Lineage & history
In the world of Kung Fu, stories abound regarding the history (check out the Chinese History Podcasts, among our other Resources), lineage, and origin of styles; complete with fact, fiction, and a blurry line in-between.
Northern Shaolin Kung Fu is not exempt from this habit.
Here, we offer one of the more popular versions of our look into the past.
When considering a lineage chart, it’s extremely important to hold in mind these ideas:
- Within every line of a lineage, almost every single teacher taught many more than one single student
(regardless of what a lineage chart says)
- Every student studied other styles as well
Let’s look at one of the more popular ideas of the history of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu.
Shaolin History Roots
The name Northern Shaolin tells us a bit about its classification and origin. Although perhaps not comprehensive and a bit misleading. But it is what it is. Let’s take a look.
Northern Shaolin – Northern because it came from the Northern part of China (see “Northern & Southern China“), above the Yangtze River, known more commonly in Chinese as 長江 Cháng Jiāng. Shaolin because it has its roots in the famed Shaolin Temple (or Shaolin Monastery) (少林寺 Shǎo Lín Sì) and its renowned Kung Fu.
The story of Shaolin is a long one involving political struggle, religious fervor, upheaval, intrigue, and many other exciting story features. These have played roles in its fantastic journey to modernity.
Throughout history, the Shaolin Temple and its monks were at times honored for its multi-faceted service to the emperor and at other times labeled a haven for insurgents. The temple itself has been destroyed and rebuilt several times.
Shaolin Temple was built in AD on a slope below one of the five peaks of 少 室 山 Shǎo Shì Shān and one of the Seven Peaks of Song Shan or Mount Song, in 登 封 縣 Dēng Fēng Xiàn (meaning Dengfeng County), 河 南 省 Hé Nán Shěng (Henan Province) in China.
Henan Province, China
Henan means “South of the River,” but the province is also known as 中 原 Zhōng Yuán or Midland. The south of the river reference is not the Yangtze, differentiating Northern and Southern, but rather the 黃 河 Huáng Hé or Yellow River. Although these two rivers have wildly different paths through the country, they originate in roughly the same part of China. And as an interesting aside, although the province’s name reflects its being south of the Huang He, about a quarter of the province lies north.
Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization with over 5,000 years of history and remained China’s cultural, economic, and political center until about 1,000 years ago.
Numerous heritage sites have existed, including the ruins of Shang Dynasty capital city 殷 墟 Yīn Xū and the Shaolin Temple. Four of the Eight Great Ancient Capitals of China, 洛 陽 Luò Yáng, 安 陽 Ān Yáng, 開 封 Kāi Fēng, and 郑 州 Zhèng Zhōu are located in Henan.
Henan is China’s third most populous province, boasting a population of over 94 million. If it were a country by itself, Henan would be the 12th most populous country in the world, behind Mexico and ahead of the Philippines.
This period followed the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and in turn, was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. The Song Dynasty was the first government to issue banknotes (paper money) and the first Chinese government to set up a permanent Navy. It gave us the first known use of gunpowder and the first discernment of True North using a compass.
During the Northern Song period, Kung Fu styles of northern China such as 譚 腿 Tán Tuǐ, 查 拳 Chá Quán, 华 拳 Huá Quán, 炮 拳 Pào Quán, 紅 拳, Hóng Quán and Wah Quan came into prominence. They would evolve as popular and effective fighting systems, complete with excellent side effects for the practitioner. These styles eventually made their way to the Shaolin Temple and were integrated into the curriculum.
Over time, within the temple, the “Shaolin Northern Style of Shaolin Gate” began to emerge as a skillful combination of parts, essences, and influences of Cha, Wah, Hua, Pao, and Hung styles.
Northern Shaolin Kung Fu
The Influenced & The Influencer
Later in the Song Dynasty, other styles also began to be influenced by this new Northern Shaolin genesis.
During the Southern Song, troubles erupted from Mongolian leader Genghis Khan. Soon there were fierce skirmishes and competition between Buddhists and Taoists. Temples were confiscated and claimed in the name of the competing spiritual path. Some monks fought, some quickly converted.
By however, Abbot Fu Yu, the head of Shaolin Temple, re-established many Buddhist temples and invited eighteen martial experts to teach at the Shaolin Temple. Over time, through the Yuan Dynasty ( – ), many other Buddhist temples emerged, many of which had martial curricula, some of which held the Shaolin name. Even predominantly Taoist epicenters began to have Shaolin temples and arts (Wu-Tang Shaolin and Omei Shan Shaolin).
Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty ( – ), Shaolin had begun a clear distinction of Southern & Northern in martial practice and many other aspects. Many assert that there were five Shaolin Temples of the era. “Proper Shaolin” was only inclusive of the martial arts of the original temple in Henan. Thus sometimes called Song Shaolin, so-named due to its site on Song Shan (and some like to word-play to the Song Dynasty’s rise of the Five Northern Mother Fists or styles).
Ching Dynasty to Modernity
A Path to Lineage through History
The Ching Dynasty ( – ) was a very tumultuous time, renown for the phrase seen in many Kung Fu movies 反 清 复 明 Fǎn Qīng Fù Míng or “Overthrow the Ching – Restore the Ming.” After the Ching soldiers destroyed the Henan Shaolin Temple in , monk 朝 元 Zhāo Yuán fled to 河 北 省 Hé Běi Province, where he taught Northern Shaolin to many villagers over time. One prominent student was Feng Shao Chen, who later moved to 江 苏 省 Jiāng Sū Province and taught many people. One high-level student was Xu Wei San, Yim Po‘s teacher.
Yim Po worked as head of a security agency in 山 東 省 Shān Dōng Province. He taught the Northern Shaolin style of Kung Fu to his staff which people and their valuables – both in stationary situations and those en route.
Yim Po also taught his grandson, 嚴 機 溫 Yán Jī Wēn. His colleague was 顾 利 之 Gù Lì Zhī. Gu taught his son, 顾 汝 章 Gù Rǔ Zhāng or Ku Yu Cheung, the forms of 彈腿 Tán Tuǐ, and later suggested that he learn the Northern Shaolin system from his colleague, Uncle Yim. Over time, Ku Yu Cheung became one of the most famous proponents of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu.
Our Northern Shaolin Lineage
All of the above tales of history have many different versions. The Northern Shaolin style has affected many different systems of Kung Fu. This style has been influenced by others as well.
Even after the Gu Ru Zhang point, there are many different lineages, sub-lineages, sub-styles, and more. Now, let’s look at the modern Northern Shaolin Kung Fu lineage of PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu (learn more About Us).
Frank Gibson was Sifu Craig’s first Northern Shaolin teacher; his 師傅 or 師父, his ShīFù or Sifu.
He had studied many different martial art styles, such as Karate, TKD (Tae Kwon Do), Choy Li Fut, Tai Chi, among others. Sifu Frank also competed in the PKA or Professional Karate/Kickboxing Association during the 1970s with legends such as Joe Lewis, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, among others.
Sifu Frank Gibson studied the Northern Shaolin system with Kenneth Chin, aka Chin Bing Chung, first senior student of Master 陳 國 偉 Chén Guó Wěi or Chan Kwok Wai, of Brazil. In the 10+ years that Sifu Craig studied with him, Frank Gibson fostered a strong foundation in martial arts.
A Kung Fu Lineage Shift
Just before COVID-19 hit the world, a fortuitous event occurred. Sifu Craig had been teaching for over 20 years the system as learned from Sifu Gibson.
And then he received a telephone call from Master Roberto Baptista. After several very long and detailed conversations, Master Baptista accepted him as a student. Sifu Craig officially took on a new Sifu and a new friend. They continue to strengthen their connection, training and talking to each other every week.
In the world of TCMA (or )Traditional Chinese Martial Arts), this shift is a big deal. For Sifu Craig, it’s personally huge, and for our Northern Shaolin offering, it’s enormous. The reason is that Master Baptista is a direct senior student of Chan Kwok Wai, thus adding a bit of shortening of the lineage tree. Having studied for many years under Chan, Master Baptista’s knowledge of the Northern Shaolin system is vastly more expansive.
Sifu Craig has been going back through the system with Master Baptista, making tweaks here and there to fall under the new lineage’s requirements, as well as learning new material: empty-handed forms, weapon forms, training drills, conditioning, qigong, and much more. It’s an honor to continue in this knowledge made so popular by the legendary Gu Ruzhang.
Master Roberto Baptista currently operates Kung Fu Connection in Coral Springs, Florida. We hope to honor him and our lineage & style by showing our gratitude in practice, improvement, and performance.