The Shaolin Monastery is famous not only in China, but all over the world, mostly due to its fighting monks whose skills and knowledge surpassed that of everyone else. But apart from the facts that we get from movies, how much do we really know about Shaolin? For example, did you know that monks of the Shaolin Temple weren’t always fighters? Buddhism isn’t about fighting at all, it’s a peaceful religion that focuses on non-violence, self-sacrifice, and vegetarianism. So how did the monks of Shaolin become some of the most renowned fighters in human history? Here are 10 unbelievable facts about Shaolin you’ve probably never heard before.
It was founded by an Indian
Buddhabhara, also known as Batuo, was a wandering Buddhist monk that came to China from India around 464 A.D. He spread the teachings of the Hinayana Buddhism in the Empire of Northern Wei and was so respected that Emperor Xiaowen ordered to build the Shaolin Monastery where Buddhabhara became the first abbot. Another Indian monk, Bodhidharma, brought Chan Buddhism to Shaolin and it’s remained the official religion of Shaolin monks ever since.
Kung Fu did not come from Shaolin
Contrary to the popular belief, Kung Fu didn’t originate in the Shaolin Temple. It’s true that Shaolin monks took part in fighting, but there’s no evidence that they used some special type of martial arts. They started using their signature staffs around 12th century, while their hand-to-hand combat techniques date back to the 16th century. It appears Kung Fu is much older than that! By the time Shaolin monks became famous for their fighting skills, Kung Fu had already spread all over China and was a pretty common martial arts school.
Shaolin is not the only order of fighting monks
Shaolin started out as a peaceful centre of knowledge and Buddhist teachings. While other monasteries have already started using weapons to train their monks, Shaolin was still all about learning Buddhist texts and meditation techniques. According to the legend, it all changed when Bodhidharma came to the monastery, but actual mentions of martial arts in Shaolin date back to the 14th century. It was definitely not the only order whose monks knew how to fight. Indian Naga Sadhus were one of the most feared and skillful warriors out of all Hindu sects. They used sharpened iron piercers and were known all across the globe.
Shaolin helped found an Imperial dynasty
After the fall of the Sui dynasty around 618 A.D., several noble houses began to fight for control over the crumbling empire. A former Sui general Wang Shichong took the territory of Zheng and built a military encampment at Mount Huanyan to strengthen his position. He sent an army to lay siege to the Shaolin Monastery in order to avoid its rebellion. However, the monks of Shaolin pledged allegiance to his rival Li Yuang, the future founder of the Tang dynasty. Together they overthrew Wan Shichong and the Tang dynasty took control over China for a few hundred years.