Continuing their account of their martial arts research trip to Asia, the authors land in southern China and find that two facilities are vying for the name Southern Shaolin Temple.

The Northern Shaolin Temple in Henan province has received a lot of attention in recent years. In fact, it’s now a tourist attraction. But the folklore of the martial arts of southern China points to a Southern Shaolin Temple. Until recently, it was thought to exist only in legend.


The flight from the United States was uneventful for John Graham and me. We arrived in Xiamen, Fujian province, tired but excited, after which we boarded a bus for Qingzhou (also spelled Quanzhou). The city is supposedly the site of the Southern Shaolin Temple. I say “supposedly” because there’s controversy as to which temple is the original Southern Shaolin.

Buddhist monks practice at the Nine Dragons Temple in Southern China.

Southern China served as an entry point for Buddhism beginning in the first century B.C. That’s when Indian priests arrived in Canton (Guangzhou) and spread their religion throughout the Middle Kingdom. Therefore, temples abound in the area.

The difference between a Shaolin temple and other temples is that a Shaolin temple embraced the warrior-monk culture, whereas other temples were strictly religious establishments. They weren’t associated with Shaolin and therefore weren’t destroyed when it was.

(Note that shaolin, which means “young forest,” was originally associated with the northern temple and the Chan sect of warrior monks that trained within its walls. Therefore, the Southern Shaolin Temple is considered an extension of the northern temple and not just another Buddhist monastery located in southern China.)

It’s important to consider the time frame in which the Southern Shaolin Temple was established. Historical data indicate there were two years around which it was built: 557 and 1644. The logical question then becomes, Are there two southern temple sites?

According to the Chinese government’s official position, the temple was established in 557 in the Putien district on top of Mt. Chiulien in Fujian. It was also known as the Nine Lotus Temple. During the collapse of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), monks from the northern temple supposedly fled south to escape from the Manchus, who founded the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

Those warrior monks created a resistance movement with the goal of overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming. It’s this establishment that the Chinese government has officially designated as the Southern Shaolin Temple.

However, the locals, including many martial arts masters of Fujian province, disagree. They claim the true site is the Nine Dragons Temple, located within the city of Qingzhou. But it’s officially called the Shaolin Zen Temple and thus can’t be called the Southern Shaolin Temple because the Chinese government has already chosen the Nine Lotus Temple.

We visited both institutions, and it’s our conclusion that the original Southern Shaolin Temple is the one located in Putien, aka the Nine Lotus Temple. We agree with the position taken by the Chinese government.

 

According to one source, the impetus for the construction of the southern temple in 557 was the warrior monks from the north, who were requested to travel to the south to provide military assistance to Tang-dynasty troops engaged in the defense of Fujian against pirates. After helping defend the region, some of the monks stayed behind and founded the southern temple.

“The Qingzhou temple, also known as the Nine Dragons Temple of Southern Shaolin, is over 1,200 years old and was a monastery in ancient times,” said Mr. Chai, a high-ranked official and vice chairman of the Southern Shaolin Wuzu Association.

“It is well-maintained and includes a cadre of 55 monks who practice Shaolin martial arts and reside at the temple. The temple at Putien, or Nine Lotus Temple, was a Shaolin school but not a monastery.”

In other words, the Putien site was more of a martial arts school than a temple or monastery, even though Zen Buddhism was practiced there.

The temple at Qingzhou is located near the base of Qingyuan mountain and has been recently restored. The monks practice wuzuquan, or five-ancestor fist, in addition to other styles.

Their main teacher is Chi Ching Wei, a 64-year-old expert in the Chinese arts. While visiting the complex, we spoke with him extensively, and he proved helpful in arranging a demonstration by the monks.

The monks, who are between the ages of 12 and 28, have extraordinary martial arts skills. They’re adept at empty-hand forms and a myriad of weapons skills, especially staff fighting. They showed the utmost intensity and ferocity in their demo. During our stay, the monks performed a two-man empty-hand set that was simply amazing.

They also demonstrated a two-man staff set that consisted of 12 short routines of attack and defense. It was impressive from a combative standpoint because of the monks’ intensity and technical sophistication.

One curious thing surfaced when they asked me to execute a staff form. I obliged, as weapons training is an essential part of the style of Okinawan karate I practice. However, when they handed me a staff, I immediately noticed that it was heavier and thicker than what I was used to.

Okinawan bo are usually 1-1/4 inches in diameter at the center and taper to 3/4 of an inch at the ends. The Chinese staff was at least 2 inches and possibly 2-1/2 inches thick with no taper. Needless to say, it was a very different feel.

This weapon required great physical strength to manipulate with the speed and power they expected. I later noticed that in one of their training rooms stood a weight bench and set of barbells, apparently for the martial monks who needed to augment their musculature.

(Read Part 1 here.)

(Read Part 2 here.)

(Read Part 4 here.)

Nine Dragons Temple Photos by George W. Alexander

About the author: George W. Alexander, Ph.D., is a ninth-degree black belt and president of the International Shorin Ryu Karate Kobudo Federation. John E. Graham is vice president of the International Nan Shaolin Wushu Federation and chief instructor at the United Academy of Kung Fu in Mobile, Alabama.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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