Shaolin temple: The homeland of Chinese Martial Arts

Shaolin temple was built in 496 A.D.  The 1982 hit film, “Shaolin Temple,” starring Jet Li, pushed this ancient temple from the secluded mountain forest onto the world stage and also closely connected the Shaolin Temple with Chinese Kungfu.

Shaolin Temple

Confucius Institute Reporter
Sun Ying, Zhou Xiaogeng
本刊记者 孙颖
Zhao Junming is not very tall but is quite sturdy. On seeing us, he said hello and then jumped onto the car. You don’t need to have the martial arts knowledge to feel his unique skills. During a conversation with him, we learned he had practiced Kungfu for 17 years. Suddenly we realized that we had already arrived in Dengfeng, where Shaolin Temple is located.

Shaolin Temple

The temple was built in 496 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty. It was named after its location – a luxuriant forest (pronounced “lin” in Chinese) on the Shaoshi Mountain. The 1982 hit film, “Shaolin Temple,” starring Jet Li, pushed this ancient temple from the secluded mountain forest onto the world stage and also closely connected the Shaolin Temple with Chinese Kungfu.

Shaolin Temple
Shaolin Zen Music Ritual: Art performed on authentic stage reveals Shaolin Zen thought and Mountain Song culture.

Many people develop their knowledge and love of Chinese Kungfu from this film. “Jet Li is my idol. It was because of his films that I have gradually learned about Kungfu,” said Zhao Junming. Many people, like Zhao, regard the Shaolin Temple as a symbol of Chinese martial arts.

Shaolin Temple
Cultivating Zen Buddhism with martial arts and the harmony between Zen Buddhism and martial arts are characteristics of Shaolin Kung Fu.

In Dengfeng, you can feel the existence of martial arts almost everywhere. There are Kungfu costume and gear shops, and it seems that the shop owners themselves were good at Kungfu. “In Dengfeng alone, there are 50 or 60 martial arts schools,” said Zhao, who was a coach at one of those schools. His school has more than 1,000 coaches, like Zhao, and over 20,000 students.

Shaolin Temple
Though part of the Shaolin Temple has been opened up to the outside world as a tourist destination, there are still many monks cultivating themselves within the temple.

During our journey to Shaolin Temple, we saw many students practicing skills on the rough playground. Tanned and sweating, every one of them looked strong and capable. As they exercised kicking and jumping, a cloud of dust arose.

Shaolin Temple
Such holes are numerous in the old trees in the Shaolin Temple. It is said that they are left by the monks practicing the two-finger handstand (Erzhichan).

“Every time I go back hometown, people ask me if I can defeat many bad guys on my own.” Zhao said, smiling, “I said no. Actually since I started practicing Kungfu, I have become quite calm and placid and I hate fighting.” To Zhao, only cultivating the mind and developing the character can one advance his skills. This also reflects the characteristics of Chinese Kungfu: temperance, modesty and reserve.

Shaolin Temple
Zhao Junming teaching his “foreign disciples” Kung Fu.
Shaolin Temple
Zhao Junming teaching his “foreign disciples” Kung Fu.

The Shaolin Temple attracts thousands of visitors from both China and abroad every day. Some Kungfu lovers even come here to learn the skills. Zhao said he is pleased that he has more and more foreign students. So far, he has taught Kungfu to 700 to 800 foreigners. So now, his schedule not only includes practice of Kungfu but also learning English. “I want to help more friends learn about Chinese Kungfu and fall in love with it,” he said.

Shaolin Temple
There are many martial arts schools around the Shaolin Temple, meaning that the area lives up to its reputation as “the country of martial arts”.

Confucius Magazine 15

pdfPublished in Confucius Institute Magazine
Magazine 15. Volume 4. July 2011.
View/Download the print issue in PDF

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