The origin of Shaolin Kung Fu is generally credited to an Indian monk named Tat Moh, who is also sometimes known as Boddhidharma. He began life as a prince in Southern India, but became a devoted Buddhist, renouncing his royal heritage to take up the simple lifestyle of a monk. He traveled widely, spreading the teachings of Buddhism. Eventually he rose to become the 28th patriarch of India.
In those days, it was common for Indian monks to travel to China where their Buddhist teachings were eagerly received. In the year 520 A.D. Tat Moh made just such a journey, right through India and China, finally settling at the monastery called Shao Lin - which means ‘little forest’. He was disappointed, however, to find the monks very weak and unable to withstand the austere ways of Buddhism - a life which often consisted of long fasts and frugal living.
Tat Moh therefore retired into a cave and meditated in isolation in order to find a solution to the problem. When he emerged after nine years of hard study, he had devised a set of exercises for the monks. These were similar to some Indian exercises such as yoga and were intended to regulate and strengthen the monks’ chi flow. Their intention was to strengthen the monks and increase their health and vitality; and this they did, so successfully that Tat Moh’s Chi Kung exercises are still practiced to this day. They form the basis of the Shaolin Arts.
It seems that in China there was more than one temple named ‘Shaolin’. In this history we will discuss only the Shaolin temple in Fukien Province, since ours is a Fukienese art.
In the history of China there was much lawlessness. Bandits and villains were widespread. Temples were vulnerable to attack, as were monks who traveled the country teaching the ways of Buddhism. So as to protect themselves, the monks developed a system of fighting based on the exercises taught by the founder master - Tat Moh.
Buddhist monks are very gentle and good natured. Their fighting system was developed only to defend themselves against harm. This system was called the ‘Lohon’ style after the monks in the temple (Lohons) who developed it. The Lohon style is a very basic form of Kung Fu which emphasizes low stances and strong body posture. It proved very successful.
The monks of the Shaolin temple practiced diligently to increase their martial arts skills and were constantly striving to improve their art. A great step forward came with the evolution of the third Shaolin style, called the Tiger style - Tai Chor in Chinese. This was developed by a Chinese emperor, who had relinquished his royal position to adopt the austere ways of Buddhism. He finally settled at the Shaolin temple where he studied deeply in the martial arts, eventually developing the Tai Chor style. For this reason, Tai Chor is sometimes also known as the emperor’s style. Tai Chor uses the strong but mobile stance which we use in the Tiger-Crane combination, and which we call the ‘walking stance’. It also emphasizes a very strong twisting punch. In fact, the straight punch which ends with a twist of the fist has become a hallmark of Shaolin Kung Fu. The Tai Chor style develops great power and was, therefore, able to defeat the Lohon style which it superseded.
No style is unbeatable. Every move has a counter. Inevitably, another style was later developed which could counter the Tiger style. This was the monkey style, known in Chinese as Tai Sheng. Monkey is a very fast, deceptive style. The monkey tends to close in on his opponent, strike and retreat all in one rapid sequence. Hence, the powerful Tiger may be unable to hit his tricky, constantly moving opponent. If the monkey misses with a strike, he will still move away from his opponent so as not to allow them the chance to counter him. The monkey’s strikes are accurate, more than powerful and are delivered with fingers or the open palm. Grabbing is also a favorite monkey technique. The monkey likes to crouch and often attacks the lower body. He especially favours targeting the groin. For male opponents this can result in serious loss!
Because the monkey style consists of much crouching and rolling, it is best suited to people who are short. It is often considered one of the most entertaining styles to watch.
How can the techniques of the monkey possibly be countered? The answer is by the techniques of the white crane! The white crane style was the last and most technically advanced style to be developed in the Fukien Shaolin Temple. Even to this day, the crane style is regarded with great respect and is shrouded in secrecy by its masters. Hence it has been one of the last Kung Fu styles which the Chinese have ‘let go’ to westerners.
What is this devastating secret possessed by the white crane? The crane sticks. As soon as the crane is attacked it establishes touch contact. If its opponent tries to land the attack, the crane deflects it: if the opponent withdraws, the crane follows; never releasing its touch until it finds a certain opportunity to strike - which it does with no mercy. What use the tricky techniques of the monkey? As he tries to dart away the crane will follow, sticking to him until the chance presents itself to strike. The white crane style represents the pinnacle of the Shaolin martial arts.
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