Shaolin Kung Fu (or Shaolin Wushu) is one of the oldest, largest, and most famous styles of kung fu in China. Old sayings in Chinese folklore related to this practice include “Shaolin kung fu is the best under heaven” and “All martial arts under heaven originated from Shaolin” . Shaolin Kung Fu combines Ch’an philosophy and martial arts and originated and was developed in the Shaolin temple in Henan province, Greater China during its 1500-year history.
Shaolin Kung Fu History
Shaolin temple was established during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589 AD), Bodhidharma transmitter Zen Buddhism into China, began the physical training of the monks of Shaolin Monastery that led to the creation of Shaolin kung fu. During the short period of the Sui dynasty (581–618), the building blocks of Shaolin kung fu took an official form, and Shaolin monks began to create fighting systems of their own. Like most dynastic changes, the end of the Sui Dynasty was a time of upheaval and contention for the throne. Shaolin monks helped Li Shimin achieve victory and establish the Tang Dynasty, thereafter Shaolin enjoyed the royal patronage of the Tang. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, no extant source documents Shaolin participation in combat; then the 16th and 17th centuries see at least forty extant sources attest that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life.
Shaolin Kung Fu Contents
Shaolin Kung Fu contents are abundant, usually classified as below
- Basic skills: These include stamina, flexibility, and balance, which improve the body abilities in doing martial maneuvers. In Shaolin kung fu, flexibility and balance skills are known as “childish skill”, which have been classified into 18 postures.
- Combat skills: These include various barehanded, weapon, and barehanded vs. weapon routines (styles) and their combat methods.
- Qi Gong: Qi Gong including Meditation Qi Gong, Soft Qi Gong and Hard Qi Gong
Shaolin Kung Fu Styles
Shaolin kung fu has more than hundreds of extant styles. There is recorded documentation of more than a thousand extant forms, which makes Shaolin the biggest school of martial art in the world. In the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), Shaolin monks chose 100 of the best styles of Shaolin kung fu. Then they shortlisted the 18 most famous of them. However, every lineage of Shaolin monks have always chosen their own styles. Every style teaches unique methods for fighting (or Sanda) and keeping health via one or a few forms. To learn a complete system, Shaolin monks master a number of styles and weapons.
The most famous styles of Shaolin kung fu are: Arhat’s 18 hands, Explosive style, Flood style, Penetrating-Arms style, Plum Blossom style, 7-star & Long Guard the Heart and Mind Gate style, Vajrapani style, Facing & Bright Sun style, Emperor’s Long-range style, Arhat style, Soft style, 6-Match style, Mind style, Drunken style, Imitative styles (including Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Eagle, Monkey, Mantis, etc.) and many other styles.