Shaolin Facts

1. What’s Kung Fu?

Kung Fu is a Chinese word that means “high skill”. It also means day-to-day tasks, like housework. Bruce Lee liked to use this term to describe Chinese martial arts because it takes consistent repetitive training on a daily basis to achieve the “high skill” of martial arts.

2. What’s Shaolin Kung Fu?

Shaolin Kung Fu refers to a collection of Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery. Of the tens of thousands of kung fu wushu styles, several hundred might have some relationship to Shaolin.

3. Where is Shaolin Monastery?

The Shaolin Monastery or Shaolin Temple is a Chan Buddhist temple at Song Shan in Zhengzhou City Henan Province of what is now the People's Republic of China.

4. What does Shaolin mean?

The Shao in "Shaolin" refers to "Mount Shaoshi", a mountain in the Songshan mountain range. The lin in "Shaolin" means "forest". Literally, the name means "Monastery in the woods of Mount Shaoshi".

5. How is Wushu different from Kung Fu?

Wushu literally means "martial art". It is a more precise term than the widely used term Kung Fu, which can mean either martial art or "skill": a craftsperson or artisan could be said to have good "Kung Fu" in the way in which they carry out their craft; in the same way, a wushu practitioner can also be said to have good "Kung u" in their wushu practice.

6. How far can Shaolin Kung Fu be traced back to?

The oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 that attests to two occasions: a defense of the monastery from bandits around 610 and their role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621.

7. Does Shaolin Kung Fu have influence outside of China?

Yes. Some lineages of Karate have oral traditions that proudly claim Shaolin origins, though in fact most asian martial arts do tend to link back to the Shaolin Temple throughout history.Martial arts traditions in Japan and Korea, and Southeast Asia cite Chinese influence as transmitted by Buddhist monks.

8. Is Shaolin Kung Fu still taught?

Yes. You can attend seminars at the Shaolin temples in China. Monks are still taught the art. There are many schools throughout the world where the principles are taught. And many of the other martial arts, karate included, can trace their roots to the various styles of Kung Fu.

9. How did Shaolin achieve such high recognition in modern world?

Shaolin, in popular culture, has taken on a second life. Since the 1970's, it has been featured in many films, TV shows, video games, cartoons, and other media. While much of this is a commercialized aspect of Shaolin, it is also widely credited as keeping the 1500 year old temple in the consciousness of the world, and from vanishing into obscurity like many other ancient traditions. The Abbot of Shaolin, Shi Yong Xin, has decided to embrace modern day pop culture and has used it to the advantage of the temple to keep the temple prominent on the world stage.

In 1977, the cult classic Shaw Brothers film Shaolin Temple was released and in 1982 a film by the same name starring Jet Li is credited as a major reason for the revival of the Shaolin Temple in China after the Cultural Revolution.

In 2000's, Shaolin gets pop-culture recognition by appearing on the The Simpsons, where they visit the Shaolin Temple in the episode Goo Goo Gai Pan, which first aired in 2006. 

10. What is 72 Shaolin Arts?

72 Shaolin Arts is an encyclopedia of Shaolin arts compiled in the 1930's with the general approval of the then-current Shaolin Abbot, in order to save esoteric training methods in what were to become troubled and chaotic political times. After the Cultural Revolution, outside of personal knowledge of the hiding Shaolin warrior monks in nearby villages, this was among a series of similar books compiled in order to save the secret teachings from extinction. Thought in contemporary Chinese popular culture almost to be a joke, they are in fact legitimate writings from the 1930's, compiled by historical students of master Shaolin Temple warrior monks.

11. What are some of the typical Shaolin Kung Fu skills?

Shaolin Kung Fu skills include:

  • Iron body (both offensive and defensive) techniques
  • Jumping and wall scaling techniques
  • Pole-top leaping dexterity training
  • Pressure-point/nerve manipulation
  • A host of other Shaolin Kung Fu skills and feats

Most of these skills require anywhere from three to ten years to master, according to the authors.

12. Are they real monks performing on the stage?

Yes. They are called warrior monks who tend to be focused on performance geared toward the touring troupes. In many ways, the contemporary performing warrior monks are comparable to contemporary wushu artists who focus on beautiful, elaborately dazzling form rather than original martial application and fighting prowess.