Traditional Chinese martial arts have been turned into a global phenomenon by Hollywood superstars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. More recently, animation movies like Kung Fu Panda have captured the imagination of the young audience as well, as they so beautifully feature two of China’s most beloved icons.
Many visit the country with a desire to experience the mythical world of martial arts and there is no better place in China than the legendary Shaolin Monastery located in the sacred mountains in Dengfeng County.
Most people see martial arts as a form of self-defence focused on one’s physical prowess. However, learning Kung Fu can be one of the most transformative experiences, as it is equally about training one’s mind and cultivating the inner harmony.
For those seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience, Wudang Mountains is an excellent alternative, which is regarded by many as the centre of Chinese martial arts.
The scenery with 72 mountain peaks is simply breath-taking and served as one of the shooting locations for the internationally renowned martial arts movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
There are more than 2,000 temples and palaces scattered around the mountains, where you can receive a private lesson in Kung Fu from a master, learn to mediate and practice Tai chi with a priest, study Taoist history with a local philosopher or spend the day hiking in the sacred forested mountains.
It is believed that the Chinese martial arts were developed by the Yellow Emperor more than 4,000 years ago. The earliest written records are found in the Spring and Autumn Annals from 5th century BCE. The Shaolin Monastery, also known as Shaolin Temple was built in 495 AD in the sacred Song Mountain.
The first monks who preached Buddhism here were from India and their disciples were experts in martial arts, which eventually lead to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu, which became an integral part of Shaolin monastic life.
The oldest record of Shaolin Kung Fu is from 728 CE and most of the later references are from the Ming and Tang eras. It is believed that the Japanese and Korean martial arts are heavily influenced by this particular style.
Unlike other styles that are more focused on self-defence and mental training, Shaolin Kung Fu involves the study of a system of ethics known as Wude, which deals with social as well as individual morality, with the ultimate goal of attaining the state of enlightenment.
Like the ancient Indian science of Yoga and Ayurveda, the Chinese medicine is also based on Qi and the flow of energy and the breathing techniques used in Kung Fu and Tai Chi enhance the flow of Qi through the body, making them an excellent form of preventive healthcare.
"Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power." – Lao-Tzu.