History of Shaolin

The Shaolin Temple was built in 495 A.D on the Songshan mountain in the province of Henan. The Songshan mountain is located in the centre of a group of five Holy Mountains, which are: Tai, Hua, Heng, Heng (in a different way of writing) and the mountain Song. The Shaolin Temple was built at the foot of the Five Breast Peak (Wu Ru Feng) in the middle of a young forest. It is in Chinese referred to as “Shoa Lin Si”. That is were the name originated from, since “Shao” stands for “young”, “Lin” is translated as “forest or wood” and “Si” means temple.

The Shaolin temple was established by a monk from India, named Ba Tuo, who received the order of the emperor Xiao Wen of the Northern Wei dynasty (386- 534 A.D). The monks who inhabited the Shoalin Temple followed a simple life with farming, philosophy, literature and meditation as the basics of their lifestyle and tolerance, non-violence, honour and humility as their ethical foundations. 

According to the Chinese history, in 527 A.D., an Indian Buddhist, also known by the names of Ta Mo, Da Mo, Dharma or Bodhidarma, travelled into China with the goal of spreading the Buddhist philosophy and to see the Emperor. At that time, local Buddhist monks had just started to translate Buddhist texts from Sankrit into Chinese, with the intention of making the religion more accessible to the population. Ta Mo travelled to one of the Buddhist temples to meet the monks. But when he arrived at the temple, he was not allowed to enter. Therefore, he went to a nearby cave and meditated for the next nine years until the monks recognized his religious dedication and accepted him. According to the legend, by meditating for so many years, his constant gaze bored a hole in the wall of the cave where he used to meditate and his shadow was reflected on a stone, which unfortunately, was destroyed during the war.

 When Ta Mo arrived to the Shaolin Temple, he found the monks in a rather bad physical condition as a result of inactivity and constantly seated position. The lack of activity had made them weak and vulnerable. Therefore, Ta Mo spend several years in the temple in order to strengthen the monks physically and mentally. He introduced the Chinese boxing, better known as Kung fu or Wushu, he spread the Buddhist theory of Chan and was responsible for the development of the 18 boxing techniques of Shaolin, which are also known as the 18 Hand Movements of the Enlightened One.

As a civil war broke out during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.), the peace and tranquillity came to an end. The monks blended Ta Mo’s exercises and with local self-defence techniques, which resulted in the creation of the style known as Lo Han. In 621 A.D. the monks fought their first battle with good results. A stone which is still at display at the temple shows the 13 Shaolin monks. After this, the monks were recognized for their remarkable and superior fighting skills and the term ‘fighting monk” was born. From that moment on, Shaolin was allowed to have soldier-monks. The rumour had it that one Shaolin monk equalled 1,000 soldiers. The Shaolin temple gained a very good reputation in China and was highly respected.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) the Shaolin Temples grew into well-recognized  centres of philosophy, history, mathematics, material arts and poetry. They housed over 1,000 soldier-monks, who were often used by the government to combat rebellions. There was a lot of exchange of knowledge with travelling monks, warriors, healers, teachers and so on. In 1522 Zhue Yuen joined the Shaolin temple and introduced Li Sou and Bai Yu Feng, who were both famous martial arts practioners themselves. Together they developed the five Animal Styles. During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.), martial arts were forbidden and even under the protection of the Shaolin monks, Shaolin was seriously damaged by fire for a number of times. The fire that was set by the army of Shi Yousan in 1928, destroyed most of the buildings of Shaolin Temple, to be rebuilt later.

The Boxer rebellion in 1901 was actually the beginning of the ending of the Shaolin Temples. In the late 1800s, China had been occupied by Western and Japanese governments for business interests. The long hostility between Japan and China worsened and extended to include all foreign forces as well. As a result, a Nationalist movement was born. The front line soldiers of the new order were legendary material arts practioners (of which many came from Shaolin) better known as the Boxers. Their initial assaults on occupying governments were not successful and led to a more modern reformation that included adopting modern weapons and tactics. 


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