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Thread: The Shaolin Ideal

  1. #1

    Lightbulb The Shaolin Ideal

    The latest issue of Kung Fu Magazine got me thinking abstractly about Shaolin. Many people use expressions like the Shaolin way, the spirit of Shaolin, or the Shaolin ideal, but what does that really mean? Shaolin has a long and layered history filled with all manner of legends and personalities. Out of all this, what embodies the spirit of Shaolin? Is it Chan Buddhism? If so, that would disqualify non-Chan Buddhists who practice Shaolin styles from being embodiments of the Shaolin ideal. So is the Shaolin ideal Mo Duk (Wu De)? If this were it, wouldn't that make practitioners of non-Shaolin martial arts that have martial ethics embodiments of the Shaolin ideal? So is it martial ethics combined with being a practitioner of Shaolin martial arts that makes the Shaolin ideal? As you can see, these expressions that are thrown around so freely aren't so easy to define. So what are your thoughts as to what the Shaolin ideal is?
    Last edited by The Xia; 12-12-2006 at 12:49 PM.

  2. #2
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    Shaolin martial art has the Buddhist ethic at it's core. Some of the teachings regarding attachment and it's connection to suffering struck me in a very deep place.

    The Four Noble Truths:

    1) The Truth concerning the origin of Suffering is thus:
    Birth is characterized by suffering and dissatisfaction, Death is characterized by suffering and dissatisfaction, Being with the unpleasant is characterized by suffering and dissatisfaction, Being away from what is pleasant is characterized by suffering and dissatisfaction.

    2) The truth concerning the cause of this suffering and dissatisfaction is that it arises from cravings, the craving not to be forgotten, craving for sense pleasures and craving sometimes, for death.

    3) The truth concerning the way to overcome the suffering and dissatisfaction brought about by craving is to cause craving itself to cease, to withdraw from participating in it, to renounce it, to liberate oneself from it completely.

    4) The truth concerning the way to cease craving is to follow The Noble Eightfold Path of Virtue which consists of right views, right intentions, right speech, right activities, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.


    The only time I find myself straying form the peaceful space this promotes is when I reconnect back to my ego and begin to serve my oh so selfish interests. I imagine this is why it is called PRACTICE and not RELIGION.....

    Build rather than destroy;
    Avoid rather than check;
    Check rather than hurt;
    Hurt rather than maim;
    Maim rather than kill;
    For all life is sacred
    and
    none can any be replaced.

    -Shaolim Monastery Credo
    To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
    -Patanjali Samadhi


    "Not engaging in ignorance is wisdom."
    ~ Bodhi


    Never miss a good chance to shut up

  3. #3
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    I've always viewed "Shaolin" as an ideal of preservation. By its very nature--i.e. the Bodhidharma/weak monk myth--it is an art of self preservation. It increases health. By its outward manifestation, it is an art of self preservation---for protection against wild animals and bandits. By its systematic set-up, it is an art of self-preservation--because it preserves a way of conducting oneself, disciplining oneself, and mastering oneself. It also preserves a unique style of Buddhism--and I really do think this is part of the corps of the word "Shaolin."

    The Buddhism keeps the art from becoming meaningless. Or, depending on how you look at it--in a Chan kind of way--actually keeps it pure and meaningless.

    The systematic aspect keeps it from becoming something watered down like wushu.

    The self-preservation (protection) aspect keeps it from becoming a vigilante/mercenary art (UFC, etc.). It actually has character.

    The personal side of it keeps one in good shape, and allows one greater focus, concentration, and self-awareness---or in a Chan kind of way--actually eradicates self-awareness.

    Shaolin is simple, yet myriad. Nothing in Chan is simple. Everything in Chan is simple.

    I actually enrolled in a Shaolin MA based school only after entering deep into Chan buddhism. I've been disappointed (and sometimes I'm guilty of making it) by the contention that Shaolin CMA is a "deadly, street" martial art---especially by Wing Chunners....And I'm guilty of defending its efficacy against MMA'ers a little too vehemently....

    First and foremost, it is an art of preservation and kindness. Me? I don't even kill ****roaches....freaks my girlfriend out....'cuz I just trap them and take them outside. But then, I've always been like that. It's just nice to find a martial art/philosophical exercise that capitalizes on certain life outlooks. Guess you could say the UFC isn't for me. Nor BJJ--no matter how superior it might be in a streetfight. Other MA might be more effective on the street, but for Chan?

    There's no substitute for Shaolin.
    No, no, no. You're not thinking. You're just being logical---Niels Bohr

    Oh yeah!??!! Well, my dad could beat up your dad!--Lineage-Haters

    For all nonsense there is an equal and opposite nonsense---Wook

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shaolin Wookie View Post
    Me? I don't even kill ****roaches....
    HAHA....can't even say c_o_c_k_roaches without being censored....

    Thanks a lot, Gene!!
    No, no, no. You're not thinking. You're just being logical---Niels Bohr

    Oh yeah!??!! Well, my dad could beat up your dad!--Lineage-Haters

    For all nonsense there is an equal and opposite nonsense---Wook

    My Youtube Channel

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    While we're on the subject....

    Has anyone ever read The Shaolin Grandmaster's Textbook?

    I agree with some of it...but some of it seems a little prejudiced, despite the constant retractions. Does anyone know anything about the Order of Shaolin Chan, formerly NYC, now in Oregon?

    Gene? God among mortals...creme de la creme.....
    No, no, no. You're not thinking. You're just being logical---Niels Bohr

    Oh yeah!??!! Well, my dad could beat up your dad!--Lineage-Haters

    For all nonsense there is an equal and opposite nonsense---Wook

    My Youtube Channel

  6. #6
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    God among mortals? creme de la creme?

    I'm glad to hear our latest Shaolin special was a catalyst for thought, The Xia. That's exactly what we shoot for around here, that and newsstand viability, of course. Let me tell you - this was our 8th Shaolin special, and I'm still no closer to solving the question you pose. What is the Shaolin ideal? Might as well ask 'what is the American ideal?' One thing is certain. Shaolin, like America, is huge, both literally and conceptually. It's many things to many people. I think we all find our own answers to that question of ideals.

    I also think that the mistake most people make about Shaolin is in the 'ideal'. They visualize it as some ideal, idyllic place, some promised land of martial arts like what we see in the movies. The reality is quite different. So is the history. Shaolin has always been extremely 'colorful'. I think a lot of people get their ideal fantasy shattered when they actually experience it, and thus we get a lot of detractors. But there again, even detractors have been a part of Shaolin history for centuries - for longer than America has been a nation actually. Perhaps that puts my earlier comment about how huge Shaolin is conceptually into some context.

    Shaolin Wookie: We discussed the Shaolin Grandmaster's text a long time ago here.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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    Some of you guys are more articulate than I will ever be. I would just like to share that "Spirit of Shaolin: A Kung Fu Philosophy" by David Carradine, is well worth reading.

    I know about all the negative feelings concerning him being a dancer trying to pass himself off as a Shaolin priest and martial artist still exist. But, he has been a serious student of kung fu for many years now. He is also a very bright guy with some keen insight. It isn't necessary to buy everything in the book says hook, line, and sinker, but it is very thought provoking.
    Figure Eight

  8. #8
    Gene, you bring up excellent points about Shaolin being vast and its reality vs. the popular ideals many hold. I think this is true with Kung Fu history in general. These are things that were already cooking in my head but your comparison of Shaolin and America adds a whole new flavor. I can see the parallels. That actually puts things in better perspective for me. Thanks for that.
    On a related note, what religion is Yu Hai?

  9. #9
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    Hmm...this has really gotten me thinking

    I have a hypothetical, and I'm sure I'll catch flack for it because I'm associated with the SD (PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT ABOUT SD nor a vehicle for it--....but here goes....

    Okay, let's say I've studied Chan buddhism of the Mahayana path for a long time, meditate every day, am not a vegetarian, and then got into a martial art to keep in shape and learn a thing or two about self-defense and physical self-expression (ala Bruce Lee). Let's say, for the sake of the hypothetical, I choose to practice some kind of Japanese Karate. It doesn't matter what kind.

    Now, Shaolin kung-fu grew out of a Buddhist monastery...and I highly doubt it was started by a bunch of soldiers who wanted to study buddhism (if the Bodhidharma story is a myth, which it probably is). The martial arts they taught kept them in shape, and weren't really meant for war--just preservation (from bandits, health, from animals, etc). Are the movements themselves that important? Chi flow is important--but then a lot of katas from Japanese martial arts mimick CMA forms, even though they have a different source of power at times (much harder/external). But Shaolin arts were originally nothing more than exercise (and this isn't really that hotly debated). So, if I'm practicing this Japanese Karate day in and day out as a part of my routine, and get the same benefit from them that the Shaolin monks did--physically/mentally/spiritually---, am I really that much different? This, I think, gets to the root of what is really SHaolin....is it the spirit of the martial art, or is it the spirit of the philosophy/religion, or is it both?

    Or, let's take this viewpoint: Let's say I study Tai Chi (or any Taoist art-Pa Hsien, Pa Kua), and recieve great benefits in the form of concentration and chi flow, does it make it less "Shaolin"?--assuming I'm still that Chan guy...

    This isn't about masquerading as a Shaolin monk---I think every American (authentic Chinese immigrant Master or McDojo) who does that nowadays is missing the point. The Xia usually has really good things to say--as do many of the posters on this thread....I wanna know your opinions, just out of the spirit of sharing knowledge/experience...

    Personally, if a guy found a way to balance Mahayana Chan of a Shaolin sort, was a regular/successful meditator, and threw Kempo into the mix, practiced a peaceful life, and was an all-around stand up guy with a quiet voice and a strong fist.....I don't think I'd have a really big gripe about calling him Shaolin in the long run, just as long as he never said he practiced TCMA and tried to run a profit on false lineages. He could practice Yoga for all I care, or even Tae Bo--so long as he's not Billy Blanks (I accidentally sat through one of his movies on cable on a saturday afternoon when I was sick, and I still blame him for it)...hehe

    What's yall's take on this?

    PS, that last question isn't referring to the Billy Blanks reference....
    No, no, no. You're not thinking. You're just being logical---Niels Bohr

    Oh yeah!??!! Well, my dad could beat up your dad!--Lineage-Haters

    For all nonsense there is an equal and opposite nonsense---Wook

    My Youtube Channel

  10. #10
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    It would seem the movements of Shaolin's self cultivation forms are a series of KEYS to unlock certain internal connections or spiritual states that one would not normally be able to access without this type of training. The yoga assanas perform the same function but through an alternate path. Chanting of sutras as well as reading of certain spiritual classics also have an associated effect.

    "Chinese Martial Arts embody harmonized teaching and training techniques which serve as either self-defense, healing, psychological revelation, vivfying exercise, or a spiritual path, and could act as a catalyst to people who would normally not be interested in spiritual practices or other esoteric training."

    Peace
    To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
    -Patanjali Samadhi


    "Not engaging in ignorance is wisdom."
    ~ Bodhi


    Never miss a good chance to shut up

  11. #11
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    DWM: I have an autographed blad of Spirit of Shaolin somewhere. I never read the book all the way through though. He wrote a second book Endless Highway, which addresses his drug addiction while playing Caine. I never read that one either, but it sounded a heck of a lot more interesting that SoS.

    TX: Yu Hai is Christian. See our latest cover story: The Big Monk of Shaolin Temple: Mantis Grandmaster Yu Hai

    SW: It's really our western perspective that partitions Chinese culture so; I personally blame Descartes for that. That doesn't exist in China in the same way. Take Journey to the West for example. It's one of the great classics of Chinese literature - but is it strictly Buddhist, or Taoist, or what? I'll tell ya - it's pure Chinese.

    LHK: I believe you can practice Shaolin spiritually or not. On the deep level, it can be very spiritual. But on the shallow level, which is where most people practice it, it's just a fun way to stay fit. That's fine too. I suppose you could say the same of Buddhism arts in general. Take Ikebana, for example - the art of flower arranging. My mom did that for a while. She's not Buddhist at all. But she made some great arrangements - still does.
    Gene Ching
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  12. #12
    "To do no evil, to pursue all good, to purify ones own mind, is the teaching of all Buddhas." -Gotoma
    how do you think gong fu came to be Ch'an in the first place.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneChing View Post
    TX: Yu Hai is Christian. See our latest cover story: The Big Monk of Shaolin Temple: Mantis Grandmaster Yu Hai
    Thanks. I did read the article. It says Yu Hai's father and sifu was Christian but I didn't see it directly say that Yu Hai was. It did say he delved into Buddhism though so I wasn't sure if he was a Buddhist or perhaps a Christian that incorporates Buddhism into his religion, or a Christian who studied Buddhism from a purely academic standpoint. Anyway, the fact that he is Christian adds an interesting angle to this question. Yu Hai is Christian and he is Shaolin through and through. That's an interesting thing to note when meditating on the subject of this thread.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by richard sloan View Post
    how do you think gong fu came to be Ch'an in the first place.
    The Bodhidharma myth is my favorite but the historians have debunked that one. Naturally man has been balling up his hand and shoving it into the face of other men since he figured out the mechanic of creating a fist. The bottom line is just the need to defend one's self began the path toward sophisticated methods of combat. Add that to the fact that many Military Men retired or were sent to monastic seclusion by their Lords. Runaways, bandits, misfits and just plain scrappy people who wanted to change their ways. One of the best western boxers I ever met was a parish Priest who had simply withdrawn from society and became a gardener at a seminary in Hollywood, California. My window over looked the walls of the place and I heard a ruckus one night and looked out just in time to see him drop three guys who had come over the wall to steal. On a few chance meetings later I found he had been a prizefighter at one time who accidently killed his opponent. I read a piece by Sal Canzonieri some years ago with an interesting perspective on the martial history of Shaolim.

    Peace
    To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
    -Patanjali Samadhi


    "Not engaging in ignorance is wisdom."
    ~ Bodhi


    Never miss a good chance to shut up

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokhopkuen View Post
    The Bodhidharma myth is my favorite but the historians have debunked that one. Naturally man has been balling up his hand and shoving it into the face of other men since he figured out the mechanic of creating a fist. The bottom line is just the need to defend one's self began the path toward sophisticated methods of combat. Add that to the fact that many Military Men retired or were sent to monastic seclusion by their Lords. Runaways, bandits, misfits and just plain scrappy people who wanted to change their ways. One of the best western boxers I ever met was a parish Priest who had simply withdrawn from society and became a gardener at a seminary in Hollywood, California. My window over looked the walls of the place and I heard a ruckus one night and looked out just in time to see him drop three guys who had come over the wall to steal. On a few chance meetings later I found he had been a prizefighter at one time who accidently killed his opponent. I read a piece by Sal Canzonieri some years ago with an interesting perspective on the martial history of Shaolim.

    Peace
    I think it is pretty clear that Da Mo spent most of his time meditating in a cave, but I would still like to believe that he brought some useful exercises to the Shaolin Temple. I always try to remember that historians are constantly debunking and revising history. Sometimes the debunking and revising is right and sometimes it isn't.

    By the way, that priest at the seminary in Hollywood is my kind of warrior monk.
    Last edited by Dim Wit Mak; 12-14-2006 at 06:30 PM.
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