Chinese Kung Fu; Martial Arts, The Shaolin Temple, & Mysticism

Monks practice martial arts at Shaolin Temple in central China’s Henan Province located at Songshan Mountain in Henan. As one of the cradles of Chinese Kung Fu, it is the birthplace of the Shaolin martial arts. Monks here are famous for their Kungfu skills. (Xinhua/Li An)

Chinese martial arts are known in the Western Hemisphere nations as “kung fu”, but the more correct name is “wushu”. Sometimes “quanfa” is used to mean Chinese martial arts, but “quanfa” really refers to fist style “Kempo” and not of the much older Chinese martial arts that were all open handed. Kung fu is really any art or field of study which is mandatory to devote much time, practice, effort into be to proficient in. Within this article, Chinese martial arts shall be called Chinese Kung Fu or simply as kung fu.

The most famous and traditional kung fu styles are based on how animals fight, offensively and defensively. These styles are, though listed in particular; special order: the tiger (clawing tiger and tiger palm), snake, eagle, crane(especially white crane), and the mythical dragon. One style of kung fu is based on how an insect fights: the praying mantis. 

Kung fu consists of two main systems against an opponent-using the hands and the rest of the arms and torso and to a much smaller extent, using kicks.

Shalon Monks pratice Kung Fu at an exhibition in Singapore in 2016.

There are animals that will, under various conditions, naturally kick an adversary. Horses have been known to do a front lick to hit someone in the head. Also, horses have been known to kick backwards at someone while the horse was standing on its four legs. Mules have also done backward kicks. Zebras and giraffes are well known kickers. Deer have been known to kick. Ostriches, kangaroos, camels, and cassowary birds kick. Cassowary birds are unpredictable, very aggressive, and will run up to 50 kph. towards a person or animal, then jump in the air, and kill the person or animal from its powerful kick. These large birds have razor sharp claws, too, that measure 12 centimeters long. The secretary bird is another long legged bird that eats venomous snakes after powerfully kicking them in the head. And cranes, with their long legs, have been known to kick. 

We shall study, in great brevity, the various kung fu styles. The tiger style: clawing and scratching with sharp fingernails. Tiger palm, using the palm of the hand under the opponents chin and then pushing forward to make the opponent fall. Uses slap blocks. Snake, choking and fingertip strips. Uses moving from side to side to avoid strikes from opponent. Eagle: grasping and clawing. Also grasps opponent’s foot blows and hand blows. Crane: hands bunched together, mimics a break of the crane for striking. Moves out of the way of opponent’s strikes. White crane: wide circular punches for both striking and blocking. Uses crane front kick while the hands are held downward and towards the sides in stance. Will also use, jump front kick while in crane stance. Praying Mantis style: with bent downward hands, bunched fingers, thumb inside, grasping for offense and defense, and scratching or striking. Also, slipping leg around opponent’s leg in stance, drawing leg inward toward you to make opponent fall by a tripping effect.  Of course, with Korean Taekwondo being the most popular marital art today and stressing to constantly kick the opponent, various kung fu techniques of old become ineffective.

The Shaolin Temple and monastery are a Chinese Zen Buddhist compound and are located in Denfeng County, Henan Providence in mainland China, also known as The People’s Republic of China. The compound was believed to be constructed in the fifth century Common Era. The name “Shaolin” refers to the Chinese words “shao”, “shi” to mean Mountain, one of the seven peaks of the Sony mountains, and the woods ir forest thereupon. The Shaolin Monastery and Temple were built on the northernly side of Shaoshi, the central peak of Mount Sung, one of the sacred mountains of China by Emperor Xiqowen of the Northern Wei dynasty in 477 AD to accommodate the Indian Buddhist master, Bato(also called Fotuo or Buddha Bhaira) a missionary from India who arrived in China in 464 AD to preach Buddhist teachings and make Buddhist converts. Bato also stayed, at times, in the capital city Luoyang. A popular notion that Bato taught the Shaolin clergy martial arts has been long revoked. 

In 1928, the barbarian warlord Shi Yousein, through his mighty army, arsoned the Shaolin compound, destroying a large sector of buildings, including many manuscripts within the temple library. 

Shalon Monks fight and train with incredible strength and power.

After many years, the Chinese Communist government rebuilt the  historical Shaolin compound with the strong popularity of kung fu and made the Shaolin compound a major worldwide tourist attraction money maker, especially with the Shaolin leadership charging big money for people to stay there temporarily while taking kung fu instruction classes. 

Shaolin monks and priests also practiced mysticism. They deeply meditated on the teachings of the Buddha, as well as tbe teachings of Lao Tse (Lao Tz; Chinese for “Old Master”) as found in the Tao Te Ching(Dao De Ting) also known as Tao Je Jing; the sacred book of ethics of the Tao(Dow). 

In many parts of China, but not all throughout China, for centuries and centuries, Buddha(The Budfha: Siddhartha Gautama) and Confucius were viewed as Gods who once lived on earth. Confucianists and Buddhists often meditated in Confucius or Buddha with the belief of trying to establish some sort of communication with these deities. When there was a major decision to be made, a meditation was performed to try to obtain an answer from one of the chief divinities. 

David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine in the t.v. series – “Kung Fu”, here as a pilot episode.

In cases of the uses of martial arts, Buddhists would see martial arts as a way of defeating the evil doers as while protect the good; innocent people. In Buddhist martial arts, excessive force was not to be used against an opponent unless the opponent was actually giving the defender basically no choice because of the attacker trying employ lethal physical violence. In some cases, martial artists agreed beforehand to fight each other until death. Of course such lethal fighting duels are illegal and the winner thereof would be charged with murder and receive a stiff long prison sentence. Martial Buddhist monks, as well as being found at the Shaolin Temple in China, are also found in certain monasteries in Tibet(which has been ruled by China since 1950) and in South Korea. Buddhist martial artist clergy could, at times, meditate on the application of martial arts against an opponent in accordance to what is allowed and not allowed in the “eyes” of the laws of their countries. 

Interesting links:

How to train at a Shaolin Monastery: https://www.traveldudes.org/travel-tips/learn-kung-fu-shaolin-monks-china/6040

Watching Shaolin monks in action: https://asia361.com/2016/07/27/shaolin-catch-shaolin-monks-action/

Shaolin Monastery: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_Monastery

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