This article was originally published Aug. 17, 2020, on We Are The Mighty.
Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the oldest and most intense forms of Chinese martial arts. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and a number of other martial arts movie stars have also made Kung Fu one of the most famous forms.
As a part of a religious order, the Shaolin monks were persecuted by Chinese Communists during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. The temple was mostly destroyed and stayed that way for years. But when Jet Li made “Shaolin Shi,” it was enough to make Mao give in: the temple was rebuilt and some much-needed tourism revenue came in as Kung Fu made a comeback.
Here are a few things you may not have known about Kung Fu and the elite Shaolin Monks.
1. The founder of Shaolin Kung Fu was from India.
Legend has it that the founder of the Shaolin order, a Buddhist monk from India named Bodhidharma, spent nine years meditating in a cave near his monastery. The legend has it that to keep him from falling asleep, the monk cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground.
Green Tea began to grow from the spot where he threw his eyelids and now Buddhist monks use green tea to maintain their focus during meditation.
2. Kung Fu is studied in a “Kwoon.”
The word “dojo” is reserved for places that teach Japanese martial arts, like Aikido. When entering a kwoon, bow at a 45-degree angle with your hands at your chest — the right in a fist, and the left open-palm.
This represents the yin and yang and that your heart is at peace.
3. Kung Fu practitioners wear a different uniform.
Again, much of the look of the loose-fitting gi and colored belts comes from the Japanese practice. Traditional Chinese Kung Fu doesn’t use colored belt levels (though some Western teachers might use them as a teaching tool). Chinese Kung Fu uses a uniform that is tight at the ankles and sometimes even at the wrists.
4. The most elite Shaolin monk was a werewolf.
Ok, he wasn’t an actual werewolf. In the late 19th century lived a monk named Tai Jin. The poor guy suffered from a condition known as hypertrichosis. Also known as “Werewolf Syndrome” because of the insane amount of body hair that grows on affected areas.
It might have helped his self-esteem to know that, according to legend, he was the best fighter in all of China.
Tai Jin was abandoned at the monastery as a baby because of his body hair. The monks raised him and trained him. He eventually dedicated himself to one form of martial art. Legend also has it that upon meeting the 12 masters of Shaolin, the boy threw a dagger into the ceiling, killing a would-be assassin. He explained to the masters that he could hear 13 people breathing, not just 12.