Thursday, June 11, 2009

History of Shaolin Kung Fu -3

72 Fists of Shaolin

It was a rich young noble an experienced martial artist, found his way to Shaolin and entered the Shaolin Monastery. He assumed the name of Chueh Yuan and devoted all his studies to the further development of Shaolin Kung Fu and fitness training. He was talented and had Shaolin as his play ground and within a few years, he was able to revise the unstructured Kung Fu training into a structure of 72 Fists, Movements, Martial Art Skills. These were very successful, both to train and to use, very effective and Shaolin adopted the the 72 Fits to is 18 Hands exercises. They were very effective for both internal and external fitness; and incorporated strategic elements and thought. These 72 Fists were "very" effective; possibly too effective and not quite in line with original Buddhist non-injuring principles (any harm done to other will be returned 10 fold on the giver).

Chueh Yuan had plenty of time on his hands and had devoted his life to kung fu and Shaolin. he wanted to test his system and see what the world has to offer. He went on a study and testing journey.

170 Movements

On his travels, Chueh Yuan witnessed a bandit attacking an aged person. He saw how the attacker landed an apparently very strong kick seemingly, to the body of the traveler with very little or no effect. The old traveler only used minimal effort against the bandit's leg sending the attacker crumbling to the ground. This maneuver impressed Chueh Yuan enormously. Considering that Buddhist Shaolin needed a style that was more in line with Buddhist principles (not to do violence to others), this seemed like a good start. He introduced himself to the senior and inquired if he would be able to teach this art to him. Much to his surprise the old man did not know much of what he did and referred them to the local master Pai Yu-feng.

Pai Yu-feng was a friendly 50 year old and Chueh Yuan convinced him to accompany him back to the Shaolin temple. Over the next few years they, using the 18 Hands of Lohan, the 72 Fist Styles together with Pai Yu-feng's pressure point grappling/wrestling techniques' and redeveloped the Shaolin 72 Fist Kung Fu into the 170 exercises, a mixture Striking and Controlling, Evading and Countering. This was possibly the first official introduction of Vital Points to martial arts (it is now common for involved martial artiste to study the human body, meridians, joints, major organs and Dragon Points). This form of Kung Fu would endure for over 400 years before any significant changes were made

Teaching & Sharing

As a well financed, well protected and by the ruling Dynasty favored temple, Shaolin was now the most famous Buddhist Temple. It was the place to be; Scholars, Martial Artists, Healers, Masters of Craft and Imperial Soldiers, Artists were now fairly common in Shaolin. A village developed around the Temple (as the Temple proper was actually quite modest). Some of these were invited as Honored Guests, information and teaching was exchanged.

As Buddhists teaching and sharing of knowledge and wisdom was the gift of Buddha. This resulted in the school having teaching and lecturing facilities in addition to the normal training facilities (much like modern Chinese schools are now managed).

The Monk Soldiers also had a reputation to keep but could not really 'pick fights'. Friendly competitions were sponsored by Shaolin and the Soldier Monks had opportunity to test their skills against the best. Shaolin training including using weapons but not for the purpose of using these weapons against other humans (Using the Pole was already a burden on their spirit); these weapons were learned and then put aside. They learned how to defend against weapons. They trained many weapon styles as part of their regular fitness training. With their exposure to Imperial Officers and having the time to spend in training, their skills grew. Shaolin would again be asked to use these skills in the name of the Emperor.

China's World Connection

Before Shanghai was the major sea port and trading center that is is today, Fukien (Fujian) was the major connection trade with over 2000 years history, It was perfectly situated as a port to trade with Taiwan, Korea, Japan, India and the rest of the World. Fukien (Fujian) history extends well back before the dawn of Chinese civilization as major population and trading center, possibly even with Arabs, Romans and Greeks ate various times in history. In the time of the new Tang Dynasty, it was in the grasp of Pirates and Lawless. Military intervention from the Imperial court had very little effect, the Pirates were wealthy and were able to bribe any official interfering; or kill them (one can see where accepting bribes would have seemed the preferred option to the officials; and it was a long standing culture of Chinese politics; bribes and survival that is). Remembering the success of the 13 monks, the new Tang Emperor asked Shaolin for help.

Shaolin decided to send 3 of the original 13 Monks (Dao Guang, Seng Man and Seng Feng), together with 500 Soldier Monks to help solve the problem. Shaolin could not easy be bribed and, theoretically, as Buddhists, were not intimidated by threats of death. As monks they also had the support and trust of the common person. What they specifically did is not know, but what the outcome was is. Although they did not eradicate the Pirates entirely, they reduce their influence in Fukien to the point where Imperial Office and Law was able to manage this centers of commerce. Fukien was back in the hands of the Imperial Court and paying good taxes again.

Shaolin 2nd Temple

This made the Emperor happy and gifts were again bestowed on the Shaolin temple including an even greater area of land around the mountain. In addition to thanking Shaolin which incidentally was also a way to keep his Shaolin influence in Fukien, he gave Shaolin their own Temple. Records show that the initially gifted temple was in Putian, only 100 years old but a bit small. As the Shaolin outgrew this location quickly, they relocated to other temples. Artefacts and records found as recently as in the first few years of 21st century, that they also occupied temples in Guandong (Canton) and Hebei. In the years of 874-8 CE, still during the Tang dynasty, a Shaolin specific temple was built. But this was to be a short lived pleasure. Buddhist and Temples were in for a bad period.

Burden of Success

With the military and martial art successes and having officially been given leave to have 500 Seng Bing, Soldier, Warrior or Guard Monks, Shaolin training was now very involved and rigorous for all monks. It may have become very focused on the martial art aspect and have 'forgotten' it roots of Yoga and Breathing. Because of Shaolin fame, reputation, wealth and Status (even today Shaolin Trained Body Guards earn up to twice the normal protectors wage), many young people wanted to gain entrance and be part of the reputation (Gain Face). Too many wanted to be associated with the Shaolin reputation. Shaolin needed a way to separate the clowns from their future monks.

Shaolin Testing

Shaolin developed a stricter process of choosing who could study with them. For some, this was just a greater amount in donations to Shaolin, lacking that other entry exams were included. Speculation on this is rife but it was clear that lacking excellent funding, gaining entrance into Shaolin was tough. Some records suggest that there was a week of entry per year. That some people stood in line well before the day of choosing, sometimes weeks before, much like, at today's very popular events ticket sales (even days and weeks, as some traveled several months to get to Shaolin). Once you were in, irrespective of age, you spent several years on kitchen duties which included all styles of menial tasks, the famous Water Carrying (yes there is a water flow about 150 meters down a hill from Shaolin), sweeping, fixing, mending, serving, etc. On the upside, they also received a very good educations including Calligraphy (writing with the brush) skills, basic math's, Buddhism (of course, possibly principles of Confucianism and Taoism), Poetry, History and Music (the 6 Noble Skills).

It was a very hard life but it was of grand benefit to everyone. For Shaolin, it sorted out the best for possible full training as a Shaolin Monk. For the so accepted, if they became Shaolin, that was the Grand Ultimate. If not, the education they received put them in the top 1% of Chinese Education; that about how many Chinese per population could write, let along being taught the other Noble Skills. It was a Win-Win situation for all around. Those who successfully completed their 'Kitchen' period were still not fully accepted. They needed a mentor, a Monk who would accept each graduate and 'take' them into their fold. This was to ensure that 'right minded' were chosen not just tough individuals. Then the second phase of training would begin with greater focus on Buddhism than ever before. Aside from Buddhist studies, many Shaolin has their areas of expertise, areas where they mastered an aspect of the Noble and other learning's. The Soldier Monks also chose from the batch of graduates to replace retired and killed Soldier Monks.

Although it is dramatized in movies, Shaolin thus chosen would be brought to the brink of exhaustion through their training. Records indicated a very tough regime of physical and mental exercise with only 4 hours sleep most nights; long runs before breakfast, very hard martial art exercises, chi kung and endurance training on top of their Buddhist studies and obligatory daily meditations. This would go on for several years. Those who failed were not allowed to stay in Shaolin and were asked to leave (although their future was secured with this level of training and education). Those that endured, were accepted (note - the branding of forearms by the lifting of a cauldron of a pedestal was wildly popularized and sometimes accepted as fact. As no clear records exist of any such test and Buddhism does not allow really allow the permanent marking of human bodies, this version can be discounted unless some historical records are found).

End of a Golden Era

Military eunuchs had controlled the government for some time. They had put the previous emperor, Wuzong's older brother Wenzong, under house arrest, where he apparently drank himself to death. The eunuchs had also murdered the last two emperors before him, Jingzong and Muzong. Meanwhile, the Uyghur Khanate was attacking China from the northwest. Imperial finances were in trouble as most provinces were not paying any taxes to the central government. Reforms and tough action was needed.

With the help of his uncle, the future Emperor Xuanzong, Wuzong was able to stage a coup against the eunuchs and ascend to the throne. He and his prime minister Li Deyu were able to curb the eunuchs' power. Li Deyu took personal command of the war against the Uyghurs and won an important victory in 843. But they still did not have enough money to 'turn' China around. They needed funds!

Buddhist monasteries had become rich and were tax exempt. Many people entered the Buddhist community to escape military service and tax duty. The increase in the number of temples, priests and nuns put even more financial pressure on the state (added to the wars, internal battles and politics). With the rise of the Neo-Confucian's who wrote manifests against the foreign religion (including Buddhism), believing its egalitarian philosophies destroyed the social system of duty and rights of the upper and lower classes. He had reasoning and an amount of popular support for his next reform.