Ancient Shaolin monks vs modern ones

A small premise

In this article we want to talk about the purely martial difference between ancient and modern Shaolin monks but before starting, t is important to stress that:

  • Our school appreciates all kinds of (serious) martial art’s approach (the more “bellicose” ones, the more “aesthetic” ones, the more “introspective” ones, etc.)
  • We respect and promote today’s Shaolin monks (for their work of sharing) as well as we exalt the ancient ones (for their discipline and hard training)
  • We do not judge anyone in any way and we do not say that all the representatives of Shaolin are equal
  • According to Chan Buddhism, the first goal of a Shaolin monk is not combatting, it is self-improvement / self-knowledge to reach the illumination (Nirvana)
  • Some of the notations we’re going to share, come precisely from speeches made by the monks themselves, so we do not say anything that they don’t know
  • Last but not least, our school has a profound respect for the Shaolin Temple

A note by Master Kongling – All those who waste time and words wondering why the monks do not participate in combat sports competitions should learn a little better about what the Shaolin temple truly is.

3 reasons why ancient Shaolin monks were totally different if compared to today’s monks

1. The evolution of war methods

From the moment when it was possible to replace (a big part of) the skills derived from the study and daily practice of martial arts with the simple possession of a firearm, the approach to Kung Fu began to change:

  • The purely martial value of Kung Fu gradually began to be devalued (not only in China naturally and not only for Kung Fu)
  • In warlike terms, it didn’t make sense to spend so much time developing skills that were so difficult to master (read How to acquire special abilities)
  • Even a child when is carrying a (loaded) firearm is as dangerous as a combat expert (which doesn’t happen with swords, bows, etc.)

From that moment on, for the practitioners of Kung Fu, the fact of struggling to the point of reaching high technical levels or skills such as the Iron Shirt, the Diamond Finger (see Diamond Finger conditioning, etc.), resulted in an effort of little use.

This paradigm shift has also affected the Shaolin monks (who despite this was against their nature, in the arc of history, they were many times called to fight on real battlefields).

The point is that: the deepening and dedication necessary to reach the highest levels of combative skills (destined for the real struggle), were gradually replaced by the acquisition of attitudes useful for:

  • Improving oneself health
  • Performing in public

It is the same difference that passes between hunting for “sport” or hunting to eat, to survive every day.

2. The cultural losses

In terms of written knowledge, the biggest loss in Shaolin Kung Fu has occurred during 1928, when the temple has been burned (at the end of the so-called Warlord Era).

Another big loss happed recently, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76):

  • Real Kung Fu has been prohibited and transformed in what today is called “wushu” (an acrobatic exhibition of forms that, despite its esthetical beauty, has nothing to do with actual fighting)
  • A big part of the written knowledge about martial arts has been destroyed (entire libraries were burned)
  • Temples and monasteries were closed down (converted to other uses, looted or destroyed)
  • Due to persecution by the Red Army, no one could train anymore (except in secret)
  • In terms of techniques and training methods, a big percentage of what was most complex and arduous was inevitably abandoned

The only memory left was the direct one but when the people who really studied Kung Fu to fight between life and death died: the decline (related also to the reason 1) became inevitable generation by generation.

3. The ethical decline (change)

Shaolin monks:

  • In the past, were not allowed to own anything more than “what could have been in a pot”; today we see monks earning money and living in conditions that, in comparison, are palatial
  • In the past, were truly devoted to celibacy; today (more or less publicly) we see married monks with children
  • In the past, shared the teachings of the temple only to those who were accepted through rigid evaluations; today it is only a question of money
  • Were trained for uninterrupted and prohibitive times; the idea was always aimed at self-improvement but the practice of fighting was much more incisive; today the monks spend a lot of time promoting, traveling, doing other jobs (etc.) but above all they neglect too much sparring (except for some rare exceptions, read also The meaning of sparring fighting in martial arts)

We are not saying that all of this is wrong (the world has changed), we simply say that it is not the same thing, we say that those kinds of hard privations, make a person different.

Ancient monks:

  • Were simply dedicated to training and meditation
  • Were more similar to elite soldiers
  • Were chosen for specific characteristics

A few frequently asked questions

  • Why do we not see Shaolin monks in UFC? – First of all, because they are peaceful persons (they are monks and not commercial athletes), secondly because of the type of today’s type of training they follow
  • Why don’t we see anyone who has trained at the Shaolin Temple competing in combat sports? – There are (and are not monks) but they cannot obtain the real essence of ancient Shaolin Kung Fu
  • Is Yi Long a legit Shaolin monk? – No, in official terms and in relation to its attitudes, he is not but he probably has practiced by his own some of the ancient training methods (an this, regarding combat skills, could make him more real than the officially recognized ones)
  • Would today’s Shaolin monks be effective fighters in MMA fights? – The question is not so serious but the answer is probably no, against athletes that train specifically to fight every day, (because of today’s training, lack of sparring, etc.)
  • Would ancient Shaolin monks be effective fighters in MMA fights? – Again, the question is not serious but surely yes; those people, with that mentality and that level of discipline, would first absorb the best fighting and training techniques from the other styles (as has always happened in the history of Kung Fu) and secondly they would take them to excellence with an unthinkable level of determination

A note by Master Kongling – As Shifu Yan Lei also says (a Shaolin monk, read Shi Yan Lei: real master): it does not exist a precise and uniquely identifiable style of the Temple, there are concepts and principles but their practical execution has infinite sources of inspiration. It is for this reason that we have structured in this way the Method of 6 Dragons Kung Fu: to remain dynamic, to get the best out of tradition and face the present with equal weapons (read 6DKF: what does it teach?).

To laugh a little…

What hypocrisy! Come to think of it, we are the first to promote us on the web and social networks … 😀

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Author: Master Kongling

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