Elements of Chinese martial arts originated more than six thousand years ago as the first cavemen learned simple blocking and striking techniques to protect themselves. The first documented form of Chinese martial arts, classical Chinese wrestling, is noted in the texts written by and about the legendary Yellow Emperor, Huángdì, in the third millennium BCE.
In 525 CE a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma left his monastery in Southern India to spread what would become known as Chan Buddhism to China (Japanese: Zen). After traveling hundreds of miles to reach Northern China and passing through the Himalayan Mountains, he crossed the Yangtze River and headed north to Luoyang, the capital of Henan Province.
In a neighboring forest, he found Shaolin Si (“Young Forest Temple”), famous for scholarly translations of Buddhist scripture into Chinese. He saw that the monks were weak and could not perform his rigorous meditations, so he augmented their training with a series of health-giving exercises. His emphasis on chi (intrinsic energy which can be cultivated with breathing exercises and meditation) is still an essential foundation of Shaolin Kung Fu.
The first Shaolin Si has long since been destroyed, but several branches of Shaolin Kung Fu stemming from the temple have spread throughout China and the world.
The Chinese Communist government, reversing an earlier ban on martial arts practice, decided that this knowledge was “China’s Greatest Treasure,” and in 1958 set in motion the regulation and standardization of Chinese martial arts. This resulted in the formulation of modern “Wushu,” a systemization geared primarily toward competition. Wushu includes standard forms, kickboxing and ranking guidelines. This is the system of Kung Fu now taught at the Shaolin Temple and the various schools that have been spawned by its disciples.
While modern Wushu has done a great deal to spread the knowledge and popularity of Chinese martial arts, it has also had the unfortunate effect of obscuring many of the traditional styles upon which it is based. At the Chinese Kung-Fu, Wu-Su Association we teach a traditional system that predates this modern codification.