Back to the beginning.

July 5, 2009


A Brief Timeline of Shaolin Temple at Mt. Song
AD 495 Bá Tuó (跋陀), a Buddhist monk from India, was granted by Emperor Xiào Wén of Northern Wèi (北魏孝文帝) to establish Shaolin temple/monastery at Mt Song (嵩山少室山).

AD 527 PúTíDáMó (菩提達摩) spent 9 years in meditation, and attributed as founder of Zen (禪) Buddhism.

AD 574 Emperor Wŭ of Northern Zhōu (北周武帝) banned Buddhism, Shaolin monastery destroyed.

AD 579-781 Emperor Jìng of Northern Zhōu (北周静帝) restored the monastery, renaming it as Zhì Hù Monastery (陟岵寺).

AD 581-618 Suí Dynasty (隋朝) – Emperor Wén restored the name to Shaolin.

AD 618-907 Táng Dynasty (唐朝) – Early in the dynasty’s founding, 13 monks from the monastery rescued Lĭ Shì Mín (李世民). The monastery gained accolades and fame after Lĭ Shì Mín became the dynasty’s 2nd emperor.

AD 1271 to 1368 Yuán Dynasty (元朝) – Kublai Khan conferred honours upon the monastery.

AD 1368 to 1644 Míng Dynasty (明朝) – The martial monks assisted the Imperial Court to suppress coastal piracies (倭寇), and gained the monastery favours from the Court for renovations and expansions.

Towards end of the dynasty, the monks participated in the Court’s suppression of peasant uprisings, and became a target of the rebels, causing the monastery to suffer in the process.

AD 1644-1911 Emperors KāngXī (康熙) and QiánLóng (乾隆) respectively honoured the monastery.
KāngXī personally wrote the sign for the monastery,
while QiánLóng penned the phrase “明日瞻中岳, 今宵宿少林” while staying overnight, being given the abbot’s quarters in deference to his status.

AD 1928 Shaolin Monastery was commandeered as HQ by warlord general Fán ZhōngXiù (樊钟秀). After Shí YŏuSān (石友三), subordinate of warlord Féng YüXiáng (冯玉祥), defeated Fán, Shí ravaged the monastery. This was the 二八火厄.

AD 1966 Badly ravaged during the Cultural Revolution.

The founding of Shaolin

According to one legend of the founding of Shaolin, three men; a rich man, a 风水 practitioner and a Buddhist monk from India (Bá Tuó 跋陀), were travelling along the road to Mt. Song (嵩山) from the south, north and west respectively.

Suddenly, though they were in separate locations, they heard a voice in the clouds and saw an image of a monastery named “竹林寺”. A young novice in front of the temple was asking an elderly monk about an earthly counterpart to their temple.

The elderly monk replied, “天上竹林, 天下少林”, and pointed to a northern part of 少室山 of Mt. Song where a phantom of the Shaolin Temple suddenly appeared. The images then disappeared and the sky cleared.

That night, each man thought of the location they saw.
The rich man wanted to build a luxurious residence there and believed it will ensure his flow of wealth.
The 风水 practitioner wanted to move his ancestral graves there to ensure smooth future for his descendants.
The monk thought it would be a splendid place for a monastery, and set off for the location before dawn.

Three days later, the three men were arguing on the same spot about who had the right to claim the location. Their argument reached the ears of Emperor Xiào Wén of Northern Wèi who was touring the vicinity. The claimants then requested for the monarch to settle the dispute.

The emperor asked each of them to prove their claim.
The rich man pointed to his cap placed on a stick to prove his having claimed the spot.
The 风水 practitioner pointed to the stick to prove he was there earlier.
The Buddhist monk unearth his sandal buried beneath the stick to prove he was the first, and thus was awarded the site.

The first Shaolin martial arts master

One of the earliest legend of Shaolin was the monk called of Sēng Chóu (僧稠). He was said to be a thin boy who was bullied by other disciples at the monastery. Bá Tuó taught him martial arts to develop his physique. One tale had Sēng Chóu used an iron staff to separate two tigers fighting each other.

According to a written record, Sēng Chóu was an exponent who demonstrated his skills to the public during festivals. Since he was before the time of DáMó, he was credited with the founder of martial arts school in Shaolin.

An amalgamation of various martial arts forms

One proposal was that there was no single founder of Shaolin martial arts, but that the martial arts amalgamated to various martial artists who became monks at the monastery later in their lives. As the monks sparred with each other, they improved their skills, adopting the strengths and making up for the weaknesses of various forms, and gradually developed a distinctive school of martial arts for the monastery.

During the Song Dynasty, the abbot by the name of Fú Jū (福居) hosted a martial arts tournament for an exchange of skills. He invited top exponents from 18 schools from the pugilistic circles. After three years, 《少林拳谱》 was produced.

The monk Jué Yuăn (觉远) was one of those sent by the monastery to travel around the country to seek improvements of their skills. He was responsible for inviting the martial exponents by the names of Lĭ Sŏu (李叟) and Bái YüFēng (白玉蜂) to join the monastery and improve the skills of Shaolin further.

Bái YüFēng was a master of qigong and swordsmanship. He took the tonsure and adopted the name Autumn Moon (秋月), and became an instructor in the monastery. He was said to be the author of 《五拳精要》 or Essence of the Five Fists, modelled after the dragon, tiger, leopard, snake and crane (龙、虎、豹、蛇、鹤).

Under the guidance of Lĭ Sŏu and Bái YüFēng, Jué Yuăn developed and mastered the 18 Luohan Palms, and became an important reviver of Shaolin martial arts.

During the Ming Dynasty, the general Yú DàYóu (俞大猷) saw a demonstration of Shaolin skills at the monastery and thought that their staff fighting skills had lost the essence of a true fighting skill. The monastery sent 2 monks to accompany the general south for his campaign in order to revive the skills. After three years, they returned with the more effective skills using the staff.

It made sense for Shaolin monastery to be known as the top martial arts school in China if they maintained a policy of continuous improvement and always ready to learn from others, opening their doors to people from all walks of life. Together, with the monastic discipline, it is no wonder they would rise and stay at the top.

Such attitude would prevent complacency and the school from falling behind. The same principle is applicable today in R&D of various academic institutes.

Source : 《少林功夫的故事》
Publisher :
Asiapac Books Pte Ltd
Contact : 65-63927455 (Phone) 65-63926455 (Fax)
Address : 996 Bendemeer Road, #06-09, Singapore 339944
Date of Publication : July 1, 2005 (1st Edition)
ISBN 981-229-412-0

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