Northern Shaolin

Bak Sil Lum Pai

The Northern Shaolin system of self-defense has its roots deeply woven into the fabric of time. In Chinese history, records of a wrestling style can be traced back to 2697 BC. When iron was first developed in around 1000 BC, archery, horsemanship, swordsmanship, and Shuai-Chiao (a type of wrestling) were required for all military personnel.

The first Shaolin temple was built in 495 AD, in the northern province of Honan. It was built at the base of Song Mountain near a forest of young trees (Shaolin translates into the young forest). The monks followed a simple life of farming, literature, philosophy, and meditation. Their personal view on life was that of nonviolence, tolerance, honor, and humility. In 527 AD, an Indian Buddhist (Ta Mo) traveled east into China, preaching the ways of Buddhism. Upon reaching the temple in Honan, he found the monks weak and without physical ability. Their pious lifestyle was that of constant seated meditation. Their lack of activity left them weak and vulnerable. They also would fall asleep during meditation or would not be able to defend themselves if attacked. Ta Mo then spent the next 9 years developing a series of exercises designed to strengthen the monks physically and mentally. They were called "Muscle Change Classics", "Marrow Washing Course" and "The 18 Hand Movements of the Enlightened One". During this time, Ta Mo meditated for long periods. They say his constant gaze bore a hole in the cave wall where he faced.

During the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD), civil war broke out. The peace and tranquility shared by the Shaolin monks were over. Fearing an attack by any of the warring factions, the monks took Ta Mo's exercises and blended them with local self-defense techniques, creating what was known as the Lo Han style. A stone tablet still visible at the temple shows 13 monks aided Emperor Tai Tsung in 620A.D. From that point on, the monks at Shaolin dedicated themselves to their fighting arts. Continuously upgrading and developing their system of self-defense, the monks added the techniques of Chin Na (joint locks), Shuai-Chiao (wrestling/throwing), and Chi Kung (internal energy). The Shaolin monks were quickly recognized for their superior skill. It was said a Shaolin monk was worth 1,000 soldiers.

In 960 AD, Emperor Tai Tsu created several kung fu styles including Chang Chuan (Long Fist). Emperor Tai Tsu was also a skilled disciple of the Shaolin Temple. The Emperors Long Fist style had very long movements, circular arm motions, and many leg attacks. Since the people of the north were tall, the long movements appealed to their size and type of body. Long fist became a popular kung fu system among the people. Even the monks at Shaolin noticed the quality of this self-defense style. They decided to add the techniques of the Long Fist style to their repertoire.

Turmoil followed the next several hundred years. The Mongolians had taken control of China. The Chinese people hated the Mongolian rule. Underground societies of rebels were springing up everywhere. During this period, traveling rebels would hide at the temple. To repay the monks for refuge, the rebels taught the monks all of their secret fighting techniques. Many great heroes sought refuge at the Shaolin temple, exchanging ideas and increasing the monk's knowledge in the fighting arts.

There was another style that had affected the Northern Shaolin system in the 1300s called Tan Tui or Springing Legs. This system was developed by Muslims (Israeli/Islamic) who immigrated to China from the east. Many “Tan Fighters” emerged from this style including Northern Shaolin Great Grand Master Ku Yu Chong’s father Ku Li Chi. Consuming vast amounts of fighting techniques, the Northern Shaolin style had become the premier fighting art. In 1674, 128 monks went to the aid of the Ching Emperor against foreign invaders. Although they were victorious, when the Emperor asked if they join the Ching army, the monks declined. This enraged the Emperor and he had the temple destroyed. Most of the surviving monks fled to the countryside and practiced in hiding or led rebel groups to help overthrow the Ching government.

In the late 1600's– early 1700’s Northern Shaolin had become a set style. Bak Sil Lum or Northern Shaolin was one of the 4 systems taught at the original Hunan Temple. There were 4 so-called courts. Each court taught a different style. The 4 different courts were: Bak Sil Lum (Northern Shaolin), Ying Jow (Eagle Claw), My Jung Law Horn (Lost Track of Buddha's Disciples), and Tang Lang (Praying Mantis). The Northern Shaolin style had its own characteristics which included; simultaneous hand and foot attacks, circular evasive footwork, circular arm motions for deflecting, and many leg attacks. All facets of self-defense were incorporated into their system. Long and short-range fighting, joint locking and pressure point attacks, wrestling, and ground fighting all mixed with breathing exercises and internal energy training. What you are practicing today can be traced back to this period. Our lineage of teachers reaches back to this era: Shaolin monk Zhao Yuan to Gan Feng Chi. Records show that Gan Feng Chi gave a demonstration of his Northern Shaolin style to the Emperor at the Imperial court. Northern Shaolin then went from Gan Feng Chi to Wan Bang Cai to Yan De Gong to Yim Kai Wun.

In the early 1900s, Yim Kai Wun taught the system to Ku Yu Chong. Ku Yu Chong was a great martial artist and Chi Kung expert. His Staff skills were known throughout 9 different provinces. Ku Yu Chong was 1 of the 5 Tigers that traveled to southern China to spread their knowledge. His student Yim Shang Mo Taught the Northern Shaolin system to Kwong Wing Lam. Grand Master Kwong Wing Lam still teaches the system in San Francisco California. The Northern Shaolin can be recognized today by what is called the 10 forms or 10 core forms. It also has one of the largest arrays of weapon forms available. With the start of the new millennium, there are many students of Shaolin, continuing the legacy. Now because of technology, people from all over the world can learn traditional Shaolin Kung Fu.