History of Kungfu
Shaolin Kungfu started in the Songshan Shaolin Temple (translated as Young Forest Temple) which is located in the north-west of Dengfeng county, Henan province. Shaolin Kungfu is the oldest and most widely spread school of Chinese martial arts and is renown for having the highest varieties of fighting style. Shaolin Kungfu is famous for its vigorous, swift and unpredictable moves, it has been developed, refined and adapted over centuries and is now considered one of the most famous martials arts in the world.
The Shaolin Temple was built in 495 during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei Dynasty. At the time of Indian dhnyana master Buddhabhadra, known as “Batuo” in Chinese, traveled through the Western Regions and spread Buddhism to China. In China he was greeted by Emperor Xiaowen, a pious learner of Buddhist philosophies. When Batuo first saw Mount Songshan he thought it looked like a lotus, a symbol of fortune, pureness and faith widely used in Buddhism. Emperor Xiaowen agreed to built the Shaolin Temple along the Shaoshi Mountain for Batuo’s preaching. In the 3rd year of Xiaochang era (527) in the Northern Wei Dynasty, Bodhidharma, the 28 Indian patriarch of Zen Buddhism came from southern India and entered the Shaolin Temple. Bodhidharma introduced his learning to the temple and is credited as the fist patriarch of Chinese Zen and the Shaolin temple as the original temple of Chinese Zen Buddhism. Bodhidharma passed on his lineage to Huike, who became the second patriarch. Later the transmission passed to the third patriarch Sengcan, the fourth one Daoxin, the fifth one Hongren, and the sixth one Huineng. Thus the six masters are regarded as “the six Zen patriarchs of China”. The theme of Zen Buddhism is, as summarized by Bodhidharma, “A special transmission outside of the scriptures; not founded upon words to letters; by pointing directly to one’s mind, it lets one see into his true nature and attain Buddhahood.” This is the most characteristic way of practicing Zen Buddhism. Under the influence of Shaolin Zen, kung fu, which had been used for combat, assumed Zen as its soul. Since then, Chinese martial arts began its combination with Zen and based on Zen philosophies, the unique system of Shaolin Kung Fu was founded.
Another important factor accounts for the fame of the Shaolin Temple, as Li Shimin, the Duke of Qin, fought the warlord Wang Shichong, it was the 13 monks of the temple who forced Wang Shichong to surrender and took Wang’s nephew Wang Renze as captive. When Li Shimin succeeded the throne, he granted a reward to the 13 monks, among who there were Tanzong and Zhicao, and founded the army of monks soldiers. The incidents started an enthusiasm for discussing martial arts and military affairs. In such circumstances, the monks practiced not only boxing styles and arms but also the skills of fighting on horse, infantry fight, qinggong (light body skill), and qigong (an internal Chinese meditative practice), etc. The monks invited martial artists from all over the country and exchanged views on marital arts. Martial arts celebrities from various places flocked here to study or present their martial arts skills. Thus the Shaolin Temple came to be a place where various martial arts schools exchanged their arts and Shaolin Kungfu became one of the major school of Chinese martial arts.
A Yuan-Dynasty monk named Jinnaluo taught the art of gun (staff), whose techniques later developed into a unique gun style. Later, some boxing masters, such as Bai Yufeng, Jueyuan and Li Sou, entered the Shaolin Temple to teach and study the arts of Shaolin Kungfu. They worked together to formulate the theories of Shaolin Kung Fu. Especially, they had the original “18 Arhat Skills” in Shaolin Kungfu extended to 173 skills.
Geographically, Shaolin Kungfu was divided into two sects, namely the Northern Shaolin and the Southern Shaolin. The Southern Shaolin was regarded as the ancestor of Southern boxing. There is a saying that Dragon boxing builds up the spirit, Tiger boxing builds up the bone, Leopard boxing the strength, Snake boxing the Qi and Crane boxing the Jing (vigor). With a variety of styles, Shaolin Kungfu can be classified, according to the characteristics, into internal arts, external arts, hard arts, qinggong, and qigong, etc. The internal arts place a primary emphasis on developing the practitioner’s Jing and Qi. The external and hard arts help to build a particularly body part. Qinggong helps to develop the skills in vertical jump and leap. Qigong include the cultivation and the nourishing of qi. Besides, a series of unique skills were developed by Shaolin artists, for instance, the plum flower poles training, sandbag training, dragon claw training, iron shirt training, and pinching-flower training,etc. Shaolin Kung Fu can be also divided into over one hundred techniques such as the techniques of boxing, staff, spear, broadsword, straightsword,and bare-handed combat.
It is recorded that the Shaolin Temple had originally 36 hard arts and 36 soft arts. Later Shaolin abbots and monks further developed the hard and the soft arts and compiled The 72 Arts of the Shaolin Temple. The work offers a detailed, comprehensive and systematic descriptions of Shaolin internal and external arts, which gained the reputation of “ the 72 orthodox arts of the Shaolin Temple”. Training of these arts were shrouded in secrecy within the temple.
As they promoted the Zen Buddhism teaching by dint of kungfu, the Shaolin masters nurtured the idea “practice the arts of boxing and Zen as one”. Accordingly, the system of Shaolin Kungfu became the most influential Chinese Buddhism culture in the world.
This is just a few of many stories about the Shaolin temple, Buddhism and Zen, more information can be found on here http://www.shaolin.org.cn/EN/index.aspx