The origin of Kung fu is from the Shaolin temple in Henan, China built in 495 AD. Shaolin Kung Fu or mentioned in Chinese as 少林功夫is also often called as Shaolin Wushu (in Chinese – 少林武術)or Shaolin Quan (in Chinese- 少林拳), is one of the ancient martial arts training in the world and rich with many famous styles of wushu or kung fu.
Shaolin kung fu is an ancient Chinese form of martial arts exercise. Shaolin monks in China incorporated the exercise forms with their philosophy of non-violence, using kung fu only as a form of self-defense.
Shaolin temple has two main legacies: Chan (禅), which refers to Chan Buddhism, the religion of Shaolin, and Quan (拳), which refers to the martial arts of Shaolin. In Shaolin, these are not separate disciplines and monks have always pursued the philosophy of the unification of Chan and Quan (禅拳合一; chan quan he yi).
The first monk who preached Buddhism there was the Indian monk named Buddhabhadra (佛陀跋陀罗), simply called Batuo (跋陀) by the Chinese. There are historical records that Batuo’s first Chinese disciples, Huiguang (慧光) and Sengchou (僧稠), both had exceptional martial art skills. For example, Sengchou’s skill with the tin staff is even documented in history records of Shaolin temple. After Buddhabadra, the Indian monk Bodhidharma (菩提达摩) called Damo (达摩) came to Shaolin in 527 AD. He taught wisdom of Chan Buddhism (Zen) to the monks of Shaolin and also introduced martial arts trainings based on Indian martial arts. Damo (达摩) then gave kung fu training to the monks of the Shaolin Temple the 18 Buddhist Lohan Hands or Arhat’s 18 hands(罗汉十八手), which later turned into the Five Animal Styles of Shaolin kung fu techniques.
This indicates that the influence of Shaolin kung fu among martial arts and is a popular saying in Chinese local folklore.
The Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the oldest and most famous style of martial arts, that form spiritual belief, physical and mental strength. Since the ancient times to the date, daily life of the monks at Shaolin temple have included to study and practice Chan Buddhism, to study and training kung fu, and doing the temple affairs, like cleaning the temple, working at the farms, guarding the area, etc. The typical daily training schedule is:
5:00 am: rising from bed,
5:15–5:30: qigong training,
5:35–6:30: morning kung fu training: warm-up and basic skills.
6:40–7:40: morning Buddhist lessons,
7:45–8:30: morning meal,
9:00–11:30: doing temple affairs, like working at farms, chopping wood, commercial affairs; elder and child monks attend Buddhist classes.
12:40–14:00: noon rest time,
14:00–17:00: afternoon kung fu training: Martial arts exercises and learn combat kung fu techniques.
17:10–18:40: evening Buddhist lessons,
21:00–23:00: 1 hour of night kung fu training, reviewing and every kind of exercise.
23:10: going to bed.
Morning Shaolin Monk Training Routine
At the morning training session, basic skills are practiced. Morning training begins with empty stomach, by warming up, which includes loosening up the body via rotating the joints and then by stamina training via endurance exercises such as various kinds of running, jumping, push-ups, etc., for 15–30 minutes. Then the “child skills” such as flexibility and balance are practiced for about a half hour. Flexibility training is done via stretching exercises, and balance training is done via keeping the body balanced in different childish skills postures for a while. Usually, morning training takes 1 hour, but shaolin monks may train themselves by doing more basic exercises and other exercises such as practicing combat drills, kung fu techniques and routines, etc.
Afternoon Shaolin Monk Training Routine
Afternoon training session usually begins at about 14:00-14:30, and may even begin at 15:00 at hot summer days. At this session, the shaolin monks are trained with combat kung fu techniques. These are usually practiced for 1–2 hours. In between, the shaolin warrior monks may then have a few 15-20-minute rest times, and may do other kinds of exercises at this session, which make the session to last for 2–3 hours.
Shaolin monks train their whole lives in various disciplines. They train in kung fu, mindfulness meditation and many gymnastics-style physical skills. They also have strict nutritional guidelines that they live by.
At first those who practice the arts train the softness of their sinews and bones and try to make agile all their joints and articulations. Then they set into motion the main breath zongli, strengthen the internal organs fu, improve blood state, consolidate body strength, control the cinnabar field and concentrate energy in it, overcome their desires and requirements. The strength spreads on the four extremities and the hundred joints and articulations, now a fighter is in command of unlimited power and he can move off one thousand jins. Your arm weighing only ten jins can move a thing weighing ten thousand jins with a stroke. Your arms are a head, your legs are a tail. Everything is permeated with a single movement, the body moves like a dragon.
Master said: “Shaolin exercises develop forces of the whole human organism, all joints and bones; you are capable of striking with all parts of your body.” There is one more saying: “The fist is the source of all arts and the leg is the base, the root of the fist.” Ordinary practice of pugilism consists of seventy percent of leg training and thirty percent of fist training.
This is accomplished through drills and exercises like reaction time drills, continuous repetition of martial arts techniques, progressive physical skills, obstacle courses, weapons drills, partnered coordination exercises and many other things that they practice on a daily basis. This sort of training is conducted for many hours per day.
Shaolin Monks Daily Training Techniques
Today, Shaolin Temple is a practicing Buddhist temple where adaptations on the original Shaolin Kung Fu training. According to some sources, the original Shaolin Kung Fu was too powerful so was replaced by Wu Shu, a less aggressive form of martial arts. Whatever is practiced today, it is still a place of dedication and learning, as can be seen by the hundreds of youngsters practicing outside on a given morning. There are now over eighty Kung Fu schools around Mt. Song in Dengfeng where thousands of Chinese children are sent to study as young as age five. Shaolin Temple and its teachings remain impressive.
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