Linked back into the vibrant past, some 1500 years ago in ancient China to the modern world of today, if one mentions the name, Wu-Shu, Karate, Taekwondo, Wu-Tang, Tai Chi, Judo, or even Wing Chun, each of these distinct martial arts can be clearly traced back to the two Shaolin Temples of the Henan and Fujian provinces. Although these copious styles are now identified with their own diverse names and titles, within each still lies the essence of Shaolin, very much like the identical serene waters found in separated streams and capillaries flowing from the source of a bulky river.
Apart from architecture, calligraphy, ceramics, and textiles, martial arts have always been among one of the richest and most celebrated cultural paths of the Chinese traditions. Now internationally established as a continuously evolving entity, each with their own individual brand names and curriculums, it had ironically begun as a mere singular bisection.
On the sacred, precipitous Shaoshi peak of Mount Song located in the central western province of Henan, a Shaolin Temple was constructed where it later bestowed the Mandarin name: ‘Wu-Shu’ to martial arts. Far away in the southern reaches of the Fujian province however, another distinct Shaolin sanctuary donned martial arts the Fukienese label: ‘Gung-Fu.’ Within the colossal stonewalls of these havens, both genders of monks and nuns obeyed the strict commandments of not eating meat or drinking alcohol, followed the Buddhist path to enlightenment, and helped citizens in need.
After countless hours of motionless meditation, martial arts were later introduced in hopes of boosting physical activity and promoting vitality. At the time, the temple had no sense of discrimination or judgment against people running from the law and often harbored individuals who had committed war crimes or sins against society. Seeking reformation and forgiveness from the gods, these individuals were often accepted into the Shaolin Temple by the kind hearted hierarchy of monks and nuns. Although some of these outsiders were typically orphans or the aftereffects of unfortunate families caught in disasters, many of these outlaws were military based or had extensive knowledge in the field of martial arts.
In admiration of their trust and hospitality, these substantial groups in exile would often share their findings and methods of their own martial arts with the monks, thus supplementing the Shaolin annals with an immense variety and understanding of unarmed combat, weapons systems, and physical conditioning. Within the barriers of the ‘Chong Ging Gok’ meaning the ‘Library of Martial Art & Buddhist Manuscripts,’ only a select few were allowed access.
Excerpts from the book “Shaolin Grandmasters’ Text: History, Philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Chan.”