Northern Shaolin (北 少 林 拳 門) Kung Fu is not exempt from this habit.
Here, we offer one of the more popular versions of our look into the past. (Northern Shaolin students have access to more detailed and alternate histories as well.)
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)
- Each and every single individual student studied other styles as well
Let’s look at one of the more popular ideas of the history of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu.
The name Northern Shaolin tells us a bit about its classification and origin. Although perhaps not comprehensive. Perhaps a bit misleading. But it is what it is. Let’s take a look.
Northern Shaolin break-down
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. Shaolin because it has its roots in the famed Shaolin Temple (or Shaolin Monastery) (少 林 寺) and its renown Kung Fu.
The Shaolin story has included political struggle, religious fervor, upheaval, intrigue, and many other exciting features have played roles in its fantastic journey to modernity.
Sometimes the Shaolin Temple and its monks have been honored for its multi-faceted service to the emperor, and at other times labelled a haven for rebels; monks being despised and hunted. Throughout history, the temple itself has been destroyed and rebuilt several times.
Shaolin Temple was built in 495 AD on a slope below one of the five peaks of 少 室 山 and one of the Seven Peaks of Song Shan or Mount Song, in 登 封 縣 (meaning Dengfeng County), 河 南 省 (meaning Henan Province) in China.
Henan Province of 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 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 is named for being south of the Huang He, about a quarter of the province lies North of it.
Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization with over 5,000 years of history, and remained China’s cultural, economical, and political center until about 1,000 years ago.
Numerous heritage sites have been left including the ruins of Shang Dynasty capital city Yinxu 殷 墟 and the Shaolin Temple. Four of the Eight Great Ancient Capitals of China, Luoyang 洛 陽, Ān Yáng 安 陽, Kaifeng 開 封, and Zhengzhou 郑 州 are located in Henan.
Henan is China’s third most populous province with 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.
It followed the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and in turn was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to set up a permanent Navy. This dynasty also saw the first known use of gunpowder, as well as first discernment of True North using a compass.
During the Northern Song period, styles of northern China such as 譚 腿, 查 拳, 华 拳, 炮 拳, 紅 拳 and Wah Quan came into prominence and began to evolve as popular and effective fighting systems with fantastic 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 began to be influenced by this new Northern Shaolin genesis as well.
During the Southern Song, troubles stirred up resulting from Mongolian leader Genghis Khan, resulting in skirmish and competition between Buddhists and Taoists, with Temples being taken over in the name of the competing spiritual path. Some monks fought, some quickly converted.
By 1258 however, Abbot Fu Yu of Shaolin, re-established many Buddhist temples and invited eighteen martial experts to teach at the Shaolin Temple. Over time, through the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368), 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 (1368-1644) Shaolin had begun a clear distinction of Southern & Northern and many claim five Shaolin Temples of the era. Only the martial arts of the original temple in Henan were propagated as proper Shaolin, and is 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
The Ching Dynasty (1644-1911) was a period of tumultuous time, renown for the phrase seen in many Kung Fu movies "Overthrow the Ching – Restore the Ming" 反 清 复 明. After the Ching soldiers destroyed the Henan Shaolin Temple in 1732, monk 朝 元 fled to Hebei Province 河 北 省, where he taught Northern Shaolin to many villagers over time. One prominent student was Feng Shao Chen, who later moved to Jiangsu Province 江 苏 省 and taught many people. One high-level student was Xu Wei San, who in turn, taught Yim Po.
Yim Po was the head of a security agency in Shandong Province 山 東 省 and he taught the Northern Shaolin style of Kung Fu to his staff who guarded money and various valuables as well as people – both in stationary situations and those en route.
Yim Po also taught his grandson, Yan Ji Wen 嚴 機 溫. His colleague was 顾 利 之 Gu Li Zhi. Gu taught his son, Ku Yu Cheung 顾 汝 章, Tan Tui and later suggested that he go learn the Northern Shaolin system from his colleague, Uncle Yim. Over time, Ku Yu Cheung went on to become one of the most famous proponents of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu.
Our Northern Shaolin Lineage
All of the above has many different versions. Many styles, places and people have had influence upon or have been influenced by the Northern Shaolin system.
Even after the Gu Ru Zhang point, there are many different lineages, sub-lineages, sub-styles and more. That being said, let’s look at our modern Northern Shaolin Kung Fu lineage.