Philosophy of Shaolin

The Shaolin/Sil Lum sect is a branch of the Buddhist school known as Ch'an (the equivalent in Japan is Zen; the Shaolin-descended school of martial arts and philosophy in Japan is "Shorinji Zen"). Unlike most monotheistic Occidental religions that supplanted each other as Europe became "civilized," many Asian religions and philosophies resulted in amalgamations. Hence, over time, the Ch'an sect became a complex mixture of Buddhist and Taoist concepts. This first section reviews the Ch'an philosophy-base as it existed from about 1860 until recently. Below are additional sections about slightly "purer" forms of root Taoism and Buddhism.

One further note of importance: most Asian belief systems are represented by both a religious and a non-religious form. Religious aspects are those that adhere to belief in deities, supernatural occurrences, and some distinct model for an after-life. In contrast, the non-religious (we term these "philosophical" for simplicity) aspects do not concern themselves with deities, magic, or "unknowable" knowledge. It is the latter aspect of both Buddhism and Taoism that sets Ch'an apart as a distinct entity.


Perhaps most glaringly absent in the study of Shaolin has been the philosophy of this unique sect of non-secular Buddhism. Though Shaolin has become famous for the gung fu styles and abilities of its monks, the foundation and spirit of the Order are actually much more centered in the Buddhist teachings of an Indian teacher named Bodhidharma, or, to the Chinese, Tamo (440?-528 AD). Like most spiritual masters, Tamo left few direct writings of his interpretation of the Dharma (or principles) of Buddhism, but through written and oral history, Shaolin have maintained his legacy. This is the first lesson in the Shaolin interpretation of its spiritual roots and principles that we shall present.

A translation of his major teachings has been published (The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma) in which the author wonders at why these basic teachings have not been more widely circulated. We concur with this question, and suggest the following possible reasons:

First, Tamo's message is simple: The mind is the Buddha. Tamo rephrases the four noble truths and eightfold path as the core reality to seekers of enlightenment--simple enough concepts--but places the entirety of becoming (or rather recognizing the state of being) enlightened on the individual. In a sweeping gesture he urges self-motivation, self-awareness, and self-recognition at the expense of hierarchical "orders" of monks and token ceremonies. Cut the extraneous, he goads, ignore illusions, and go for the core which is already there. Certainly such a philosophy is anathema to practices that perpetuate the illusion that someone else can enlighten you.

Second, Tamo left the disciple considerable latitude in how to live, as did Shakyamuni himself. He did not require monks to be celibate, to fast, or perform rites of asceticism, nor was the "priesthood" limited to males. Quite the contrary, he embraced the human condition as the starting point from which all "higher" revelations would spring. Shaolin remains unique in allowing its members this degree of freedom (and thus being more like Methodist ministers than Catholic priests). In Tamo's message of simplicity (but not specifically denial), he limits the more embellished aspects of sectarian religious practice and organization.

Finally, I would suggest that Tamo's influence has been largely circumvented by the plethora of Buddhist scriptures, scholars, and sects. As with most original thinkers, there is more commentary written about him than by him, and the same can be said of interpretations and critiques of his teachings.

That said, we now offer an annotated review of Tamo's teachings as embraced by the Shaolin Order for during its 1500-year history. Tamo's words are in italics and the editorial notes are in standard text. Enjoy and be free!

The Outline of Practice


There are many roads that lead to the Way, but these contain but two common features: recognition and practice. By recognition is meant that meditation reveals the truth that all living things share a common nature, a nature concealed by the veils of illusion.

By "many roads," Tamo points out that enlightenment is reached by different souls in different ways; these may include the various seated and moving meditations. Such practices are termed yogas, gung fu, and sudden self-realization. However, all of the possible routes share the common themes of recognition of self-awareness, and practice of the Dharma--the Eightfold Path-- that allows enlightenment (covered later in this document). Recognition of the fact that all of life is connected spiritually is essential to reaching self-awareness.

Those who shun illusion for reality, who meditate on walls and the loss of self and other, on the unity of mortal and sage, and are undeterred by written holy words are in accord with the faculty of reason. Lacking motion and effort, they embrace reason.

Reality and what appears as reality are difficult to separate, especially if one looks to outside sources (which may themselves be illusions). Wall meditation is the inward focus of the mind on itself, done in peaceful surroundings. Such a mind must cut through illusion and realize that duality is also an illusion. We are mortal and sage; we are self and all else. Once this reality is seen, we become reason itself.

By practice it is meant the participation and acceptance of the Four Noble Truths: suffering, adapting, non-attachment, and practicing the Dharma. First comes suffering. When followers of the Way suffer, they should recall that in the countless previous incarnations they have been deterred from the path, sometimes becoming trivial and angry even without cause. The suffering in this life is a punishment, but also an opportunity to exercise what I have learned from past lives. Men and gods are equally unable to see where a seed may bear fruit. I accept this suffering as a challenge and with an open heart. In recognizing suffering, you enter onto the path to the Way.

This is a lesson in karma1, that we are ultimately responsible for our actions (also called the Law of Cause and Effect). If we can learn from a punishment and attain true rehabilitation, we rejoin the path and move ahead. Because the First Noble Truth declares "there is suffering in life," an adept is expected to know suffering as both a condition of being alive and as a disease that can be treated.

Second, adapt to your conditions. Mortals are ruled by their surroundings, not by themselves. All we experience depends upon surroundings. If we reap a reward or great boon, it is the fruit of a seed we planted long ago. Eventually, it will end. Do not delight in these boons, for what is the point? In a mind unmoved by reward and setback, the journey on the path continues.

In essence, Tamo says that we shall all have good days and bad days, the "goodness" and "badness" depending on circumstances or viewpoint. Accept what comes, knowing that both good and bad will pass, and stay focused on the important points of the Dharma.

Third, seek no attachments. Mortals delude themselves. They seek to possess things, always searching for something. But enlightened ones wake up and choose reason over habit. They focus on the Way and their bodies follow them through each season. The world offers only emptiness, with nothing worth desiring. Disaster and Prosperity constantly trade places. To live in the three realms is to stay in a house on fire. To have a body is to experience suffering. Does any body have peace? Those who see past illusion are detached, and neither imagine nor seek. The sutras2 teach that to seek is to suffer, to seek not is to have bliss. In not seeking, you follow the path.

Buddhism is notorious for its non-attachment3. Suffering is the disease that binds us to rebirth, and attachment--especially for life--is the tether that keeps us suffering. We all experience ups and down, and these are transitory. To attach to any feeling is to anchor in the fleeting moment that quickly becomes the past. Accept what comes, even enjoy (or loathe) it, then let it go. This is how to non-seek.

Fourth, practice the Dharma, the reality teaching all spirits are pure. All illusion is dropped. Duality does not exist. Subject and object do not exist. The sacred texts say the Dharma has no being because it is free from the attachment to being; the Dharma has no self because it is free from the attachment to self. Those who understand this truth wisely practice the path. They know that the things that are real do not include greed and envy, and give themselves with their bodies, minds, and spirits. They share material things in charity, with gladness, with no vanity or thought of giver or taker of the gift. In this way they teach others without becoming attached. This allows them to help others see and enjoy the path to enlightenment.

This passage contains several important concepts, and it would have been nice of Tamo to elaborate more fully. The practice of Dharma refers to following Buddhism's Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. The Path is central to all sects of Buddhism, though there are varying interpretations of its meanings. The central elements are: right views, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right devotion, right mindfulness, and right meditation. Volumes have been written about these concepts, and so we shall not pursue them further here at this time.

Buddhism appears in conflict with many other philosophically based religions in denying the duality of the universe. For example, many schools teach the dual nature of reality as positive/negative, hot/cold, male/female, and so on. Buddhism teaches that duality is an illusion. Reality may manifest positive/negative/neutral, hot/warm/cool/cold, or male/female/sexless (as in many microorganisms). Consider the cliché "fight or flight." The implication is duality, either run or attack. A third possibility is also readily apparent: freeze and do nothing. Not all possibilities are dual or triple in nature, so Buddhism seeks to free us from seeing the world through the blinders of a philosophical model.

The teachings also include room for sharing, mainly in efforts to help other souls see the possibility of enlightenment. Actions taken to help such souls are seen as highly important to followers of the path. Indeed, those who become enlightened and later choose to undergo another rebirth into this world are seen as "saints," forgoing Nirvana to help others escape rebirth. Such noble souls are called Bodhisattvas.

1 Karma is a very specific term in Asian thought, and is a measure of debt or accumulation that impedes the advancement of the spirit to a higher level. There is no such thing as "good" karma in Asia; one either acquires karma (not good) or eliminates it (the goal of meditation).
2 Sutra is an Indian word for sacred texts. From the word meaning a string, it became the string of words of holy lessons.
3 There is a logical discordance in Buddhist practice: the seeking to not-seek. More will be said about this in later annotations, but for now consider Tamo's core point as follows: seeking and non-seeking are both desires (and hence causes of suffering). By neither seeking nor not-seeking, one reaches a state of "mindless bliss, or the "one-point."

What is a martial arts style?

The concept of a style is a rather complicated one, and Chinese martial arts claim as many as 1500 different styles. By "style" we mean a particular school of martial practice, with its own training methods, favored techniques, and emphasis on attack and defense. While it is impossible to quantify differences between most styles, it is easy to see the distinctions between such disparate approaches to combat as practiced by Tiger, Crane, and Monkey stylists. In choosing a style (a contemporary privilege; traditionally, styles were assigned by the teachers), try to find one that suits your physical attributes, interests, and sense of utility. It does no good to study the graceful single-leg and flying techniques of White Crane if you have the flexibility and grace of a turtle! On the other hand, and gung fu practice will enhance your physical skills, dexterity, and alertness, and it is not uncommon for a beginner in one style to change to a more "appropriate" style later. Whatever else may be said of styles, the first year basics are almost universal--punches, kicks, and stances show little variation at the beginner's level.

What is Gung Fu?

In dealing with the recently popularized concept of Gung Fu, one must begin the discussion by explaining that Gung Fu is not a martial art unto itself, yet it encompasses the most effective and devastating methods of self-preservation known to man. The identity of Gung Fu is diverse; over 1,000 styles are known or recognized. From Gung Fu came Karate, Escrima, and most important, a way of thinking that became a code of life.

Gung Fu requires of the practitioner a strict code of physical and mental discipline, unparalleled in Western pursuits. It is only as a whole concept that Gung Fu can be discussed, and this entails more than fighting.

To be adept, one must follow the Tao, the way, the essence of the philosophy and life of the originators of the arts. One cannot pay to learn this art; it is only acquired by the desire to learn, the will to discipline one's self, and devotion to practice.

The standards to be met to attain proficiency are so high that the Chinese refer to the master as a disciple of the way of the tiger, the sign of the dragon.

The Martial Aspects

The power of the Gung Fu practitioner lay in his ability to defend himself against impossible odds and situations. After years of the most diligent practice, these monks became more than merely adept at the ways of survival. But the initial acceptance to be one of the chosen few was difficult.

As children, applicants for priesthood were made to do the most menial and difficult work related to the upkeep of the temple. Their sincerity and ability to keep the secrets of the order were severely tested for years before the finer aspects of the order were revealed to them. But, upon being accepted by the elders of the temple, his or her entry into Gung Fu was to open a whole new world. The student would work long hours training mind and body to work together in a coordinated effort. He would learn the principles of combat, the way of the Tao, and together they would ensure his way to peace.

One would be taught initially the first basic fist sets, the prearranged forms which simulated multiple attacks. These in turn became more complex as the student advanced, while he would simultaneously be learning the way of Taoism.

Upon completion of the student stage, one became a disciple who would be taught the higher secrets of the arts and philosophies. Weapons of all descriptions would become familiar to him as weapons of attack and defense. One would perfect his movements to coincide with his breathing. One's mind would meld into the realm of meditation known as mindlessness. And one would learn to harness ch'i.

Ch'i is a concept of such magnitude that we shall deal with it throughout this site in many different lights. For now, suffice it to say that ch'i is the power governing the universal power, so to speak. Only by harnessing such energy can a person of mild stature learn to break bricks with his bare hand, or learn to sense the movements of an opponent in the darkness. The list of feats goes on and on; we shall discuss some of these in other sections of this site.

Essential to movements in Gung Fu are ch'i-controlled actions. Compare the movements of a Karateka and a Gung Fu practitioner, and the differences are at once obvious. The Karateka moves deliberately, forcefully, each move unique and distinct from each other move. He punches linearly, kicks in a straight line, and keeps his body as rigid as iron. The Chinese boxer, on the other hand, is smooth and fluid in motion, allowing several moves to meld imperceptibly into one long, graceful action. In short, Gung Fu is fluid.

Ch'i properly coordinated allows for fluidity. Consider a single drop of water. Alone, it is harmless, gentle, and powerless. But what on earth can withstand the force of a tsunami? The concept of ch'i is the same. By tapping into the universal energies, one increases one's abilities many times. How can one damage a Gung Fu practitioner, when one is unable to strike and injure a body of water?

Artistic Aspects

There can be little doubt, after examining first hand the structure of Gung Fu, that mastery of it is indeed mastery of a fine art form. It requires a tremendous amount of background, information and disciplines, which would shame our liberal-arts students. The priests of old were adept in all of the following: medicine, music, art, weapons-making, religions, animal husbandry, cartography, languages, history, and of course, Gung Fu. The artist had to be more than a fighting machine, he had to know how, where and why to enter a fight, and even of greater importance, how to avoid conflict. Only with "unbeatable" ability of the priest was he secure enough not to need to fight.

There was a ranking system of sorts used, beginner, disciple, and master. The beginner (novice or student level), was the menial servant. Only very crude rudiments of Gung Fu were in his domain. Disciples were in effect almost priests, still having to master themselves, but of the right mettle to carry the traditions and secrets of the Shaolin. The pinnacle of master was reached by very few; it was truly the achievement of a lifetime.

The primary obstacle that a disciple had to pass to attain the priesthood was the test for master rank. Actually a series of oral and practical exams, they culminated in the test of the tunnel. The candidate was lead to a corridor linked with the outside world. In the corridor were booby-traps, all lethal, all unpredictable. The disciple had to pass all of these, for there was no going back, no way out but to succeed. Most never even began the journey; few finished it. The adept who passed the traps faced one last obstacle; a several hundred pound urn filled with burning iron filings. On each side of the urn was an emblem, different for each temple, usually of a dragon and a tiger. The urn had to be moved with the bare forearms to unblock the exit. In so doing, the now priest was forever branded as a Sil Lum monk.

Many priests just out of the temple would wander about the country acting as doctors, roving law givers, and guardians of the poor. Some would return to the temple then it was their job to prepare the next generation of priests. Entry was between ages five and seven. Graduation was at the age of at least twenty-two. And every bit was part of a long, hard life.

The stylistic variations within the Chinese martial arts are due to various factors. First, some priests were not content with one "truth", and engineered improvements or variations on the old standards. Some arts had their origin from Indian exercises, while others were influenced by Greek wrestling, and equally unexpected pursuits.

Secondly, the priests were not all content as priests. Some went civilian and taught parts of the temple boxing, mixed with moves of their own. A man who preferred the use of one style of attack, i.e. claws, would build a whole discipline around gouging, claw-like attacks (Eagle Claw system).

Thirdly, the civilians taught by priests would adapt what they needed in their real lives. For this reason, Southern Chinese preferred hand techniques with stable stances, adaptable to boats, while the Northern Chinese adapted almost bizarre foot techniques, flying kicks and wild sweeps.

Martial Arts: Hard vs. Soft, External vs. Internal

The concept of hard/soft and external/internal martial arts is not one easily described. In terms of styles which most people are familiar with, Karate would be an example of a hard style and Aikido or T'ai Chi examples of soft styles. A hard style is generally considered one where force is used against force; a block is used to deflect an incoming strike by meeting either head on, or at a 90 degree angle. A soft style does not use force against force, but rather deflects the incoming blow away from its target. There are uses for both hard and soft techniques. A practitioner may wish to break the attacker's striking arm with the block. On the other hand, a much smaller opponent would not be able to accomplish this, so instead may wish to deflect the incoming attack.

An external style is one which relies primarily in strength and physical abilities to defeat an opponent. In contrast, an internal style is one that depends upon ch'i and timing rather than power. Aikido (at the master's level) would be an internal style, while most karate styles are external.

However, the concepts of hard/soft internal/external are finding fewer proponents among senior martial artists. Both conceptual twins are impossible to separate in reality, and masters will generally acknowledge that any distinction is largely only a matter of subjective interpretation. Arguments about the reality of the concepts are often waged by novices and philosophical dilettantes, ignorant of the inseparable nature of duality. They see yin and yang as elements that can exist independently, while philosophical and physical reasoning demonstrate that they cannot. Without their union (=Tao), neither can exist. Ergo, a "hard" technique such as a straight fist is guided by the soft power of mind and the internal component of ch'i. Equally, the softest projection of Aikido requires the "hard" element of physical contact and movement, coupled with actively redirecting the opponent. In short, preoccupation with distinguishing soft from hard is a distraction from learning martial arts and moving towards a unifying technique and mastery.

Gung Fu Styles

Gung Fu styles may generally be divided into three classes: Shaolin Temple styles, temple-derived non-temple styles, and family styles, or Pai. Within the Temple styles are those arts generally and consistently taught in the temples, with many having their origins in pre-Shaolin history. There are two major divisions in Shaolin Kung Fu. The southern temples are predominantly hand technique oriented, while northern temples put more emphasis on kicks and foot techniques.

The northern Shaolin styles primarily consist of Northern Praying Mantis, Black Crane, and Black Tiger.

The southern Shaolin styles primarily consist of White Crane, Tiger, Dragon, Leopard, Snake, and Southern Praying Mantis.

There were also styles that had their roots in the Shaolin temples, such as Wing Chun and Hung Gar.

Many of the movements were representations of the behavior of animals. A system sometimes comprised the maneuvers of one specific animal and no other. All the blocks, attacks and stances were done in imitation of the bird or beast. Each system had certain aspects peculiar to it since each of the animals was designed differently by nature. However, most styles were not so rigid and limited; northern praying mantis, for example, uses mantis and tiger hand techniques, and monkey and generic northern style footwork.

Differences Between the Styles

In general terms, the styles followed specific training objectives (but there are always exceptions). The dragon movements were devised to develop alertness and concentration. These movements were executed without the application of strength, but with emphasis on breathing in the lower abdomen along with the coordination of mind, body and spirit. Movements are long, flowing and continuous, and provided Shaolin practitioners with the equivalent of t'ai chi or pakua.

The tiger movements were formed to develop the bones, tendons and muscles. The execution of these movements was the opposite of that of the dragon, since emphasis was placed on strength and dynamic tension. Movements are short, snappy and forceful.

The snake movements were used to develop temperament and endurance. Breathing was done slowly, deeply, softly and harmoniously. Movements are flowing and rippling with emphasis on the fingers.

The crane movements were used to develop control, character and spirit. Emphasis is placed on light, rapid footwork and evasive attacking techniques. Movements in the one-legged stance are performed with a considerable amount of meditation.

The Shaolin systems were developed from animal actions and were divided into low systems and high systems. The list used below is from the temple from the Honan province during the Ch'ing dynasty. The low systems of the Shaolin were choy li fut, crane, cobra, and tiger. The high systems of the order were snake, dragon, Wing Chun, and praying mantis. The primary features that separate high from low are the fantastic economy of movement and the differences in application of ch'i in the high systems.

The low systems were so called because they had their basis both in physical maneuvers and in earthly creatures. Choy li fut was based on a posture called a riding horse stance, so called because when adopted, one appeared to be straddling a horse. The movements are very stiff and hard, depending primarily on muscular power to perform adequately. There are only three kicks in the original system, although recently the style has adopted many techniques of the Northern Shaolin system. According to legend, it was designed for use on the house boats of the south where a stable stance and powerful hand techniques were necessary. The certain portion of its history is that the system was named for two Chinese boxing masters, Choy and Li. Fut means Buddha, serving in this instance to refer to the Shaolin temple's Buddhist influence.

The next system is crane, one of the traditional Shaolin systems. A legend is also attached to its birth. One day a monk stumbled on a battle between an ape and a crane. It seemed as if the ape would rend the bird in two. However, the bird continually stymied the ape, flapping its wings and darting in and out with its beak; at last the animal was driven away. The graceful movements of the bird were copied as well as its one leg stance. The principle weapons of the system are its long range kicks and a hand formation, the crane's beak.

The cobra system is a strange, nearly dead system. Its basis is a stance that resembles a cobra risen from the grass with spread hood. The maneuvers are strictly defensive in nature, devastatingly effective and swift. Cobra is designed for speed and tenacity for once the reptile strikes, it hangs on and makes certain that its opponent will die. Most of its techniques are hand maneuvers aimed at the eyes and throat. It is primarily a dim mak style.

Tiger is another natural system, this the opposite of crane. It is a vicious method of fighting utilizing powerful kicks and grim clawing motions. Like the tiger, its practitioner fights fiercely, rending, tearing and breaking any open space of skin or limb that is left unguarded. It is highly defensive in nature, waiting until being backed into a corner, then unleashing an unstoppable assault. Its principle hand weapon is the tiger claw, also useful for unarmed defense against weapons. By clasping the weapon between the hands or enmeshing it in the crushing grip of the hand, the enemy's advantage is lost.

Snake is an interface between the high systems and low systems. It is one of the easiest systems to learn and also one of the most deadly. The reason that it is a transition system is because it has the movements of a spiritual system and the physical applications of a low system. The spiritual movements are all flowing and continuous, akin to the movements of a cloud. Physical applications of such movements are seen by the stabbing hand motions to the face, throat and genitals. Ch'i is present in the practitioner as his body mimics a snake in its coiling, undulating motions; for only through ch'i can the proper flow be achieved to allow the technique to work. It is an earthly animal by nature, yet still somewhat spiritual due to its mysterious character. The snake has thus been appointed as the guardian of the dragons.

The basis of the dragon systems is ch'i, the inner power of Taoism. The movements and applications of the dragon systems are dependent on the use of ch'i. The special flow that distinguishes it from the flow of the crane system is due to ch'i. Also, the ch'i is substituted for muscular strength. For example, a tiger stylist would break a rock by sheer force and physical technique, while a dragon stylist would shatter it by ch'i projection.

The praying mantis has as its watchwords silence and determination. Although it is a physical system in terms of its origin, it nonetheless is classified as a high system. Praying mantis warrants its prominence because of its extreme efficiency. Despite the fact that it is hand oriented and lacks the fancy leg maneuvers of dragon, it is versatile and overpowering. Characteristic of mantis, as well as dragon and snake, is the virtual lack of blocks. Since blocks are inefficient, the high systems follow the advice of the ancient sages and yield in order to conquer. Also, it combines ch'i and extreme awareness to be virtually invincible.

The systems of the Shaolin can be arranged on the pyramid illustrated below. The best method for this is to take the tiger family as a representative of the low systems and the dragon family as a representative of the high systems. The remaining Shaolin systems will be placed in the appropriate tiers singly.

The lowest level of the pyramid is composed entirely of basic techniques. These are common to all martial arts and can be claimed exclusively by no one system. The maneuvers are comprised of kicks, punches, stances and blocks. Since they are universal to most martial arts, it is very difficult to distinguish a student from a karate style as opposed to a choy li fut pupil. All of this class of basics belongs to the low systems and so are dependent on hard, muscular movements in order to carry them through properly.

Next we progress to the low systems. As stated earlier, this level has its basis in earthly rather than ethereal beings. The subsystems of tiger are numerous at this level. Tiger, eagle, leopard, hung gar, the drunken system and the crab system all belong at this level. Tiger, leopard and hung gar are very oriented toward physical body strength and the destruction of an opponent by breaking his body's structural system. Eagle is a vicious ripping system with the bulk of its work directed against the eyes and throat. The drunken system is a lurching, seemingly unstable system that strikes with little power and thus tries to exhaust an opponent with an arrhythmic, oddly placed series of blows to tender, exposed areas. The crab system concentrated on closing off blood vessels and pinching nerves, thereby immobilizing part or all of an attacker's body.

In the category of the higher low systems are found four different tiger subsystems: hong tiger, s'hu tiger, imperial tiger and white tiger. They are placed above the previous systems because ch'i and some concepts of spiritual motion have been incorporated into them. Hong tiger was a system which evolved from a mixture of tiger and white dragon. It was used by palace guards especially against weapons. S'hu tiger was the weapons training that went with the unarmed system of hong tiger. Imperial tiger is a modern adaptation of hong tiger. The techniques are sophisticated at this level. Also contained in the band of high low systems is monkey, placed there because of its liberal use of parries and advanced striking techniques, taking it out of the realm of brute strength. White tiger is a highly sophisticated, forbidden style similar to snow tiger.

The main systems of the Shaolin that are left are placed thus: choy li fut, white crane, and tiger all low systems. Snake is a lower high system and may be classified as a low or a high system. Dragon, praying mantis, and Wing Chun are all classified as full high systems due to their efficiency of movement and the use of ch'i to both supplement and in some cases replace physical technique. These systems were taught to some extent to all monks as part of their training. The complete systems were reserved for the few, the priests that would remain in the temple after being granted their priesthood.

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