How do Shaolin monks train?

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How do Shaolin monks train?
How do Shaolin monks train?

Learn the history of Shaolin, the daily routine of the monks, how they exercise, and why they spend a lot of time meditating. The Shaolin Temple is famous all over the world and is largely due to the cinema. You probably remember the films in which the monks fought with a large number of rivals and invariably came out victorious. Today we will talk about how the Shaolin monks were trained.

A Brief History of the Establishment of Shaolin Monastery

Shaolin Young Disciples
Shaolin Young Disciples

On the last day of March 495, a new monastery was built on Mount Shao-shi, which was later named Shaolin. According to legend, its founder was a monk from India - Bato. It should be noted that there were ten temples in total, which were called Shaolin. Now we are talking about the one that has survived to this day - the Northern Songshan Shaolin Temple.

At the time of the creation of this spiritual abode, China experienced the times of the "Three Kingdoms" and was divided into three parts. Each ruling dynasty wanted to rule the country unanimously, and this led to incessant wars. It is quite obvious that in such a situation devastation was observed and temples, including Shaolin, were repeatedly attacked.

To stop this, the hand-to-hand combat masters Gen Suwei and Heng Gaizhang were invited to the temple. They began to teach the monks the tactics of warfare. In addition, on their instructions, the monastery was turned into an impregnable fortress. The inhabitants of the monastery turned out to be good students and as a result were able to successfully resist the attacks of robbers and detachments of opposing groups.

When the internecine wars were over, and power in the Celestial Empire was centralized, the emperor quickly turned his attention to Shaolin. During the first visit, he was impressed by what he saw and highly appreciated the spirituality of the monks. But the fighting skills of the inhabitants of the temple aroused the emperor's anger and, on his order, a military garrison began to be created near Shaolin.

As a result, the monks abandoned the study of martial arts, because the imperial army guarded their monastery. As a result, no wushu was taught in the monastery for a century. The revival of the military glory of the Shaolin people began after the appearance in the temple of the 28th Patriarch Bodhidharma. This man won the love of the emperor himself, and at his request, permission was obtained to resume training.

From that moment on, the training of the Shaolin monks consisted of two stages - cognition of the path and practical meditation. However, it quickly became clear that the monks did not have sufficient physical training and this prevented them from achieving full enlightenment through meditation. To remedy the situation, Bodhidharma decided to start teaching the inhabitants of the temple the ancient martial art - "Fist of 18 Arhats".

In parallel, the monks practiced various systems of hardening and strengthening the body. Soon they began to learn the basics of combat with various types of weapons. We have just told you about the stage of the formation of the temple, which in the future awaited a lot of upheavals. However, today we are not talking about the spiritual abode itself, but the training of the Shaolin monks.

The routine of life in the Shaolin monastery

The fighting exercises of the Shaolin monks
The fighting exercises of the Shaolin monks

For most people, Shaolin is the abode of the best warriors of the Celestial Empire. However, this was not the main goal of the monks. Physical perfection is inseparable from the spiritual, and in order to achieve their goals, they had to endure a lot of adversity and limit themselves in many ways. This is the only way to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

The traditions of the temple were laid down during its creation and practically did not change throughout its history. In all the monasteries of the Celestial Empire, the day began at five o'clock in the morning. For the first two hours, the novices meditated. If one of them fell asleep, the guards beat him with sticks.

The meditation was replaced by morning exercises, the task of which was to improve flexibility. All the inhabitants of Shaolin sat down on the twine without any problems. After completing the charging, the novices proceeded to water procedures, using the nearest mountain stream for this. To prepare the muscles for the upcoming serious physical exertion, a massage was performed using ointments made according to special recipes. You don't think the entire training of the Shaolin monks consisted of just stretching exercises, do you?

After the water procedures, it was time for the first meal and the subsequent study of ancient texts. Only after that did the main part of the training of the Shaolin monks begin, during which they studied the skill of fighting. At the end of the lesson, the novices had lunch, and then they had an hour of free time at their disposal. In the evening, the training resumed and the monks sparred. Moreover, the fights were carried out in full force, and the warders carefully watched so that no one died.

Features of training Shaolin monks

Two Shaolin Monks Kicking
Two Shaolin Monks Kicking

In the monastery, the physical development of the novices was side by side with physical training. The monks performed a large number of exercises that allowed them to develop not only muscular strength, but also tendon strength. Probably, someone had a question, why are they not distinguished by powerful muscles? In many ways, genetics is "to blame" here. Most of the inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom are ectomorphs, and it is difficult for them to gain weight.

On the other hand, this is not required. Huge muscles are not always synonymous with great physical strength. Nutrition also contributes, because Shaolin novices are vegetarians. If you are interested in bodybuilding, then you know about the role of meat in gaining mass. Do not discount the daily routine, which we talked about above. Constant training does not promote muscle fiber hypertrophy, since the body does not have time to fully recover. Only in such a situation can muscles increase in volume.

However, the activities of the Shaolin people cannot be called useless. Our body can adapt to various conditions of existence. When a person conducts daily high-intensity workouts, then his body will gradually adapt to such a routine. However, all resources are directed not to building muscle, but to increasing tendon strength. This is precisely the secret of the enormous endurance and physical data of the novices of the monastery in the absence of large muscles.

However, strength alone is not enough to win a duel. According to legend, even heavily armed soldiers were afraid of monks. The art of hand-to-hand combat allowed to achieve this. In the spiritual abode, the novices learned the five basic styles of Shaolin Quan:

  1. Tiger style - helps to strengthen bone structures and for this the monks had to spend a lot of time in low stances.
  2. Snake style - provided maximum mobility and flexibility to the warrior, and at the same time it was possible to show all strength qualities at the right time.
  3. Crane style - in the training of the Shaolin monks, static exercises were used, the purpose of which was to strengthen the tendons.
  4. Leopard style - in nature, the leopard is outwardly inferior to the tiger in strength, but in practice it is not. It was to increase the strength indicators that these exercises were performed.
  5. Dragon style - in Chinese mythology, the dragon has a special place. Like this fabulous creature, the monks did not feel fear, which allowed them to show their best qualities in any situation.

As soon as the novice achieved some success in the study of all these styles, he received the title of warrior-monk and a belt corresponding to his level of training. An analogy with the well-known grading system for skill in karate is quite appropriate here. As he progressed, new horizons for improvement opened up for each novice. As a result, the Shaolin masters mastered 170 combat techniques.

When a novice passed into the category of warriors, his trainings took place in a special hall, and the best masters became teachers. The classes here were of a completely different nature, although the training of the first level Shaolin monks cannot be called easy.

The training of the novices of the monastery was not limited only to mastering the skills of hand-to-hand combat and the ability to wield any type of weapon. They also studied medicine and the art of treating pain points. At a certain point, the training ended and the monk was required to pass a kind of final exam. After that, he received the title of "elder".

Shaolin philosophy

Buddha statue at sunset
Buddha statue at sunset

For a modern person, Shaolin is primarily associated with martial art. However, first of all, the temple is a spiritual abode. It must be admitted that on many points the philosophy of the monastery resembles yoga. We invite you to familiarize yourself with the nine tests of Lu Dongbin:

  1. After returning from another trip, Lü Dongbin was saddened to find that all his household members had died of a serious illness. However, he was able to endure these hardships and after the funeral of relatives, he continued training.
  2. When Lu Dongbin worked as a seller in the market, he found that the customer had not given him the full amount. However, he did not show any emotion so as not to upset the balance of his life.
  3. During the New Year's Eve, a beggar met him on the street. Lu Dongbin offered him money and food. However, in response, he did not hear words of gratitude, but only curses. But Dongbin was unbalanced, and he apologized with a smile and left.
  4. Once he grazed sheep in the mountains and, thanks to his high concentration, was able to protect the flock from the wolves. As a result, Lu Dongbin was able to avoid unnecessary costs of reimbursing the cost of the animals to his employer.
  5. While meditating in the mountains, Lü Dongbin met a beautiful girl who for three days unsuccessfully tried to distract him from the practice.
  6. When Lu Dongbin bought a wire to repair the fence after returning home from the market, he was surprised to find that it was made of gold. Lu hurried to the seller and exchanged the product for the one he wanted.
  7. While in the market in search of food, Lü Dongbin noticed a Taoist who did not want attention and claimed that his cakes were poisoned. Lu bought one from him and it tasted delicious.
  8. While crossing the river in a boat, Lü Dongbin and other people were caught in a storm. This caused serious panic, and it was only thanks to Dongbin's calm that the boat did not capsize.

There were a number of internal prohibitions in the temple:

  • Avoid laziness and negligence with all your might.
  • Envy interferes with the development of internal qi energy.
  • Anger hurts the heart.
  • Don't get carried away with women and wine.
  • Complete all levels of training.

The history of the temple is full of mysteries and at the same time very fascinating. At certain times, Shaolin was a formidable force, because the novices were almost invincible. They often took part in bloody internecine wars. However, then the temple became the heart of the spirituality of the entire Celestial Empire and outsiders could not study the martial art.

The training of Shaolin monks in the video below: