Thursday, 22 February 2024

Shaolin Kung Fu

The Shaolin order dates to about 540 A.D., when an Indian
Buddhist priest named Bodhidharma (Tamo in Chinese),
traveled to China to see the Emperor. At that time, the
Emperor had started local Buddhist monks translating
Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese. The intent
was to allow the general populace the ability to practice this religion.
When Tamo joined the monks, he observed that they were not in good physical condition. Most of their routine paralleled that of the Irish monks of the Middle Ages, who spent hours each day hunched over tables where they transcribed handwritten texts. Consequently, the Shaolin monks lacked the physical and mental stamina needed to perform even the most basic of Buddhist meditation practices. Tamo countered this weakness by teaching them moving exercises, designed to both enhance chi flow and build strength. These sets, modified from Indian yogas (mainly hatha, and raja) were based on the movements of the 18 main animals in Indo-Chinese iconography (e.g., tiger, deer, leopard, cobra, snake, dragon, etc.), were the beginnings of Shaolin Kung Fu.

It is hard to say just when the exercises became "martial arts". The Shaolin temple was in a secluded area where bandits would have traveled and wild animals were an occasional problem, so the martial side of the temple probably started out to fulfill self-defense needs. After a while, these movements were codified into a system of self-defense. Shaolin Kung Fu refers to a collection of Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery.  Of the tens of thousands of Kung Fu and Wushu styles, several hundred might have some relationship to Shaolin.

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 .

The main goals of Kung Fu Shaolin is to strive for quiescence of body, mind and intention . The word Shaolin means ( small mountain) .

These five animal forms are the basis for Shaolin, and though there are many different styles of martial arts and other animal forms are practiced in all of them , every Shaolin style relies on the basic Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Snake, and Crane forms .

The Shaolin/Sil Lum sect is a branch of the Buddhist school known as Ch'an (the equivalent in Japan is Zen; the Shaolin-descended school of martial arts and philosophy in Japan is "Shorinji Zen"). The Ch'an sect became a complex mixture of Buddhist and Taoist concepts. This first section reviews the Ch'an philosophy-base as it existed from about 1860 until recently.

As time went on, this Buddhist sect became more and more distinct because of the martial arts being studied. This is not to say that Tamo "invented" martial arts. Martial arts had existed in China for centuries. But within confines of the temple, it was possible to develop and codify these martial arts into the new and different styles that would become distinctly Shaolin. One of the problems faced by many western historians is the supposed contraindication of Buddhist principles of non-violence coupled with Shaolin's legendary martial skills. In fact, the Shaolin practitioner is never an attacker, nor does he or she dispatch the most devastating defenses in any situation. Rather, the study of kung Fu leads to better understanding of violence, and consequently how to avoid conflict. Failing that, a Buddhist who refuses to accept an offering of violence (i.e., and attack) merely returns it to the sender. Initially, the kung Fu expert may choose to parry an attack, but if an assailant is both skilled and determined to cause harm, a more definitive and concluding solution may be required, from a joint-lock hold to a knockout, to death. The more sophisticated and violent an assault, the more devastating the return of the attack to the attacker. Buddhists are not, therefore, hurting anyone; they merely refuse delivery of intended harm.

Shaolin Philosophy

The Shaolin/Sil Lum sect is a branch of the Buddhist school known as Ch'an (the equivalent in Japan is Zen; the Shaolin-descended school of martial arts and philosophy in Japan is "Shorinji Zen"). Unlike most monotheistic Occidental religions that supplanted each other as Europe became "civilized," many Asian religions and philosophies resulted in amalgamations. Hence, over time, the Ch'an sect became a complex mixture of Buddhist and Taoist concepts. This first section reviews the Ch'an philosophy-base as it existed from about 1860 until recently.

One further note of importance: most Asian belief systems are represented by both a religious and a non-religious form. Religious aspects are those that adhere to belief in deities, supernatural occurrences, and some distinct model for an after-life. In contrast, the non-religious aspects do not concern themselves with deities, magic, or "unknowable" knowledge. It is the latter aspect of both Buddhism and Taoism that sets Ch'an apart as a distinct entity.

What is Kung Fu?

In dealing with the recently popularized concept of kung Fu, one must begin the discussion by explaining that kung Fu is not a martial art unto itself, yet it encompasses the most effective and devastating methods of self-preservation known to man. The identity of kung Fu is diverse; over 1,000 styles are known or recognized. From kung Fu came Karate, Escrima, and most important, a way of thinking that became a code of life.

Kung Fu requires of the practitioner a strict code of physical and mental discipline, unparalleled in Western pursuits. It is only as a whole concept that kung fu can be discussed, and this entails more than fighting.

To be adept, one must follow the Tao, the way, the essence of the philosophy and life of the originators of the arts. One cannot pay to learn this art; it is only acquired by the desire to learn, the will to discipline one's self, and devotion to practice.

The concept of a style is a rather complicated one, and Chinese martial arts claim as many as 1500 different styles. By "style" we mean a particular school of martial practice, with its own training methods, favored techniques, and emphasis on attack and defense. While it is impossible to quantify differences between most styles, it is easy to see the distinctions between such disparate approaches to combat as practiced by Tiger, Crane, and Monkey stylists. In choosing a style (a contemporary privilege; traditionally, styles were assigned by the teachers), try to find one that suits your physical attributes, interests, and sense of utility. It does no good to study the graceful single-leg and flying techniques of White Crane if you have the flexibility and grace of a turtle! On the other hand, and kung fu practice will enhance your physical skills, dexterity, and alertness, and it is not uncommon for a beginner in one style to change to a more "appropriate" style later. Whatever else may be said of styles, the first year basics are almost universal - punches, kicks, and stances show little variation at the beginner's level.