When people think of China, a lot of people think about the ancient Chinese martial art, Kung fu. However in China the meaning of the word refers to any study, practice or leaning that requires patience, energy and time. It’s a discipline/skill achieved through hard work and dedication.
The martical art itself has many forms: Shaolin, Wingchun,Taichi and many more that are practiced worldwide. But a few decades ago it wasn’t that popular, it became really famous through literature, Opera and even more later through movies starring actors Jet Li, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. (which sparked young people in America and even a DJ to find inspiration in these styles of fighting, resulting in the birth of breakdancing).
Shaolin Kunfu/Wushi (少林功夫 / 少林武術) is one of the oldest, largest and most practiced styles of martial arts. Developed in Henan, China by Shaolin monks. They combined their Zen Buddist religion with fighting skills to protect their monastries and themselves from thieves.
In historical texts Buddhabadra, Bodhidharma and their deciples were appointed as the grounds of Shaolin Buddhism and Kung Fu. The monks of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) began developing their own very powerful fighting skill. One of the reasons for their trailing was to protect the monastry from bandits. But another account depicts that in 621 the new emperor took over the monastry grounds. The monks defeated the emperor and captured his nephew so they could get their land back. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, not only Shaolin monks practiced Kungfu anymore. It became a part of the military and literature was released to the public.
General Yú Dàyóu travelled to the monastry in 1560 but was so unimpressed by the level of skill that he decided to bring back two monks and taught them how to fight with the staff as a weapon. The two monks returned back to the monastry after three years of training to teach their fellow monks this new stronger technique.
The Shaolin temple has two legacies that make up their religion. The Chan (禅) and the Quan (拳). The monks’ philosophy is to unite the two legacies, to become master of the true power of Shaolin Kung Fu. For now we’ll only discuss Quan, the martial part of Shaolin.
Quan contains three charactaristics;
- Basic skills (基本功; jīběn gōng): Stamina, Flexibility and Balance
- Power Skills (气功; qìgōng): Qigong Meditation; internal and external. Internal is it’s well known stationary meditation while external has movement and excersize
The 72 Arts: made up of 36 soft and 36 hard excersizes
- Combat skills (拳法; quánfǎ, “skills”): Barehanded and weaponed routines.
Within Shaolin Kungfu there are many styles/forms of Kungfu. Each style is their own ”family” and there are thousands of forms to be taught and mastered; making it the largest school of martial arts. Monks choose 18 of the most famous for learning and showing their skills.
- Arhat’s 18 hands (罗汉十八手; luóhàn shíbā shǒu): known as the oldest style.
- Flood style (洪拳; hóngquán): with the small form (小洪拳; xiǎo hóngquán) known as the son of the styles, and the big form (大洪拳; dà hóngquán) known as the mother of the styles,
- Explosive style (炮拳; pàoquán): known as the king of the styles,
- Penetrating-Arms style (通臂拳; tōngbìquán),
- 7-star & Long Guard the Heart and Mind Gate style (七星 & 长护心意门拳; qī xīng & cháng hù xīn yì mén quán),
- Plum Blossom style (梅花拳; méihuāquán),
- Facing&Bright Sun style (朝&昭 阳拳; cháo & zhāo yáng quán),
- Arhat style (罗汉拳; luóhànquán): known as the most representative style,
- Vajrapani style (金刚拳; jīn’gāngquán),
- Emperor’s Long-range style (太祖长拳; tàizǔ chángquán): known as the most graceful style,
- 6-Match style (六合拳; liùhéquán),
- Soft style (柔拳; róuquán),
- Mind style (心意拳; xīnyìquán)
- Imitative styles (象形拳; xiàngxíngquán) (including Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Eagle, Monkey, Mantis, etc.),
- Drunken style (醉拳; zuìquán)
Watch this documentary if you want to see more