The Influence of Buddhism in Chinese Martial Arts Essay

Since first introduced During the Han Dynasty, Buddhism has played a major role in Chinese art and culture. This is especially true in the traditions that surround the art of Shaolin Kung-Fu, and their strong belief in Chan (Zen) Buddhism. Kung-Fu was Influenced by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama and focuses heavily on the belief that enlightenment is attained through meditation. In this essay, Buddhism’s influence on Shaolin Kung-Fu will be discussed, from how it started to how it thrives today in modern china.

Michael Kampan O’ Reilly states in Art Beyond the West that Zen Buddhism teaches one can find happiness and success by achieving harmony with nature. They also believe that the Buddha lives inside everyone, and through meditation and discipline is the path to enlightenment (136). The Shaolin temple was established 1500 years ago in Songxian, in Henan Province. It is there that kung-fu first began. Shaolin kung-fu is not only a form of combat or devotion, to many it is a way of life. At the Shaolin temple, Followers are separated into two groups, secular disciples, and martial monks.

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A Shaolin monk is required to have the best in kung-fu skills but also the strongest Buddhist devotion. For those who have seen the long daily routines of the secular disciples, and martial monks will notice that its very fluid, and almost like a dance. There is an art in the way they move. In addition to the intense exercise program, meditation, and devotion to Buddhism, Shaolin monks are vegetarians. The simplicity of their food reflecting the simplicity of their lifestyle (Nina Makofsky). Children start training as early as possible at the temple, however there is no age limit to start studying Shaolin kung-fu.

It is said that shortly after Shaolin was founded, a Buddhist monk named Dharma came from India to teach Buddhism. Dharma found that his fellow monks lacked the physical strength to bare the long hours of Zen meditation. He then created tong qi-gong, which was based on the indian yoga, and was used to strengthen the monks. The tong qi-gong became the foundation on which Shaolin kung-fu was built. Eventually the kung fu was used as a form of fighting and the temple became known for its warrior monks. In 574AD Emperor Wudi banned Buddhism, the Shaolin was destroyed (Sara Naumann).

During the Northern Zhou Dynasty Buddhism was revived and The Shaolin rebuilt. It says in Art Beyond The West by Michael Kampan O’ Reilly that during the fourth and fifth centuries Buddhism became wide spread for the first time in China (126). The Tang Dynasty is when the Shaolin flourished. Thirteen warrior monks rescued the Emperors son Li Shimin from an army that was trying to take over the Tang. Once Emperor, Li Shimin named the Shaolin the Supreme Temple in all China. Shoulin kung-fu developed and advanced over the next few hundred years known as Shaolins Golden Era (Sara Naumann).

Qing ruler burnt the Shaolin temple down, destroying there sacred texts. the Shaolin temple was rebuilt and destroyed over and over in the following centuries. At the brink of extinction, a few surviving monks continued to practice kung-fu behind closed doors. ant the end of the Qing Dynasty a few Shaolin monks went to Shingou Si, where they worked to preserve kung-fu. Among these monks were Zhan Ju, Zhan Mo, and Ji Qing. A few years later there was a renewed interest and acceptance of kung-fu, and it remains to this day(shaolin wugulun).

Shaolin kung-fu and Buddhism are really one in the same, they go hand in hand. Kung-fu began as a way for monks to stay in shape as the devoted their lives to Buddhism. The monks believed in being in harmony with nature, thus shown through the many styles of kung-fu. Over the thousands of years Shaolin kung-fu has lasted and is now practiced my many countries all over the world. Shaolin was built on the ideas of Buddhism, the influence has made it great, and the art of kung-fu, like the religious beliefs that it was built upon, still stand strong.

Works Cited
Michael Kampan O’ Reilly. Art Beyond The West (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River: Pretice Hall, 2006. Print “Shaolin Temple Diet.” Nina Makofsky. Web 06 Jul. 2011.
“A Brief History of Shaolin Temple, Home of Zen Buddhism and Kung Fu.” Sara Naumann. Web. . “Shaolin Kung Fu.” Shaolin Wugulun. Web. .


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