In the early 1900’s, the senior abbot of Shaolin and his senior monks fled war-torn China for a more peaceful environment to cultivate the seeds of Shaolin….
- from the home page of the Shaolin Gung Fu Institute web site
Karate. Kung Fu. Jujitsu. Tae Kwon Do.
All the same, right?
People interested in learning a martial art for self defense, personal discipline or physical fitness have a variety of “schools” and “styles” to choose from, and most are perfectly fine for helping achieve these kinds of objectives.
But for “purists” of Chinese History and Culture, the traditions of Chinese Kung Fu (’Gong Fu’ in Hanyu Pinyin) hold a special sway.
In recent decades, numerous individuals and groups have sprung up claiming to be the “true heirs” of the Shaolin Gong Fu Tradition - in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, North America, Europe - all claiming a direct genealogy back to the temples in China, when their monks fled a war-torn country for a more peaceful environment in which to follow their Way.
My favorite source of information on Shaolin history, commentary and insight, however, is the online resource called “Shaolin Gong Fu Institute”. Unlike some other heirs of Kung Fu tradition, the voices behinds shaolin.com have no agenda for turning the spotlight on themselves, but instead are devoted to providing as comprehensive a history on Shaolin traditions as possible. They do note, however, that the source of the information they have inherited “comes directly or indirectly from refugee Shaolin priests who fled China and emigrated to America before the temples were destroyed in the 1920’s”.
On their pages you can find names and descriptions of a number of Kung Fu styles; read a concise history of the Shaolin order from its roots in 540 A.D.; find out why the present occupants of the Shaolin Temples in China are likely not the true heirs of Shaolin tradition; order interactive CDs demonstrating proper King Fu technique and form; and much more.
The Shaolin Gung Fu Institute also strives to make the point that this art is not simply about kicks, punches and fodder for Hong Kong and Hollywood action movies, summing up thoughts on the “Way” of Shaolin like this:
“Shaolin is a viable philosophy and way of life in the present, and it does not consist exclusively of its martial technique. As society moves further away from the great teachings of the past, we do ourselves disservice if we reach blindly for random relics of those teachings: we lose sight of the teachings as a whole and fall into the trap of idol worship that so disturbs some of the Christian faith. So, be mindful of why you are searching for “true” Shaolin technique. Shaolin is not about something that will take you to a better reality. Reality is a function of how we view ourselves and our relation to the world. The way of seeing that utilizes Shaolin martial technique as a tool on the path can find other tools close at hand. Shaolin martial technique is not the Holy Grail. Don’t lose too much time on the quest.”
Like The Chinese Outpost, the Shaolin Gung Fu Institute has introduced some peripheral sales elements into its site - even martial art devotees have web site hosting bills to pay - but the site is by no means a commercial enterprise - not with that much free and valuable information, anyway.
Enter the Kwoon at http://www.shaolin.com/.
As a follow-up on last month’s mention about the Shaolin Gung Fu Institute web site (based in the Seattle area), this just in: Monks at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, China, are undertaking a number of measures worldwide - including trademark and patent registrations, legislation proposals, and even lawsuits - to “protect and safeguard” the Shaolin name.
No word yet on whether or not our friends at the Institute have been contacted by a Shaolin attorney.
The People’s Daily article “Shaolin Monks Fight to Protect the Temple’s Reputation” provides more details.