Rounding hairpin turns on a winding mountain road, the Shaolin Temples surrounding scenery is as rugged as the legendary fighting-monks themselves.
Both domestic and foreign travelers come from far and wide to the small village nestled away in Henan Province’s Song Shan, roughly an hour’s drive from Luoyang or Zhengzhou, to visit the fabled birthplace of one of the world’s most famous martial arts movements. But Shaolin Temple is more than that- thousands visit every year to pray and pay their respects at one of China’s oldest Buddhist temples. The temple is believed to have been founded in AD 495 by Indian monk Ba Tuo, on land given to him by the Northern Wei emperor, so that monks could focus on the disciplines of their faith.
In AD527, Bodhidharma visited and founded what became the Chan sect. According to popular lore, Bodhidharma crossed the Yellow River on a single reed then spent nine years meditating in a cave before entering the temple grounds. His shadow, it is said, can still be seen in a nearby cave to this day, aptly named Bodhidharma’s Cave. Because Chan Buddhism emphasizes enlightenment through meditation, kung fu developed initially as stretching exercises between long ours sitting in a prone position, used to help the monk’s concentration. Imitating animals and insects, the stretches eventually became fighting forms, which would make the name of the temple synonymous with kung fu.
The village at Shaolin is fully caught up in kung fu; stopping in the village around the temple affords visitors an opportunity to see youngsters training at the various schools nearby. Children of all ages can be seen spinning in mid-air, high-kicking, lunging with spears and sparring, with the sounds of hundreds of young voices barking in unison.