The Shaolin Swindle:
The Truth About Kung Fu History

by Chris Pizzo,

When I was a kid I used to love Saturday morning Kung Fu theatre. I fondly remember countless hours of one-armed swordsmen, high flying acrobatics, bloody spear-through-the-throat revenge, and most of all; the tough-as-nails martial training of the Shaolin monastery.

When I grew up and sadly realized that TVs, movies, books and stories are grossly exaggerated for entertainment purposes, I began to study and expose the truth about many martial arts and self defense methods.

However, this article is slightly different.

You see, Shaolin Kung Fu presents a rather unique difficulty when attempting to compare, contrast, or even disprove their methods; simply because it is not even a martial art.

Let me explain...

Right off the bat, the history of Shaolin Kung Fu has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

Supposedly while in China, Bodhidharma visited the Shaolin monastary and gave them two manuscripts containing the martial instruction that would become the basis for their fighting skills.

This has been has been completely discredited by martial arts historians as one set of "historical" Shaolin documents was proved a forgery, while others make no mention of Bodhidharma in any of the texts written about the Shaolin Kung Fu before the 19th century.

The reality is that martial arts were widely practiced in China way before the establishment of the Shaolin Monastery in 497. Historians agree that likely many of the monks were simply retired military men who compiled a "mish-mash" of disjointed martial skills as a form of exercise.

The facts are simply that there are only two recorded incidents of the monks participating in any sort of combative engagements before the 16th century.

And while it is true that in the 1540's and 60's the monks participated in at least four battles against marauding pirates, it is important to realize that they were conscripted and commanded by China's already accomplished military generals.

However, due to the sheer oddity of a "fighting monk" during this time, storytellers began weaving intricate tales of invincibility and super human feats of the Shaolin based on these few victories of the enlisted monks.

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So, What About the Legend?

Around 1560, renown general Yu Dayou, travelled to the Shaolin Monastery to see for himself its monks' fighting techniques, and was severely disappointed. While the monks did practice a set style of martial skills as exercise, Yu Dayou did not see any methods of unarmed combat to match the stories spreading throughout China.

Yu returned to the south with two monks whom he taught the use of the staff over the next three years, after which they returned to Shaolin Monastery and taught their brothers what they had learned. These skills were never put to the test in documented conflict nor is there any historical source material showing that the general's skills were even passed on without dilution.

That all being out in the open...Here's why I still really like these guys (As people, NOT as a source of self defense instruction).

1) They could care less about their "legend": They know the truth. They know that Hollywood and Hong Kong cinema have completely blown everything out of proportion, and they don't care. They just keep on doing what they've been doing for hundreds of years without change.

2) They could care less if their Kung Fu actually "works": They are not a franchise of mini-mall martial arts schools, they're a monastery of Buddhists. While their Kung Fu has never really been battle-tested, it keeps them in excellent physical shape (which is more than I can say for those fat-ass mini-mall Karate instructors)

3) They admit Shaolin Kung Fu is NOT about martial arts: Abbot Shi Yongxin, the Shaolin's head honcho, has said on multiple occasions that Shaolin Kung Fu is NOT a martial art, but rather uses martial arts as a method of meditation and moral development. Buddhist monks do not practice for martial (war) activity; rather they practice for moral development.

In other words they practice Kung Fu for self perfection, not self protection, and they're darn proud of it.

The reality is that 99% of the "Shaolin" Kung Fu schools, videos, and other assorted nonsense actually have nothing to do with the original monastery.

According to the temple, over 80 unauthorized Kung Fu schools in China alone have been using their name to drum up business. Add to that the hundreds of unauthorized and false products, instructional courses, videos, and other assorted junk (shamelessly peddled by some of my so-called competitors) and the temple will have quite a large legal settlement soon filling their coffers as their lawyers are currently nailing these Shaolin poachers on copyright and trademark infringements daily.

So to wrap this all up (or if you just skipped down here to the bottom), "authentic" Shaolin Kung Fu is nothing more than a routine of exercises loosely based on a series of disjointed martial skills. And even though it may look "cool", it is and has always been a completely useless system of combat.

The big surprise here is that the Shaolin monks realize this and have taken the high road. They are not selling a bunch of hokey nonsense as self-defense, and are instead freely admitting that their martial art is for meditation and moral development only. (If only the Tae Kwon Do guys were so honest...)

Follow this link for information on a related topic concerning American Kenpo (Kempo) and its "mythical" link to Shaolin Kung Fu.

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