāo yáng quán),
- Arhat style (罗汉拳; luóhànquán): known as the most representative style,
- Vajrapani style (金刚拳; jīn'gāngquán),
- Emperor's Long-range style (太祖长拳; tàizǔ chángquán): known as the most graceful style,
- Guard the Home, aka Special, style (看家拳; kānjiāquán),
- Chain Hands and Short-range combat (连手短打; lián shǒu duǎn dǎ),
- 5 Combinations style (五合拳; wǔhéquán),
- 6-Match style (六合拳; liùhéquán),
- Soft style (柔拳; róuquán),
- Mind (心意拳; xīnyìquán) aka Confusing Path style (迷踪拳; mízōngquán),
- Imitative styles (象形拳; xiàngxíngquán) (including Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Eagle, Monkey, Mantis, etc.),
- Drunken style (醉拳; zuìquán),
and many other styles, such as the southern shaolin styles, that traces their roots back to the southern shaolin temple in the fukien province, such as Hung Ga and Wing chun.
Internal and external kung fu
Huang Zongxi described martial arts in terms of Shaolin or "external" arts versus Wudang or internal arts in 1669. 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, while other well-known teachers hold the opinion that they are different. For example, the Taijiquan teacher Wu Jianquan:
Those who practice Shaolinquan leap about with strength and force; people not proficient at this kind of training soon lose their breath and are exhausted. Taijiquan is unlike this. Strive for quiescence of body, mind and intention.
Influence on other martial arts
Some lineages of karate have oral traditions that claim Shaolin origins. Martial arts traditions in Japan and Korea, and Southeast Asia cite Chinese influence as transmitted by Buddhist monks.
Recent developments in the 20th century such as Shorinji Kempo (少林寺拳法) practiced in Japan's Sohonzan Shorinji (金剛禅総本山少林寺) still maintains close ties with China's Song Shan Shaolin Temple due to historic links. Japanese Shorinji Kempo Group financial contributions to the maintenance of the historic edifice of the Song Shan Shaolin Temple in 2003 received China's recognition.
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