History of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu


The history of the Shaolin Temple has been told many times and sometimes it is difficult to understand what is fact and what is fiction, due to much of the information being passed on orally to the next generation. Although each version of Shaolin’s history has its own flavour the underlying theme remains the same – evolution and change is inevitable and one should flow with it.


The basic story tells of a Buddhist monk named Da Mo who travelled to China to teach Buddhism, he travelled to the Shaolin monastery which had been built some years before his arrival. Da Mo taught the monks the Buddhist scriptures but they would often fall asleep or tire easily during the day, to remedy this Da Mo taught the monks a regime of physical activity later named the “Eighteen hands of Lo Han” this moving meditation as well as still meditation is said to be the birth of what we now recognise as Shaolin arts.


There are many stories of Da Mo, it is hard to decipher what is factual and what is myth but he remains a key figure in the history of Shaolin Kung Fu. Da Mo is said to of taught the art of Dim Mak (Pressure Points), it is said that one of the students Monk Lo Jo learned the art of Dim Mak and created the art of Chin Na (Seizing/Locking Techniques). Da Mo left two books for the monks “Marrow Cleansing” and “Tendon Changing”.


Due to shifts in political views the temple was closed and monks where forbidden to practice Buddhism along with carrying weapons. It was at this time that monks began to practice techniques for self-defence with farming tools and became renowned for their staff fighting skills. Sometime after these events the temple was actually destroyed.


Some many years after its initial destruction the temple was rebuilt and allowed to reopen its doors and the Shaolin monks were called upon as the famous story of the Thirteen Monks goes. The City of Lo Yang came under attack and the emperor could do nothing, it was here that he sent message to the monks at the monastery for help; they sent around 500 warrior monks to aid the emperor. But it took just thirteen monks to end the fighting as they captured the nephew of the Armies general and defeated a whole division of the army single headedly.


Two Man Sparring Form

Two Man Sparring Form

The temple became a place of refuge and many army generals came to Shaolin seeking refugee teaching their martial skills including the use of weapons such as the Broadsword and Spear to the monks, giving them insight on how to defend themselves against such weapons.


During the Sung Dynasty styles such as Tan Tui, Cha, Wah, Hua, Pao and Hung flourished in the north of China and became in their own right highly developed fighting systems. These systems made their way to the Shaolin temple and where added to the curriculum. In the middle of this Dynasty the masters combined techniques from the five main systems what are now called the “Five Mother Styles” into one highly effective martial art named “Northern Shaolin Style” in honour of the five great styles.


Demonstrating the Iron Head Skill

Demonstrating the Iron Head Skill

Northern Shaolin has been translated and is written in many different ways such as Bak Sil Lum, Bak Siu Lum or Buk Siu Lum, all are correct and mainly refer to this style of kung fu rather than the generalisation of the styles originating from the north of China.


During the Ching Dynasty the Shaolin took in many refugees and supported the previous Dynasty with hope of helping to bring back the Sung Dynasty, this was met with distain and the Ching sent an army to destroy the Honan temple, in which they succeeded. The temple was destroyed again sending the surviving monks fleeing.


Monk Chih Yuan was one of the few to escape, seeking refuge in a nearby village he taught the Northern Shaolin Style, the style remained a close guarded secret passed only to a select few until it was taught to one of the most famous masters Ku Yu Cheung, famous not only for his skill in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu but as a master of the Iron Palm and Golden Bell Chi Kung methods.


There are many stories of Ku Yu Cheung and his feats of strength and skill but it is thanks to him the style of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu flourishes today.