The Man Who Made Shaolin

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What do Cosmos Qigong, Shaolin Kung Fu, and Zen Meditation have in common?

No, this isn’t the start of some sort of Zen joke. I’m serious!

Not only did these arts all come from the famous Shaolin Temple, but they also came from the same man!

If you practice any of these 3 arts, then like me you belong to the legacy of Bodhidharma.

Today, Bodhidharma is recognized as the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism, the 1st Patriarch of Zen, the 1st Patriarch of Shaolin Qigong, and the 1st Patriarch of Shaolin Kung Fu.

Not a bad résumé!

The Indian Prince

Bodhidharma was born into Indian royalty in the 5th Century AD.  After renouncing his royal life, he decided to travel to China in order to teach Buddhism. His long journey eventually brought him to the Shaolin Temple in Songshan province.

Long before Bodhidharma arrived, Buddhism was already spreading through China. (Remember that Buddhism was already 1000 years old by this time.)

In 497 AD, the Chinese emperor had the Shaolin Temple built in order to promote Buddhism in his empire. By the time Bodhidharma arrived at the temple in 527 AD, there were already many monks living there.

What Bodhidharma found at the temple was disheartening. The monks were weak and sickly, they were falling asleep during meditation, and they lacked the vitality needed for deep meditation.

This was not Bodhidharma’s vision of spiritual cultivation.

Bodhidharma believed that physical, intellectual, and spiritual cultivation were an indivisible whole. If you are sick or in pain, then how can you hope to achieve enlightenment? If you lack mental clarity, how will you endure the intensity of meditation?

To work successfully towards enlightenment, one needs to also cultivate health, vitality, and mental clarity. This was Bodhidharma’s philosophy.

It’s clear that Bodhidharma was a powerful master, full of health, vitality, mental clarity, and internal force. We know that he learned Buddhist meditation from his teacher, Prajnatara.

But where did he learn Qigong?

We can only speculate, but it is likely that Bodhidharma, a crowned prince, was well trained in elite arts befitting royalty. In addition to various scholarly arts, it’s likely that he learned ancient Indian martial arts, as well as some form of yoga.

The yoga of Bodhidharma’s time was likely to be a powerful energy art.

Bodhidharma knew that, in order to help the Shaolin Monks reach enlightenment, he would need to help them to cultivate health, vitality, and mental clarity.

The Birth of Shaolin Qigong


What Bodhidharma did next changed the course of history.

Rather than teach the monks the various yoga and martial arts exercises that he had learned, it seems that he decided to develop a completely new set of exercises.

For the next 9 years, he lived in a cave near the Shaolin Temple and practiced in seclusion. When he left the cave, he brought three new sets of exercises with him:

  1. The 18 Luohan Hands
  2. Sinew Metamorphosis
  3. Bone Marrow Cleansing

These exercises were specifically designed to prepare the monks for the rigors of deep, Zen meditation. And they worked like a charm. The exercises transformed the monks physically, energetically, mentally, and spiritually. Over time, thanks to the success of these exercises, the Shaolin Temple became one of the most powerful spiritual centers in the history of the world.

No 1500 years later, Bodhidharma’s legacy is alive and well. The basic philosophy in my school is the same as Bodhidharma’s — health, vitality, and mental clarity are prerequisites for spiritual cultivation.

Thus, I teach the same exercises that Bodhidharma taught. The first Qigong technique that my students learn is Lifting The Sky, which is the first of the 18 Luohan Hands. Over time, students progress to learn all 18 of the techniques, all 12 Sinew Metamorphosis exercises, and all 5 Levels of Bone Marrow Cleansing.

What about Shaolin Kung Fu?shaolin-shutterstock_165464789

Actually, Bodhidharma never taught Shaolin Kung Fu. He’s widely recognized as the 1st patriarch of Shaolin Kung Fu because the arts that he taught provided the foundation and the inspiration.

It’s likely that 18 Luohan Hands gradually developed into Luohan Kung Fu. Over the centuries, these arts developed into the many different styles of Shaolin Kung Fu.

There is even a saying in China that “all martial arts come from Shaolin.” Many Japanese Karate schools trace their lineage all the way back to the Shaolin Temple.

Even Tai Chi Chuan sprouted from the legacy of Bodhidharma.  The great master Zhang San Feng graduated from the Shaolin Temple in the 13th Century. He became a master of Shaolin Kung Fu, Sinew Metamorphosis, and Zen meditation. Later, he transformed these into a new art, which he called Shaolin Wudang Kung Fu. Many years later, this art would be called Tai Chi Chuan.

It’s difficult to imagine how different history would have been if Bodhidharma had stayed in India instead of traveling to China. Would we even know about the Shaolin Temple, or would it have disappeared into obscurity centuries ago? How many martial arts would be completely different without the influence of Shaolin Kung Fu? And what would the world be like without Zen? 

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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9 Responses to The Man Who Made Shaolin

  1. Santiago March 31, 2012 at 3:28 am #

    Amazing article Siheng. Thanks for sharing. 😉

  2. Arya Warsitha April 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    I like the story of Bodhidarma. I have seen the film of Bodhidarma teaching i Youtube ( 1-6). I like the film very much.

    I agree that Sifu Wong Kiew Kit is like Bodhidarma spreading the legacy around the world. I want to meet him and to get the guidance from him.

    Arya Warsitha

  3. David Young April 3, 2012 at 2:54 am #

    Good Article Sifu.

  4. Xavier Espinosa April 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Very clear and inspiring article!
    Student of Shaolin Wahnam Ecuador

  5. Andy Cusick April 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Truly fantastic article, Sihing!

    It really brings home just how important Bodhidharma was to, basically, the whole world!

    It is also a wonderful tribute to our Sifu.

    I hope you publish more of your insights – I keep a look out for every one of your articles here 🙂


  6. Athul December 6, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    Thank you Sifu for telling the world story of great Bodhidharma . 🙂

  7. Athul December 6, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    Thank you Sifu for telling the world story of great Bodhidharma. As an Indian , im also very proud of him . Bodhidharma was the Pallava King who ruled Tamilanadu(in South India) centuries ago and that land is famous for great martial art Kalarippayattu , which spread to all over the lands of India.Its beleived that Kalarippayattu was developed either from Tamilnadu or Kerala(neighbouring state of Tamilnadu). 🙂

  8. Jeffrey Estrada August 7, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

    What are the 13 yoga postures bodhi dharma made

  9. Mark Good October 26, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    Thanks For What YOU Do… I studied Kung Fu and The History of it years ago, really enjoyed your info on Bodhidarma ! Dealing with Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue, Knees & Back Pain !!! AND THIS STUFF WORKS / Cant get enough. You will be Blessed For The Good Things That You Do !( Mark Good Oklahoma City ) Send more Tai Chi & Qigong Videos !

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