Shaolin-Part 1by: Rick Gil
Of my 34+ years experience, in the martial arts, nearly two-thirds, were continuous research of data related to martial arts, and its origins. In a discussion of Shaolin and Kung Fu, many controversies will be created. The subject of martial arts, its origins, the Shaolin controversy, are constantly being debated in the same nature as religion, sports, and world events.
I am going to start with the reason that I started a research quest in the martial arts. Long ago, before the “almighty” Internet, publications were available. But there were limitations to perform searches for documented or recorded data, even per government. As friends and family knowing that I am a martial artist, would bequeath unto me, through gifts, many publications, such as books and magazines. This ever-growing private library, to date, contains over 150 books, and over 1000, magazines, which at last value for insurance reasons reached into thousands of US dollars. And such, are only a replacement value and not a current one, per auction.
For the beginning years, in my martial art studies, I was told and found the existence of Shaolin. I followed the whole “watching animals” and “Bodhidharma” tale. (Which Bodhidharma was not the originator of Kung Fu, Shaolin, or Che’n /Ch’an/or Zen) Soon after, the entertainment industry had “caught up” with movies and television. One such television show that touched on Shaolin was the early, or newly developed series, Kung Fu. Many books and periodicals also jumped on the “bandwagon”, because they had seen a commercial value of it. This commercial value would not stop there.
I had a Chinese Kung Fu instructor, one of few, back between the late 60’s through the early 70’s, who were teaching me that martial art. Along with impressive skills and teaching, he had the same in his credentials on how he was qualified to teach. Because the Internet was not available, and because researching such was not even thought of, his credentials went un-challenged for many years. His credentials were, he was from Henan and practiced at Shaolin. His instructor, a Shaolin monk, was the 28th Generation, Abbot, Xu Zhon Wei. Who had only five apprentice disciples, which were not considered as mere students. This would make my Chinese Kung Fu instructor within the range of 29th to 33rd. I’ll come back to this.
When I started college, in the later 70’s, I came across a person whom practiced, or was a follower in Buddhism. Ever so curious, as I had always been, I started communication with him and we had many discussions. After some time, to my surprise, he had explained that Shaolin, was not the origin of Kung Fu as many martial art scholars laid claim. To state also, that such tales were elaborate and exaggerated from small facts, told by a raconteur. This was because, back then, it was the only means of entertainment. To say with my mentality at that moment, I could not believe. I suppose I was in “denial”.
His further explanation, per a Buddhist sutra (aka-sutta, doctrine) was told from one called the “Kalama”. Which deals basically with “blind following” and confusion. From this, my Buddhist acquaintance, or friend, went on to explain, that things needed to be furthered researched for a better insight. And, that Ch’en or Ch’an Buddhists, never have the intention to go out and “beg” for their livelihood. They are self-sufficient whom “make their own way”. Which has one to ponder, “How can a Monk, from that sect, charge for lessons?”
Another thing to ponder, from the further research on Ch’an/Ch’en Buddhism, has one to wonder that why would such a devotee, to such a temple, that had a specific origin and philosophy, meditation as insight to enlightenment, become one with a main affixation with teaching a fighting method for monetary compensation? And yet, such a temple, with its devotees, was in a remote mountain region, to escape contact of regular social order. Why would such, become known, through commercialism and other propaganda, to put forth claims of being a skilled instructor in fighting methods and do so openly?”
Thus, with the newly discover information on Buddhism, and the Ch’an sect, with its relation to Shaolin, had me discuss such that with this particular Chinese instructor. That instructor, though retired from teaching new students, still had many skills. And he and I enjoyed occasional conversations. I had opened the many discussions that I had with my “Buddhist Friend”.
To which, my Chinese instructor stated, that his background is true, but he has some of his own mis-understandings. Such as:
Though true, he had lived in Henan province in his early youth, with any family, teenagers had to go beyond their area to seek work. With that, he met some other martial art instructors.
Though true, in those boyhood years, he did train “at” Shaolin with "a monk". But here is where he, himself, has some other mis-understandings:
He had stated, training “at” Shaolin was different than today. Back in that era, around post WWII, being secluded from world events, he was somewhat fortunate. Also, he had met that monk, whom had 4 other village kids in practicing martial arts, right in Shaolin. At that time, Shaolin was not visited frequently from the abundance of commerce, as it is now. He went on to state, that they had to “clean” their own area every time they were to practice. Looking back, he, himself, has some speculation if the monk was a true monk, especially one of the Ch’an Shaolin order.
Until now, this Chinese instructor of mine, was in the mental state that he had trained “at Shaolin with a monk”. Thus, he had passed this mentality onto his students. Although somewhat true, it goes to demonstrate that it could have not possibly been authentic as one would be lead to believe. Does that make him less qualified? Does that make him not having skill? I would say not. But it does pose the question to all these other “Shaolin Instructors” and “organizations” that benefit on the name of Shaolin. Why can’t their skill alone be sufficent to demonstrate their ability without latching on to another name?
Because of the huge commercial value at Shaolin, the Chinese government is happy to place individuals and structures, to promote this venue. Thus happy to document such individuals and send them also to many other countries. Shaolin is good business.
My suggestion, to anyone, is to post questions and examine this info onto themselves. Look at the other questions and statements in my "Part 2". Research Buddhism and the Chan sect. Then compare that to many other extreme religious orders that tend to profit from such exploitation. I invite any replies.
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