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Shaolin – Living History

Kung fu or Gung fu is a Chinese term alluding to any learning, practice, or study that requires time, patience, and energy to complete. In the West, kung fu is used to refer to Chinese martial arts.

In China, the oldest and most prestigious institutionalized martial art is Shaolin kung fu.  The origins of this martial arts style can be traced to the first Buddhist Shaolin temple in China’s Hunan province. The Shaolin temple of Hunan province was built in 495 AD. The temple was built for a Buddhist master named Buddhabhadra, who preached Nikaya Buddhism.

He hailed from either India or Greco-Buddhist Central Asia. Buddhabhadra was the first abbot of the Shaolin Temple.
He had two chief disciples Sengchou and Huiguanng, who were both exceptionally accomplished martial arts masters.

Another Buddhist missionary named Bodhidharma arrived several years later from India. Accounts differ on the date of his arrival. Early accounts claim he arrived during the Liu Song dynasty (420-479 AD). Later accounts date his arrival to the Liang dynasty (502-557 AD).

Bodhidharma was asked to teach at the first Shaolin Temple, where he became its spiritual leader.  Bodhidharma brought Dhyāna Buddhism to China, which was subsequently called Ch’an. He also had an exceptionally skilled disciple called Huike.

Shaolin kung fu began to take official form during the time of the Sui dynasty (581-618 AD).  Chinese Shaolin monks began to create martial arts styles of their own, which evolved over the course of the following 1500 years to the present.

Quan and Ch’an are interconnected in Shaolin kung fu. Ch’an is a school of Mahayana Buddhism developed in China that stresses the importance of meditation as followers pursue their individual paths to enlightenment and nirvana.

Quan fa is a Chinese term for martial arts translated as “the law of the fist” or “fist principles.” Quan is used to identify schools of Chinese martial arts. The Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple offers classes in Yue Chia Quan, which is descended from the original Northern Shaolin Kung Fu developed at the first Shaolin Temple.

Some monks have believed that Shaolin is Ch’an and not Quan, but they are two sides of the same coin. The Shaolin Temple has passed down an invaluable inheritance in the form of martial arts, and it should not be allowed to die down.
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