Shaolin Mantis History

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The Shaolin Monastery was built at the end of the fifth century AD, to serve as a location to translate Buddhist scriptures from India into Chinese. Construction began in the year 495 AD and took twenty-five years to complete.

In the year 525 a missionary from India named Bodhidharma traveled to China. He had an audience with the emperor. Their exchange is famous. The emperor was proud of his accomplishments. He then asked Bodhidharma what all his good works did to merit enlightenment. Bodhidharma's reply was, Absolutely nothing,then walked away.

The emperor sat for a while, then felt insulted and asked his soldiers to find Bodhidharma and bring him back. They pursued him to the banks of the Yellow River where legend says Bodhidharma walked across the river leaving the soldiers dumbfounded. To this day Bodhidharma walking across the river is a common theme in east Asian art.

Bodhidharma then went to the Shaolin Monastery and sat in meditation for nine years in a cave on a hill behind the temple. After emerging from the cave he began teaching. But he found the monks too weak to endure the strenuous meditations he taught. Bodhidharma developed two sets of exercises which were called the muscle and sinew change and the eighteen lohans Bodhidharma incorporated his understanding of Buddhism with the Taoist philosophy of natural harmony and created a new philosophical school call Chan. Most people are familiar with the Japanese translation of Chan which is Zen.

The muscle and sinew change, and the eighteen lohans combined with the kung fu which already existed and became the foundation of modern kung fu. These exercises underwent continual refinement for many centuries. By the thirteenth century Shaolin Kung Fu was recognized by five subsystems called tiger, dragon, leopard, crane and snake. These five animals each possess distinct forms while serving as metaphors for self-development, tiger for strength, dragon to spirit or passion, leopard to speed and strength, crane to connective tissue and fluidity, and snake to qi (chi).

During the seventeenth century China was a invaded by Manchurians from the north. The five Shaolin Systems were further refined with the addition of grabbing techniques. This became known as the Mantis System and Wong Long is credited with its development.