Explore the Root of Shaolin Kung Fu
Participants: Sil Lum Kune, UK Group
Program Title: Kung Fu with Four Mountains 2006
Trip Date: 05/04/09-24/04/09
Written By: Paul
On Wednesday the 5th April 2006, Sil Lum Kune undertook an epic tour of China, covering various Shaolin temples spread throughout the country. Many sources claim that Shaolin was not alone, but was discreetly connected to the other main branches of Chinese martial arts, namely Wudang, Emei and Hua. Our trip was to travel the length and breadth of China covering Fujian Putian Shaolin temple, Fujian Quanzhou Shaolin temple, Emei Shan Wannian Temple and mountain, Wudang Shan Taoist Xixiao Palace temple and mountain. It also covered Hua Shan Taoist Jade Spring temple and mountain, Terracotta Army, Henan Shaolin temple and concluded in Beijing with the Great wall, Forbidden City, Summer palace and many other wonderful sights.
The first leg of our trip was to visit the rebuilt Southern Shaolin Temple at Putian. The Putian Shaolin Temple site was rediscovered in the late 1980ís. Nothing remained of the previous temple as it was completely destroyed in the 1800's, and construction of the new temple started in 1992. This temple was finally completed in 1998 and there followed a grand opening ceremony in 2001 with participants from all around the world.
Question 1 - What was your first impressions of Putian Temple (Southern Shaolin Temple)
As we approached I recognised the temple straight away from the pictures I had already seen of it on the internet. I was surprised at how deserted the place was. It is only a short distance of a few miles from the city up a small, winding mountain road. Apart from a couple of people, there was only our group there. Compared to the Shaolin temple in Henan this temple appeared much larger and more spread out . As we walked from the car park towards the temple the entrance and layout of the buildings was very grand and impressive. This is a slight optical allusion because when you look from the front, the very large three tier gate / archway appears to be part of the whole structure. As we got closer I started to notice paintwork peeling off the surrounding outer walls. It seemed that although the Temple had been completed in 1998 and was still fairly new it was falling into a bad state of repair. As we entered the temple and started to look around I also noticed that there seemed to be no monks about. Our guide asked some questions and then informed us that the Government had taken over control.
Question 2 - What happened to the Shaolin Monks?
Our tour guide informed me that the Government had taken control of this temple. The majority of the monks had left in 2004 with the last remaining monks leaving in 2005. No real explanation was given for this apart from the funding, but the Buddhist monks would not be interested in money, as they would generate their own financial support. I can only assume that there must have been some sort of disagreement between the local government and the monks for them to pull out. We were hoping to meet the monks and present them with our club pennant. However, because they were no longer here our tour guide got in touch with the head Government official of the temple and arranged for us to do our presentation with him instead. While we wondered around the temple our guide went off to make these arrangements. A short while later he returned and asked us to follow him to the main entrance where would meet this government appointed head man for the temple. We took some photographs with him at the main entrance and provided him with our club pennant. He then invited us to his office where we chatted and drank tea.
Question 3 - Can you describe the layout of the Temple ?
As already mentioned the main entrance and gateway was very grand compared to the other temples we had previously visited. We then walked through the entrance building, which lead into the temple grounds. Compared to Honan Temple, Putian seemed much more spacious and less cramped. After walking through the small entrance hall there were two further main halls in the centre of the grounds with small rooms flanking either side. The site was on a slight incline with the buildings getting bigger towards the rear. From outside at the front these all appeared to blend together to give the very grand impressive appearance of one massive structure. But inside these building were all spread out with lots of open space. In the middle was a multi directional bridge over a central pond, which was an unusual but very interesting design. After the entrance to the right there was another small entrance to an annex courtyard. This courtyard was quite large with smaller buildings surrounding it. This was probably where the monks used to live and train. In all honesty the temple was very sparse and there was little in the way of special features. The main halls had all the usual features of Buddas, the four guardians and the last hall contained the 18 Lohans. On the right was a room that described the finding and construction of the site (all in Chinese). To the left was a shop selling various gifts and souvenirs. I bought several pictures and souvenirs from this shop to commemorate its glory days, and in case it deteriorates any further in the future.
Question 4 - what was you overall impression of Putian ?
To sum up the temple was a fantastic design and with a very clever lay out to enhance its appearance, but I was saddened to see it in such a poor state. It was looking tried and run down already after only a few short years. It seemed that it was only a token gesture to keep it open to the public.
I thought it was criminal that the temple, which had only been rediscovered and totally rebuilt so recently now seemed to be almost abandoned and falling into such a sorry state of disrepair. That this major historical and important site that spawned so many kung fu styles all over the world had been allowed to fall into a former shadow of what it could have been compared to the glory of the opening ceremonies just a few short years ago.
Travelling to the Fujian temples was very important to us as the origins of our club (Sil Lum Hark Fu / Shaolin Black Tiger) derived from these Southern Shaolin temples.
First impression of Quanzhou
This temple didn't stand out like the Putian temple. One minute we were in normal city streets lined with various buildings and at the edge of the buildings we then caught sight of a few temple structures. As we approached the temple we followed a road up and around to the right hand side of it to a small car park level with the middle of the temple grounds. There was a small gateway here with a path leading into the temple via a small side door. As we walked down the pathway there were several small buildings lining the pathway. I believe that these were used as living and training rooms. One of these buildings was a small hall (approximately 8 metres wide by 20 metres long) with various weapons, training equipment, pennants and pictures on the walls. We then carried on along the path and in through the doorway into the main temple area.
Compared to Putien this temple was clean, bright, new and very beautiful. It is very close to the city, set up on the hillside over looking it. Parts of this temple were still under construction with certain areas not yet open. I did think that the way the temple was landscaped up the mountain gave it an impressive appearance as there were terraces on different levels of the mountain. It's overall layout matched the Putian temple with three main central halls flanked by exterior walls and smaller buildings. Only two of the halls were open to the public at that moment. The smaller buildings around the outside on the top level were also in use. The right hand side was a large gift shop and the left hand side was being used for other official business.
From this temple we looked out over the city, which was a magnificent view. I believe that if we had approached the temple from the front we would have been very much more impressed with its appearance and would have I am sure resemble the grand appearance that Putian temple.
Tell us about the presentation with the Fang Chang Ė
Our guide had been in touch with the Fang Chang (head abbot) on our behalf and arranged with him and our group. As we entered the main temple site Chang Ding; the Fang Chang, was waiting to greet us on the large courtyard area in front of the middle hall. We exchanged greetings and introductions were then made. An exchange of pennants was then made on the steps leading up to the main middle hall. This ceremony included several of my assistant instructors who were present on this trip. (David Richardson, Dan Amphlett, David Forsyth and Alex Hyde) We then spent the next several minutes on a photo shot with both sides taking pictures and then a group photo to finish. With the help of our guide we had small conversation before Chang Ding had to move on with his other duties. I was very honoured that he had taken time out from his busy schedule to meet us and spend time with our group.
Tell us more about the sponsorship of a Tile at Quanzhou Ė
As I have already mentioned the certain parts of the temple were still under construction. To aid funding for the building programme we were able to make a donation. As a thank you for our donation the monks gave us a roof tile to sign. This tile would be used on the one of the new buildings of the temple later. One of our guides kindly put our club logo on the tile and then all the club instructors signed it. Some of us then looked around while others then demonstrated various drills and open-hand forms on the patio to the left hand side of the middle hall.
On our second day at Quanzhou we first went to a local Wu Shu school. This place was huge and when we entered we felt honoured. The whole school had turned out to welcome us. We walked into the main courtyard, which was surrounded on all sides with buildings five floors high. On the ground and every balcony, students were crammed cheering us as we entered. (This is how it must be to be a film star or celebrity.) The head of the school greeted our group, we all thanked him and waved to the thousands of students cheering on. The head then walked us across the yard through a playground and into their gymnasium.
Once we took our seats, a group of these students performed various Wu Shu drills, forms and demonstrated several weapons such as staff, spear, straight and broadswords. (Wu Shu is the modern performance style that focuses more on the appearance side as opposed to the practical application side.) Some of the drills, jumps and spins from the forms were very impressive and were greeted with applause and cheers by all spectators.
Although I am not a great fan of the modern Wu Shu, I can still appreciate the hard work and skill that is necessary to be able to perform at this level. We were then asked to do a small demonstration of our style. This caught us totally by surprise, but we quickly sorted a small demonstration out. Several of the kids went on first performing some open-hand forms followed by the adults. While this was going on we had asked for some weapons to demonstrate with. Two students quickly returned with these weapons that looked like they hadnít been used for some time. David Richardson went on first and performed a Shaolin Monkís Spade from followed by myself with the Kwon Do. I think that the head wanted not to be out done by this and quickly summoned one of his instructors. A few words were exchanged in Chinese and the instructor then picked up the Monkís Spade and walked onto the floor. The instructor then performed a fantastic form with some amazing moves and techniques. Although it did resemble Wu Shu a bit, I was very impressed! As were everyone else who gave thunderous applause and cheered.
We then finished our demonstration with a 2 onto 1 self-defence routine with David and Dan attacking me. By the level of applause this seemed to be well appreciated. A photo line up and an exchange of club pennants then concluded the demo.
At Quanzhou you watched the monks doing a demonstration?
A Taiwanese group were being given a demonstration of kung fu by the Shaolin Monkís, which several of us decided to watch. I was expecting to see the usual Wu Shu style performed by the Henan Shaolin Monkís that tour the world. To my delight the display included several traditional open hand forms as well as several Shaolin weapons all performed in a traditional manner. It was noticed in particular that the tiger fork form performed here, that a good 50% of it resembled our form that we do back in the UK. This was reassuring to know that what we do in the UK is similar to what the monks are still practicing in the Quanzhou Shaolin Temple today.
What were you thoughts on this temple?
I thought it was unfortunatel that our trip coincided with the temple still being built. (Although we were permitted to have a quick look around the areas still under construction.) I was surprised how close it was to the city but thought looked fantastic. The overall site is smaller than the Putian site. It has been designed in the same fashion and because the incline of the land here is much steeper than Putian, this can only magnify the site giving it a much grander appearance.
There were many Chinese tourists here but few Westerners, which I imagine will soon change when the temple is completed and then promoted more. I believe that this temple will look even more magnificent when it is finally complete. My only hope is that it isnít allowed to fall into the same fate as Putian Shaolin Temple.
Our Trip to Emei Shan (Emei Mountain in Sichuan)
Our coach dropped us off at the base of Emei Mountain where we had to transfer onto two smaller buses that could navigate the tighter mountain roads leading to the cable car. This journey still took 1½ hours before we finally had to get off and walk the last part up to the cable car. This last part of our walk brought us into the clouds. The visibility was now reduced to only several yards and so we were unable to see very far at all never mind the summit. We then finished the last part of the mountain by cable car. Due to the cloud cover we were unable to appreciate the fantastic views until the following day.
We rose early the next day to catch the sunrise on Golden Summit Peak. Luckily today the skys were clear and we were privileged to some amazing and fantastic views. Golden summit temple was also being rebuilt at the time of our visit. Fortunately the majority of the exterior work had been completed and so didnít spoil the overall appearance of the area.
Many other people had also risen early to see the sunrise and we were all in for an amazing sight. I canít begin to describe the beauty of this spectacle but this experience is something we will cherish forever.
Later after breakfast we walked down the mountain where monkeys ambushed us. The monkeys singled out Dave who had a carrier bag of biscuits and pop. The first monkey ripped the bag from Daveís hands taking the biscuits and then ran off. The second monkey went for the bottle of pop. This monkey then climbed up onto a roof overlooking us. In its determination to get to the pop it bit the bottom of the bottle spraying lemonade all over us. As we panicked to get out the way of the spray the monkey moved around spraying us even more.
We then caught the bus and cable car to Wannian Temple. This was a stunning place covering a lot more ground than the previous temple we had already visited. Our guide informed us that because the Fang Chang (Head Monk) was at the Golden Summit temple checking out the construction work we would be met his 2nd in Charge instead. This monk met our group at the patio area in front of the yellow hall that houses Samantabhadra sitting on his white elephant with 6 tusks (a famous land lark of Wannian temple called the Temple of Ten Thousand Years).
We exchanged greetings and then due to his curiosity and interest asked if we could perform a small demonstration for him. We moved from the steps in front of the temple to the large patio area so that several of the group could then took turns in performing various open hand forms. After each person had finished, he smiled give a nod and a gentle clap. As usual, even before we started to demonstrate anything, a crowd started to gather to see what was going on. As the Children went on first, the crowd of onlookers swelled even more. Once we had finished we exchanged pennants and had a photo call. He seemed happy with the childrenís performance, smiling with them and patting them on the head while posing for different photos. After a short conversation he invited us to take our time and view the beauty of the temple and its grounds.
This was a beautiful and interesting place. This temple had a completely different layout to the previous Shaolin temples in Fujian. These grounds were much bigger than the previous temple sites, and its layout seemed to be here and there, compared to the more formal layouts of the Shaolin sites. These buildings were also older and more original, but still most of them only dated back to 1945 when a fire damaged most of the monastery. Only the yellow Temple of Ten Thousand Years with its bronze statue survived unharmed. The site had various buildings here and there with several large ponds inhabited with various fish and turtles. So far on our trip, this was by far the busiest temple with pilgrims and tourists we had yet visited.
We could have spent much more time looking around this monastery, but due to the time restraints of our trip we were forced to move on. We took a long walk down the mountain from Wannian temple to the monkey sanctuary. We spent time here feeding the monkeys and watching their antics before continuing on our journey.
Our Trip to Hua Shan
Our guide explained that to climb Hua Mountain was going to be hard and due to the freak cold spell it was covered in snow. After the strenuous previous week of travelling, 14 of our group decided to rest and relax at the hotel. That left 16 of us, ready for the challenge that is Hua Shan (Shan translate to mountain). Hua Shan is called the lotus flower mountain because it has five peaks in a ring that resemble the shape of the lotus flower. Hua Shan is a very beautiful mountain of clean granite rock with patches of green shrubbery.
The first stage of our trek was an easy cable car ride and a short climb to the North peak. I was surprised to see so many Chinese climbing the mountain as well. But what surprised me the most is what most of them were wearing. Nearly all we came across were dressed for the office with shirts, jackets and normal shoes. We even saw one Chinese lady in high heels, but some officials that are staged at various points around the mountain soon stopped her. From the North peak we then headed along the path towards Dulong Temple. Many of the pathways on this mountain have steps cut out into the rock with either railings or large metal chains running along side them for holding onto. This is the only safety precaution provided apart from the many signs along the way. In many places there are sheer drops on the sides of the pathway. Part of our group up the mountain included five children, three of them my own. At these points of danger the adults had to escort the children to ensure their safety as much as was possible on such a mountain side.
From Dulong temple we climbed up through Gold lock pass and onto the East peak. Although it was cold and the mountain was covered in snow, we were getting hot with the effort of climbing this mountain. As we then headed towards the South peak many of us started to wrap our jackets around our waists. The views and sites along the way were breath taking. There were several small Taoist temples along the way. Some were part caves that had been converted and building work added as well with windows and doors.
We made the South peak by early afternoon and were welcomed to more spectacular views. From this peak we made a small trek to hotel built on the mountain for lunch.
At lunch our guide informed us that we could carry onto the West peak or head across to range back to the cable car near the North peak. Because time was against us we decided to miss the West peak and head back.
At the foot of the mountain is the large Taoist Jade Spring Temple nestled between the railway lines on the mountainside and the town on the other. When we arrived at the temple our guide went off to arrange a meeting and exchange of gifts. We slowly took our time looking around the temple when our guide and the headman, Mei Zhong Hua, met us. We were welcomed into his audience room in the middle of the temple behind Xiyi Shrine. With the aid of our guide interpreting, we conversed with Mei Zhong Hua about the temple.
Although China has several mainstream religions they believe in the harmony of all. It appears that certain elements of these intertwine which is all part of this natural harmony.
We then talked about Kung Fu and histories. Just like religion Mei Zhong Hua also promoted the harmony of the different styles of Kung Fu such as Hua, Wudang and Shaolin. He stated that in the past they actually used to get together and have friendly competitions and compare their styles. As he discussed all this through our guide we were all captivated and hanging onto every word. Sometime later we offered our club pennant as a gift of our visit. He was pleased with this gift and then opened up a cupboard at the back of the room. From this cupboard we were given gifts in return. These gifts included an old style map of Hua Shan including Jade spring Temple, and a book about the mountain, temples and Hua Kung Fu. (In my copy he wrote a few words then signed and dated it.) As usual everyone took out their cameras to capture the moment and then we went out side into the courtyard for a group photo to finish. After this Mei Zhong Hua had to leave us for prayers and bade us goodbye.
We then took our time looking around the temple grounds. The grounds covered a very large area and besides the core historic older buildings many new buildings and features were been constructed at this time. The main building in the middle is the Xiyi Shrine, and to the right of this is an interesting large stone boat sat next to the pond, an ornate pavilion and the Purity Hall. To the left is another pavilion built on a huge stone rock surrounded by a natural looking garden of bamboo. This large rock was being used by some of the local Chinese children to play on and slide down. Before we knew it, it was dark and the main temple buildings and shops were being closed for the evening. Because the temple is next to the town, we only had a very short walk back to share the dayís wonders with those that had rested at the hotel.