Tracing Shaolin Temple's history

by Celeste Fong, The Star, Nov 24, 2004

CELESTE FONG journeys to the Shaolin Temple in China to trace the history behind the development of its unique wushu heritage.

For any devoted fan of Chinese martial arts, a pilgrimage to the home of kung fu ? the famous Shaolin Temple in China?s Henan Province ? is an absolute must. 

On my first visit there recently, long-imagined scenes of Shaolin monks practising their kung fu moves in perfect unison, guided by eminent spiritual leaders against the backdrop of the region?s natural beauty all came true.

The holes (bottom right of pic) on the centuries-old gingko tree were left by monks who practised kung fu with their bare fingers. It demonstrates the powerful qi and strength of Shaolin monks.

My only regret from my brief visit was that I was not able to join any of the Shaolin wushu workshops or short courses that the Songshan Shaolin Wushu Centre or other wushu schools in Dengfeng city offered to visitors. Next spring, I plan to return for a longer visit.

The Shaolin monastery is indeed an impressive sight. The antiquated-looking buildings are largely of timber construction and architecturally quite colourful. 

Shaolin monks with their shaven heads and garbed in bright orange or yellow robes conjure a vision of tranquillity especially in the serene wooded surroundings.

My admiration for the monastery and Shaolin kung fu stems from my early reading of author Jin Yong?s martial arts novels which vividly describe Shaolin kung fu. My interest in Shaolin was greatly heightened during my encounter with the real kung fu masters from the Songshan Shaolin Wushu Centre two years ago when they first performed in Malaysia.

A statue of Da Mo, the legendary founder of Shaolin wushu who hailed from India, is surrounded by stone carvings of other significant Buddhist figures of the Shaolin temple in the yard of the Songshan Shaolin Wushu Centre.

Just like the Chinese saying, bai wen bu ru yi jian (seeing once is better than hearing it a hundred times), seeing is indeed believing. 

Maybe you are a martial arts fan like me or an aspiring Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, or simply curious, but anyone will be thrilled to witness the powerful scenes at Shaolin.

The Shaolin Temple has a tumultuous history and withstood many challenges over the millennium. Its indomitable spirit outlasted the rise and fall of several imperial dynasties and even antagonistic emperors out to destroy the Shaolin influence.