A site honoring the teachings of Kuo Lien Ying and the magical time that we were able to learn from Si Fu

Portsmouth Square 1965-1985

Northern Shaolin by Robert Bergman aka "Spirit Boxer"

 For article in “Inside Kung Fu” :

Working Title :  Northern  Shao-Lin / the “Hidden Tao” {or the “Forgotten Tao)

                                                      (the internal benefits of external training )


by the “Spirit Boxer”

Robert Bergman   


  Today, the “Legends of  Shao-Lin” kung fu are famous worldwide , by now,  people have been exposed to everything from fantastic  images of  martial artists  possessing extraordinary fighting skills to stories of  highly disciplined spiritual warriors able to accomplish extreme feats of  strength and transcending the limits of  normal physical ability . Additionally,  in recent years the public has had the opportunity to view genuine  authentic Shao -Lin kung fu during the latest performances of the touring troupe of  the “Martial Monks of  Shao-Lin”. Elaborately choreographed routines incorporating traditional Shao-Lin Gung fu sets and authentic clothing and exotic Chinese costumes have wowed audiences and given them rare glimpses of esoteric “hard” Chi Gung demonstrations for the  first time. The impact of Monks breaking stacks of bricks with their shaved heads and  bending  sharp weapons on vulnerable parts of their body is quite impressive and is an example of some of the famous “iron shirt” and “golden bell” esoteric practices that the Shao-Lin legends tell of…but lest we forget our history and the story of how and why  Shao-Lin Gung fu was created….let us go back to early China and the arrival of Bodhidharma [Ta Mo] from India !

When Ta Mo first arrived in China , he traveled to the capital and after a disappointing meeting with the Emporer, he traveled to Song shan and settled at Shao-Lin Temple.

His first glimpse of the resident  monks was quite a surprise to him and very disheartening . He found that many of the monks were of relatively poor health and had little energy to maintain long periods of meditation[which was a standard requirement] without either losing focus or falling asleep !

Not pleased with this state of affairs, he went into a state of deep meditation, practicing the yogic skill of “contemplation ” and sat in front of a wall for 9 years[Hence the creation of the term describing this type of meditation /  as  “wall gazing”] As legend has it, when he came out of meditation ,in an illuminated state , he decided to teach the monks certain “Mind & Body” exercises in order to increase their flexibility, strengthen their physical stamina  and restore their vital energy, as well as, to sharpen their minds , aiding  their mental concentration and improving their overall health. Most historians and traditional culture experts will agree that this was the origin of, what we now know as, the creation of  Shao-Lin  Gung fu.

These exercises emphasized  the integration of stable posture, relaxed, deep and continuous breathing and stretching  and an aware, yet calm state of mind. The benefits ranged from improved function of their internal organs to strong and flexible bodies with the newly gained ability to maintain long periods of mental focus and intense concentration and enter into higher “enlightened states” of  consciousness.  Throughout  history these original forms were changed, added to and adapted according to various needs. Whether they were for survival in nature or self defense , most experts agree that these original movements  metamorphisized into the many exercises & external fighting forms that we know of today as the surviving system called  Shao-Lin Gung fu.

Again, to look at the original creation of these exercises the benefits were  for improved health, flexibility, as well as,  internal development and were developed so that one could incorporate these routines into normal everyday  life & so that a person could physically and spiritually “live their Gung fu”

It seems to me ,the original intentions and emphasis of focus has been lost in all the attention being paid to fighting application and the gaining of fantastic[but not really necessary] esoteric physical skills  and flashy forms.

Fortunately there are existing descendants of authentic lineage [present day schools that are teaching]  who have maintained the original emphasis thereby also  retaining the intended health benefits  and keeping alive and  preserving “the path of  Shao-Lin”  with the internal and spiritual traditions intact.

Speaking  from my own experience, as a disciple and serious student of Shao-Lin lineage, I was fortunate enough to have  personally studied from one of the greatest masters of our time , who emphasized following the original spirit of  Shao-Lin martial arts and strictly adhered to the traditional methods of training. Master Kuo Lien Ying, taught the system of Northern Shao-Lin using the same classical methods of training that were taught to him  in old China.