Shaolin Kung Fu Styles 5th-13th Century CE: Evolution and Common Elements

Shaolin Kung Fu Styles 5th-13th Century CE: Evolution and Common Elements

Shaolin Kung Fu Styles 5th-13th Century CE: Evolution and Common Elementsblack t shirt

Shaolin Kung Fu practice developed significantly after Bodhidharma, 28th Patriarch of Chinese Buddhism, 1st Patriarch of Shaolin Chan, arrived at the Temple in (457 CE). His first innovation was the introduction of internal training routines arranged in powerful ‘classic’ ways.

5 Elements Internal Kung Fu (Wuxing)

Less well-known than its external counterpart in the West, internal Kung Fu is harder to learn and valued more wherever practised, not least because of its ability to considerably extend practitioners’ lives. The 5 Elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth comprise the body’s interior and its major internal organs and internal training routines strengthen and inter-link these.

Harnessing the body’s qi whilst maintaining extreme body-positions increases torso, arm and leg power considerably increasing the effectiveness of many techniques and leading ultimately to acquisition of the legendary ‘iron shirt’ ‘Wuxing’ means both 5 Elements and 5 Animals in Chinese and there are fundamental links between the two.

5 Animals Style (Wuxing)

The 5 Elements make up the physical world and the next big Shaolin innovation was the development of 5 Animals, representing the 5 Elements to help externalize their internal power in 5 stylised ways for combat use. Technique incorporates ‘higher’ admirable aspects of animal behaviour, not blind savagery.

The traditional 5 Animals: Snake, Crane, Leopard, Tiger and Dragon rank in that order. The first two are regarded Lower, the last two Upper Animals and the middle-ranking Leopard as a ‘bridging’ Animal linking the first two categories.

Longfist (Changchuan)

The first distinctive Shaolin ‘variant’ Changchuan ‘longfist’ Kung Fu originated from General Zhao Kuang-Yin’s establishment of the Sung Dynasty (960-1269 CE). Zhao Kuang-Yin, later Emperor Taizu China’s second Shaolin-trained Emperor, is the style’s Tai Jo (Supreme Founder).

Longfist practitioners have the mobility, agility, deft footwork plus jumping and leaping ability, to fight effectively on sloping, obstacle strewn terrain like battlefields. Longfist’s kicking techniques and long-range attacks made it ideal for General Zhao’s campaign to reunify a divided China and embodies the original 5 Elements and Animals springing from his Shaolin Temple training.

5 Ancestors Fist (Wu Tzu Quan)

The School of Chee Kim Thong attributes Wu Tzu Quan’s foundation to the 13th century efforts of Bai Yue Feng, towards the close of the Sung Dynasty (see above). At this time, the Shaolin Temple was quite weak and Bai Yue Feng was inspired the earlier achievements of Zhou Kuang-Yin, also this style’s Tai Jo.

Many monks had migrated, de-robed and re-settled in border areas during the Tang Dynasty, to help with recurring struggles against nomad incursions. Bai Yue Feng explored these areas searching for Masters to help him design a new style, to invigorate contemporary Shaolin.

Bai Yue Feng persuaded 5 Masters to return for this purpose. These were: a White Crane expert; a noted Monkey stylist; a renowned Tai Jo (Emperor Fists) practitioner; a Lohan (Immortal Fist) Master plus another specialising in Da Mo internal 5 Elements Kung Fu. These are the ‘5 Ancestors’ and their specialities the 5 key elements of 5 Ancestors Fist!


Da Mo’s ongoing influence upon Shaolin Kung Fu can be discerned throughout this progression of styles and continues unabated at the present-day. Zhao Kuang-Yin, the ‘Emperor’ of Emperor Fist is a similarly influential figure springing from the same tradition.

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write by Eirian/Arian

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