The Three Treasures of Shaolin

The Best Evidence of Southern Shaolin's Legacy
Co-Authored by Richard Loewenhagen


Numerous articles by the Ving Tsun Museum have been published recently highlighting the work of China's government and several historical societies that have reconstructed the Linquan Yuan Temple in Putian and claimed that it is the original Southern Shaolin Temple. If the assertions of these organizations are correct and the Southern Shaolin monks practiced and developed their Kung Fu in Putian for almost 1100 years before the temple's destruction, then abundant evidence should exist throughout Fujian Province of the three treasures of Shaolin: Chan philosophy, internal and external qigong, and extensive combat science. Likewise, one could reasonably expect to find evidence of other general martial arts developed in a community both supportive of and supported by a great Shaolin heritage. The Ving Tsun Museum chose to focus its research on corroborating the findings of the historical societies that rebuilt the Linquan Yuan Temple by looking at the corroborating evidence in the surrounding community and province.

In short, Ving Tsun Museum investigative trips and research specifically sought traces of the three Shaolin treasures and closely examined peripheral martial arts systems throughout the Fujian Province. In addition to the evidence from the scientific archeological community for Southern Shaolin Temple's existence, there is much circumstantial evidence within the martial arts community around the Putian area to support the Temple's existence. The Museum concludes that there is clear evidence of a current fervor for wushu / kung fu in the Fujian province around Putian and that fervor has existed from ancient times up to this day. Both written documentation and the existence of fully developed kung fu systems still practiced provide ample evidence of extensive martial activities in Putian in both modern and historical times.

Over the centuries there were many styles, systems and famous martial artists produced in the Putian area. In the ancient book, Nation of Documents, it is recorded that a large quantity of scholars, Sifus, warriors and generals came from the Putian area. With the Dynastic implementation of military testing, many warriors from Putian successfully tested for high-ranking positions. During the Ming Dynasty alone, Putian had 307 successful military candidates winning leadership positions through contests that included the whole of Fujian Province. These candidates were given governing roles at the levels of city, county and provincial government. In the early 20th Century, one of the province's best martial artists, Yang Siu Chi, was given the nickname Southern Fist Leader (nam kuen si jou) by the Fujian martial arts community due to his prowess and wide renown. He was a specialist in arm bridge (kiu sau) and crane fist (hok kuen).

Despite the proliferation of this documentation during most of the 11 Centuries of Southern Shaolin heritage, there were certain periods of history where no public activities were recorded. One such period was the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. The lack of documentation during this period conspicuously supports the claims of revolutionary activities of the Ming loyalists in the Southern Temple that ultimately led to its destruction. Clearly, the government's claims that the martial arts within the temple went underground to establish secrecy from the government and the public are well supported by this period specific lack of documented martial activity in a community with a long history of such. Following the destruction of the Shaolin temple, the Qing government also curtailed the folk martial arts around the temple area. Those that lived through the destruction of the temple presumably left the area in order to escape. They took their kung fu along with them and eventually propagated it in other places.

The second period of history where martial arts activities appeared to decline and/or were hidden from public view started during the 18th century when China came into increasing contact with western civilizations. Western modern athletic sports were introduced to China in the late 19th century and Putian was no exception. These sporting activities became so popular that they replaced most of the classical martial arts as a folk pastime. Yet even after 200 years of martial arts decline, today there is still an abundance of martial arts resources in the Putian area. Putian practitioners still maintain the heart of the southern kung fu system. Ving Tsun Museum research reflects that there are many martial arts systems still being taught today in the area of Putian.

Examples of southern systems include the Lohan Fist, Plum Blossom Fist, Hung Fist, Five Ancestors Fist, Shaolin Five Thunder Fist, Buddhist Patriot Fist, Dragon Fist, Tiger Fist, and Ann Hoi Fist. Some of the specialized skills include Iron Shirt / Golden Bell, Shaolin Saam Jin (Three Battle) Fist, Shaolin Thirty-Six Treasures, and Southern Shaolin One-Finger Chan. In addition to the arts in the main area of Putian, the coastal areas of Putian contain additional systems and skills, including Ox Horn Fist, Six Superior Steps, Plum Swords, and Four Gates Combat. In the mountain areas around Putian, there are Horse Fist, Bodhidharma's Cane, and Nine Treasures. Other systems that originated from the Shaolin temple such as Wing Chun, Southern Praying Mantis, and Bak Mei are no longer in or near Putian but became popular in places such as Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces, Hong Kong, Macao, Southeast Asia, the United States, and other places. Interestingly, these three systems were the main ones involved with the underground anti-Qing activities of that period. After the destruction of the temple, they disappeared from the area. Many of te referenced southern systems contain a combination of the characteristics of Northern Shaolin, the five elements theories, the Chinese meridian theories, and chi gung practices. Even though they contain all of these theories, they maintain their own characteristics of Putian martial arts.

The special characteristics of Putian martial arts contain forms and training methods that focus on ging lik. They tend to utilize all four limbs in close range, but their specialty is still the arm bridge. The basic exercises and movements of the southern systems commonly focus on the arm bridge, the waist / hip, and the use of Jong training, including standing Jong and Muk Yan Jong (collectively known as jong gung). The ging lik focuses on cheun ging (short power) and sticking energy. Speaking in realms of applications, they tend to operate with close range strikes and kicks, containing expertise in kam na as well as pressure point technology.

Out of all those systems and skills, which are more originally systems that were practiced in the Southern Shaolin temple? Which systems and skills were created after the destruction of the temple? Before anyone can answer these questions, researchers must know the DNA and characteristics of both Northern and Southern Shaolin.

There are three characteristics that mark an art as belonging to the classification of Shaolin: Chan (Zen) philosophy, internal and external health development, and martial skill based on combat reality. We call these the three treasures of Shaolin.

The first treasure, Chan (Zen), is the heart of all Shaolin Kung Fu. Chan (Zen) places emphasis on instant awakening rooted in awareness of 'here and now'. Equally important is the Chan (Zen) mandate for practicality. This refers to Chan's (Zen) emphasis on understanding and relating to reality through the senses of the body and intuition in harmony rather than creating complex philosophical models of thought that are not directly tied to daily experience. Finally, Chan (Zen) insistence on 'completeness' refers to looking at issues or situations from all angles rather than one's personal, subjective, frame of reference.

The second treasure of Shaolin, internal and external health development, deals with keeping the body in good working order and living in harmony with the needs of the body. Medicinal and qigong practices are used to heal the body and maintain a proper internal functioning of the viscera in harmony with the muscles and bones. Forms achieve multiple aims from moving meditation to external strengthening of the body to internal conditioning of the viscera through static postures and rhythmic movements of the limbs.

The final treasure, martial skill, was also an important facet of Shaolin Chan (Zen). The body must be kept in balance and self-defense is necessary to keep the world in balance. Shaolin monks use the process of learning self-defense in addition to fighting scenarios to delve into their personal demons and attachments to root out the source of ignorance, fear and greed.

To consider a martial art to be original to Shaolin, it must contain Chan, health, and self-defense modalities. Further, these three components have to be united and consistent in terms of training methodologies, employment strategies, and philosophical focus.

Within the martial treasures of Shaolin, there are three layers of skills. The first of these three layers consists of the specialized skills (gung) that focus on combining qigong with physical conditioning but are not directly related to fighting skill. Examples in the Putian area consist of Iron Shirt / Golden Bell, Shaolin Thirty-Six Treasures, and Southern Shaolin One-Finger Chan. The second layer of skills involves the use of training sets or patterns (tao lu). These are the forms of Shaolin, functioning as both physical conditioning and meditational training, as well as serving as a means to preserve and communicate the principles and identity of a particular system. The third layer of skills is realistic fighting ability (ge dou). This is the actual ability of self-defense trained by the monks. In Southern Shaolin, these skills focused on bridge training (kiu sau).

Armed with the knowledge of the the three treasures of Shaolin, Ving Tsun Museum research into Wing Chun history, specifically looking for the roots of Wing Chun, has identified two systems that contain all three treasures of Shaolin. In other words, both systems are complete in realms of Chan, health, and self-defense skills. These two systems come from the Weng Chun Dim in the Southern Shaolin Temple and the Hung Fa Ting led by the Hung Fa Wui revolutionary Anti-Qing secret society located just outside the Southern Shaolin Temple. Today they are referred to as Chi Sim Weng Chun and Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun.

Researchers more knowledgeable of the other systems referenced in this article should closely examine them for their adherence to the treasures of Shaolin as well. The next article in this series by the Ving Tsun Museum will focus specifically on Chi Sim Weng Chun and Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun adherence to Chan (Zen), internal and external qigong, and fighting skills and strategies. Specifically, it will highlight the consistent philosophy that knits these systems together.














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