SHAOLIN ULYSSES

Inside Shaolin


About Shaolin
Top: Symbol for the Shaolin Temple in Chinese characters. English translation: Shaolin Temple of Song Mountain, People's Republic of China.


The Shaolin Monastery is the headquarters of a Buddhist sect that became known across Asia for its disciplined Chan (Zen) philosophy and deadly martial arts prowess. Nearly 1,500 years after the monastery was created, the monks of Shaolin are still held in great reverence while demonstrating their remarkable skill to audiences throughout modern-day China and around the world.



With a need to protect themselves in a battle-torn, feudal China, the Shaolin monks embarked on a long process to develop a system of defense by meditating on the attack and defense movements of animals. The Shaolin monks called their system of fighting wushu, and after a few centuries, their order was famous for being a brand of Buddhists that one should not provoke.

Even with all of their remarkable fighting abilities, it is a commonly held understanding that Buddhist monks espouse a philosophy of non-violence. It would be incorrect to associate demonstrations of Shaolin fighting techniques as acts of aggression. They fight mostly in silence, exhibiting what can be described as "stillness in movement" - a direct result of a serene mind cultivated through the practice of meditation. (The only exception being a group of wayward monks who formed a secret organization known as the White Lotus in 1620.)

The Shaolin monks train in martial arts for several hours every day — perfecting the art of hand-to-hand and weapons combat. It is the daily practice of seated meditation that enables the individual monk to sustain a demanding physical regimen. Through the practice known as Chan (Zen), the monks calm the body and focus the mind to a single collected point in order to attain the mental state known as Samadhi (complete mental absorption). It is in this quiet yet highly focused state of mind that the monk is able to endure extreme physical discomfort and pain, as well as being able to undergo the intense daily training required to achieve and maintain the level of adeptness for which they are so highly praised.

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About Shaolin text, used with permission of the Ving Tsun Museum

Top Right: Symbol for the Shaolin Temple. English translation: Shaolin Temple of Song Mountain, China.

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