Kung Fu Made In China
Shi Yan Lin
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The History of the Shaolin Temple in China

At the foot of the Songshan Mountains, the Shaolin Temple was built in the year 495 AD under orders of Emperor Hsiaowen.

The temple was intended as a religious center, as well as a site for the safekeeping and transmission of knowledge. Thus, at the beginning, the temple was made up of one shrine of relicts, and one facility for translating the religious and philosophical scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese.

Through the efforts of the Indian monk, Bodhidharma (Chinese Ta-Mo), Zen Buddhism was ‘developed’ in the Shaolin Monastery. From here it spread to the entire eastern world, in particular to Japan.

Accompanied by Zen, the development of the marital arts progressed quickly. The two realms are thus inseparably connected to one another.

In the Shaolin temple, the martial arts were practiced both for self-defense and for physical fitness. Of equal importance was the practice of martial arts for mental development. Bodhidharma taught breathing techniques and exercises, which were presumably the foundation of the later Shaolin Temple boxing.

Emperor T’ai-Tsung granted the temple the authority to train a small group of monks as warriors for purposes of self-defense.

When Emperor T’ai-Tsung found himself in peril, he asked the temple for help, and thirteen monks were sent from Shaolin. This event is historically documented. These men performed such a good service to the Emperor, that he allowed the temple to train five hundred warrior monks. Approximately thirteen hundred years ago, during the first period of prosperity, fifteen hundred monks lived on the temple grounds. Five hundred of these monks were trained in martial arts. In 1674, the emperor K’ang-Hsi asked for help, which he received in the form of a troop of over one hundred warrior monks.

The fighting strength of the monks made such a strong impression on the emperor, that he became afraid of them. The emperor thanked the Shaolin for their heroic mission by sending an army, which attacking the temple, burned it to the ground. Most of the Shaolin were murdered after a bitter fight.

Whereas the majority of the survivors fled to other temple monasteries, or joined the Peking Opera; some stayed nearby, meeting and practicing martial arts in secret. After the death of emperor K’ang-Hsi, the Shaolin Temple was rebuilt. In 1928, the history of the Shaolin Temple experienced a sudden but temporary end, when the monastery became the point of contention of warlords. The Shaolin had to flee from General Hsi-Xousan and his troops in order to save their lives.

Today, the Shaolin Temple continues to flourish as a monastic as well as a martial arts center. Even the communist Chinese government has realized the significance of the monastery. In fact, there have been (and still exist) groups which have separated from the temple, as well as monasteries in other regions of China that call themselves Shaolin. But only the legendary temple at the foot of the Songshan mountains is here of relevance. Such a collection of talent, and a concentration of energy in one place over such an exceedingly long period of fifteen hundred years is no doubt for martial arts unique in world history.