The Three Treasures of Shaolin Martial Arts

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.

By: Benny Meng

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