Monday, November 21, 2011

Evolution of Chinese Martial Art in Shaolin Temple

       Chinese martial arts, also referred to by the Mandarin Chinese term wushu and popularly as kung fu , are a number of fighting styles that have developed over the centuries in China. These kung fu styles are often classified according to common traits, identified as "families", "sects" or "schools" of martial arts. With its rich history spanning some 4000 years, Kung-Fu has expanded, multiplied and been refined into literally thousands of styles and was attributed to the need for self-defense, hunting techniques and military training . The most famous part of Kung-Fu's history dates from sometime in the sixth century AD with the arrival of an Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidarma (also known as Do Ma), at the newly formed Shaolin Temple in 502-557 A.D. Buddhism had been brought to China a few hundred years before but Bodhidarma is credited with the establishment of the Zen sect of Mahayana Buddhism.

In Buddhism meditation plays an important part of their daily discipline. But meditation tended to involve sitting for long periods without moving. Bodhidarma noticed that the Chinese disciples could not stay awake during such long meditations. So, he introduced the 18 movement exercises, to help them to maintain their posture, flexibility and prevent the disciples from falling asleep during meditation. These '18 movement exercises' had their origin in techniques formed and developed in the Himalayas; were designed in such a way that daily practice of these techniques would strengthen and improve the health of the disciples. These techniques were later further developed, and became known as Chan (which was also know as Zen Bhuddism) and Shaolin Wushu. From these 18 movements and classics, 72 techniques were developed which later evolved into 170 techniques. These techniques were divided into five styles which were called the five formed fist and became the basis of Shilon kung fu’s (Ng Ying Ga) five animal style, and yet still maintained its own unique characteristics.
The techniques of the five animal styles are briefly: Crane (hao) - strengthen the sinews, promote vitality, stresses balance and fast foot movements. Leopard (pao)- develops strength, power and speed. Dragon (lung)- cultivates spirit, flexibility, and graceful movements. Tiger (hu)- Exercises to strengthen the bones. Snake (she)- Exercises to cultivate Chi, correct breathing to strengthen internal power and to strike an opponent’s vulnerable areas. The union of these five animal forms clearly displayed the efficacy of both hard and soft movements, of both internal and external energy. 

Shaolin kung fu was taught only to monks in the temple and they were well known for their martial arts excellence. They could not leave the temple until they passed a life or death test. Sealed in a chamber the monk had to work his way through a series of traps and wooden dummies that were triggered mechanically. at the end of the chamber was a gate and in front of the gate was a smoldering urn. To leave the chamber, the monks were to move this urn with their arms wrapped around it, which branded their forearms with two dragons which was the symbol of the Shaolin inner chamber disciples. 

800 years after Bodhidarma’s death, during the Yuan Dynasy (1260 – 1368), Chang San Feng (a disciple and Taoist in the Shaolin temple) was considered an excellent student. He was believed to have created the tai chi chuan (supreme ultimate or Grand Ultimate Fist). The concept of the tai chi appears in both Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, where it represents the fusion or mother of Yin and Yang into a single Ultimate, represented by the tai chi tu symbol. Tai chi chuan is a system which minimizes the use of external strength and emphasizes internal strength or chi. This was developed after Chang San Feng watched an encounter between a snake and a crane. Tai chi chuan is based on five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. It also helps circulate late blood, breath, chi flow and helps build one’s awareness.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), kung fu was referred to as chi yang and the art flourished throughout China during this time. Wang Lang, a Buddhist of the Shaolin temple, invented tong long or the praying mantis system. He created the system after seeing an encounter with a mantis and a cicada, which led him to experiment with the mantis to create a new technique. The system uses an antenna (the arm and hand) to find an opponent’s strength and direction, hooking and trapping techniques with its strong forearm and mantis claw (si diu). 

Later monkey (hou san) footwork was added to the system for mobility during the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911). Kou Sze, developed the the monkey system (hou-chuan) which was thought to have come from the Grand Earth or Heaven Earth style (ti-t’ang men). Also during this time Ch’en Yuan Ping traveled to Japan and introduced chin-Na to the Japanese. Chin-NA (grasp and control) is a system of joint manipulation through locks and holds. 

Shaolin was taught only to worthy students and the secrets remained in the temple. During the 17th century when China was conquered by the Ching Dynasty, supporters of the Ming Dynasty took refuge in the Shaolin . The temple was then invaded and destroyed by forces of the Ching Dynasty. During this period a few monks escaped and the secrets of the Shilon temple were closed to the outside world. And yet although the monks were forced to flee to other regions of China, they nevertheless continued to teach, revise and modify the forms and techniques of their own system of martial arts; the monks’ styles therefore evolved as each monk placed emphasis upon their own specialty. Masters and students also resulted in the creation of more styles due to each teacher’s preference of techniques, a preference that depended upon the teacher’s needs, abilities and physical environment. These various styles have now spread throughout the world, forming the wide variety of martial arts styles that exists today.

Since then the Chinese fighting arts have been divided into many schools. Some schools practice internal styles and some practice external styles and others practice a combination of both, but whichever they practice they still owe they development to Shaolin Kung Fu.

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  1. Hi,

    There is a great deal of oral history and it has been preserved. It eventually found its way into modern publications that have promoted a certain history that most concur is the correct one. Martial techniques were discovered or created during the long epoch of continuous conflict between humanity and animals, or different tribes of humans themselves. Thanks a lot...

    Martial Arts In China

  2. thanks Michael for your valuable comment....keep writing...