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Shaolin Five Elders

Legendary Shaolin Five Elders

In the folk tradition of South China, the Five Elders of Shaolin (Traditional Chinese: 少林五祖; pinyin: Shàolín wǔ zǔ; Cantonese Yale: Siulam ng zou), also called the Five Generals, are the survivors of the one of the razings of the Shaolin Temple by the Manchu Qing Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 大清; pinyin: Dà qīng; Manchu: Daiqing gurun). The Shaolin Temple was variously said to have been destroyed in 1647 by the Shunzhi Emperor (順治帝; 1643–1661), in 1674, 1677, or 1714 by the Kangxi Emperor (康熙帝; 1661–1722) or in 1728 or 1732 by the Yongzheng Emperor (雍正帝; r. 1722–1735).

Songshan Mountain, or Mount Song, (Traditional Chinese: 嵩山; pinyin: Sōngshān) is formed from several peaks in Dengfeng County within Central China's Henan Province along the southern bank of the Yellow River. Songshan is known as the central mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China. The Songshan Mountain range is divided into Mount Taishi (太石山) and Mount Shaoshi (少師山). Mount Taishi lies to the north of Dengfeng County, like a huge screeen and Mount Shaoshi stands in western Dengfeng County like a great lotus.

  

  

  

  

  

Henan Shaolin Temple 河南少林寺

The first Shaolin Temple (Shàolín Sì 少林寺; lit. "Little Forest Temple") was built on the northern face of Mount Shaoshi, the central peak of Mount Song. It was founded by Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei Dynasty ((北)魏孝文帝) (r. September 20, 471 AD – April 26, 499 AD) in 477 AD to honor the dhyāna master Buddhabhadra (Traditional Chinese: 佛陀跋陀罗; Fótuóbátuóluó), simply called Batuo (Traditional Chinese: 吠陀; pinyin: Bátuó) in China, and to support the establishment of Buddhism in North China. Buddhabhadra, an ācārya (preceptor or instructor) who came from India, was the first abbot of the Shaolin Temple.

The Shaolin Temple was built 427 years after the White Horse Temple (Traditional Chinese: 白馬寺; pinyin: Báimǎ Sì; Wade–Giles: Pai-ma Szu), the first Buddhist temple in China which was raised in 68 AD under the patronage of Emperor Ming (漢明帝; 58–75 AD) of the Eastern Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 東漢; pinyin: Dōnghàn; 25 AD–220 AD) near the Han Dynasty capital of Luoyang in Henan Province.

The Indian ācārya Bodhidharma (Sanskrit: बोधिधर्म ; Traditional Chinese: 達摩; pinyin: Pútídámó) came to the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province in about 527 AD during the Liang Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 梁朝; pinyin: Liáng cháo; 502–557). Bodhidharma laid the foundation for Shaolin martial arts and Ch'an Buddhism in China. He is the 28th Indian patriarch in a direct line of transmission from Buddha via his disciple Mahākāśyapa, Buddha's successor after his death, and the Chánshī (禅师; lit. "Dhyana Master" or "Zen Master"), the first Ch'an (Chinese Zen) patriarch of China.

Xueting Fuyu (Traditional Chinese: 雪庭福裕; pinyin: Xuětíng Fúyù; 1203–1275) an abbot of the Shaolin Temple was famous for inviting all martial arts masters in China to the Songshan Monastery to share their knowledge and combine it into a unified style called Songshan Shaolin (Traditional Chinese: 嵩山少林; pinyin: Sōngshān Shàolín; Cantonese Yale: Sungsaan Siu lam). He held symposiums three times, each for a span of three years.

Fuyu's symposiums influenced the development of numerous martial arts styles in Asia. It is why many Asian martial arts systems trace their beginnings to the Shaolin Temple any it is sometimes mistakenly called "the birthplace of martial arts."

Fuyu also wrote a 70-character generation poem that is used for naming generations of Shaolin monks and nuns. Each succeeding generation uses the next word in the poem to name itself. For example, Shi Xing Zheng, the 29th abbot of the Temple, was of the 32ndgeneration. The character Xíng (行) is the 32nd word in the poem.

At different times in China's history, the Songshan Temple in Henan Province has been burned down due to political turmoil and rebuilt many times.

Putian Shaolin Temple

Putian Shaolin Temple 莆田少林寺

Multiple folk traditions also refer to a Southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian (Fukien) Province. The Fujian Temple is sometimes called the Changlin Temple (Chánglín Sì 長林寺; lit. "Eternal Forest Temple"). It is associated with accounts of the burning of a Shaolin Temple by the Qing Dynasty and with stories of the Five Elders. It is claimed to have been the target of Qing attacks and a refuge for Shaolin monks and nuns who sought to reestablish the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 明朝; pinyin: Míng Cháo; 1368–1644). The historicity of the Qing-era destruction of the Fujian Temple is debated, but Fujian does have a historic temple called Changlin and a temple called the "Shaolin cloister" since the Song Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 宋朝; pinyin: Sòng Cháo; 960–1279). Whether these temples have a connection to the Henan Shaolin Temple or a martial tradition is unknown. Three other temples in Fujian that are also considered to be possible Shaolin monasteries are found in the localities of Putian, Fuqing, and Quanzhou.

Fuqing Shaolin Temple

Fuqing Shaolin Temple 福清少林寺

The Five Elders of Shaolin all likely came from prominent families. They began their training under the warrior monks of the Shaolin Temple. They are:

1. Master Ng Mui (Traditional Chinese: 五梅大師; Simplified Chinese: 五梅大师; pinyin: Wǔ Méi Dà Shī; Cantonese Yale: Ng Mui Daai Si). Her name is literally "five plum." She is noted for founding Wu Mei Pai (吴梅派)/Ng Mui Kuen (吴梅拳), Wing Chun Kuen (咏春拳), Southern Dragon Style (龙形摩桥), White Crane Style (白鹤派), and Five-Pattern/Five Animals Hung Kuen (五形洪拳).

2. Ji Sin (Gee Sin) (Traditional Chinese: 至善禪師; Simplified Chinese: 至善禅师; pinyin: Zhì Shàn Chán Shī; Cantonese Yale: Ji Sin Sim Si/em>). His name is also transliterated as Ji Sin Sim Si, literally, "Chan (Zen) teacher." He may also be called Chi Thien Su (齊天蘇).

3. Bak Mei (Pei Mei) Taoist (Traditional Chinese: 白眉道人; Simplified Chinese: 白眉道人; pinyin: Bái Méi Dào Rén; Cantonese Yale: Bak Mei Dou Yan). Bak Mei was the oldest in biological age. His name is literally "Taoist with White Eyebrows." He may also be called Chu Long Tuyen (朱龍圖恩).

4. Fung Dou Dak (Traditional Chinese: 馮道德; Simplified Chinese: 冯道德; pinyin: Féng Dàodé; Cantonese Yale: Fung Dou Dak). Fung Dou Dak (oldest in learning rank) is the Taoist Founder of Bak Fu Pai (百福派).

5. Miu Hin (Traditional Chinese: 苗顯; Simplified Chinese: 苗显; pinyin: Miáo Xiǎn; Cantonese Yale: Miu Hin). He was an "unshaved" (lay) Shaolin disciple.

Ng Mui and Shaolin Five Elders

Ng Mui and Shaolin Five Elders

The founders of the five family styles of Southern Chinese martial arts were all disciples of Gee Sin. They are sometimes called the Five Elders, which has led to some confusion.

1. Hung Hei (Goon) (Traditional Chinese: 洪熙官; Simplified Chinese: 洪熙官; pinyin: Hóng Xīguān; Cantonese Yale: Hung Hei (Goon)). He is the founder of Hung Ga (洪家).

2. Lau Saam Ngan (Traditional Chinese: 劉三眼; Simplified Chinese: 刘三眼; pinyin: Liú Sānyǎn; Cantonese Yale: Lau Saam Ngan). His name is literally "Three-Eyes" Lau. He is the founder of Lau Gar (劉嘉).

3. Choi Gau Yi (Traditional Chinese: 蔡九儀; Simplified Chinese: 蔡九仪; pinyin: Cài Jiǔyí; Cantonese Yale: Choi Gau Yi). He is the founder of Choi Gar (蔡家拳).

4. Lei Yau Saan (Traditional Chinese: 李友山; Simplified Chinese: 李友山; pinyin: Lǐ Yǒushān; Cantonese Yale: Lei Yau Saan). He is the founder of Lei Gar (李家功夫) and the teacher of Chan Heung (陳香), who created Choy Li Fut (蔡李佛).

5. Mok Ching Giu (Traditional Chinese: 莫清矯; Simplified Chinese: 莫清矫; pinyin: Mò Qīngjiǎo; Cantonese Yale: Mok Ching Giu). He is the founder of Mok Gar (莫家).

Shaolin martial arts or Shaolin Quan (少林拳; Shàolín Quán); more precisely, Shaolin Chuan Fa, or Quan Fa (Traditional Chinese: 少林穿法; pinyin: Shàolín Chuān Fǎ; Wade–Giles: Shao Lin Ch'üan Fa; literal: "Shaolin fist technique") was taught at the Fujian Temple in the Eternal Spring Hall (Traditional Chinese: 長春殿; pinyin: Zhǎngchūn Diàn; Cantonese Yale: Coengceon Din; Mandarin: Changchun Dian; Cantonese: Wengchun Dein). The term chuan is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term mukti (मुक्ति; "clasped hand"). The suffix fa is the Chinese transcription of the Sanskrit word dharma (धर्मा; "teachings of the Buddha"). When reverse translated back into Sanskrit, Chuan Fa means Dharmamukti (धर्मामुक्ति; "closed hand of the Dharma").

Two main styles of Shaolin Chuan Fa were taught: Changchun Dragon (長春龍) and Changchun Tiger (長春老虎). Shaolin graduates were tattooed by a famous hot urn that left a Dragon and Tiger mark. Other animal Shaolin Chuan Fa that were taught included Changchun Crane (長春起重機), Changchun Leopard (長春豹) and Changchun Snake (長春蛇). Numerous other Long Fist (Simplified Chinese: 长拳; Traditional Chinese: 長拳; pinyin: Chángquán) and weapon arts were also taught in the hall.

The Five Shaolin Elders or Grandmasters are perhaps better known in the Cantonese pronunciation. The men trained together in the Eternal Spring Hall. Ng Mui, a Shaolin nun, joined her older brothers several years later.

Ng Mui was considered the best fighter of the five. Little is know about her early life. Many folk traditions about Ng Mui are passed on that contradict one another. In some traditions, it's said that she was a Ming princess who renounced her life as royalty and took precepts to become a nun.

In a legend passed on by Wing Chun Grand Master Ip Man (葉問; 1893–1972), Ng Mui was the daughter of a Han Chinese general who came over to the Qing Dynasty. Her father was one of eight Han Chinese generals who aided the Yongzheng Emperor ascend to the throne of China. The Yongzheng Emperor was the fourth Emperor of the Qing Dynasty and the third to rule over China proper. Ng Mui was then named Lui Sai Leung (Chinese Traditional: 呂四娘; Mandarin: Lu Siniang). She was the granddaughter of Lui Lou Leung, who was a famous yóuxiá (遊俠; lit. "wandering hero" or "knight-errant") hero. He was nicknamed Ho Kou Lo Yan (何求老人; pinyin: Hé Qiú Lǎorén; lit. "He Qiu the elderly").

Soon after rising to the throne of China, the Yongzheng Emperor had his father the Kangxi Emperor (the third Qing Emperor and the second Emperor to reign over China) and the eight Ming generals killed in order to secure his reign. To exact retribution for her father, Lui Sai Leung practiced martial arts attentively at a Taoist temple in the Wudang or Mo Dong Mountains (Traditional Chinese: 武當山; pinyin: Wǔdāng Shān; Cantonese Yale: Móuh-dōng Sāan) under Master Wan Ho Lo Yan (灣河老仁). Finally, in 1735 she beheaded the Yongzheng Emperor and went into hiding at the Shaolin Temple.

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple 泉州少林寺

Quanzhou Monks

Quanzhou Temple Shaolin Monks

In another tradition, before she became a nun and took the Buddhist Dharma name Ng Mui, she was the famous female yóuxiá Lui Sai Leung. A young Qing prince, Yinzhen (胤禛), infiltrated the southern Shaolin Temple at Quanzhou (alternately called Chinchew), a prefecture-level port city on the northern bank of the Jin River by the Taiwan Strait in Fujian Province on the southeastern coast of China. The young Yinzhen disguised himself as a Shaolin monk in order to learn the secrets of anti-Qing rebels at the Quanzhou Temple. Upon his accession to the throne, he became the Yongzheng Emperor. One of his first acts was to order the burning of the Quanzhou Temple.

Dobdo Monks

Tibetan Dobdo Monks

To this end, the Yongzheng Emperor gathered an army and recruited Tibetan lama dobdos (ldab-ldob) or "fighting monks." The Tibetan dobdos were expert in unarmed combat as well as the use of the lethal "flying guillotine" (Traditional Chinese: 血滴子; pinyin: xuèdī zǐ; Wylie Tibetan Transliteration: hyut dik zi; lit. "blood-dripper"). The Tibetan flying guillotine was shaped like a bell-shaped hat connected to a chain. The "hat" was loaded with razors that wound around a foe's neck and ripped the foe's head off.

Flying Guillotine

Flying Guillotine

  

Dobdo Master

The Quanzhou Temple was successfully burned. In retribution for the razing of the Quanzhou Temple, Lui Sai Leung entered the Qing palace unaided and beheaded the Yongzheng Emperor. She was then forced to go into hiding at the Shaolin Temple.

Qing vs Shaolin

Qing army attacks Quanzhou Shaolin Temple 泉州少林寺

Because she was a nun, Ng Mui didn't stay permanently at the Shaolin Temple (whether in Henan or Fujian depending on the tradition). The Shaolin Temple housed only monks. She traveled extensively, especially in Yunnan Province in southwestern China and in Guangxi (Kwangsi) Province in southern China, bordering Vietnam. She was said to have sojourned at the White Crane Temple (Báihè Sì 白鶴寺) in Guangxi Province.

Over ten years passed before each of the Shaolin Five Elders became masters. During this time, Ming Dynasty loyalists took refuge in Shaolin temples and monasteries across China. They often assumed identities as false Shaolin monks and nuns and plotted against the new Qing government. Chinese secret revolutionary societies called the Tiandihui (Traditional Chinese: 天地會; pinyin: Tiāndì huì; Cantonese Yale: Tin dei wui; lit. "Heaven and Earth Society") or "Triads" (Traditional Chinese: 三合會; pinyin: Sān Hé Huì; Cantonese Yale: Saam Hap Wui; lit. "Triple Union Society" or "Three Harmonies Society," referring to the union of heaven, earth and humanity) were started as well. The Triads later became organized crime syndicates.

Tiandihui Certificate

Certificate given to new Tiandihui member.

The Fujian Shaolin Temple sent many monks and nuns away on pilgrimages to the west due to the growing hostility of the Qing government. Many Shaolin masters left the Fujian Temple bearing secret scrolls with them. Using firearms and bladed weapons, the Qing army finally attacked the Fujian Temple. Some histories record that the Fujian Temple was destroyed in 1673 after a long siege. Thousands were killed as the Qing government ordered the destruction of thousands of suspected monasteries and the execution of Buddhist monks, nuns and lay followers.

According to some accounts, Ng Mui was abbess of the Henan Shaolin Monastery. She was living and studying at the Monastery when it was destroyed by Qing troops during the rule of the Kangxi Emperor due to its anti-Qing activities. The Qing government had little success in subverting the revolutionaries until Chan Man Wai (陳文慧), a recently appointed Qing government official seeking favor, hatched a plot with a group of renegade Shaolin monks led by Ma Ning Yee (馬寧怡). Ma Ning Yee and the others agreed to betray the Qing revolutionaries at the Monastery for pay. One of the other conspirators was reputedly the teacher of Ng Mui. In the history passed down by Ip Man, Ng Mui's teacher was Master Dook Bay Sun Lai (德灣新來). In other Wing Chun accounts, her teacher was Master Lee Pasun (李·帕松).

Ma Ying Yee provided the Monastery plans with its secret passages to the Qing government. When the Monastery was attacked by Qing forces, Ma Ying Yee and his conspirators caused further confusion within by setting fires and attacking the other monks.

In all accounts, the Five Elders survived the destruction of the Temple whether in Fujian or Henan. They disguised themselves as Taoist clergy as Taoists still enjoyed immunity from the Qing government. In 1675, after traveling independently for about two years, they each made their way to Mount Emei, alternately Mount Omei, (Traditional Chinese: 峨眉山; pinyin: Éméi shān; Cantonese Yale: Ngomei Saan) in Sichuan (Szechuan) Province in Southwest China. Being the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, Mount Emei was home to about 70 temples and monasteries where the Five Elders could blend in.

Differences emerged between the Shaolin Five Elders. In some accounts, Ng Mui, Ji Sin, and Miu Hin vowed to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and restore the Ming Dynasty while Bak Mei and Fung Dou Dak supported the ruling Qing government. In other accounts, all of the Shaolin Five Elders swore to overthrow the Qing Dynasty except for Bak Mei, who came to believe that the overthrow effort wouldn't succeed and sought to withdraw from it.

In some histories, Bak Mei and Fung Dou Dak led their followers in collaboration with the Qing army to destroy the southern Shaolin Temple at Mount Jiulian (Traditional Chinese: 九连山; pinyin: Jiǔ lián shān) in Guangdong (formerly Canton) Province. The military leader who took action against the southern Shaolin Temple was Kuo Chun Chong (郭春衝), a disciple of Bak Mei, who was the commander for the military forces of the coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in southeast China.

In another tradition, Bak Mei couldn't agree with the others on the number of followers they should each teach nor the amount of political involvement their followings would have. Bak Mei and Ji Sin therefore decided on a match to settle the dispute. Bak Mei was renowned for both his internal and external skills and was considered a formidable figher. He was distinguished for being able to light high lantern fires along the walls of the Fujian Temple by whipping his legs and back joints to raise his body to twice his height.

In their match, Ji Sin used well-honed Long Fist techniques to strike Bak Mei many times. But Bak Mei's crouched Tiger stance was an effective defense against the attacks of Ji Sin. Bak Mei defeated Ji Sin with a series of Phoenix Eye punches that seriously wounded the latter. When Ji Sin died afterwards, Miu Hin challenged Bak Mei to another match. Bak Mei emerged victorious again, but Miu Hin died during the second match.

Fung Dou Dak, the most senior of the Five Elders, challenged Bak Mei next. Having observed the first two matches, Fung Dou Dak evaded injury from Bak Mei's favorite techniques. Bak Mei avoided harm from Fung Dou Dak's opening attacks as well. The decisive strike came during a close quarters clash when Fung Dou Dak dealt a crushing kick to Bak Mei's foot. Bak Mei died shortly afterwards from the resulting compound fracture.

Fung Dou Dak and Ng Mui parted ways to teach on their own. Fung Dou Dak passed much of his last years in remote western China, where he taught his Bak Fu Pai style and other Shaolin martial arts to his followers. Ng Mui taught her martial arts skills to her followers in southeastern China.

Ng Mui and the other Shaolin Five Elders needed ten to fifteen years to learn the then existing Chuan Fa styles like Yuejiaquan (岳家拳, literally "Yue Family Fist," alternately Yue Ch'uan). The traditional older styles came to fall under the category of Northern Shaolin Chuan Fa which can also be called Beiquan (北拳; běiquán; lit. "northern fist") or Bei Pai (Traditional Chinese: 北派; pinyin: Běi pài; lit. "northern school").

In order to teach large numbers of Ming loyalists more quickly, the Shaolin Five Elders developed new systems that could be taught within about two to three years. The new systems came to be called Southern Shaolin Chuan Fa, which can also be termed Nanquan (Traditional Chinese: 南拳; pinyin: Nán quán; Cantonese Yale: Naam kyuhn; lit. "southern fist") or Nan Pai (Traditional Chinese: 南派; pinyin: Nán pài; Cantonese Yale: Naam paai; lit. "southern school"). Each new system centered around two animal forms and one weapon. The new systems let the Ming loyalists specialize in certain areas of Chuan Fa that suited different body types and levels of aggressiveness at an accelerated pace.

Ng Mui renamed the Dragon-Tiger system to Plum Blossom Fist (Traditional Chinese: 枚花拳; Mandarin: Mei Hua Quan; Cantonese: Mui Fa Kuen) or Plum Blossom School (Traditional Chinese: 枚花派; Mandarin: Mei Hua Pai; Cantonese: Mui Fa Pai). The Plum Blossom style is characterized by a hollowed chest and crouching posture. It is similar to related systems like Bak Mei Pai (白眉派), Lung Ying Kuen (龙形拳, Dragon Style Fist), Southern Praying Mantis Style (南派螳螂), Bak Fu Pai (白虎派, White Tiger School), and Yau Kung Moon or Yau Kung Mon (柔功門 , lit. "the style of flexible power").

Ng Mui's most famous disciples were Yim Wing Chun (嚴詠春) and Fong Sai-yuk (方世玉). Wing Chun learned from Ng Mui a version of the southern Shaolin Snake and Crane style, or Changchun Snake and Crane Form, (長春蛇鶴形) that was eventually named Wing Chun Kuen in her honor. Wing Chun was not taught a weapon as she was young and Ng Mui didn't include her in the Qing overthrow movement.

Ng Mui vs Former Master

Ng Mui vs Dook Bay Sun Lai/Lee Pasun atop plum blossom poles

Some accounts say that Ng Mui left for a time during Wing Chun's training in order to settle accounts with her former teacher, whether named Dook Bay Sun Lai or Lee Pasun. The two fought a match atop plum blossom poles with sharpened stakes set below. She defeated her former teacher, who died. Ng Mui then returned to Wing Chun and continued the latter's training.

Some traditions say that Ng Mui was part of a powerful clan called Fong in southern China. Fong Sai-yuk was a possibly fictional martial arts master and folk hero from Zhaoqing City, Guangdong Province during the Qing Dynasty. Ng Mui was said to have taught Fong Sai-yuk the Changchun Tiger and Crane form (長春虎鶴形), from which the Hung Ga style evolved. Fong Sai-yuk was also associated with Hung Hei and the Shaolin Five Elders. Most Fong clansmen were said to have preferred the Crane techniques.

Men and women can learn the practical techniques and culture of the Shaolin monks and nuns in martial arts classes offered by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.

 

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