To paraphrase a famous logic example, all Shaolin monks are Buddhist monks, but not all Buddhist monks are Shaolin monks. Shaolin monks are warrior monks who live in the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province, China. They are kung fu-fighting monks whose discipline is rooted in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

Origin of Shaolin

According to a legend, the 1500-year-old tradition originated in the late fifth century, when an Indian Buddhist master Batuo, also known as Fotuo and Buddhabhadra, came to China. Batuo put an emphasis on the importance of a teacher-disciple relationship and founded the legendary Shaolin temple, near Mt. Shaoshi, with the help of the Northern Wei Emperor Xiaowen. Shaolin monastery's proximity to the capital and its location on one of the pilgrimage sites that even the emperor frequented, may have contributed to their role and future significance.

Rise of Martial Arts Training in Shaolin

Earliest sources state that during the Ting dynasty, the Shaolin monks participated in several battles, however whether they received military training within the monastery as part of their daily practice or if they were trained by the state is not clear. However during the late Ming dynasty the evidence and the fame of their military participation and martial arts training is overwhelming.

Buddhist Monastic Rules and Shaolin

Buddhist monastic rules all serve the purpose of facilitating a disciple's development. Unlike the rest of the Buddhist monks, for Shaolin monks that includes devotion to the study of martial arts. Alcohol, drugs and intimate relationships are prohibited. Food, clothing and discipline of all Buddhist monks are an expression of compassion, purity, simplicity and pacifism. The coexistence of a martial arts practise and Buddhist doctrine is explained by justifiable defense and righteous protection of others.

Modern Legacy

In the 19th century, the Shaolin monks began to move away from their Buddhist monastic rules, seeing them as impractical for warriors. With arrival of Communism and the Marxist atheistic doctrine to China, the remainder of monks were jailed and texts destroyed. However, release of a 1982 film Shaolin Shi ("Shaolin Temple"), featuring the now legendary Jet Li, gave rise to touristic interest in the culture of Shaolin, thus resurrecting the temple, its monks and the discipline of kung fu monasticism.