“The Living Legacy”
of the Shaolin Monks
To understand the present, one must first have a clear understanding of the past. As a valued member of the United Studios of Self Defense family, it is important that you know more about the arts you practice. What you are reading is a comprehensive history of the legends, traditions and history of the masters who helped create Kempo.
Asian Martial Artists trace their roots back 5,000 years to India and the Greek Martial Arts of Pankration. The invading armies of Alexander the Great brought this brutal art of boxing and wrestling to India in the 4th century B.C. Historians also credit the Greeks for organizing the first professional boxing matches 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.
Records exist dating back to the 5th century B.C. crediting an Indian named Han Lo-Ming for creating Chi Hsuan Men, or ‘Unusual Style’. This art used the defensive scissor techniques of the White Jade Fan to trap swords and spears, and pressure point strikes with the fan’s tip.
Chinese historians dispute India’s claim to being the cradle of Asian Martial Arts. They point to military manuals and documents dated from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. They claim that Han emperors actively funded the study and refinements of Kung-Fu far beyond any fighting system known in India during this period.
The Chinese also credit Chinese physician Dr. Hua T’o as the founder of the first martial style, and the first doctor to use anesthesia during surgery. Around 220 A.D., he devised a series of exercises modeled on the deer, bear, bird, tiger and monkey long before the Shaolin Temple began instruction in the Martial Arts. T’o designed these exercises to relieve stress, tone the body and provide a means of self-defense.
Although the origin of Martial Arts is in question, few dispute the saying, “The foundation of all Martial Arts is Shaolin.” The Shaolin Temple is the spiritual and technical source of all modern Martial Arts. Shaolin Kempo has a long and rich heritage going back to the beginning of modern civilization. Few Martial Arts can document their history over such a long time and to such a high degree.
Legend states that Zen Buddhist patriarch Ta Mo (“Da Mo, Bodhidharma” to the Chinese; “Daruma Daishi” to the Japanese), the prince of a small tribe in Southern India, arrived in China after a brutal trek over Tibet’s Himalaya Mountains.
The first Shaolin (from Shao Lin or Sil Lum, meaning “Young (Pine Tree) Forest”) Temple of Songshan was built in 377 A.D. for Pao Jaco, “The First Buddha,” by Emperor Wei on the Shao Shik Peak of Song Mountain in Teng Fon Hsien, Henan Province. The Temple was originally constructed for religious training and meditation only. Martial Arts training at the temple did not begin until the arrival of Ta Mo in 526 A.D.
Ta Mo sought peace and converts to help him spread Charn Buddhism, (later known as Zen in Japan) throughout China. Legend states that Ta Mo found his meditation method caused sleepiness among the monks. The monks at that time also lacked stamina and the ability to defend themselves against warlords and bandits.
Ta Mo, a member of the Indian Kshatriya warrior class and a master of staff fighting, created a system of 18 dynamic tension exercises. These movements found their way into print in 550 A.D. as the Yi Gin Ching, or Changing Muscle/Tendon Classic. We know this today as the Lohan (Priest-Scholar) 18 Hand Movements, the basis of Chinese Temple Boxing and Shaolin Kempo.
Ta Mo’s introduction of the Martial Arts to the Shaolin Temple was purely self-interest. He saw the monks as solitary types content to live their lives within temple walls. He dreamed of developing mobile, fearless warrior missionaries able to spread Charn Buddhism throughout the world. According to legend, Ta Mo developed a simple selfdefense system to train Japanese Shorinji (Shaolin) Monks who traveled between Shaolin Temples in China, Formosa, Japan and India. Yamabushi (“Ascetic Hermits”), referred to this art of the staff, spear and empty hand as Goshin-Jutsu, the basis of Aikido, Judo, Jujutsu and Ninjutsu.
Ta Mo died in 539 A.D. at the Shaolin Temple at age 57, before the completion of his life’s mission. However, Ta Mo created the basis of Shaolin Ch’uan Fa, an art that evolved into Sil Lurn Kung-Fu, Shaolin 5 Animals Style, Chung-Kuo Ch’uan (Chinese Kempo Arts) and Shorinji Kempo (Japan). In the 20th century, the Shaolin Arts modernized through necessity to become Shaolin Kempo, the modern approach to self-defense taught at United Studios of Self Defense.
To the Shaolin monks, religion and the Martial Arts were separate ideals. They walked a thin line between self-defense and non-violence. As vegetarians, monks would not eat meat, or even ride a horse for fear of burdening the animal. On pilgrimages, they carried staffs tipped with jingling metal rings to scare away insects on their path, to ensure they would not step on them. However, a monk would kill to defend his life or protect the weak.
Today, a Shaolin school exists in Songshan founded by ancient monks (some in their nineties!) who teach select disciples and give demonstrations for tourists. One of their training techniques involves stomping their feet full-force into the floor of a stone courtyard to strengthen their legs. Witnesses report holes and depressions in the stone from decades of practice.
In 1644, Manchurians from Mongolia, “Manchu Hordes from the North,” invaded China to conquer it and set up the Qing Court. Legend tells of 108 Shaolin monks, Seng Bing (Priest-Soldiers), who met and defeated 10,000 Manchurians in one afternoon without suffering a single injury. Now national heroes, the monks attracted members of Chinese secret societies such as the northern White Lotus Society and the southern Hung Family League, eager to learn a fighting method to drive the Manchus back to Mongolia.
By royal decree, only the Chinese Emperor and masters of Shaolin Temples could possess complete Martial Arts systems. The Martial Arts flourished due to the efforts of revolutionaries, bandits and rebels who resisted the Manchus and often sought asylum in Shaolin monasteries. Eager to fight, secret societies created a network of Martial Arts schools in Chinese monasteries and villages.
Shaolin monks Gok Yuen, Lee Sau and Bak Juk Fung enlarged the original “Lohan 18 Hands” to 170 movements to make Sil Lun (Shaolin) Kung-Fu a more effective fighting system. Primarily a health art, a student began the study of the light staff before tackling a series of progressively heavier staffs. This strengthened the muscles and loosened the ligaments.
In 1662, the Manchus gained complete control of China. While the Manchus feared the Shaolin priests and their revolutionary activities, they refused to harm them. One, because the Manchus were mainly Buddhists and the Shaolin priests were their spiritual leaders. Two, Shaolin priests were valuable to the Manchu Qing Court as advisors and healers. Three, harming the priests would make them martyrs and cause the people to fight harder to dethrone the tyrannical Manchu overlords.
In 1736, the Manchus decided to rid themselves of the original Songshan Shaolin Temple to thwart the plans of Taiwanese rebel commander Cheng-Cheng Gong. Gong had sent troops to the temple to seek refuge with Abbott Chi Tong and his 128 warrior monks. Fearing this alliance, two Manchu officials bribed Ma Linger, ranked seventh among the 128 monks, to spy for them and help destroy the temple.
On a moonless night, Ma Linger opened a secret temple passageway for two Manchu officials who set quick moving fires. Realizing that 10,000 Manchu troops were no match for the 128 warrior monks, Ma Linger placed sleeping potions in the monks’ food supply. Drugged and helpless monks died in their beds.
Only five monks escaped. They formed the Hung Family League, the chief resistance movement against the Manchus. They set up a new monastery in the village of Chuan Chow in Fukien Province to keep the Shaolin traditions alive and continue political pressure on the Manchus. It was in Fukien that the Five Shaolin Ancestors Wu Mei, Chi Shan, Bok Mei, Feng Daode and Miao Chian gained prominence as masters of the Shaolin Martial Arts, also known as Sil Lum in Cantonese, or Shorinji in Japanese. Study centered on the moves and attributes of the Tiger, Dragon, Snake, Leopard and Crane, the Five Shaolin Animals.
Each animal form represented one of the “Five Essences” the Five Shaolin Ancestors felt all people possessed. The Dragon fuels the spirit; the Tiger trains the bones to resist heavy blows; the Leopard develops strength and footwork; the Crane loosens the sinews and ligaments; and the Snake builds Chi, internal strength.
Shaolin priests spent an average of 10 years behind Temple walls in a strict regimen of work, meditation, practice and study. Their day started at sunrise and ended at sunset. Graduation from the temple consisted of three tests: a difficult oral examination of Chinese history, Martial Arts theory and philosophy; a full-contact sparring match with several Kung-Fu masters; and the Ordeal of the Lohan Hall.
The Fukien Province monastery contained 36 chambers or levels of Martial Arts instruction and the infamous Lohan Hall (also known as “Priest-Scholar Hall” and “Den of the Wooden Men”). Upon entering the Lohan Hall, the graduate student fought 108 mechanical wooden dummies armed with knives, spears and clubs triggered by the student’s body movements. Many did not survive this gauntlet of punishing blows.
If the student survived, he had to make his way through an opening blocked by a 500-pound metal urn containing red-hot coals. Gripping the urn in his forearms, the student had to slide the urn to his right to create an exit. In the process, he branded his forearms with the badges of the Shaolin master, the Dragon and the Tiger.
In 1768, the Manchus again saw the need to destroy the second Shaolin Temple. They sought the allegiance of Chang Sanfeng, a Sung dynasty scholar and outstanding student of the Fukien Temple. His superior physical and mental abilities had allowed him to graduate from the temple a full-fledged master in less than two years.
A Taoist, Chang Sanfeng left the temple to start a monastery in Hubei’s Wu Tang mountain range. Here he created Wu Tang Martial Arts, merging the hard Shaolin arts with the mystical Chi Kung (Internal Power) arts. This led to the creation of Tai Chi Ch’uan, “The Grand Ultimate Art,” of which Chang Sanfeng is the acknowledged founder. Sanfeng created Tai Chi Ch’uan as a combat art after seeing a snake defeat a hawk, later discovering its health and fitness benefits.
Chang’s revolutionary internal power building techniques and promise of increased fighting ability caused many Shaolin students to defect to him. Manchu officials encouraged the rivalry between the Wu Tang disciples and the Shaolin. After many clashes, Chang’s disciples defeated the Shaolin and burned the Fukien Temple to the ground.
Surviving Shaolin monks fled to India and Southeast Asia. Some remained, posing as tradesmen, farmers and artists to escape persecution. Others settled on Ermei Mountain in the Szechwan Province, an area that developed many Martial Arts styles and became a stronghold of top Kempo masters.
A few of the surviving monks were responsible for creating China’s three major styles, Hung Gar, Choy Li Fut and Wing Chun. These styles are distant cousins of modern Shaolin Kempo, their “Father Art.” One of the most spectacular acrobatic styles, Shantung Black Tiger, was created in China’s Northern Hunan Province to defend against multiple opponents on rocky terrain. It is the basis of Kun-Tao, a Kempo-inspired art popular in Southeast Asia.
Gee Sim, a Shaolin monk and master of the Tiger Fist, taught his art at the seaport of Canton after the destruction of the temple. Gee Sim’s innovations aided the development of modern Shaolin Kempo.
Choy Fook, another Shaolin survivor, fled to Kwantung in South China to his mountain retreat at Law Fo Shan. Here he taught disciple Chan Heung the entire Shaolin Kung-Fu system and four internal Lohan Qigong forms. This became the popular Chinese art of Choy Li Fut, and the beginning of wooden dummy training. Chan Heung recorded Choy Li Fut’s 138 forms in the Kuen Po, or Manual of Fist Work. This is the first recorded mention of the term “Kempo” (“Fist Law”) in connection with the Shaolin arts.
During this period, the Chinese people rarely used the term Kung- Fu, a generic term for skill of any kind. They often lumped all fighting arts together as Wu-Shu, the Mandarin expression of Kou-Shu, “National Martial Arts.”
During the years 906 A.D. to 1911, Chinese masters had a tremendous influence on the Martial Arts of Japan and Okinawa. Many warrior monks, “Yamabushi,” lived on the slopes of Mt. Hiei near Kyoto. They often visited the Shaolin temples of Songshan and Fukien to study Zen and refine their Martial Arts of Shorinji (Shaolin) Kempo. These Japanese Buddhist monks honored Ta Mo, or Duruma Daishi as the Japanese call him, as their spiritual father.
Some Yamabushi renegades developed mystical powers through the practice of Tibetan-inspired Mikkyo Buddhism at a monastery on China’s Mt. T’ien T’ai. These warrior priests formed the basis of Ninjutsu. Shaolin-trained Martial Artists called “Vagabonds” often traveled the Far East as performers in circus-like acting troupes to conceal their identities on secret missions. The first Ninjas were actually Shaolin priests. Many Shaolin priests excelled in guerrilla warfare tactics. They were the first to use blinding powders, smoke bombs, booby traps, and hidden weapons. They excelled in the art of invisibility so well that Chinese today believe that a Shaolin priest can walk through walls!
Few know of the legendary Chin Gempin, a 16th Century Chinese Kempo master who had untold influence on Japanese and Okinawan Martial Arts. A Chinese mystic and wandering Yamabushi monk, Gempin fell in love with a Japanese woman. Forced to change his Chinese name (Chin Gen Pinh) to become a Japanese citizen and stay in Japan, Gempin kept his total Chinese Kempo art a secret. He supported himself by teaching his grappling arts of Kumiai-Jutsu (“The Tackling Art”) and Atemi-Waza (“Nerve Striking Techniques”) to Ronin (Masterless Samurai). Gempin also founded the art of Yawara-Jutsu, a short rod self-defense system on which the modern Kubaton is based.
In 1532, Takenouchi, a master of “Combat Sumo,” challenged Gempin and was soundly beaten. Takenouchi became Gempin’s student, learning five secret “arresting techniques” and a short rod method called Yawara. Takenouchi went on to establish the first official Ryu or school of Jujutsu near Kyoto. Many Japanese historians, merely refer to Chin Gempin as an “Ascetic Hermit and teacher of Takenouchi.”
In 1560, the Mitose family, founders of a monastery on Japan’s Mt. Akenkai, received a Chinese Kempo system from Kosho, a Shinto priest. Kosho traced his lineage to Ta Mo. Kosho had studied the Shaolin arts at Japan’s Shaolin-inspired Shorinji Temple. He eventually took the Mitose family name. In a dream, he received new Kempo secrets and renamed his system Kosho-ryu Kempo. After Kosho’s death, Mitose ancestors changed Kosho’s Shaolin-inspired art to a more Linear Japanese system. Kosho-ryu Kempo consisted of intensive training in the weaponless forms of Shaolin Kempo with traditional Japanese Samurai “Bushi” War Arts.
It is interesting to note that Ko means “Old,” Sho means “Pine Tree” and Ryu means “School.” The Pine Tree was included in the trademark United Studios of Self Defense “Bonsai Tree” logo by Founder and Headmaster Charles A. Mattera before any connection to modern Shaolin Kempo was ever made. This significant coincidence demonstrates the continuity of our Shaolin Kempo lineage through the decades.
The Okinawan Islands benefited by being near China, Korea and Japan. The area’s turbulent weather and tricky ocean currents swept many travelers, pirates, soldiers, scholars and Buddhist priests to Okinawan shores. In 1372, Okinawa’s King Satto pledged his islands to the Chinese Ming emperor and Shaolin Buddhist ideals. Peasants and farmers mastered Martial Arts that were once the exclusive domain of the military and upper classes.
In 1470, Okinawan King Shohashi viewed his people’s fighting ability as a threat and confiscated their weapons. Left to their own devices, Okinawans developed the crude combat arts of Te (“Hand”) and Tode (“Closed Fist”), a mixed bag of Asian fighting styles. Practitioners hardened their natural weapons against fence posts and trees to punch through Samurai armor, the “One Punch, One Kill” concept.
In need of ways to increase their empty-hand fighting abilities, Okinawans sent fighters to China and Taiwan to learn Ch’uan-shu (“The Artful Use of One’s Fists”) Kento (“Fist Fighting”) from top Kempo masters.
In 1609, the armies of the Japanese Satsuma Clan conquered Okinawa and banned all weapons. The Okinawans were ready for the Japanese, having mastered Okinawa-te Karate, Chugo-ku Kempo and Kobudo, and with simple farm tools to thresh and harvest grain readily at hand in the field for use as weapons. The Okinawans kept Kobudo from outsiders for more than 300 years, grudgingly introducing the Bo staff, Kama sickle, Sai, Nunchaku and spinning Tonfa to Japan in the early 1940’s.
At advanced levels of Okinawa-te Karate, students learned Shaolin animal forms, specifically the tiger, crane, butterfly, eagle, bear and snake. Shaolin-inspired arts such as Pakua Chang Gung-Fu and Ch’uan Fa (Kempo) influenced Okinawa’s Goju-ryu Karate, as founder Chojun Miyagi had traveled to China’s Fukien Province to study these arts. Major Okinawan arts have strong Chinese roots. Kobayashi-ryu’s founder learned two styles from a Buddhist priest in Northern China. Uechi-ryu Karate is an Okinawan term to describe the Cantonese Poongai Gung-Fu forms as learned by founder Kanbum Uechi, who traveled to China in 1901 to study Ch’uan Fa.
The Okinawans steadily increased their Martial Arts know-how. Legend states that an Okinawan, Sakugawa, left for China in 1724 and was not heard from again for many years. He reappeared in Shuri, Okinawa, demonstrating advanced Shaolin Kempo techniques that attracted hundreds of pupils. Sakugawa’s success and influence inspired the Okinawans to stylize their arts under a “Karate Kempo” banner.
Credit must also be given to Shionja, an Okinawan Kempo master, who along with Chinese friend Kushanku, returned to Okinawa from China in 1784 to spread their “new” style of Chinese Kempo. They succeeded in creating so many Kempo students that Japanese authorities could not stop the spread of the art.
In the late 1800s, a Chinese monk named Kosohun brought Shaolin Ch’uan Fa to Japan. The Japanese soon threatened his life and deported him, since his Kempo art was far superior to existing Japanese Martial Arts and he had attracted too many followers. Kosokun decided to fragment his total Chinese Kempo system to prevent the Japanese from copying it. In Okinawa, he taught only fist techniques; in Taiwan, thrusting with the fingers; in China, hand and foot fighting.
Before 1936, Japanese calligraphy represented Karate as Karate, or Tang Dynasty Hands. Thus Karate was The Art of Chinese Hands. The Koreans also acknowledged the Chinese influence on their Martial Arts. One example is Tang Soo Do, The Way of Chinese Hands, a forerunner of Tae Kwon Do.
Gichi Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan who brought Karate to Japan from Okinawa, wanted to limit the credit the Okinawans gave the Chinese for their Martial Arts. He felt that a Chinese name would hamper the spread of Karate among the nationalistic Japanese. Funakoshi petitioned the Japanese government to change the ideograph for Kara from Tang to Ku, a Zen term meaning “nothingness.” Thus Kara-te became Karate-do, The Way of Empty Hands. This change angered the Okinawans, but they later agreed to change their Kara ideograph to conform with the Japanese version.
Kempo masters have always been at the forefront when it comes to new techniques and training methods. In 1953, Shigeru Nakamura, one of Okinawa’s leading masters, began his own Karate system of Okinawan Kempo, based on Chinese Chugo-yu Kempo. It is a hard sparring art where fighters wear heavy protective equipment. Nakamura introduced the Karate “Side Kick” as we know it today.
However the Chinese masters persisted in their refusal to teach Ch’uan Fa to anyone who was not Chinese. In 1957, T.C. Lee, a naturalized American citizen from China, gave the first public demonstration of Tai Chi Ch’uan. This allowed other Chinese masters to come forth and reveal their Martial Arts secrets to anyone, regardless of race. Although Kempo arts flourished in Hawaii among the Chinese community, it was confined to inner circles who referred to Kempo as Ch’uan-shu and taught in secret.
James Masayoshi Mitose introduced Kempo to Hawaii as a protest against the Japanese for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941,. The first person to formally introduce Chinese Kempo to the West was Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate and student of Chinese Kempo Grandmaster Kaju Toonda. In 1934, Miyagi taught pure Ch’uan Fa to more than 100 students on the Hawaiian island of Kauai for more than eight months. Miyagi was also proficient in Pa-Kua Chang, Wing Chun and Shaolin Kempo arts from his time spent with masters in China’s Fukien Province.
Miyagi used the term Kempo Karate because he did not want to encounter resistance from the large Chinese community who kept their Ch’uan-shu arts hidden. He also wanted to blend more Chinese Kempo into his Kempo Karate system, “…to use the more profound Chinese knowledge to improve and unify Karate.” Chojun Miyagi never saw this happen; his beloved Goju-ryu yielded to mainly Japanese linear stylizing by his successors after his death. Miyagi is the root ancestor of the fictional “Mr. Miyagi” of the “Karate Kid” film series.
In 1942, Mitose opened the Official Self-Defense Club at the Beretania Mission in Honolulu, teaching Kempo Jujitsu. Mitose felt that most Americans could identify with the term Jujitsu, an art popular in the islands at the time. He taught Kempo Jujitsu as a fighting art made up of eight aspects: punches, kicks, chops, thrusts, pokes, throws, locks and take-downs.
Mitose later downplayed the importance of grabs and throws, feeling they wasted energy and exposed one’s vital points in combat against more than one opponent. He did create a grappling system with an Aikido-Jujitsu flavor that avoided extreme body contact. Mitose’s art was primarily linear in nature with little circular footwork.
One of the big “Kempo/Kenpo” issues involved the spelling of Kempo with an “m” or an “n.” Mitose authored a book called What is Self-Defense. This started the confusion when the editor misread Mitose’s Buddhist name, Kenpo Sai Kosho, as indicative of the proper spelling of Kempo Karate. Immediately, Chinese Kempo stylists who never wanted Okinawan or Japanese ties to their Ch’uan Fa began to propagate the term “Chinese Kenpo.” The confusion snowballed. Until his death on March 26, 1981 at the age of 65, Mitose accepted the misspelling of his system as Kenpo, often writing “Kenpo/Kempo” when referring to his art.
For all intents and purposes, the terms Kenpo, Kenpo Karate and Kempo mean Shaolin-based arts; those who use the reversed term Karate Kempo imply an affiliation to Okinawan Karate based partly on Shaolin arts. Some Kempo stylists have gone so far as to call their art Zempo or Kempa, to give it a unique identity. When all is said and done, Kempo is Kenpo, and vice versa.
The critical link in the development of modern Kempo came through the efforts of Hawaii’s William Kwai Sun Chow. Born in 1914, Chow studied Hung Gar (Tiger and Crane) Shaolin Kung-Fu from his father, the Buddhist monk Hoon Chow of Shanghai.
Only one of six students given a black belt by James Mitose, Chow mastered Kosho-ryu Kempo’s linear techniques and take downs. Chow focused his studies on developing “War Arts,” feeling that Kempo should remain a pure combat art.
Chow saw a need to blend the Chinese circle with the Japanese line, the very innovation lacking in Mitose’s art. This minimized the openings on a fighter’s body, yet allowed a fighter to launch explosive counterattacks. Of below-average height, Chow was strong, quick and accurate. His ability to have an opponent miss (he rarely blocked) as he countered to an exposed area earned him the nickname “Thunderbolt.”
Chow called his art by three names: Chinese Kenpo, Kenpo Karate, and Lightning Kenpo Karate. He believed, as did Mitose before him, that the Hawaiian people would more easily recognize the term Karate or Jujitsu. A demanding teacher, Chow stressed full contact training. Few students trained with Chow very long. Chow taught only basics for five years. After five years, students received advanced training. Instruction in the Seven Death Arts came after ten to fifteen years of training.
Chow mastered all Seven Death Arts. He taught two of the Seven Death Arts to four people on condition that they be used only in life-and death situations, and to preserve the honor of the system. With Chow’s death in Honolulu, Hawaii on September 20th, 1987 at the age of 74, “Thunderbolt” took five of the Seven Death Arts to his grave.
Charles A. Mattera, 10th Degree Black Belt, Founder and Professor of United Studios of Self Defense, continues the tradition of the great Kempo masters of the past by promoting Kempo Martial Arts as a viable means of self-defense. As awarded by Professor Nick Cerio, a member of the prestigious World Council of Sokes on April 3, 1994 his Shihan rank signifies that Charles Mattera has mastered more than one martial style, is a person of integrity and character, and is an innovator of Shaolin Kempo techniques.
Shaolin Kempo, the style you will study at United Studios of Self Defense, has a proven, time-honored tradition of power and effectiveness that spans more than 2,000 years. We truly believe your decision to join United Studios of Self Defense will have a profound and positive impact on your life.