Shaolin is perhaps the most famous Chinese monastery in the world, translating as little Forrest English. It is located on the slope of Songshan Mountain in a picturesque area surrounded by dense forests.
The founder of the traditions of Shaolin is the monk Bodhidharma otherwise known as Tat Moh. He travelled from India and upon finding the Shaolin temple he saw that the monks were frail and weak from their frugal living and lack of activity. This affected their ability to meditate as they had limited focus and mental capacity. He changed what was customary for that time with his understanding of Buddhism, combining prayers, meditation, and physical exercises. He did this by retiring to a cave to meditate for 9 years. The legend goes that at one point he fell asleep during his meditation and was so furious with himself that he tore off his eyelids and threw them out of the cave. These grew into tea plants, being among the very first in China. Another is that if you go to the cave where he sat you can see two holes in the rock where his eyes would stare. It was during these 9 years in the cave when Bodhidharma came up with a set of exercise which we now know as Chi Kung. This is the fundamental energy work, that helps keep the body supple and strong, allowing the monks to meditate for longer periods of time. The benefit to this is they would better train their minds and get closer to their goal of reaching
enlightenment. Through these set of movements, many forms developed into what we now know as Kung Fu.
Due to this unity, the monastery has become not just a place of spiritual development and self-perfection, but also a real centre of martial arts. To know more, you can also visit Nam Yang’s Shaolin Warrior Program where they’ve taken this ancient knowledge to Thailand in their mountain retreat. For most people, the term Shaolin Warrior paints an image of a Chinese
soldier, dating back several hundred years ago in a full suit of armour. Today that image isn’t quite true or is no longer entirely representative of that term.As we know Shaolin translates as little Forrest and is simply a place, but to most martial artists it represents the history and traditions of the form theystudy. Kung Fu particularly has a very strong ethos and this can be seen across the board in most systems, you must remember they all came to be for
The word Warrior itself doesn’t just mean soldier, it’s something much greater than that. It’s not just about fighting or being able to follow instructions it’s about battling the three wars, your three wars. This is the hardest battle man can come up against, because the opponent is always with you, yourself. It’s one thing to better yourself to exceed others it’s another to continually
improve who you are for yourself and the benefit of others. The three wars which I speak of are the mind, body and spirit. Each one with its own challenges and rewards.
To become a Shaolin Warrior you must know from the start your greatest opponent comes from within. Make the conscious choice to accept responsibility, failure, defeat and use them to help you learn to rise above.
To develop the mind one must first start their task/training, whether it’s writing, a workout or martial arts techniques. First, you must begin. Once you start, within a short time your mind will reveal to you one of its weaknesses. It may be a lack of focus, the choice to make excuses, frustration at someone else for doing better or getting in the way. The excuses and reasoning your mind has the capacity for is endless, you’ll find yourself defending why you’ve chosen
not to achieve your original goal, whatever that may be for you. In these moments be grateful for these roadblocks, these potentially negative feelings you’re having because what you’ve done is something incredibly useful. You’ve identified a weakness and you now have the opportunity to do something with it, to become better than the person you were yesterday. This is the skill of a true warrior, to see their weaknesses and be grateful that they know them and can change them. In the art of war, a big message that was shared was, to know the strengths and weaknesses of your enemy is successful but to know your own is a true victory.
Often we focus on the mind and spirit and neglect the body or do the complete reverse and neglect the mind and spirit. Rarely do many people truly grasp the concept of the unity of the three. The body is a very vital aspect of life itself, or at least our life. We may be conscious, we may be spirit but without our physical existence, we wouldn’t be able to experience the pains
and joys of life. Our physical body can play a major part in how we enjoy this world. If we allow ourselves to become sick we can easily create a state of suffering or a feeling of being trapped in our own bodies. But, if we keep the body healthy and mobile we can experience freedom and pleasure. The body is only limited by the mind, all that we wish to achieve is already within reach. So to help the body and mind work in harmony, just like the Shaolin Monks, we practice Chi Kung to keep the body supple and the energy circulating.
Spirit can mean a number of things. The way in which we feel, the energy that we offer the world, something which sometimes seems intrinsically linked to our character and society. Just think of the phrase “team spirit” and “they had such a great energy about them”. Another way in which people refer to spirit is this entity within us that is undying, eternal and has this love completely unconditional regardless of the influences from our ego and the outside world. Spirit could also refer to the Chi inside of us, this life force energy keeping us growing and our heart beating. A simple solution that tackles most variations of ‘spirit’ is meditation, whether the spirit is your character, the mind or something beyond all that, meditation can and will help. It is a practice that brings every part of you to a state of awareness. Your mind is aware of its thoughts, feelings and memories. The body is aware of its senses and health. The spirit is aware of itself, unconditional love and the connection it has with the world. There are many meditations but the most common and simplest to practice is to simply follow your breath and surrender to these three elements of yourself. Allow the mind body and spirit to be consciously one, even if only for a few seconds to start, eventually you will develop and see the improvement for yourself.
Once you have understood and started your journey with the three wars only then can you begin to consider yourself a Shaolin Warrior. It is something much more than a fighting style it is a way of life. Best of luck on your journey!