There is a contradiction at the heart of the Shaolin martial arts tradition, one that has irked devout Buddhists for centuries. The contradictions takes form in the person of the omnivorous martial monk, itinerant & outside of the pale, serving the state when needed and more interested in wine, property, and laughter than Zen meditation and self-cultivation. The very idea of a “Warrior- Monk” violates the first precept of the Buddhist faith, to do no violence against living things.
Yet ! we still have the iconic image of the staff wielding bald pated monk in saffron robes, driving back bandits and foreigner invaders, absorbing crushing blows, & applying the feared “ Buddha Palm ” technique to deserving evildoers. .
The origin of the “crazy monk” goes back to the very first monastery. That monk, the rebel who refused to obey and inspired others to follow in his footsteps to the chagrin of the pious - has always been a part of the pantheon. His deity of choice is Vajrapani, the Buddhist guardian god with a flowered scepter in one hand, snarling face and bulging eyes, muscled chest exposed, standing atop the writhing bodies of demons & devils. Vajrapani is most likely a semi - tamed demon as well, the perfect patron for the disobedient fighting monk.
The Shaolin Temple no chance of going to be a quiet place of monastic reflection. When the temple was first established in the shadow of Taoist predecessors, the city of Luoyang just an hour north was already the capital of a sprawling Buddhist empire. The somewhat mythical founder of the Shaolin Zen and martial tradition,Bodhidarma, is known to have visited Luoyang in the mid-6th century and the city was known far and wide for the golden domes of its hundreds of Buddhist temples, stretching as far as the eye could see. The emperor gave gold and property & protection to the Shaolin monks, who soon became a bit more than just the chanting, meditating faithful. Proximity to the capital required Shaolin monks to become astute politicians, economists, and managers of a growing estate.
In the world of Martial Arts, tracing the history of Kung-fu is very difficult as for many years, people outside of the military were forbidden to learn it on pain of death. As a result,much of the teachings were never written down and a considerable amount of what was recorded has been lost or destroyed over the centuries.
In 1644, Manchurian invaders conquered China by bringing the Ming Dynasty to an end and to be replaced by the Ching Dynasty (also known as Qing). Many fled for their lives during the on-slaught though at first the Shaolin attempted to remain neutral.
However as refugees flocked to the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province seeking sanctuary, it soon became a centre of resistance against the new ruling elite.