Before we start discussing the recent changes in Shaolin, let's look at some analyses of Wushu history. I found these on other web sites. Remember something when you read all of this: the term "wu shu" basically means "study of military arts". It is only recently, that the meaning of the term, has developed different connotations.

"First systems of wushu arised even before the appearence of chinese state, but before III-IV centuries there was not wushu in full volume - there existed only military preparation, "war craft". In the beginning it had a form of dancing-military exercices, later became a military subject in special schools.

At the end of II century all individual preparation of warrior got the name wuyi. This term kept during centuries and became a synonym to wushu. Wuyi contained juedi (wrestling), shoubo (hand-to-hand combat), methods of weapon combat. Sets imitated hand-to-hand combat, weapon combat, defence from weapon attacking. Teaching was based on sets of formal exercises - taolu - which can be executed as solo, as with partners.

During the "Springs and Autumns" period (770-476 B.C.) and "Fighting Kingdoms" period (475-221 B.C.) greatest chinese philosophers lived and worked: Konficiy, Lao-zi, Meng-zi, Zhuang-zi. China received spiritual impulse, which had influence on the developing of all East Asia during the next two thousand years. In I century buddhism began penetrate in China from India. Not only ordinary soldiers studied martial arts (even some emperors fought on platforms), and by this reason chinese martial arts gradually began merge with philosophical systems and overgrow the level of simple collection of methods of hand-to-hand combat. Possibly, it was the reason due to which they didn't wither during centuries but developed and are still alive.

Approximately in VI century indian preacher Bodhidharma came to China and preached buddhism in Shaolin temple near Loyang. Due to legend it was he who founded famous shaolin style of wushu. Due to legend later shaolin monks helped to the second emperor of Tang dynasty - Li Shimin - in returning the throne. Li Shimin allowed to the temple to have its own monk troops. Special term appeared - wuseng (monk-warrior).
During the Song dynasty (960-1279) many monks (inkluding wusengs) went out from temples and became common people. In XIII century shaolin wushu declined due to numerous persecutions on buddhism and mongolian invasion. In 1224 a young man came into Shaolin temple and took monk's name Jueyuan. He had seen a pitiful state of temple's wushu and decided that true tradition is lost. Jueyuan became revive temple's wushu and, actually, created a new style, which is still alive.

In 1219 when after capturing China Chingiz-khan went to the west many arabians and persians became moved to China. Such people were called "semu" ("men with colored eyes"), they had less rights than mongolian but more than chinese. In official documents of Yuan dynasty they were called "huihui". Moved on the east moslem infantrymen and artillerymen in 1275, due to order of founder of Yuan dynasty "in all places entered in communities of border inhabitants", became peasants. From these people, arabian immigrants (came to China on ships during Tang and Song dynasties), and chinese men converted to islam the "huizu" nation ("moslems") was formed. During more than seven hundred years huizu was indissoluble connected with wushu. They considered wushu as self-defence and as holy action, stimulated moslem's spirit.
In 1351-1368 peasant's rebellion of "red bandages", headed by Zhu Yuanzhang (who also was a big wushu master), finished mongolian Yuan dynasty and founded Ming dynasty. Zhu Yuanzhang became its first emperor (dynasty name "Tai-zu"). "Golden age" of wushu began.

In XVI century seaside provinces of China exposed to devastating raids of japanese pirates. It was Qi Jiguang (at this moment he was 27 years old) whom was ordered to "punish the bandits and guard peoples". He was in hard situation: local troops were small, well-prepared japanese samurais easy defeated bad organized groups of resistancers. Qi Jiguang, wushu master, decided to attract detachments of local home-guard from wushu fighters. In 1561 japanese was defeated in Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong provinces. After promoting to general, Qi Jiguang ordered for all soldiers and officers to study wushu. On the base of various systems of military preparing he wrote a treatise "Jixiao xinshu" ("New book of records about advantages [in war craft]"). Due to Qi Jiguang XVI century is considered as turning-point in wushu history.

Ming dynasty is a time of stable systematic developing and of peaceful coexistence of different schools. But nothing is forever.
1644, june, 6. Beijing is captured by manzhu troops. Last emperor of Ming dynasty hang oneself on the fortress wall. Founded a new dynasty - Qing. This dynasty existed during more than two hundred years, up to 1911. Center of wushu trainig was moved to secret societies.
During XIX century China was shaked by many rebellions against manzhu ruling and dominant influence of foreigners. Secret societies, cultivated different styles of wushu, were targets for striking in the rebellion of "Eight trigrams", in Opium wars, in great people's war of Taipings. Rebelion of ihetuans (1899-1901), also known as "Boxer's rebellion", became an apotheosis of activity of secret societies.

Rout of Yihetuan rebellion followed to death of many wushu masters. But traditions of martial arts could not lose without leaving a trace. During Xinhai revolution (1911-1913) and later, during Warlords Period activity of secret societies resumed with new power.

Goverment of Chinese Republic rendered a great assistance to wushu developing. First president of China - Sun Zhongshan (also known as Sun Yatseng) - studied taijiquan from Cai Guiqin. His successor - generalissimus Jiang Jieshi (also known as Chang Kaishi) also didn't avoid martial arts, he visited Guokao ("State test" - something like all-China wushu championship), which were organized in Nanjing (in that time - capital of China) Central guoshu institute ("guoshu" means "national art", during Gomindang ruling it was an official name for wushu), founded in 1928. General Zhang Zhijiang was a rector of this Institute, he was supported by general Feng Yuxiang. Another big organisation, developed and spread wushu, was Jingwu Assotiation ("Assotiation of true martial arts") founded in 1909 in Shanghai. Two organisations had branches in all provinces of China (Jingwu Assotiation - also in other countries among local chinese communities: in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Phillippines etc), great masters worked as teachers. During World War II many wushu masters fought in army or partisan detachments, made theirs contribution in defeating of Japan.
When Communist Party come to power, goverment called wushu masters to go out from underground. In 1953 since 8 till 12 of November First All-China Sport Games took place in Tianjing, 75% of it was wushu exhibitions. 139 styles were demonstrated, competitions in hand-to-hand combat (without any gears), weapon combat (on long and short weapon) and lifting of heavy weights (ancient chinese sport) were held. After seeing such a power goverment got frightened. Secret societies were dispersed. Simultaniously a Committee of wushu reforming was organized. Famous wushu master Cai Longyun on the base of huaquan (blossomed fist), zhaquan (fist of Zha), paoquan (cannon fist) hongquan (fist of stream), piguaquan (fist of chopping and hanging), shaolinquan (fist of Shaolin temple) and some others created a new sport competitional style changquan (long fist). On the base of five style of Guangdong province (styles of Hong, Cai, Li, Liu and Mo families) it was created new sport competitional style nanquan (southern fist). Names of movements were changed, as a result movements lost mental contents: realy, "crushing mountain strike" is different from "fist bang on a palm". During "Great Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976) wushu lovers were repressed for "indulging of feudal survivals". But in this time popularity of wushu un foreign countries began increase due to kungfu movies. For inadmission of decreasing of international prestige wushu was let alone.

Now goverment continue to change wushu into the sport. Changquan and nanquan are spreaded among young people who didn't see real wushu. There were created a rules of fighting. Rules for fighting - something inconceivable for traditional wushu! Traditional wushu still exists, but without intersections with official wushu, and if you wish to find real masters, you must have a great persistence and good friends."
"Wushu, a time-honored sport in China, traces back to as early as the time of the clan commune in primitive societies. At that time, there appeared the "Xi (sport) of Jiaodi (wrestling) and the "Wu" (dance, or exercise) of Ganqi (axe and shield). These were the earliest embryos of Wushu, which served as a means to build up health, cure diseases, prolong life, temper the fighting will and train military skills for the members of these societies. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, there appeared activities of Wushu, which served as means of training soldiers and became courses for students at school as well. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods, the applications of fighting techniques in the battlefield were emphasized. To choose soldiers, the "Jiao (wrestling) exam" was held every year in spring and autumn. And the activity of sword fight became very popular then. Theories about Swordplay were recorded in Lyu's Spring and Autumn and Zhuangzi: On Sword. During the Qin and Hart dynasties, dancing sports similar to routine exercise such as Broadsword play, Dagger-Axeplay, Swordplay, Double-halberdplay appeared successively. Activities of bare-hand fighting, competitive wrestling and sword fighting were recorded in Annals of Arts/Han Book, Biography of Emperor Wu/Han Book and Preface/On Allusion. During 'the Tang and Sung Dynasties, many civil Wushu organizations Came into existence, such as Yinglue Society (on Cudgelplay), Archery Association and Xiangpu (similar to modern sumo) Society, and Xiangpu Hut, etc.

In 1928, the Republic Government established the Central Wushu Institute, in Nanjing. After its establishment, local Wushu institutes were established in provinces, cities and counties. 2 National Wushu Meets were held by the Central Wushu Institute in 1928 and 1933 in Nanjing, which carried out competitions on long weapons, short weapons, free sparring and wrestling. In 1939 the Chinese Wushu Delegation was organized to visit Southeast Asia. In the same year, the Chinese Wushu Team gave a demonstration in Berlin at the XI Olympic Games. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, Wushu has become a component of the socialist culture and the people's physical education and sports, and has developed spectacularly . In 1953 the Nation-wide Traditional Sports Demonstration and Competition was held in Tianjin, at which Wushu was the major content. Wushu was listed as a formal course in local sports institutes and their physical education departments. In 1956, the Chinese Wushu Association was set up in Beijing, and Wushu thus became an official competition event. The State Physical Culture and Sports Commission in 1958 compiled the first draft of Wushu Competition Rules. Routine exercises such as the Simplified Taijiquan, Changquan, Broadswordplay, Swordplay, Spearplay and Cudgelplay of first class, intermediate class and primary level were published successively, which greatly helped the popularity and promotion of Wushu. The general and specific policies of Wushu development in the new historical period were made at the first National Wushu Conference held in Beijing in 1982, which brought the development of Wushu to a new climax. Under the guidance of the Chinese State Physical Culture and Sports Commission and the Chinese Wushu Association, Wushu associations, Wushu schools, Wushu societies, research societies, Wushu teams of amateur sports schools and teaching centers were set up in many counties in all provinces, cities and autonomous regions, forming a vast network for Wushu activities of the masses and a wide path for the development of Wushu. All schools have made Wushu part of the program of physical education. Wushu societies and teams were set up in some colleges and universities. Wushu specialty has been established in some Physical Education Institutes and Normal Institutes to bring up undergraduates and postgraduates of Wushu. The State Council set up a Wushu Master's degree in 1984. Approved by the Chinese government, the Chinese Wushu Research Institute was set up in 1986 as a high standard body for conducting academic and technical researches on Wushu. To inherit and develop this precious cultural legacy, a nation w ide investigation was carried out, which generally. uncovered the situation of Wushu in China. The work of excavating, collecting and collating has been fruitful. On this basis, the books Detailed Outline of Chinese Wushu History and Record of Chinese Pugilism and Weaponplay will be compiled and published. The experimenting competition of free sparring started in 1979 and it became a competition event in 1989. In order to make contributions to the health welfare of the human being-and dedicates Wushu as a new sports event' to the world, the promotion to the abroad has been carried out through projects step by step since 1983. Central and local governments sent Wushu delegations, teams, instructors and experts to go abroad giving performances and lectures for many times. excert taken from the 'International Wushu Judges book'"
From the history books:

I made mention of this many years ago, when I first started this site. Let's take a look at my commentary from way back when:

Competitive Wu Shu: Remember one thing, when talking about how Shaolin doesn't teach real gong fu anymore, that is, these comments of "It's all just wu shu". Just remember, that wu shu originates from traditional gong fu. But, it's been changed, in a few ways, to make it more "competition" capable. A wu shu form does not generally remain restricted to a line, as most traditional forms do; competitive wu shu forms will find the practitioner moving in all sorts of directions. The kicks are higher, the stances are lower, the punches have straightened arms, the moves are more "dance like" and "flowery". It is quite pretty to watch, and it does take some skill, as it does have acrobatic components. But, always remember, it derives from traditional gong fu, and as such, does have fighting applications buried within the movements.

Competitive Traditional Shaolin Gong Fu: There are now competitive categories in Chinese tournaments which allow students to compete with others via demonstrations of traditional gong fu. But, generally, the competitions do not use the traditional forms as they have been taught over the centuries. The competitive agencies get together, and "create" new forms, used specifically for competition, the components of which are taken from sections of real traditional forms. In Dengfeng, there are some old masters who get together with some of the young masters (my master, Shi De Cheng being one of them), to create and derive these traditional competition forms. Basically, they take bits and pieces of true traditional forms, and piece them together, to make interesting competition forms. These forms are not considered to be "wu shu", in fact, the are called traditional competitive forms. The actions and movements performed within them are the same as those seen in true traditional Shaolin forms.

Traditional Shaolin Gong Fu: These are the forms that have been taught, essentially unchanged, over the centuries. These forms are still taught by some of the older masters, but, unfortunately, many of the current students in China's Wu Shu schools, do not learn all of them. An example of this, would be my master, Shi De Cheng. In his school, he does not teach the students some traditional forms, such as Da Lohan, or, Chi Xing Tong Long Chuan, because, well, for future competitions, there is no reason to. (In fact, he hasn't taught those forms to his Shaolin monk disciples, who teach at his school. And some of these traditional forms are not being taught to the current up and coming Shaolin monk generation at the Shaolin temple wushu guan). Over the years, he has taught them to me. My interests lie primarily in traditional gong fu, and not, with competitive wu shu. Which, raises an interesting question, and that is, what will become of the real, traditional Shaolin gong fu in the future?
Contemporary history pertaining to Wushu

The recent evolution has been very interesting, to say the least.In fact, just over the past six years, there have been many drastic changes, most of which I've made mention of, in various parts of the site. For those of you who are really interested in this history, you might want to start reading the various Journal sections, that were previously found in the main part of the site, and are now continued here, in the forums as a new section. But, basically, a synopsis, for those of you who don't want to search around. A very brief synopsis.

Early to mid nineties

The "De" generation of monks inhabit the Shaolin temple, and the nearby Shaolin Temple Wushu Guan. They are still learning gong fu from their masters, the "Su" and back, generations. Performances do occur, both in the performance hall of the Wushu Guan, and, internationally, to some degree. But, from my perspective, back in 1995, that I developed from working with Shi De Cheng and some other masters, is that there was a much stronger emphasis on the passing down of traditional gong fu, as it was taught to them. What Shi Hen Li taught to Shi Zhen Xu, Shi Zhen Xu taught to Shi Su Yuan. Shi Su Yuan then taught those forms, exactly as he had learned them, to Shi De Cheng. There was no room for improvisation, no reason for altering movements for one's own personal reasons. You taught what you were taught. Exactly.

This passing down of information, in a more or less precise exact way, must have been common over the past century. No doubt, over the centuries, some forms have been altered; it would be ludicrous to assume otherwise. But, from what I gathered, training back in those days, the emphasis was on precise handing down of traditions.

Not at all like my martial arts training in the US, where forms that I had learned over the previous ten years had been changed by masters, teachers, and "teacher's girlfriends", because, "it looked better". I truly respected an art that maintained tradition. To me, that meant a lot.
Late nineties

Things change, and as I started to spend more time in Shaolin over the years, I started to train with other people. Shi De Cheng started to travel more, so I started training with the younger generation of monks, the "Xing" generation. Shi Xing Hong became my new mentor. He was incredibly fast and powerful, with an ego to boot, but he was fun to be with. And, he had taught me a lot. I learned not only talou from him, I also started to see, the effects of this so called "modern wushu". You see, Shi Xing Hong was fast because he was fast. And, because he changed the forms.

I noticed this when I learned Tong Long Chuan from him. This praying mantis form was truly a masterpiece, though, as I had discovered later on, Shi De Cheng had never learned it. He had never learned it because it wasn't a traditional form; Shi De Cheng's version of praying mantis was Chi Xing Tong Long Chuan, or, Seven Star Praying Mantis, which, is a traditional form. There are similarities, though, they are few and far between. Chi Xing praying mantis doesn't have the leaps and jumps that Tong Long has. Tong Long, the praying mantis that is taught at the temple now, seems to me, to be more, "dance like". Granted, a good form, and one of my favorites, but, it does have a distinctly different flavor to it.

Well, Tong Long Chuan got more interesting to me. Later on, I started training with Shi Xing Wei, one of Shi De Cheng's disciples. Now, remember one thing about Shi De Cheng. He's not only a perfectionist when it comes to passing down traditional knowledge, he's most definitely a stickler for details when it comes to doing forms and maneuvers. Again, what he was taught, he teaches, without change, without improvement, with great detail. He hasn't taught Shi Xing Wei all the traditional knowledge that he has, but he has taught him one thing: a desire to remember and maintain the details.

So when Shi Xing Wei taught me Tong Long Chuan, I noticed one thing between his version and Shi Xing Hong's version. Xing Wei's version had many more details. Stuff that Xing Hong would pass over, Xing Wei would stop and do, even though it slowed his performance of the form down. It was at this time, that I truly started to realize the effects of modern wushu. Altering forms, and sacrificing technique, so that one could gain speed and power, was now an acceptable thing to do.
The Ascension of Yong Xin

Oh, did things change when he latched onto power. The history of this, also, in more detail, can be found within the site. I won't rehash it here to any great extent. But, basically, Yong Xin was under pressure by the National Buddhist Organization in China. The Shaolin Temple had become a bit of a circus over the years, ironically, the monks were then referred to as "those damn wushu performers", and not "monks". Remember this, this will be laughingly be seen again. The Buddhists of China thought the temple to be an embarrassment, to the "birthplace of Chan Buddhism". (Actually, if you really look at the history, the whole concept of Shaolin Temple being the "birthplace of Buddhism" is a fallacy; in fact, the Da Fa Wan Si, nearby, in the mountains of Songshan, probably more rightly deserves that title). So, Yong Xin made his move to change things.

He started by pushing out the older, traditional masters. The ones that taught traditional gong fu. The ones, that could have been a threat to his newly obtained power. Shaolin moved away from the direction of martial arts, and started to, at least, try to emphasize its Buddhist nature. Gong Fu masters scattered across China, one was jailed for insubordination, most left and started their own schools in nearby Dengfeng. Shaolin, and its association with gong fu, started to diminish, in a very noticeable way.

I noticed it during one of my trips in 1999-2001, and made mention of it, somewhere in this site. The loss of gong fu was, in my opinion, a major travesty. It became an issue on this site, and, eventually, on the internet. Then, an interesting thing happened.

Sometime thereafter, Yong Xin made a speech in which he emphasized Shaolin's true nature, as being the birthplace of martial arts. The pendulum started swinging the other way. During my next trip to Shaolin, I noticed the particularly overpowering emphasis on the presentation of gong fu; to the point where Yong Xin had converted the Shaolin museum area into a wushu performance hall.

And wushu it was. Performances were given in the temple grounds, as opposed to its historical venue, the wushu guan. And, on a more ridiculous measure, the wushu guan was undergoing major renovations. The old, dusty, traditional looking performance center was steadily evolving into a Las Vegas style showroom. The opening day performance, which I have on tape (and will publish soon), really demonstrated this move towards performance oriented martial arts.

Again, I made mention of the new emphasis on performance oriented wushu at Shaolin. It was during this time, that I got involved in the Shaolin Ullyses project (another article, another story). What was not noticed by most who watched that show, was the fact that the producers who created it, were trying to send a message. A message, that there was this guy in Las Vegas who was trying to preserve traditional gong fu, whilst the keepers of the tradition in China, were bastardizing it as they made it more theatrical. The documentary, in my opinion, didn't come close to presenting that concept to the general public.

Making the premise of "Shaolin performance wushu" known on this website, again caused more and more discussions. The whole idea of traditional gong fu disappearing in Shaolin, and its replacement with this new performance wushu, outraged many.

Early 2000

Yongxin eventually changed course, yet again. Soon thereafter, a new "traditional" gong fu festival developed in Zhengzhou. Yongxin's references to gong fu usually included the words "traditional". Traditional gong fu, or, at least, that's what they were calling it, soon became the new key words.

But it isn't so.

Yongxin has monks, if you want to call them that, doing performances, and training, in the Shaolin temple, on a regular basis. Their emphasis is on contemporary wushu; either because that's what's commonplace there now, or, that's what is more important with respect to tournaments and competitions. And, when you think about it, there really are few, if any, older masters in Shaolin that can teach these guys the real traditional stuff. Shi De Cheng is one, Shi De Yang and Shi Heng Jun are others. But, for various reasons, they have little to do with Yongxin and his new temple. They teach in their own schools now. Yongxin's "monks", who tend to be the best gong fu students chosen out of three of his associated gong fu schools in Dengfeng, perform on a regular basis, both in the temple, and worldwide.

Yongxin's monks, are now again, referred to as "those damn wushu performers". You really don't notice anything Buddhist about these guys.

The evolution at the wushu guan is no different. I had the opportunity last year, to spend a day with the wushu guan performance team. What I had noticed about them, was quite astounding. Each member of the team knew about three different, contemporary forms. And, one or two traditional basic ones. They knew their contemporary performance forms exactly. They really didn't bother much with their versions of Shao Hong Chuan, as they didn't need to perform that on their tours. And, that was it. No other traditional forms knowledge.

I thought that was sad. But not as sad as what I was to experience next.

Modern wushu has evolved. Some people have said that it is "dance like". If you watch older traditional practitioners, you won't find the low stances, the high jumps, the flowery movements. Now, what is being done in Shaolin, is, well, bizarre.

I first noticed it in 2005, at Shi De Yang's school. Now, Shi De Yang is, in my opinion, one of the traditional greats. He doesn't practice or teach much anymore, I think, because of health reasons. But, if anyone knows traditional gong fu, he does. He comes from that "traditionally trained" generation of monks. Monks, who learned from the old masters, monks who were raised in the temple itself. But what Shi De Yang has done with contemporary wushu, is, well, raise the so called bar. He's taken wushu to the next level.

And, instead of describing it, I invite you to watch it, and make your own opinions. In the Video Library or russboTV, under Gong Fu Videos: Disciple/Student performed/Shi De Yang Performance Team: Modern Wushu.

Watch it. I think you'll find it interesting.