The Shaolin system of Martial arts was initiated in about 495 AD when an Indian Buddhist priest Boddidharma (Ta Mo, as the Chinese call him), intending to spread Buddhist faith, left Southern India, crossed the Himalayan River and arrived in Honan Province of China. He found the Young Forest Temple (Shaolin in Mandarin and Sil Lum in Cantonese), which had been built by Emperor Hsiao Wen years back in the remnants of a forest. At that time, the Sil Lum Temple was famous for scholarly translation of the Buddhist Scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese. Boddidharma observed that the monks at the temple had poor physical condition and were unable to fulfill his rigorous meditation. Therefore, he incorporated some calisthenics and various moving exercises, mostly derived from Indian yoga, into their training. Most of the exercises were based upon the movements of 18 main animals in Indo-Chinese iconography ;i.e. tiger, deer, leopard, cobra, snake, dragon, etc. In addition, Boddidharma emphasized on CHI (Intrinsic energy that is cultivated by breathing exercises and meditation) as one of the essential foundations of Shaolin Kung Fu. Exactly when these codified sets of exercise became martial arts is unknown. However, it is obvious that the evolvement stage of the art was designed for self-defense in order for the monks to defend the temple from bandits and wild animals. Over ensuing years and decades, succeeding masters in Shaolin enriched and refined Boddidharma’s fundamental teachings until they turned into graceful legendary Shaolin Chuan (Shaolin Kung Fu).
Among hundreds of styles originated in Shaolin, Chuan Tao Kung Fu is one of the few complete martial arts systems that dates back to the era of the original Shaolin Temple, even before the northern and southern split styles came into existence. Therefore, it is not limited to exclusively hand or leg techniques. Chuan Tao Kung Fu encompasses all facets and techniques, utilizing the whole body, including external as well as internal energy.
The fact that distinguishes Shaolin Kung Fu from all other martial arts and makes it a unique art is that it doesn’t exclusively focus on fighting. Although all martial skills and techniques found in all world-known martial arts can be found in Shaolin Kung Fu, it principally discourages violence and conflict. The philosophy of Shaolin Kung Fu is wisdom, compassion and self-defense.