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The History of Shaolin

The legend of the Shaolin temple is famous throughout all of China and the Martial Arts World!

Temple  in China

Our Story

The history of the Shaolin temple, and that of Kung Fu in general, is both vast and nuanced. Despite China’s long and well-documented past, the development of martial arts went largely unnoticed by historians even as it became a deeply rooted source of national pride. The turbulent changes of the last 100 years created a movement of martial artists across the globe and further complicated a generation’s link to the knowledge of martial traditions of the past. As a result, modern sources on the matter are widespread with impassioned opinions and sparse on realistic data. It is our intention here to honor the history transmitted through our lineage by attempting to place our art in a modern context.

Shaolin SSu (Young Forest Temple)

In Honan province, northern China, at the foot of Song Shan (Song Mountain) lies Shaolin Ssu, the “Shaolin Temple”. The construction of the Shaolin temple was completed in approximately 495 A.D., during the Northern Wei dynasty. Surrounded by a large brick wall are many buildings that include training and meditation halls, shrines, dormitories, and kitchens, as well as some used for day-to-day activities. Throughout history, there were seven monasteries within the Shaolin Temple fighting system located in the provinces of Honan, Fukien, Shantung, Kwangtung, and O-Mei Mountain. Two are Taoist monasteries that are located at Wu-Tang Mountain and Hua Mountain.

The start of training and the Legend of Ta-Mo

It was in the sixth century (approximately 520 A.D.) that Bodhidharma (also known as Ta-Mo in China or Daruma in Japan), an Indian prince from India, traveled on foot to China. After coming across the Shaolin Temple, and once admitted in, he was shocked as to the frail condition of the resident monks. After attempting to teach them the rigors of meditation, he soon realized that they were to frail to maintain proper posture and mental focus. He set out on a mission to dramatically change their physical condition and mental acuity. 


He created a set of exercises known as the “I Chin Ching” (Muscle Change Classic) designed specifically for the Shaolin Monks. At first, his daily, routine, early morning classes were hated by the monks. It was a struggle for him each day to get his students gathered for practice. But Ta-Mo was persistent and fiercely focused as he took his students through their daily routine. As time passed by the monks became stronger and more energetic. They had greater mental focus, and overall healthier bodies. Ta-Mo’s goal of getting the Shaolin Monks into better physical condition was working. The grueling morning exercises were now a part of their daily tradition. As their bodies became stronger, so did their meditation practice become more intense. Their lives became more productive as their overall lifestyle became healthier!

The Shaolin way was born! 

Legend states that eventually the Shaolin monks hired instructors to teach them self-defense skills to help them ward off bandits. With determination and focus the monks grew stronger. Learning from skilled martial artists, collecting the best fighting techniques from regional areas, and developing their own numerous forms, styles, and fighting arts. 


Throughout the centuries that followed, the Shaolin monks added to and perfected their art as it spread to other temples and monasteries. The monks of the Fukien, Shantung, Omei, Kwangtung, Wutang Mountain, and Hua Mountain temples focused their attentions on various aspects of the art. Northern and Southern Fist, Shantung Black Tiger, Fist of Hua Mountain, White Crane, Praying Mantis, Monkey, Eagle Claw, Iron Hand Training, Tai Chi Chuan, Pa Kua Chang, Hsing-I Chuan, Meditation, Chi Kung, and including a huge variety of long and short-range weapons. These are just a few of the styles and training methods within the Shaolin art still being practiced! 


Shaolin Kung Fu still exists today, over fifteen hundred years after Ta Mo's arrival at the Shaolin Temple. His 49 postures of the I Chin Ching and much of the subsequent material has survived. The Shaolin art has prevailed over countless tyrants’ various attempts to eradicate it. To this day, the Shaolin Monastery is still standing and continues to allow visitors.

Idaho Shaolin Center for Kung Fu and Tai Chi in Boise, Idaho 

In 1990, John D. Keller started Idaho Shaolin in Boise Idaho. An 8th Degree Black belt, Elder Master John is certified to teach the Shaolin art with authority from the Grandmaster of the Shaolin fighting system, Sin Kwang Thé.


 For over 33 years, the Boise Shaolin school has been a full-time martial arts training facility teaching hundreds of students in all aspects of Shaolin Martial Arts. We have classes for all levels of students ranging from beginners to advanced. We have specialized martial arts courses for children, adults, as well as older adults. Our Tai Chi and Internal arts programs are very extensive with training techniques from China’s various long-established methods. 


At Idaho Shaolin we teach the complete Shaolin system as it is known today. We continue to teach the traditional methods of training that have been in existence for over 1500 years. In a systematic way, our methods are tailored to fit the needs and desires of today’s students. We do not teach tournament or competition skills. Our focus is to arm all students with techniques and knowledge to assist in their pursuit of complete health and fitness with a strong emphasis on martial arts ability and confidence. The skills and abilities that our students learn are designed to enable them with complete self-defense capabilities needed to take them through life’s many challenges! 


Idaho Shaolin is part of an extensive network of Shaolin schools from across the country that are all under the guidance of Grandmaster Sin K. The’. To learn more about us, click here.


Idaho Shaolin Center for Kung Fu and Tai Chi in Caldwell, Idaho

Click below to learn more about the Idaho Shaolin Center in Caldwell.

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