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Shaolin FAQs
Shaolin Monk

Origins of Shaolin

The origins of the Shaolin temple is somewhat confusing and controversial. Most believe that the temple was built by a Buddhist monk from India named "BaTuo" around 495CE in the 19th year of the reign of Emperor XiaoWen. It was built on a piece of land that had been recently burned near Shaoshi Mountain in Henan Province, and the builders planted many new trees, hence the name Shaolin ("Shao" meaning "young" or "new", and "Lin" meaning "forest".

It seems as though BaTuo was fond of the martial arts which was being practiced in the region, and two of his disciples became quite proficient at the local art, teaching it to some of the other monks in the temple. (Historical Time Line).

The centralized location of the temple in Henan Province made it a resting spot for travellers and many martial arts experts stayed for short periods of time, sharing many of their techniques with the monks. The temple was also a tolerant haven for opposition military leaders being pursued by local armies, so many of these leaders spent extended periods of time at the temple, sharing their techniques as well. Buddhism was being supported by the Emperors and was receiving many gifts, both of land and gold. For instance, it is recorded that Emperor Wen Di gave Shaolin over 1600 acres of land during the Sui Dynasty. This rapid growth and wealth made the Shaolin a target for bandits and foreign pirates, thus the Shaolin monk fighters were trained to help protect their assets. It is still a question how the peaceful and benevalent Buddhist monks justified the study of martial arts to such an extent... but the tradition continued and became one of the truely amazing stories of ancient China. Arhat Painting

The martial art routines of the Shaolin Temple were not organized into a complete system until some 30-40 years later when another Indian monk visited the site. This monk's name was Bodhidharma (DaMo in Chinese), and his entry brought a new type of Buddhism to China, that of Chan ("Zen" in Japanese) Buddhism. Chan Buddhism was less strict and adopted more of the existing Chinese beliefs, making it more palletable to the Chinese people. The Chan sect spread rapidly within China and is the most predominate form of Buddhism (Zen) in the modern world.

The story is told that Bodhidharma visited the Shaolin temple and was refused admittance. He retired to a cave and sat, meditating and staring at a wall for nine years, contemplating his beliefs... enough time to have a shadow of his image permanently discolored into a facing wall (now a tourist attraction). When the Shaolin monks heard of this amazing dedication, they admitted him into the temple, thus making the Shaolin Temple the primary "Zen" or "Chan" temple in China.

Along with these new Chan-style Buddhist teachings, the martial training of the monks was systematically developed into a standardized system of martial arts known as Shaolin WuShu (Gongfu).

How Shaolin Became Popular

Although this martial art was being developed in the temple in Henan Province, Shaolin WuShu or boxing was still unknown throughout China. The monks were not necessarily bragging about this new ability to protect themselves. So, we can give credit to publishers for spreading the word. The earliest reference to "DaMo" or Bodhidharma as the originator of this new fighting method called Shaolin Boxing was in a widely popular novel, "The Travels of Lao Ts'an", first published in "Illustrated Fiction Magazine" between 1904-1907. This was followed by a book called "Shaolin School Methods", in a Shanghai newspaper in 1910. Then, another book entitled "Secrets of Shaolin Boxing" was so popular that 30 reprints flooded the market by 1919. These, and numerous books and movies to follow was the reason that the Shaolin Wushu style became so popular throughout the world.

Here in the United States, we have Bruce Lee, who died in 1973, and the very popular "Kung-Fu" TV series that premiered in 1972 to thank for spreading the popularity of the Shaolin Boxing methods to more than just the martial arts enthusiasts. Although most Americans would not know what Shaolin style is if they saw it, they recognize the term and know that it has something to do with a superior fighting style.

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