Shaolin Kung Fu, or Shaolin Wushu, is a style of martial arts adapted from a Buddhist monk from India named Buddhabhadra (Ba Tuo in Chinese). Legend has it that the monk met Emperor Xiaowen (leader during the Wei Dynasty in 495 A.D.) and somehow gained his favor. Ba Tuo refused the offer to teach in the court; opting to build his temple on the land given to him by the Emperor. He named his temple Shaolin, which means “small forest.”
As the years passed, India and China began to grow closer and the two countries saw more travelers between them. It is believed that another Indian monk by the name of Bodhidharma preached to the monks at Shaolin and taught them marital arts. This base would go on to form the foundation of Shaolin Wushu.
During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), the Emperor’s son, Li Shimin, was kidnapped in a bid to overthrow the Dynasty. 13 monks from Shaolin helped the Emperor rescue his son and Shaolin was then named the “Supreme Temple.” The imperial court and its armies would then go on to exchange many ideas and techniques with the Shaolin monks. However, this newfound understanding was not to last.
During the Qing Dynasty, rulers had the Shaolin Temple razed to the ground because Ming loyalists were living there. This marked the end of an era as the Shaolin monks were forced to disperse. They were met with many new martial arts styles that they used to blend with Shaolin Wushu once it was declared legal again.
So what does that mean to day? Shaolin Wushu is still practiced today. As a matter of fact, there are two Shaolin martial arts schools and a Shaolin temple in Illinois alone. Having primarily moved away from the self-defense core of its foundation, Shaolin has become an art form practiced by world famous entertainers throughout the world. This style is a striking style composed of kicks, blocks, and punches. Practitioners of Shaolin utilize a mix of open and closed hand techniques, as well as hard (meeting force with force) and soft (Using the opponent’s strength against them) approaches to defend against attackers.
Take a look at this video by National Geographic of the Shaolin Temple Kung Fu Academy in China:
In pop culture, Shaolin has been represented in a 1972 television series called “Kung Fu.” Jet Li also showcased the art form in his 1982 debut “Shaolin Temple” as well as “War of the Shaolin Temple.” And let’s not forget popular PlayStation 2 game “Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.”
Shaolin Wushu is such a beautiful form of martial arts. It’s one of my favorite styles (not just because of Mortal Kombat) and the sheer amount of training and dedication it takes to master this style of martial arts is incredible. What do you guys think?