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Thread: Shaolin History - Fact or Myth?

  1. #46
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    There's so much to sort out just within the Songshan area itself. I honestly haven't looked into martial arts from other countries! One thing Shaolin keeps running into is a style called Dahongquan (Large Vast Boxing), or Sanhuangbang (Three Dazzling Arms/Wings) as the action the set starts out with, which goes back to the Sui Dynasty military in areas all around the Yellow River basin, and contains all postures common across Songshan Shaolin.

    Looking at Kalaripayattu, just comparing actions, I see some similar stances and hand work, but the body movement is completely different. But even in Shaolin, different villages have pretty vastly different methods of doing the same thing, due to evolution of hundreds of years. With something separated by a country border, and not just a village a stone's throw away, and possibly thousands of years, the evolution could be so drastic that it doesn't even matter anymore. That's the feeling I get from watching ancient styles from around Songshan, Yellow River, etc. and Kalaripayattu. If there ever was a connection, it has changed so completely by now, with no apparent middle link, that it's not even worth mentioning.

    Kalaripayattu history usually places it in the 11th century though? That's like Song Dynasty. That's not very old, comparatively. Shaolin (and China) already had quite a bit of material by then, which is still practiced today, and that's when it really started getting ramped up. If that's the case, then I'd say it's highly unlikely for there to be a connection.
    Last edited by LFJ; 03-07-2013 at 09:25 PM.

  2. #47
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    Thanks for that info, LFJ. I had just heard once someone say that there may have been a connection, but according to what you say it seems very unlikely.

    There seem to be darker skinned monks training together with lighter skinned monks in some murals, right? Are these monks from other parts of China or other countries? Just wondering, since when I was doing Shorinji Kempo they made a big deal of it. Although it isn't such a big deal given the contact with other Buddhist groups, right?

  3. #48
    Louyang was an international city being the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. There were Buddhists (thousands?) from many western and south asian countries in the temples there.

    There was a Bodhidharma that came from Persia in Louyang!
    Last edited by Scott R. Brown; 03-08-2013 at 07:18 AM.

  4. #49
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    For every 15 facts about Shaolin, there are 100 myths.
    Take that as you will.
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  5. #50
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    Shaolin has a long tradition of multicultural exchange, as mentioned above it is on the path to Luoyang. I wouldn't doubt there were many more foreign monks there in the past, but in the murals they are practicing nothing that resembles kalaripayattu. They are training identifiable Shaolin technique.

  6. #51
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    Quote Originally Posted by LFJ View Post
    Shaolin has a long tradition of multicultural exchange, as mentioned above it is on the path to Luoyang. I wouldn't doubt there were many more foreign monks there in the past, but in the murals they are practicing nothing that resembles kalaripayattu. They are training identifiable Shaolin technique.
    Thought this might have been the case. I just wanted to ask about it.

    What kinds of forms can we see from the murals? Qixing Quan? Many of them have spread open fingers, right?

  7. #52
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sima Rong View Post
    Thought this might have been the case. I just wanted to ask about it.

    What kinds of forms can we see from the murals? Qixing Quan? Many of them have spread open fingers, right?
    for what it's worth i have an old martial arts documentary that says that some Japanese Shorinji guys studied the mural, reverse engineered it, and made a style of it.
    Couldn't find a youtube clip of the documentary i have, but I did find this:
    http://youtu.be/gT_m89wOm-o
    What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver, standing on the sidewalk?
    It's practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck.
    Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION.
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  8. #53
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pork Chop View Post
    for what it's worth i have an old martial arts documentary that says that some Japanese Shorinji guys studied the mural, reverse engineered it, and made a style of it.
    Couldn't find a youtube clip of the documentary i have, but I did find this:
    http://youtu.be/gT_m89wOm-o
    That is quite possibly partly true. I don't really agree with a lot of the history of the art or the founder, but I still think I learnt a few things from it.

    Oh, and that is rather a good video about Nippon Shorinji Kempo, although as I've said, I don't agree with all of it, particularly about the history and the history of its founder. About 30 minutes in if I remember they show some pressure point training.

  9. #54
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sima Rong View Post
    That is quite possibly partly true. I don't really agree with a lot of the history of the art or the founder, but I still think I learnt a few things from it.

    Oh, and that is rather a good video about Nippon Shorinji Kempo, although as I've said, I don't agree with all of it, particularly about the history and the history of its founder. About 30 minutes in if I remember they show some pressure point training.
    yeah i agree with you on a lot of that.
    my point was to display a school based almost entirely on interpretation of the techniques displayed in the Shaolin mural.
    What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver, standing on the sidewalk?
    It's practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck.
    Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION.
    -Jack Dempsey ch1 pg1 Championship Fighting

  10. #55
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pork Chop View Post
    yeah i agree with you on a lot of that.
    my point was to display a school based almost entirely on interpretation of the techniques displayed in the Shaolin mural.
    The techniques are supposed to be combined from boxing, sumo and other arts including some kind of aikijujutsu I think...oh and some 'Shaolin' style that the founder said he learnt in China and became a grandmaster of (which I think is highly unlikely because he is Japanese). The murals influenced much of the pair form training methods of the art, and possibly some of the techniques. Anyway, it doesn't really look anything like Songshan Shaolin, and much of it was developed after the war.

    Actually the founder of Nippon Shorinji Kempo's visit to the temple is in modern Shaolin history, but whether this is mainly because of the fact that the founder of the Japanese art helped financially support the making of the Jet Lee movie 'The Shaolin Temple' which brought renewed fame to Shaolin is unclear to me. Anyway, a few top practioners of the Japanese art were in the movie, doing techniques from Nippon Shorinji Kempo.

  11. #56
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    The mural itself is not that old, only 18th century or so. the other arts u mention are supplementary. the founder was in shaolin as of 1928, which is 16 years after the fall of the qing dynasty and prior to the japaese invasion of manchuria in 1931.
    What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver, standing on the sidewalk?
    It's practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck.
    Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION.
    -Jack Dempsey ch1 pg1 Championship Fighting

  12. #57
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    Hope its not too late to contribute

    The first thing I would really like to address and that is the discrepancy of Bodhidharma being from Persia.

    By no account, historical or otherwise, is this factual. The historical account linking Damo to Persia (as quoted on Wikipedia) says that he was a “Persian Central Asian”.

    This is not a description of a Persian individual. Take a look at maps of the Persian Empire during the time Damo is believed to have arrived at Shaolin and you will see that Persia was in no way central Asia.

    However, the Persian Empire strongly shaped and influenced the Brahman civilization. Hinduism as we know it today is, in part, the descendant of a broad family of religions that included that of the Tibetans as well as that of the Persians. Just as there is this notion “Indo-Tibetan”, there is a notion “Indo-Persian”. I strongly recommend reading into this. These cultures all interacted and overlapped in deities, classical religious and cultural texts and at some point even language.

    The term “Persian Central Asian” refers to a man from Central Asia. More detailed accounts describe him as a “South Indian of the Western regions”. Interpreted at its most basic, this means that he was from south India and that the source considered India to be a region in the west.

    The most specific tradition regarding Damo’s origin refers to the Tamilnadu state in India which, aside from being consistent with other accounts, places him in the family of a Brahman king.

    Basically all of the historical accounts and much of the “legendary” ones make perfect cultural, historical and geographical sense when scrutinized. In fact, barring physical unlikelihood such as floating down a river on a single reed, it is not that difficult to reconcile Damo’s history and legend.

    Consider this person for a moment, not in terms of what is believed to be true but instead what is probably true, under the assumption that the historical accounts are reliable (which, I believe, they are due to their consistency with one another).

    It is probably true that Bodhidharma was a Brahman, most likely being the son of a Brahman king.

    It is probably true, then, Damo was a convert to Buddhism.

    Buddhism and Hinduism have a very interesting relationship. They share a great many beliefs and differ on equally as many.

    The South of India is known for its staggering numbers of temples and monuments. If you have not seen some of the palaces, temples, pagodas and other mind-bending monuments in the Tamil region, I strongly recommend that you hop on Google and check them out.

    When one considers Damo’s most likely place of origin, his interaction with Emperor Wu becomes understandable, whether out of Brahman pride (which placed deep emphasis on devoted work) or as a result of deep Buddhist detachment (which rejects materialism).

    Damo’s conversion to Buddhism probably did not go over very well with his Brahman family. It is conceivable that Damo decided to distance himself from either them or his culture as a whole and travel to China, which by then was readily absorbing Buddhism. This is not unlike the mentality which drives many spiritual people alive today.

    That said, Damo was not born or raised in a vacuum. Whoever the accounts are actually talking about, the person that they piece together is someone who was probably well cultured and highly literate. This brings us to the “yogic practices” that are attributed to Damo’s tenure at Shaolin Temple.

    But what was this yoga? There is virtually no evidence whatsoever that ancient yogis handed down systems of yoga postures to their followers. This is because the highest Vedic teachings about yoga make unambiguously clear the futility of clinging onto constructs such as systems of material expressions. One should keep in mind that what we see today as yoga actually consists of postures and transitions just two centuries old. This places historians at a disadvantage as they look back in search of "martial arts" or even simply "yoga" that may have roots with Damo.

    So, what yoga did Damo teach the monks? To understand this one must understand yoga as the “art of all practice”, as the Bhagavad Gita puts it. This writing might seem arbitrarily assigned to the evolution Shaolin martial arts but I assure you it is not and highly recommend it for reading. Yoga, as taught by Krishna in this Hindu text, is the renunciation of all material pursuits in favor of devoted meditation on an absolute. This is also yoga in the context of work without the desire for fruitive results, as no single goal can measure up to the liberation of the soul through knowing the absolute. Krishna represents this absolute to Hindus. This is the equivalent of Christ to Christians. The Buddha can be said to have attained knowledge of this absolute.

    In my mind, Damo found this absolute in the cave. What he ended up handing down through HuiKe and the original disciples was the essence of what later came to be called “Chan”.

    Although it appeared in China relatively soon, Buddhism had a hard time finding fancy in the eyes of the Chinese, particularly the elites. What you see as you trace Buddhism into China is that is becomes more and more political. That is because the Chinese royalty could accept Buddhism’s about-face to the establishments of India, but not so much to the Emperor of China and his culture. The Chinese were (and still are) very proud and selective of what they consider theirs. They already had their own version of spiritual energy, meditative practices and specialized breathing in distinctly Chinese roots such as Taoism.

    Nevertheless, Damo could see that whatever the monks at Shaolin knew, they still lacked a true understanding of the meditative path which leads to liberation. Their intentions may have been good but they lacked the tools with which to hone their mind. This is the missing piece that we now call Chan. And in this sense, Chan is Chinese Buddhist yoga.

    From there, it was up to the monks. History does not show Damo sticking around very long and it would have been counterproductive for him to have done so. All he needed to know was that at least one of the monks truly understood what he was trying to teach. It is for this reason that I believe the 9-year cave story culminating with HuiKe’s amputation to be at least largely true.

    If you ask me, it is possible that Damo did not teach the monks a single motion but rather, through devoted meditation, helped them find within themselves the capacity to work in ways that transcends their personal, perishable needs and drives. I find it possible that he did expose them to certain examples of how meditation can be practiced as medicinal kinesiology.

    But isn’t this what qigong is? No. And that is why this practice is not called qigong. It is called gongfu.

    Qigong and gongfu are different in one defining way: renunciation of fruitive work. Put aside all the “conditioning” and “applications” and all this stuff and simply consider the meditative practice of form. It is not for health, nor is it for martial prowess. Qigong is practiced very much as a fruitive action. The beautiful thing about Buddhism (particularly the Buddhism of the time) is that gongfu could evolve within it, strictly as a devoted practice. The martial arts and all that stuff came later as a result of outside pressures (war, politics, proximity to Chen village, etc.) molding and influencing the gongfu to become what it needed to in order to survive.
    Last edited by DoGcHoW108; 03-10-2013 at 07:52 PM.

  13. #58
    Quote Originally Posted by DoGcHoW108 View Post
    The first thing I would really like to address and that is the discrepancy of Bodhidharma being from Persia.

    By no account, historical or otherwise, is this factual. The historical account linking Damo to Persia (as quoted on Wikipedia) says that he was a “Persian Central Asian”.

    This is not a description of a Persian individual. Take a look at maps of the Persian Empire during the time Damo is believed to have arrived at Shaolin and you will see that Persia was in no way central Asia.

    However, the Persian Empire strongly shaped and influenced the Brahman civilization. Hinduism as we know it today is, in part, the descendant of a broad family of religions that included that of the Tibetans as well as that of the Persians. Just as there is this notion “Indo-Tibetan”, there is a notion “Indo-Persian”. I strongly recommend reading into this. These cultures all interacted and overlapped in deities, classical religious and cultural texts and at some point even language.

    The term “Persian Central Asian” refers to a man from Central Asia. More detailed accounts describe him as a “South Indian of the Western regions”. Interpreted at its most basic, this means that he was from south India and that the source considered India to be a region in the west.
    I have previously detailed the exact reference to the Chinese work and its author and the author's authority and the date of his work which was about 50 years after the Bodhidharma was supposed to be in Louyang.

    It is true there is no way to prove it is the same Bodhidharma, on the other hand there is no way to prove it wasn't.

    Persia can actually mean Afghanistan or Pakistan regions as well or even more northerly.

    At any rate where someone came from, does not necessarily mean that is where they were born. The Persian Bodhidharma also claimed to be 150 years old.

    It might be valuable to list your sources because on another thread I listed the 3 primary Chinese sources for the origin story of Bodhidharma. None of them are all that detailed. Two were within 50 years or so of his supposed stay in Louyang one was written by either a direct student or Hui-k'o's student. The Persian reference is from a secular source doing research on the temples of Louyang.

  14. #59
    One other interesting tidbit, the earliest sources of chan actually do not mention meditation, but "wall examining"; no one really knows what it refers too. It was presumed by later generations to mean meditation, however some of the earliest chan writings actually criticize meditation!

  15. #60
    in chaquan, the lineage founder is the prophet muhammed.


    they take it quite seriously.
    Last edited by bawang; 03-10-2013 at 09:14 PM.

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