The primary training element of Shaolin-Do is the form, or kata. Forms are choreographed movements and fighting sequences that are designed to teach proper technique, speed, timing and execution. Forms training builds strength, cardiovascular efficiency, flexibility, balance and memory.
The early masters created the forms as teaching tools and training exercises to pass down their fighting skills and knowledge to successive generations. The ancient monks of Shaolin developed their fighting skills over hundreds of years, creating superior technique that made them the most feared warriors in history.
As students of Shaolin-Do, we must work to gain a progressively deeper understanding of the forms. Looking beyond the graceful movements and practice routines, we analyze and study the applications contained in each unique form. In the words of our Shaolin ancestors: "The form is the finger that points to the moon." Focus on the finger and you see one piece of and empty hand, but follow where the finger leads and your knowledge is without limit.
The material is organized so that beginning students have an opportunity to learn animal, empty hand, and weapon techniques that are straightforward with readily apparent applications. The object is to build a solid base emphasizing proper technique, stance work, spirit, conditioning, and basic practical self-defense.
Upon completion of the lower belt and brown belt curriculum, the Shaolin-Do student has a minimum of 21 long forms through which they have studied a variety of techniques, including tiger, crane, bird, staff, and broadsword. The student now has the conditioning, material knowledge, and sparring foundation to be considered a disciple, or serious beginner, and will continue to study a wide variety of styles and techniques that not only produce a well-rounded martial artist, but also an extraordinarily well conditioned body and mind.
Weapons training was the way of the warrior, with each weapon becoming an extension of the warrior’s arm and providing training in strength, balance, agility and accuracy. Weapons training is designed not merely to create an arsenal, but to enhance fighting skills. There are four divisions of weapons training: long, short, flexible and paired.
The long weapons include the spear, trident, long staff, tiger fork and kwan dao. Traditionally, these were the weapons of the foot soldier. The spear is the most popular of the long weapons and was used by infantry to unseat mounted soldiers. It gave a warrior extended reach and a deadly point. The kwan dao was the weapon of the legendary General Kwan Kun (Guan Yu) of the Northern Kingdom. He was a patron of the martial arts and became immortalized as the symbol of loyalty, honor and heroic deeds. The kwan dao was used by ground fighters to chop down horses or the heads off ground-based enemies. If used by a mounted fighter, it was used to chop an enemy in half.
The short weapons include the broadsword, straight sword, dagger, and short staff. The broadsword was the weapon of the mounted soldier and carried by the common man. It was used to slash, chop and thrust. The straight sword is sharp on both edges and is slightly flexible. It is the classic weapon of Tai Chi and was carried by persons of royalty and prestige. It requires finesse and uses intricate cuts and precision thrusts to overcome the opponent.
The flexible weapons include the chain whip, rope dart, 3-section staff, shuriken and throwing knives, all of which require intense training in balance, agility, coordination and accuracy. The chain whip can be concealed in a cloak or worn as a belt. Nearly invisible when used properly, it delivers a devastating strike from the weighted tip.
The paired weapons include the double dagger, the twin broadswords, the tiger hook swords, Lie Kwei axes, and butterfly knives. The double dagger was a weapon of yin, or the dark side. It was hidden, deceptive and used at close range, blending speed and accuracy with the cutting edge. The butterfly knives are short single-edged swords that combine the speed and precision of the knife with the powerful cut of the sword in close range combat.
Throughout the centuries, the monks of Shaolin studied the most efficient and vicious fighters in nature, the animals, in an effort to bring the character of the animal into the human spirit, enhancing the fighter’s abilities and skills for survival. Each animal brought a unique character to be studied and absorbed:
Tiger – strength and tenacity
Crane – strong sinews, balance and grace
Monkey – cunning and agility
Mantis – speed and patience
Snake – flexibility and chi
Dragon – flowing movement and spiritual essence
The tiger was the most feared predator in the animal kingdom and was one of the first animals to be studied by the monks. Fierce and deadly, it embodies the warrior spirit, combining strength and grace in explosive power. The tiger system utilizes fierce overpowering attacks and blends elements of the beast into the human warrior, such as the tiger claw, the tiger fist, and stalking moves. Beginning at the Hunan Shaolin Temple, the system includes styles such as the Shantung Black Tiger, the flying tiger, white tiger and leopard styles.
The praying mantis is one of the more exotic fighting styles, created by renowned warrior Wang Lang and brought into the temple system during the 17th century. One day while tending his garden, Wang Lang observed a fight between a mantis and a locust. His fascination led to years of study and the adaptation of the mantis movement to the human form. The mantis system uses speed and patience, powerful forearms, close-quarter fighting and pinpoint accuracy, combined with the erratic footwork of the monkey. Through the centuries the mantis system has grown to include the Northern and Southern styles, the 7 Star Mantis, Yin Yang Mantis, the Monkey Mantis, the Secret Door Mantis and many other styles both in and out of the temple systems.
The bird styles of Shaolin were made famous at the Omei Temple. The original style, the Shaolin Bird, was a conglomerate system that combined the natures of many birds into one system. It blended balance and grace with powerful leg and hand techniques. Out of the Omei Temple evolved the famous White Crane system, with its rapid leg attacks, open finger techniques and the infighting of Wing Chun. From this same system came the legendary Eagle Claw system with its deadly hands and flying techniques. Over the centuries, new styles with specific techniques were brought into the Omei system, styles such as the Black Crane, the Phoenix, the Swallow, and the Golden Cock or Chicken.
For centuries, the monks of Shaolin used meditation to develop their internal energy and raise their level of consciousness, but it was not until the advent of Chen San Feng in the 12th century that the internal and external were combined into a fighting art. Since that time, chi training as an enhancement of fighting skills has become the secret of Shaolin. The internal arts encompass the extremes of Shaolin Do, from the softness of Tai Chi to the hardness of Hsing-I.
Tai Chi Chuan, the Grand Ultimate Fist, is meditation in motion. It was first developed as a fighting art by the Shaolin monk Chen San Feng. While on his travels from the temple at Hunan to the temple at Wu Tan, he is said to have witnessed a battle between a snake and a crane. He became so fascinated by the ability of the snake to defend against the straight line attack of the crane that he incorporated the circular, coiling movements of the snake with his chi kung training to create a fighting art that has survived over 700 years.
Chen San Feng’s original Tai Chi was a 13-posture form based on the 5 elements and 8 pathways. Over the centuries, the temple style has grown into family arts such as the Yang Tai Chi and Chen Tai Chi that we now teach. The Tai Chi system also includes classical weapons training such as the Tai Chi straight sword, which uses elegance and finesse, precision cuts and extended thrusts. The Tai Chi broadsword is heroic and flowing, using a sweeping blade that is powerful but soft. The Tai Chi Iron Fan is graceful yet powerful. The beauty of the fan holds a bladed rib, soft and elegant but deadly when opened.
Though Tai Chi has evolved, the basic principles remain true to its founder: yield to the attacker, deflect the force, offer no resistance. In Tai Chi, we learn to become faster by training slowly, we learn to be hard by knowing how to be soft, we learn to clear our minds by learning to focus.
Pa Kua Chang, the octagonal palm, is a circular and flowing fighting art based on the eight trigrams of the I Ching (Book of Changes). It blends the Yin and the Yang into a never-ending circle. The origins of Pa Kua are shrouded in the mystery of the temple at Wu Tan, but its roots can be traced to Tung Hai Chuan, a traveler from Hopeh Province in the North who taught Pa Kua to the imperial household in the early 1800s. In his travels, Tung Hai Chuan came to the aid of two Taoist priests and in return was given a divine training.
In practice, Pa Kua uses deceptive circular patterns and evasive movements, avoiding attack and moving behind one’s opponent. In essence, it teaches not being there when the attack is thrown: hence the invisibility of the Shaolin monk.
Hsing I, The Mind Form fist, is a product of the temple at Wu Tan. It contains elements of animal styles that can be traced back 1500 years, but the exact origin is lost in antiquity. The first recorded Hsing I master was the renowned General Yeuh Fei in the 12th century, who is said to have learned his fighting skills from a Taoist priest. Yeuh Fei had gained notoriety in the north because of his military exploits, which created jealousy in the imperial house. Yeuh Fei was summoned to the capitol and jailed until his death, and from this legend, comes the shackled stepping technique. Unlike Tai Chi and Pa Kua, Hsing I is direct, linear and powerful, creating a bridge between the internal and external styles. Stepping is short, stances are solid, movement is fast and power is key. While Tai Chi teaches yielding to an attack and Pa Kua uses evasive circular movement, Hsing I teaches us to meet force with greater force and to move through an opponent rather than to evade.