Intro to Shaolin Kung Fu
As Yellow Mountain have made Feiyue our first martial arts apparel available online we thought we'd give a little bit of background on something closely associated with Feiyue (no, this is nothing to do with Orlando Bloom): we mean Shaolin. Here at Yellow Mountain we've had the privilege to study at Xiao Long Xue Xiao (Small Dragon Kung Fu School) in Deng Feng, Henan Province, China, very near to the Shaolin Temple and the beautiful Song Mountain. So we thought we'd post some information on this famous and mystical place.
Legend of Shaolin
The legend of the Shaolin temple was established around the year 495 AD when the monks were renowned for their spiritual teachings. In about 527 AD the Indian prince Bodhidarma traveled to China to see the emperor. He came from a wealthy family but did not want to follow in his father's footsteps. He had a deep spiritual urge to fulfill his purpose. At age seventy-five he walked for three years barefoot from India to the Shaolin Temple. Along the way he enjoyed communing with nature and the animals.
When Bodhidharma finally arrived at the temple, he noticed the monks were constantly hunched over tables reading and studying Buddhist writings. Although they were spiritually and mentally strong, they were physically very frail. Bodhidharma would catch the monks falling asleep while in meditation. So Bodhidharma introduced to the Shaolin monks eighteen movements derived from traditional Indian yoga. This was designed to increase their physical and mental strength as well as the flow of qi energy. It was these eighteen movements that would become kung fu as we know it today, after being perfected and expanded for nearly 1,500 years.Fighting Monks?
The movies would have us believe differently but one of the most important rules of the Shaolin Temple is monks are not allowed to compete. It is often forgotten that Shaolin monks are Buddhist monks first and foremost. Our martial arts training is primarily for health benefits. Shaolin is a way of life-a practice that enhances one's spiritual wellbeing, one's health and longevity, and one's strength to help others. Martial arts is only one part of Shaolin. Any sort of competition goes against the philosophy of Buddhism. Competition is like an act of rivalry for supremacy. When Shaolin students train, they train for their health and to find happiness and peace within themselves. And instead of competing, they do performances to show the beauty and mystery of the human qi. Just as in the Shaolin Temple in China, the monks only perform, they do not compete. The art of Shaolin is very amazing. It's not about fancy kicks and punches. Shaolin is a mysterious practice that helps cultivate the qi in the human body and trains the body to become superhuman.
Shaolin For All
Shaolin is for everyone. There are still many people in the world who believe that Shaolin is only for Chinese people or that Shaolin masters should only be Chinese. Yes, Shaolin Temple is in China, but it was Bodhidharma (an Indian monk) who walked from India to China to teach the Shaolin monks about exercise and movements that helped the Shaolin monks to become who they are today. The Shaolin Temple in China believes in spreading the Shaolin culture and philosophy around the world ; in being more open-minded and accepting. We are all human beings living on the same planet, so it doesn't matter what nationality you are if you want to learn about Shaolin.
Can I train at the temple?
That said, getting accepted into the Shaolin Temple itself isn't something that comes easily, it's a huge and rare honour to be accepted into the Shaolin Temple.
Every four years the Master chooses fifteen new disciples to be picked to enter the temple. It takes five years to get the grey uniform and to become a disciple. Five more years to get to yellow. Another five years to get to brown. Then orange which represents the light of the sun at sunset, when the light changes. A high level warrior wears the orange uniform with the half shoulder. If the maths has lost you that's years of training to get into the temple plus twenty to get the orange uniform. Interestingly the Chinese word gong fu, from which the Western Kung Fu - relating to the martial art of wushu - derives means to achieve something over time.
However eighty schools support the temple and it is possible to go and train with one of these and visitors are welcome to go and visit the temple and surrounding forest and mountains for inspiration.
What is Shaolin Training?
Lots of conditioning! Anyone can learn a form, but it is the constant conditioning that makes one strong and skilled. Repeat, repeat, and repeat. You should be dedicated to the training, while you're training. Students don't learn many different forms in a short period of time. They learn one thing at a time until it becomes natural.
There are many jumping drills that Shaolin students have to do everyday. 95% of class time is dedicated to conditioning drills and only 5% to martial arts forms and routines. Strengthening the entire body is very important. This isn't about external muscles or going to the gym to lift weights; it's inner strength, your qi. When you have good endurance, balance, control and strong qi, your joints, ligaments, and bones become stronger. And when your body begins to work together in unity, it is easier to jump higher, run faster, and become more flexible.
Meditation is also a huge part of Shaolin. Meditation does not need to be in a temple. A temple is just an idea. The true temple is in your heart. To learn how to meditate, you need to be in contact with nature. Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Leave your mobile, your iPod, and your computer off for a while. If you truly want to know how to begin to meditate properly, take comfort in touching a tree, smelling a flower, walking barefoot in the dirt or sand. Focus on the moment. You can meditate anywhere-the park, the beach, or your backyard. Be simple, find a tree or a large rock to sit by and listen to the nature. Absorb the vibrations of the sounds around you. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face and your body. For many people meditation is difficult, but what people need to understand is that everything comes from the silence. Dedicate a few minutes a day by sitting with nature and you can begin to learn how to meditate. Even large cities like London have nature and green spaces.
It's not all hard work though. This Shaolin student gets to put her feet up and chill out in a pair of Classic Feiyue!