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Shaolin Temple Fighting Skills
Evolution of combat techniques
The Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, China was founded by a humble Indian Buddhist monk called Batuo around 495 BC. In 517 BC. AD, the Bodhidharma traveled from India to the Shaolin Temple, where he founded Ch’an Buddhism or what is more commonly known as Zen. Legend has it that when he arrived at the temple, he found that the monks were weak in practicing sitting meditation all day, so he devised and taught them a series of internal and external exercises to increase their health, their strength and vitality. These later developed into what we now call Shaolin Kung Fu and Shaolin Qi (Chi) Gong.
Throughout the temple’s history, there has been a steady stream of monks bringing in the best skills from the Asian world, combining them with ancient Shaolin skills, and then refining those modified skills for optimum effectiveness. Shaolin Temple Fighting techniques are not pages from a history book but are something as alive and relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. Bringing Shaolin martial arts to the West is another chapter of the Shaolin book, and as a 34th generation fighter disciple of the Shaolin Temple, I continue this tradition today.
The art of War
At Shaolin Temple, in addition to studying the art of meditation and Qi Gong, we also study the art of war. Long before guns, tanks and bombs were invented, Shaolin martial arts were used in warfare. Monks had to find ways to transform their bodies of flesh, blood, and vulnerable nerves into powerful, invincible weapons. Not just their legs, arms, torso and head, but also their internal organs and, most importantly, their minds.
Mind = Heart = Mind = Heart
The Chinese character for mind is the same as for heart. In China, we don’t split them in half like you do in the West. Wherever your heart is, your mind will be. It is your heart or your mind that makes your world, everything comes from it. So when you train in the combat arts, you have to train your heart at the same time as you train your body. You have to understand yourself and be brutally honest. What are you good at? Improve this skill. What are you not good at? If you think you’re good at everything, then you don’t know yourself. Only when you know your own strengths and weaknesses can you control yourself. Only when you know your own strengths and weaknesses can you then study your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and ultimately control them. This is the way to win a fight. It is also the way to win a war. But in war we fight with an enemy, in martial arts we fight with our own ego and our own enemy within. We continually come up against this enemy in our training – when we feel tired, impatient, lazy, or lose confidence in ourselves or in what we are learning. We especially run into this when we are a new student.
The beginner course is the most important level and the one we will return to throughout the life of our martial art. We are about to build a house, we have a project in mind, but in order for this house not to collapse, we must have solid foundations.
At the Shaolin Temple, we get up every morning at half past five and go for a run up the mountain. It’s like putting money in a savings account. If we don’t have the stamina, we won’t be able to practice the skill. When we come back from the mountain, we practice five basic stances, five basic kicks and stretches.
Learning martial arts is no different from learning math or English, if we can’t add two plus two we can’t progress to algebra, if we can’t read the alphabet we will never be able to read Shakespeare. That’s why we study these very basic skills. It is only when our body becomes stronger that we begin to learn certain internal and external forms, and it is only when our master feels that we are ready that we progress to the study of punches and blows kicking, then we start fighting in the ring.
The Importance of Qi
We also practice physical conditioning. I specialize in Shaolin Steel Jacket. The reason I specialize in Shaolin Steel Jacket is because I’m short – not much taller than 5ft 6 – so when I fight I have to get into my opponent, and they’re almost always taller and heavier than me, which – without my conditioning body – would give them an advantage over me.
I know that it is difficult for many Westerners to believe in Qi. Science still hasn’t found a way to prove or disprove it. Excluding the western understanding of the anatomical system of the body such as the nervous and respiratory system, in the human body there is a network of pathways which we call meridians, they carry Qi through the body. They are like small rivers which, when the body is stressed or sick, become clogged. The Chinese believe in preventing disease rather than waiting for it to occur, so we practice Qi Gong to maintain a healthy flow of Qi in our body. Sometimes I think we take care of our cars better than we take care of ourselves. We don’t wait for it to break down before giving it gas, water, oil or taking it to the garage for a checkup, so why are so many of us doing this? with our body?
If we only want to stay healthy, we will continue to practice healthy forms of Qi Gong all our lives, but if we want to be fighters, we learn to harness Qi and direct it to different parts of our body. The analogy I use is to compare it with the wheels of a car, they are useless without Qi – air – but by simply pumping air into its tires the car transforms from a vehicle with an engine powerful that can’t go anywhere into a vehicle with a powerful engine that can go anywhere.
Physical conditioning gives us the confidence to face our opponent even if he looks bigger or stronger than us. With the technique of the Shaolin Steel jacket, I put my Qi in my back and chest and then I trust that I will be protected from blows. My back and chest are like steel. It’s my armor.
Plant the seed of battle
All of this training is planting the seed. You plant an apple seed, you get an apple tree. We plant the seed of a fighter, it means we define our motivation; we want to become an excellent fighter. We train hard – that’s the culture – and then, after years of training, we start to become the fighter we always wanted to be.
The first fight
But usually, when we go to fight for the first time, we are disappointed in ourselves. Training and combat are very different. We may be good at training, but that doesn’t make us good fighters. As Bruce Lee said, if you can’t hit your target, what does that mean? And at first, you might struggle to hit that target that’s no longer a pad, bag, or sparring buddy but a determined fighter who wants to win as much as you do.
Nothing can prepare you for your first fight. But if you’ve been training regularly, you’ll know you’re strong. You know you did everything to be the best. It doesn’t mean you will win, but you will have the confidence to win. If you don’t have confidence, you can never win.
Are Shaolin combat skills for you?
We all want to win. It feels good. But we must remember that this is only a stopping point on the way, it is not our final destination. And Shaolin’s fighting skills are not a dream, and they’re not a movie, they’re a life. So ask yourself, do you like Shaolin martial arts? If you do, you need to keep training. Through intensive training you will begin to realize that you are much more than you thought, through Qi Gong you will gain health and energy, through meditation you will develop control of your mind. You will eventually win the war against your ego. It is the highest martial art of all, and one that can take you many lifetimes to achieve.
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