http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... July 15, 2003


In This Issue:

1. Shaolin Temple and the Martial Arts
2. Martial Arts
3. What does practicing religiously mean? ...by Sifu Robert Brown
4. The Zen Way to the Martial Arts.
...By George Leonard

5. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: A Shaolin Monastery
...Photo Album
6. Book/Movie Review: The Shaolin Temple ...Movie- in DVD & VHS


1. Shaolin Temple and the Martial Arts


The Shaolin Temple is probably the most famous temple in China, not only because of its long history and its role in Chinese Buddhism, but also because of its martial arts or Wushu Chan. Shaolin Temple is situated in the beautiful Songshan Mountains, which is only eight miles of Dengfeng and about 50 miles southwest of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province.   

Shaolin Temple was established in 495 during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534). Batuo, an Indian monk, came to Luoyang, the ancient capital, for spreading Buddhism at that period. Emperor Xiaowen was a believer of Buddhism so he decided to build the temple in the Songshan Mountains to house Batuo, who translated many Buddhist works and had a few hundred followers there.

Damo (Bodhidharma), the legendary Indian monk, came to Shaolin in 517, who was the creator of Chinese Zen. There are many legendary stories about him. One of the well-known stories says he was meditating in a cave for nine years. The cave is now called Damo Cave. Many people believe he wrote the famous 'Yijinjing,' the base of Shaolin martial arts or Gongfu. But there is no record about the book before and during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) so experts think Damo has little to do with Shaolin Gongfu. Zongheng, a Taoist priest of Tiantai Mountain, wrote 'Yijinjing' in 1624, but to add mystery to it, he made up a story saying 'Yijinjing' was originally written by Damo.

Shaolin does have a long tradition of Chinese martial arts, as the saying goes 'All martial arts (gongfu) are from Shaolin.' This is partly because Shaolin was located in a strategic area so they had to protect the temple themselves from wars or any invading, and partly because of the support of most emperors from different dynasties, which came after the 13 Shaolin monks once saved Li Shimin, the emperor of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Since then Shaolin was allowed to have solider-monks. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Shaolin housed over 1,000 solder-monks at its peak and they were often used by the government to combat rebellions and Japanese bandits. But martial arts were forbidden during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Even with the protection of solder-monks, Shaolin was severely damaged by fire a few times. The largest fire set by the army of Shi Yousan in 1928 destroyed most of the buildings of Shaolin Temple.

There are many noted relics at Shaolin. There are over 300 ancient stone inscriptions, some of them by famous calligraphers. The large mural of 500 arhats in the Qianfo Hall was from the Ming Dynasty. There are 232 pagodas from different dynasties, known as the forest of pagodas. The oldest one was from the Tang Dynasty. The pagodas are the tombs of the celebrated Shaolin monks. The Shaolin martial arts are an important part of the relics.

2. Martial Arts


Japanese traditional sports generally grew out of the various fighting techniques used by the samurai warrior class in feudal Japan. While the samurai were highly important in feudal society, after peace was established by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 1600's, their fighting skills were diverted into more spiritual activities. The fighting arts were combined with Confucianism, Shinto and Zen Buddhism as a means of spiritual as well as physical training. Over the years, the names changed also: kenjutsu, for example, meaning Sword Technique changed to kendo or the Way of the Sword to imply the spiritual discipline inherent in these arts. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the subsequent collapse of the samurai class, the martial arts went into a short period of decline until they began to be introduced at schools across the country. But prior to World War II, they were once again encouraged as part of Japan's militarisation. And as a result, during the Occupation, they were banned. But soon after, martial arts federations were set up and once again they found their way back into the school curriculum.


The literal meaning of Judo is the Way of Softness. The kanji character for 'ju' is taken from a Chinese military saying that 'softness defeats hardness'. The emphasis in this sport is not on physical size or strength but on agility, balance and practise of waza, or techniques. The never-ending, repetitive practise of these waza or kata (forms) until they become as natural as breathing is central to all martial arts and takes up most of the time spent in the dojo.

Jujutsu, the origin of judo, began in the Nara Period (710~794) as a kind of entertainment for the Imperial court. As with other martial arts, it underwent a transformation during the Tokugawa Shogunate and went into decline after the Meiji Restoration. The first judo school was established at the Eishoji temple in Tokyo by Kano Jigoro in 1882. Kano also introduced the system of dan (ranks) and kyu (classes) used today. Shortly after, judo was introduced in schools. Following the Occupation, the All-Japan Judo Federation was set up in 1949, and judo was re-introduced in schools. At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, judo made its first appearance as an Olympic sport. Japanese judoka or judoists dominated the sport for many years at World and Olympic levels. Yamashita Yasuhiro (1957~ ) won the All-Japan Judo Championship nine times in a row and the Olympic gold medal (open category) in 1984. The most famous Japanese judoka today is Tamura Ryoko (1975~ ) who for more than 10 years has dominated her under-48kg weight class at the national and World Championship level but only managed to win an Olympic silver medal until finally getting the gold at Sydney in 2000.

The two types of waza used in competitive judo are nagewaza (throwing techniques) and katamewaza (grappling techniques). Following recent changes to competition rules, contest duration is 5 minutes (senior men/women), 4 minutes (young men/women, U20 years) and or 3 minutes (juniors, U16 years). Some national bodies have even shorter contest durations for younger children. A match can be won by ippon using either type of waza: using nagewaza so that the opponent lands on their back or using katamewaza to hold them for 25 seconds. If a match is tied after the normal duration, a recent innovation is to have an additional period of time where the first to score wins - referred to as the 'golden score'.


Sword fencing was probably introduced to Japan from 6th or 7th century China. Kenjutsu grew out of the two-handed sword techniques used by the samurai. In the late 1700's shinai or bamboo swords and protective clothing were introduced to ensure safety. After the collapse of the samurai class, kenjutsu went into a decade of decline until the police started a course for their trainees. Even today, kendo is an important part of police training and police officers dominate the top levels of the sport. In 1952, the All Japan Kendo Federation was established and since then kendo has been part of the middle school curriculum, particularly for boys.

The shinai is made of four bamboo shafts, bound with a silk or nylon cord and a leather thong. The length of the shinai depends on the age group of the fencer. The protective clothing has many parts, including a men or face mask, a do (chest) protector, quilted tare or flaps to protect the thighs and kote or fencing gloves.

The strike zones are the head, throat, chest and forearms. The key elements are stance, footwork, cuts, thrusts, parries and feints. When training, fencers practise a series of offensive and defensive waza. Competition consists of a match of up to 5 minutes with the winner being the first to score 2 points. A clear hit to the opponent's head, torso or forearm or a thrust to their throat scores a point.


As aikido is purely defensive, it is not really a sport but is one of the martial arts. It was developed from jujutsu by Ueshiba Morihei (1883~1969) who, mainly for religious reasons, wanted to move the art away from its competitive elements. By 1922, he had developed his own techniques which he called aiki bujutsu, aiki meaning meeting of energies. He later renamed it aikido. It consists essentially of using an attackers strength and energy to defeat him. Twists and holds on the arm and leg joints are used to throw or immobilize the attacker. The popularity of aikido has grown in Japan and internationally since the 1960's. many people from around the world, as well as Japan's own riot police, train at the Yoshinkan Dojo in Tokyo.


Kyudo (the Way of the Bow) is Japanese archery, which has been practised since ancient times. There are several schools of kyudo, the most prominent being the Ogasawara, Heki and Honda schools. The Amateur Archery Federation of Japan was established in 1949 and membership runs to about 300,000. Archery from horseback is still part of several festivals held each year.

Archers wear a traditional costume which includes a yugake (deerskin glove) on the drawing hand and tabi (Japanese-style socks). They stand with a stance equal to half their height. The 2.21 meter bow is held with two thirds of the bow above the grip. As a martial art influenced by Zen Buddhism, the emphasis is on form rather than accuracy. In competition, there are long-range and short-range matches. In the former, the target is 100cm in diameter and 60m from the archer while in the latter, there is a 36cm target at a distance of 28m.


Although karatedo (Way of the Empty Hand), or simply karate, is usually thought of as a native Japanese martial art in the West, in Japan it is not. It started in the Ryukyu kingdom (modern-day Okinawa) as a hybrid of indigenous fighting techniques and the Chinese form of boxing known in the west as kung-fu. After the Sino-Japanese war in 1895, Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan and karate began to spread to the mainland. The sport developed in Tokyo's universities after the Okinawan master Funakoshi Gichin was invited by the Education Ministry to give a demonstration at Keio University in the early 1920's. Two main schools and many different styles have evolved over the years. Following a postwar decline, the sport became increasingly popular around the world.

Karate uses three main techniques: uchi (arm strikes), tsuki (thrusts) and keri (kicks). For each attacking technique, there is a corresponding uke or defensive technique. There are two types of karate competition: in a kata competition, the participants demonstrate a choreographed series of kata, both offensive and defensive; in a kumite (sparring) match, the aim is to be the first to score 3 points within 3 minutes, with a point for each punch, thrust or kick executed correctly.

3. What does practicing religiously mean?
...by Sifu Robert Brown


Letter to the editor of Martial Arts Professional Magazine

I enjoyed the column and offer my perspective on it.

We can teach martial sport or martial science, but to teach martial arts, we must first acknowledge the origin of martial arts. Most practitioners agree that China, more specifically the Shaolin Temple in the Hunan Province, is the birthplace of martial arts. Bodidharma, the founder of martial arts, incorporated a physical discipline into a spiritual path. martial techniques and meditation as a path to higher states of awareness and understanding is the deepest purpose of martial arts. Like it or not, our practice has spiritual roots. Spiritual development is as much a part of martial arts as holding your breath is to going under water.

So the question is, why would we decide not to teach the real goal of martial arts? The answer is that teaching punches and kicks is less offensive. Customers come to us for self-defense and to get into shape. They workout and get in shape, as well as learn how to fight. When we play it safe, no one is offended, and we make money. The problem is that our customers never become students of the martial arts. A real student of the martial arts must see their practice as more than simply punches and kicks.

I found it interesting that in the same issue of Martial Arts Professional Billy Blanks was quoted as saying, "Jesus Christ was a perfect person and they crucified him. I'm a man born into sin. What do you think they're going to do to me?" It seems that a "Christian" religious overtone is acceptable, but an eastern overtone is immediately questioned. The martial arts do not have "Christian" roots, but they do have spiritual roots.

I feel that it may be necessary to make a distinction between spiritual development and religion. My students work on spiritual development but they practice many different religions. They are encouraged to study what they believe, and then to follow that faith to the best of their ability. With over 400 students, the largest percentage of our students are Christian, but many are Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, and a handful of agnostics and atheists. Historically, we have seen great martial artists from many disciplines that all followed different religious beliefs. Bodidharma, Chang San- Feng, Ueshiba, Funakoshi, Kano-Judo. All of these great masters were believed to be in their prime in their later years of life. Usually, no athlete is in his or her physical prime after the age of sixty or more. However, each of these great masters clearly understood that the practice of martial arts is a mental and spiritual discipline as well as a physical discipline. Each master achieved greatness within their art, because they mastered their minds and their bodies. All of these great masters viewed the art as sacred, although they had different religious convictions.

When we teach the truth, there will be certain individuals that will be offended. People have quit our programs because we bow, meditate, and the most ridiculous, because we count in a foreign language. On the other hand, so many others have had their lives influenced and improved because I teach the deepest philosophical and spiritual aspects of the practice. Society is starving for a deeper reason to practice, and I believe that they want and deserve the truth.

. From the Book: The Zen Way to the Martial Arts. ...By George Leonard


"You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair."

These words of instruction to a medieval samurai might be said to contain the essence of what Zen master Taisen Deshimaru would tell his Western reader. To practice Zen or the martial arts, you must live intensely, wholeheartedly, without reserves, as if you might die in the next instant. Lacking this sort of commitment, Zen becomes mere ritual and the martial arts devolve into mere sport.

To show the unbreakable connection between Zen and the martial arts, Deshimaru goes back to samurai times. Most samurai followed Japan's national religion of Shinto, an extremely sophisticated form of animism, in which all of nature is imbued with spirit (shin). But they were also deeply attracted to Buddhism as expressed in Zen practice. The Zen emphasis on simplicity and selfcontrol, full awareness at every moment, and tranquility in the face of death set well with the samurai way of life, in which a duel was always possible and the difference between life and death lay in one swift stroke of the sword. Better yet for the samurai was the fact that Zen offered a specific daily practice: through zazen, an unadorned form of sitting meditation, the samurai could effectively still the restless mind, perceive the ultimate harmony beneath seeming discord, and achieve the oneness of intuition and action so necessary for kenjutsu (swordfighting). Indeed, as Deshimaru points out, Zen became known as "the religion of the samurai."

Modern martial arts such as kendo, karate, judo, and aikido go back directly to the marriage of Zen and Bushido, the medieval chivalry code of the samurai. At best, they are Budo. To translate these two Japanese words is difficult. Literally, Bushido means "the way of the warrior" (bushi, "warrior"; do, "path" or "way"). Budo means "the way of war" (bu, "war"). But the Japanese character bu, as Deshimaru points out, also means to cease the struggle, to sheathe the sword. So the emphasis in Budo is not on bu but on do. Even do has a flavor, a deeper meaning, that is hard for the Westerner to grasp; for do, the way, is essentially goalless, and we of the West have long been seduced by goals, by getting ahead, by winning.

The difficulty in translating do is reflected in a question that sometimes comes up during my own workshop sessions with non-martial artists. When I speak of my practice of aikido, I am asked, "What are you practicing for?" I answer that, at the heart of it, I'm practicing because I'm practicing. Yes, I gain certain things: physical conditioning and grace, confidence, comradeship, a sense of harmony. But even these fade beside the simple and compelling power of do, the way. Aikido is my path, my way.

Master Deshimaru emphasizes that the true martial arts take their spirit from Budo rather than from sports:

I have nothing against sports, they train the body and develop

stamina and endurance. But the spirit of competition and power

that presides over them is not good, it reflects a distorted vision

of life. The root of the martial arts is not there....

In the spirit of Zen and Budo everyday life becomes the contest.

There must be awareness at every moment: getting up in the morning, working, eating, going to bed.

That is the place for the mastery of self.

Many people these days come to the martial arts as if to a sport or, worse, as if seeking an effective instrument of aggression and domination. And, unhappily, there are studios that cater to this clientele. Violent and exploitative martial arts movies contribute to the corruption of Budo, and we are offered, as well, the fiction of some cinematic James Bond going offwith a "master" for two weeks during which time he will become totally proficient in some particularly lethal form of the martial arts.

Knowing all this, I shouldn't be surprised when a newcomer to our school asks, "How long will it take me to master aikido?" Still, the question leaves me speechless. I have practiced aikido for more than twelve years, during six of which I have also taught, and I feel considerably further from "mastering" the art than I did after my first six months. Perhaps I should simply respond as Master Deshimaru did when he was asked a similar question:

"How many years do I have to practice zazen?"

"Until you die."

What I have discovered from my own practice is that Zen and the martial arts are not things that you learn or do. They are what you are.

Yet our Western impatience rises again and again. We pursue instant accomplishment, automatic reward. The commercials on television promise us Captain Cook's travels at the drop of a credit card. During a recent evening class, I noticed a new student who was red of face and furious of countenance.

"I'm going to get this technique right," this muscular young man told me, "if I have to stay here all night."

I told him, as gently as I could, that he would be better off giving up all such ideas of quick perfection. I tried to think of a single technique that I'd ever done absolutely "right." I recalled moments of grace, certain throws that seemed to build and break as if in rhythm with an ocean wave, revealing the inner perfection of all movement, all existence. But I could bring to mind no forced, external "perfection" based entirely on technique.

It is a blessing of the martial arts and of Zen that they permit us a mitigation if not a transformation of time. "Yesterday" and "tomorrow" become less important. We turn more of our attention to "the present moment" and "a lifetime." Thus we are relieved of undue concern with certain urgencies of this culture: fast food, quick results, fast temporary relief, ten easy lessons .

Master Deshimaru tells us of three stages that are common to Zen and the martial arts. The first, shojin, is the period of training in which the will and conscious effort are involved, and which generally takes some three to five years of diligent practice. In Zen, this first period culminates with the shiho ("transmission"):

The second stage is the period of concentration without consciousness, after the shiho. The disciple is at peace. He can truly become an assistant to the master, and later he can become a master himself and teach others in his turn.

In the third stage, the spirit achieves true freedom.

"To a free spirit, a free world. "...

These three stages are identical in Zen and in Budo.

Throughout this lifelong process, there is an inexorable shift in emphasis in the martial arts: from technique and strength of body in the beginning to exquisite intuition and a realization of spirit in the end. Master Morihei Uyeshiba, the founder of modern aikido, realized the true potential of his art only after he turned seventy, when he could no longer count on the power of his body. Most of the films which show his seemingly miraculous feats were made in the 1960s, when he was between eighty and eighty-four-years-old.

But miraculous feats are only side effects, and "the mysteries of the East" are chimeras unworthy of the attention of dedicated students of Zen or the martial arts. What Master Deshimaru says about zazen is also true for Budo at its best:

...zazen does not mean ecstasy or the arousal of emotion or any particular condition of body and mind. It means returning, completely, to the pure, normal human condition. That condition is not something reserved for great masters and saints, there is nothing mysterious about it, it is within everyone's reach.

Zazen means becoming intimate with oneself, finding the exact taste of inner unity, and harmonizing with universal life.

To be fully awake and alive, to return completely to the pure, normal human condition, might be easy, but, in this culture, it is also quite difficult. Perhaps only a few of us can attain such a condition all the time or most of the time. But Taisen Deshimaru, using simple language and a richness of story and lore, has raised a glowing picture before our eyes, an ideal that can illuminate every life.

George Leonard ...holds a nidan (second-degree black belt) in aikido, and teaches at Aikido of Tamalpais in Mill Valley, California. He is the author of Education and Ecstasy, The Transformation, The UltimateAthlete, and The Silent Pulse. He has served as president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology.

5. A Shaolin Monastery
...Photo Album


South of Luoyang and Zhengzhou, nestled in the foothills of Song Shan, lies the Shaolin Monastery. According to a 1,000-year-old tradition, it was at Shaolin that the founder of Zen Buddhism, the 6th-century monk Boddhidharma, preached and meditated until his death. The monastery grew larger and richer during the Sui, Tang and later dynasties. Its monks, threatened by bandits and other enemies, developed a system of self-defense that became known throughout the world as kung fu. The tradition of meditation and martial arts has continued; at this writing, it is being forwarded by nine aged monks and three young novices. A recent film based on the monastery inspired hundreds of young Chinese to apply there for kung fu training, but all were predictably turned away.

After buying a ticket you can enter many of the exhibits at the Shaolin Temple. One of which is the Monastery. At the Monastery the first main Hall is a library containing Zen texts. After the main hall is a Forest of Steles. Beyond this at the back is the small chapel dedicated to Boddhidharma the founder of the Monastery. At the back is the main Hall of a 1,000 Buddha Temple, used as a martial arts practice hall. Inside are ancient but lively frescos of Buddha's disciples and the stone lingam in front of which Boddhidharma is said to have sat motionless for nine years. Kung fu blows allegedly made the depressions in the stone floor. On the right of the gymnasium is a smaller temple whose wall paintings depict incidents from the history of the monastery. Kung fu battles are so realistically portrayed that experts can recognize the different holds. In the small hall opposite, a monk will bless a souvenir for 50 fen. Outside the monastery (turn right when leaving) is a forest of 200 stone cenotaphs to early abbots. Out in back is the Da Mo Cave.

6. The Shaolin Temple
...Movie- in DVD & VHS


Amazon.com- Reviewer: from Newington, Connecticut USA ...The Shaolin Temple was the first Chinese martial arts film to use real gongfu practitioners as actors (Bruce Lee's films are exempt because he did not use Chinese gongfu in his films; his style, which died with him, was primarily western martial arts with Asian kicking). These actors were the best martial artists in China. The film was funded by Japanese investors and took about two years to film due to the injuries the cast received doing their own stunts (the contact was real). According to the credits, Pan Qingfu choreographed the film. This is not so. All the actors choreographed their own parts. It is also not true that Jet Li was the reigning Chinese National Versatile Champion at the time this film was made (although he did hold the title for five years). That honor goes to Hu Jianqiang, who played the leader of the young monks. He is one of the few masters of both Northern and Southern styles, and Jet Li's friend and senior. This film is leaps and bounds above the earlier Hong Kong films.

Amazon.com- Reviewer: from Bakersfield, California ...This is a Jet Li classic. If you enjoy watching martial arts this is the movie for you. There is great kung-fu action. Better that Lethal Weapons! Jet Li launched his career with this movie. Yea it's plot is kinda old but it goes past the plot. You watch how traditional kung-fu is done in the Shoalin Temples. Not many movie contain this.

Amazon.com- Reviewer: from Houston, Texas United States... World Video has released this on dvd AND vhs, and- for no apparent reason- put the widescreen print on the VHS edition and the fullscreen edition on DVD. Same holds true for "Kids from Shaolin", which is part two in the trilogy completed by "Martial Arts of Shaolin". These were Jet Li's first films and are stellar in their representation of the arts and the actors' talents, but the fullscreen format- in my humble opinion- compresses the picture and you don't get to see the range of action afforded in the widescreen format. The quality of the film transfer between the DVD and VHS editions is comparable, same for sound, so if you're a widescreen [fan] you might go ahead and hunt down a copy on tape AND dvd. If you can ascertain that the edition you are buying IS in fact manufactured by World Vision, then the tape should be widescreen, per any copies I've seen for sale and rent on a store shelf.

I don't work for World Vision, but I own the two formats and was miffed to find the dvd in FULLSCREEN- alone and as part of the "Jet Li Action 3-pak". Picky viewers be warned!!!


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