Shaolin Kung Fu History
In the middle of China located at the foot of the holy mountain of Song Shen, in the province of Henan lies the Northern Shaolin Temple, a monastery. Many legends have been passed down through the generations, yet it is the origin of all martial arts that were developed for defense and never for aggression. For more than 1500 years, the monks have developed and perfected these martial techniques known as Shaolin Kung Fu, and used their Kung Fu to fight for righteous causes. The monks of Shaolin put themselves in life-or-death situations in order to test their spirituality. The success of their legendary endeavors was not only due to the high level of physical conditioning and skill they worked to develop, but primarily because they allowed themselves to be governed by a higher level of consciousness, with no illusions or attachments, thus giving the practitioner freedom from connecting to anything that would prevent them from achieving emptiness. It is in this clear state of mind that we cease to anticipate or hesitate, which results in the ability to “live in the moment”, meaning we successfully adapt to change rather than become defeated by it.
There were approximately 24 dynasties in China, the Ming and Ching (Qing) were the last. However,
the total number of dynasties that ruled China from prehistoric times until 1912 CE is a
contested topic. The number depends greatly on the definition of dynasty as well as what
separates dynasties. Some dynasties are recognized by all scholars, they are the Xia, Shang,
Zhou, Yuan, Ming, and Qing. They are the first and last three dynasties respectively. The first
three are of primary importance as they established and expanded what later became modern
day China. The last three represent the decline of the dynastic period that had existed for
almost four-thousand years and resulted in the spread of Shaolin Kung Fu into the wider world.
The Shaolin Temple was built in 495 CE during the Northern Wei Dynasty. It was originally built
by royal decree to create a place for Indian Buddhist monks. It is inferred, from this level of
imperial favor, that the Buddhist monks had been practicing in China for some time and most
likely had a reasonable following among locals. Through the benevolence of the future
dynasties the Temple greatly increased in size, prosperity and prominence. The Chan Buddhism
now prominent in China is a mixture of the Indian Buddhist, Tao, and Confucianist philosophies.
The rise of Martial Arts among Shaolin monks is even more shrouded in mystery and must be
viewed through a historical and not a modern lens. During the early 5th century martial arts
were widely practiced to varying degrees among the general population. Monasteries were
landed estates that were most likely important centers of cultural and economic significance.
The monks themselves were most likely from the surrounding areas. It is therefore not
surprising that raid records from as early as 446 CE show that the monks maintained weapons
caches. This indicates the likelihood that the monks themselves were practicing martial arts and
protecting the monasteries prior to the establishment of the Shaolin monastery in 495 CE.
During the Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE) the Shaolin Monastery had become known as a source of
fighting monks. The earliest Kung Fu manual “18 Hands of the Lohan” dates from this era. The
monks even played a role during the transition from the Sui to Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE). A
stone tablet at the Monastery commemorates the damaging of the Monastery during a battle
between the monks and bandits in 628 AD. The monks also captured a prominent figure that
the Tang considered a threat to their rule. This protected the Monastery from being destroyed
or disbanded. From this point forward there is no record of martial arts being practiced at the
Monastery. There are two scattered records from 1126 CE and 1275 CE indicating that they
were still training in martial arts. This lack of records may be due, in part, to the tradition of
teaching Kung Fu in an oral method called “Hou Chuen San Sau”. There are some records from
officials who visited during the 16th century and on-wards but they are scattered.
However, it is clear that the monks continued this practice in earnest. Much of what we know
about the monastery’s history comes from research done by Tang Hao (1897-1959 CE). He was
a Martial Arts historian who ignored myths and used primary sources to document history.
However, many myths still surround the Shaolin Monks. Some of these are used as allegorical
teachings such as the myth of the monk, Zhen Bao, who transformed himself into a flaming
staff to protect Mount Wutai. This myth serves as a call to the monks to maintain readiness
even in peacetime.
During the Ming Dynasty the monastery’s martial artists had grown to prominence. So much so,
that the monks would aid the Dynasty in protecting the imperial borders. In the period from
1522 to 1566 CE monks fought with the imperial army against the Japanese. This resulted in
even more imperial attention and favor. The Emperor Kangzi provided personal inscriptions for
In 1644 CE the Manchurians, a nomadic people of Mongolian descent, sent their army to invade
China. They marched all the way to the gates of the Capital in Bei Jing, “The Forbidden City”,
and conquered the Ming and the Emperor committed suicide. This was the beginning of the
Qing Dynasty. The survivors of the Meng royal family, together with loyal supporters in the
military, fled to the Northern Shaolin Temple. The Northern Shaolin Temple was the first
Shaolin Temple, and it is ultimately a blessing in disguise that they left and went to the
Southern Shaolin Temple, because if they had not, it would have been completely destroyed.
The royal family enlisted the support of anyone who would rally to their cause to fight the
foreign invaders, including the civilian martial arts community.
However, during the transition from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty in 1644 CE those loyal to the
Ming sought help from their Shaolin allies. This resulted in the Shaolin becoming a political and
martial target of the Qing government. During the Qing rule over China it was discovered that
the Southern Shaolin Temple was a refuge for rebels and it was subsequently destroyed. As a
result of this destruction, by the Qing Dynasty, the Shaolin monks fled the temple and were
scattered throughout China. This had an unintended consequence of spreading Chan Buddhism
and Shaolin Martial arts also outside of China. After finding relative safety the monks began to
teach those around them. This resulted in many separate lines or “families” of Shaolin marital
arts becoming established.
Over time those lines have become somewhat distinct, but they all share basic foundations that
were taught at the Shaolin Temple for centuries. One benefit of this scattering was the
increased popularity of Shaolin martial arts. In turn this popularity has caused many people to
study the history and techniques as well as the physics of martial arts. Some scholars view
martial arts as a living breathing art to internalize and cause the student to evolve as a person
and reach a higher level of consciousness. Just as students always strive to increase their
understanding, so too can new methods and applications be added through this understanding
and effort. In the world of Shaolin, the Martial Arts and Chan are one and the same; both
require a mind focused on the present moment, being practical, spontaneous, and complete.
There are tens of thousands of Buddhist temples in China, and it is only the Shaolin branch that
practices martial arts. Compassionate Buddhist monks take up arms and study fighting in order
to test their spirituality; they can be warriors and maintain their spirituality, detachment, and
The Northern Shaolin Temple was built In the middle of China at the foot of the Holy mountain
of Song Shen, in the province of Henan. It is the origin of all martial arts that were developed
for defense and never for aggression. For more than 1500 years, the monks have developed
and perfected these martial techniques known as Shaolin Kung Fu.
These techniques consist of; Meditation, Breathing, Basic Exercises, Basic Movements, Practical
and Effective Self-Defense using Maximum Efficiency in Unarmed Combat, all the while being
governed by a higher level of conscientiousness, with no Illusions or Attachments, thus giving
the practitioner freedom from connecting to anything that would prevent them from achieving
Emptiness. It is in this state of mind that clear and concise thought can be experienced.
Shaolin Wing Chun is a Shaolin Kung Fu system, developed by Grand Master Benny Meng
(Muung’ Hing Fung), using the teachings of Hung Lung Sin Fu Faat Mun Paai that follows the
original concepts and principles that were established by the monks of the Shaolin Temples, of
which he is a Disciple. The essence of Shaolin Wing Chun is that it embraces its history, all Wing
Chun lineages, and includes all aspects of combat. It is evident that the breadth and depth of
martial arts requires the marriage of Martial Science and Martial Arts. Shaolin Martial Science
is defined as the fundamental architectural reasoning, used by the monks, that provides the
efficiency necessary for the techniques to become real. Shaolin Martial Arts is defined as a
deeper understanding of the mind-set of the monks as they developed the techniques. The
Shaolin Wing Chun system embodies both definitions.
A true assessment of any martial art can be measured by answering three questions; is it real
when it is engaged, is it spontaneous in its deployment, and is it complete in all ranges of
combat. Over the 1500 hundred years of Shaolin Kung Fu the answer to all three questions has
been a resounding yes! The Shaolin Wing Chun system also answers yes to these questions.
The primary goal in Shaolin Wing Chun training is to improve the life of the student and to raise
their level of conscientiousness, as in the temples, daily meditation is a requirement. There are
other basic requirements that govern all of the training in the Shaolin Wing Chun system. The
Three Treasures of Shaolin, The Six Wisdoms, The Six Criteria, The Eight Shaolin Enlightenments,
and the Ten Kung Fu Concepts must be taught. The training is dynamic and will go through the
“Shaolin Halls”. The basic foundation to be learned are the “Four Ranges of Combat”, and the
use of the human weapons; Ti (Kicking), Da (Striking), Shuai (Throwing), and Na (Capturing and
Controlling) to deploy in each range.
Wing Chun is the core of the Shaolin Wing Chun system, because it has the most efficient
Utilization of techniques in the most efficient combat range, the trapping range.
There are many Wing Chun linages and Grand Master Benny Meng is the originator and founder
of the “Shaolin Wing Chun” system, and the curator of the Ving Tsun Museum, has had the
privilege of training in the historical as well as the progressive lineages of the art of Wing Chun.
He also developed the Hung Lung Sin Fu Faat Mun Paai training methodology, and it’s the
training progression for propagating the Martial Arts.