The 1982 Jet Li movie, “Shaolin Temple,” was really something out of this world. As a boy, I was mesmorized by the feats of these kungfu monks. Never have I ever seen anything like it in my life. One of the scenes showed monks practicing the horse stance in a training hall in unison, with punches and feet pounding the brick floor, shouting out, “ha, haha” in rhythm. Where the monks held their stance, the brick floor gave and deformed into the ground. Dusts stirred at each strike. The monks were molding their bodies into instruments of force while nature gave way, more visibly from generations of monks pounding against it.
Since watching the movie, I have longed to see the real temple itself. I wanted to see the monks in person. I wanted to witness qigong with my very own eyes.
Over the years, I would be drawn closer to the temple by television series of the wuxia genre, many of which derived from famed Hong Kong-based novelist Jin Yong. In those stories, Shaolin Temple stood for righteousness, honor, and Budhist values. Shaolin monks epitomized kungfu power and detachment from politics.
The Shaolin Temple is steeped in history as well. The school of Budhism that is now known in Japan as Zen originated from Shaolin’s Chang. During heights of Chinese dynasties, the Japanese were avid students of Chinese culture.
Budhism itself, however, came from India. In fact, one of the most famous Chinese classics, called, “Journey to the West” is about a monk and his desciples venturing to India to fetch Budhist scriptures. Some real scriptures have been lost over the years.
During the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Li Shimin received assistance from Shaolin monks in fending off his opponents. The temple has received patronage by Li as well by subsequent emperors.
Shaolin Temple is situated in Songshan, one of the five sacred mountains in China. The province where it resides, Henan, is considered the cradle of Chinese civilization. The Yellow River flows through it, enriching the area with fertil soil for thousands of years. The province boasts the most number of ancient capitals, including Luoyang.