The Shaolin Swindle:
The Truth About Kung Fu History
by Chris Pizzo, CloseCombatTraining.com
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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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