The Shaolin Temple was first built by Batuo on Song Mountains in Henan Province in Northern China in the year 337. Butuo came from India and was a Hinayana Buddhist Monk. It changed to Mahayana Buddhism when Bodhidharma arrived in 527. As well as Mahayana Buddhists and Hinayana Buddhists there were also Daoists, Confucians, Christians, Muslims and people of other religions or no official religions at the temple
In Chinese language the Shaolin Temple is written as “Shao Lin Si”, which means “Shaolin Temple”. On the temple wall are written four Chinese Characters “Shao Lin Chan Si”, which means Shaolin Chan Temple. Chan is a Chinese word for Zen, which means meditation. At that time the main method of spiritual cultivation was meditation.
When Bodhidharma taught the monks meditation he found them weak and sickly. So he taught them two sets of Qigong (Chi Kung) exercises in order to strengthen them, namely Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis. Later he also taught the monks Bone Marrow Cleansing. These three exercises are taught in our school and considered to be “the three treasures of Qigong”.
The Eighteen Lohan Hands evolved into Eighteen Lohan Kung Fu, which became the prototype of Shaolin Kung Fu. By the Tang Dynasty, Shaolin Kung Fu had become very famous. There was a saying that “Shaolin Kung Fu was the best beneath heaven and earth”. By the Song Dynasty Shaolin Kung Fu had already developed into many derivative styles.
Shaolin Master, Bai Yu Feng was concerned that Shaolin Kung Fu may lose its original flavor, so with the agreement of the head abbot he invited the best Shaolin masters to return to the temple to demonstrate their arts. Bai Yu Feng selected the five of the best arts and composed them into a style, which came to be called Wuzuquan or Five-Ancestor Kung Fu. The five styles formed were White Crane, Taizuquan, Lohan, Bodhidharma Style and Monkey. Another Shaolin master and marshal of the Song Dynasty, Yue Fei invented Xingyiquan and Eagle Claw
Towards the end of the Song Dynasty, a Taoist master, Zhang San Feng, after accomplishing the highest level of Shaolin Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple, retreated to spend his hermit days on the Wudang Mountain. He integrated three aspects of Kungfu, namely form, energy and spirit, into one unity and invented Wudang Kung Fu, which later evolved into Taijiquan. Zhang San Feng is honoured as the First Patriach of the internal arts. In our school we continue to honour Zhang San Feng’s teaching by passing on the techniques and skills of training form, energy and spirit as one practice.
A Ming emperor built another Shaolin Temple in the city of Quanzhou. The imperial status of the temple in the North was moved to this temple in the South. But this temple was burnt by the Qing army with the help of the Lama Kungfu experts from Tibet. A few of the Shaolin masters escaped. One of them, the Venerable Chee Seen, built a new secretive temple on the Nine Lotus Mountain, with the aim of over throwing the Qing Dynasty. Chee Seen had many famous disciples, like Hoong Hei Koon, Fong Sai Yoke, Lok Ah Choy.
The most senior being the Venerable Harng Yen and the Venerable Sam Tuck. This temple was also burnt down by the Qing army led by Pak Mei and Fong Tou Tuck. Both were classmates of Chee Seen, together with a Shaolin Nun, Ng Mui (who taught Yim Wing Chun – Founder of Wing Chun).
Another Shaolin monk who escaped was the Venerable Jiang Nan, who was very important in the history of Shaolin Wahnam. Pak Mei and Fong Tou Tuck escaped. Pak Mei escaped to Ermei Mountain and formed Pai Mei Kung Fu. Fong Tou Tuck escaped to Wudang Mountain and formed Wudang Kung Fu. Different to that of Zhang San Feng’s Wudang Kung Fu 5 centuries before. The Qing army also burnt down the second Southern Shaolin temple on Nine Lotus Mountain. Many secular disciples fled, later leading to numerous Southern styles like Hoong Ka, Wing Choon, Choy-Li-Fatt, Lau Ka and Choy Ka. This is just a brief history of how the Shaolin arts came to and left the Shaolin Temple.