It was the Kung fu fight in the 70s by Bruce Lee that took the world by storm! Then many movies were made in the name of Shaolin Temple. Just what kind of a temple is it? A sneak-peep!

Punctuality, obedience, respect for others, strict discipline, eating habits and sleeping patterns, six hours non-stop hard exercises daily from 6 a.m., practicing flying somersaults, breaking bricks with head and wooden staffs over their outstretched arms are some of the basic and advanced training given for a learner here, in the 1520 year old temple dated back to 550 AD, located in China!

First it was Bruce Lee’s movie, “Enter the Dragon,” that wiped out Hollywood’s gun culture. Then “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.” Later, many movies have come out in a steady stream with the name Shaolin figuring in them and ran to packed houses.

Shaolin refers to ‘Young Forest,’ because it was in 549 AD that the Buddhist monks had cleared the stretch of the forest and planted saplings there before they built the ‘Temple.’ There is a controversy that Kung fu originated in India!

Previously there were two kinds of learners here: the Martial monks and the Buddhist monks. Now it went up to three, with the addition of, ‘Performance Monks.’

The training comprises many stages, each sweat and blood shedding. An Indian origin Buddhist missionary called, Bodhidharma who went to China in the 6th century, known as Damo, used to meditate in a cave up on the hill just behind the temple. Apart from just meditation in the sitting posture, he taught his followers the 18 exercises called, ‘Callisthenic’ that paved way for the emergence of the Kung fu martial arts.

The strength of the students here shot past to many thousands. Various steps of the 18 stages of training commence at 6 a.m. and go on for six hours until lunch time. Running over the steep mountains is part of it. There they stretched and did shadow fight, besides using the different weapons and so on.

Kung fu, Sanda and Wushu are some of them, the last one being the kick boxing. The traditional dress is the loose, flowing silk garb. For Kung fu fighters, grey cotton pants, kung fu shoes and thick blue cotton jacket. The weapon called, Pudao used by them is a stick with a spear-like pointed blade at one side. How to spin this weapon is a dangerous training!

But this Shaolin temple was not welcomed later under the leadership of the communist Chinese leader, Mao Tse-tung who threw a blanket ban on this martial art and ordered the closure of this temple. Many, fearing the atrocities of Mao’s red guards, fled the country. The remaining monks were beaten by them. Prior to that in 1920, it was set fire in the civil war. The World War II did considerable damage to it. Thus, it underwent many tough times.

But thanks to actor Jet Li who gave a face-lift to it in 1981 vide his movie, “Shaolin Temple” that made a box office hit. Now it functions better than before.