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The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts

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The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts

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    Available in PDF Format | The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts.pdf | English
    Meir Shahar(Author)
The Shaolin Monastery charts, for the first time in any language, the history of the Shaolin Temple and the evolution of its world-renowned martial arts. In this meticulously researched and eminently readable study, Meir Shahar considers the economic, political, and religious factors that led Shaolin monks to disregard the Buddhist prohibition against violence and instead create fighting techniques that by the twenty-first century have spread throughout the world.

"A long-awaited, in-depth look into the complex political, military, and hygienic factors surrounding the monastery's involvement in martial arts. . . . This is clearly a pioneering book, and Shahar, a qualified scholar, has documented his material in a manner that will allow others to pursue the provocative questions he raises.""A real gift to martial arts enthusiasts and historians alike. Combining scholarly caution and respectful appreciation, Shahar shows how much and how little can be learned about the origins of the monastery in the fifth century, its close relationship with the Tang emperors (618-907), its flowering as a religious and military institution in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and the suspicion with which it was regarded by the Qing state (1644-1911). . . . This refreshingly original study is indispensable for understanding both the history and the hype."The Shaolin Monastery is experiencing an incredible renaissance as it moves into the twenty-first century, this time into a global society, based strongly on perceptions of its relationship with Chinese martial arts. Meir Shahar is to be commended for successfully weaving together the numerous threads of this complicated and fascinating story in an admirable combination of serious scholarship and popular readability. Not only is the body of the book an exciting reading experience, but the comprehensive notes, glossary, Chinese-English bibliography, and index, which constitute nearly one third of the book, provide an invaluable source for further research. This book is truly a rare gem.-- "China Review International"This book is a serious and fascinating cultural history of the multi-layered historical links between the Shaolin Temple and the martial arts traditions that have been associated with, and sometimes attributed to, the temple. The book reads like a detective story, as Meir Shahar ventures into the often-murky waters of martial arts legend and Buddho-martial fantasyland.-- "China Journal"This expert and readable distillation of several aspects of Chinese martial arts history sums up, definitively in English for the present, the verifiable facts and intriguing legends about the Shaolin Temple in North China . . . The book's scholarship is impeccable. . . . Both the graduate student and the kung fu aficionado can learn from this work-- "The Historian"[Shahar] brilliantly demonstrat[es] the complex ebb and flow of the Shaolin monastery's political and economic fortune in relation to its monks' voluntary and compulsory battles. . . . This highly readable book is a welcomed edition for scholars and students of Chinese Buddhism, religion, history, and martial arts.-- "Journal of Religion"The Shaolin Monastery represents a major breakthrough in its blending of historical, ethnographic, and literary sources to produce a compelling narrative that is eminently readable yet also overturns mythologized accounts of China's martial arts traditions while also enhancing our appreciation of the role of violence in Chinese culture.-- "H-Buddhism"A real gift to martial arts enthusiasts and historians alike. Combining scholarly caution and respectful appreciation, Shahar shows how much and how little can be learned about the origins of the monastery in the fifth century, its close relationship with the Tang emperors (618-907), its flowering as a religious and military institution in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and the suspicion with which it was regarded by the Qing state (1644-1911). . . . This refreshingly original study is indispensable for understanding both the history and the hype.-- "Choice"A long-awaited, in-depth look into the complex political, military, and hygienic factors surrounding the monastery's involvement in martial arts. . . . This is clearly a pioneering book, and Shahar, a qualified scholar, has documented his material in a manner that will allow others to pursue the provocative questions he raises.-- "Journal of Asian Martial Arts"

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Book details

  • PDF | 296 pages
  • Meir Shahar(Author)
  • University of Hawaii Press; 1 edition (30 Jan. 2009)
  • English
  • 9
  • History

Review Text

  • By Violet Ray on 31 October 2016

    I bought this as a gift for a friend who is studying this art. He loves it and finds it very interesting and useful.

  • By Eli Moshe on 30 April 2008

    I came to this work as both an academic and a practitioner of a Shaolin style of pushing hands. The evolution of the Shaolin arts from staff fighting to unarmed styles is explored in great detail from a variety of sources (many of which are primary and have been translated here for the first time).This is one of the first books I've read that makes a scholarly attempt at explaining how the Buddhist monks of Shaolin successfully negotiated the cognitive dissonance caused by commitment to Buddhist principles of non-violence on one hand and mastery of martial arts on the other.The book also succeeds in recognising and clarifying the role of Daoist thought and cultivation practices (namely the Dao Yin) in the development of Shaolin Gung Fu.Some of the conclusions (especially in relation to the unarmed styles) lend some support to Nathan Johnson's (2000) thesis 'Barefoot Zen'. After long and careful study of the forms of Shaolin Gung Fu and Karate Kata, Johnson contended that these arts were never intended for fighting (whereas Shahar would likely contend that fighting was not their sole purpose, p.180 and p.200).

  • By Rasmus Palmelund Kviesgaard on 1 June 2014

    The book surprised me with a lot of history regarding the shaolin monastery.That is a big plus in my book.Also easy to read, even if english is not your primary language.

  • By porgie on 17 September 2015

    This book deals more with the history of the temple.I was looking for a book that dealt with the origins of the styles.Interesting read though.

  • By Siegbald on 20 June 2015

    An exclellent work on the subject, deep historical details of the monastery, just what I wanted to read.

  • By REV. E. A. HERNANDEZ on 15 June 2011

    THE SHAO LIN MONASTERY by Meir Shahar (University of Hawaii Press, 2008) is both a Buddhist's and martial artist's dream book - but at the same time it is sadly deficient for those with a more scholarly/historical taste. Shahar, an interested "Shao Lin student" as I call him, is professor of East Asian Studies at Tel Aviv University. As such, I expected a truly well-rounded, highly referenced text on the history of the Shao Lin Order and Monastery.In a way, this text - at a mere 202 pages of writing though it is in excess of 270 pages - is the definitive Shao Lin history, or shall I say 'historiography'. The remaining 68 or so pages consist of notes, citations, bibliography and index, inevitable in a scholarly work but here, it just seems superfluous.Though subtitled HISTORY, RELIGION, AND THE CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS, that subtitle is actually the title of the concluding essay - this book is a string of overly long essays dealing only marginally with the history of the Shao Lin Buddhist Order. It is a bit fuller with Shao Lin Temple/Monastery history, but only just. In his defense, Shahar has written what I think is the most comprehensive book that can be written on the subject.Yet it is still irksome, amateurish in a way. Examples: Shahar insists on doing what many lazy scholars are doing today, and that is writing in "Pinyin" when in fact it is gibberish without the tonal diacritical marks or at least a number to indicate tone. Real Pinyin has the diacritical marks or at worst numbers after each word to indicate tone. Here as in far too many Chinese-themed works, Shahar contents himself with merely spelling out the words American style.Well, I for one am NOT content with that kind of laziness. What is worse, Shahar seems obsessed with the modern Shao Lin pop-culture martial arts scene, though he wisely sidesteps it after one too many references to the film SHAO LIN TEMPLE. On the bright side, he relies on Gene Ching (author of SHAOLIN TRIPS, vid. my review) as a source for Shao Lin martial history and certain other salient facts. Indeed, Shahar has presented us with a book that Ching's later book companions and complements very well.Shahar approaches the subject in three main sections: origins of Shao Lin and its martial heritage from 500 A.D. to 900 A.D. (he addresses the Dynasties in brief but beautiful detail). The next section is the same, covering 900 A.D. to 1600 A.D. The final section 'covers' 1600 A.D. to 1900 A.D. with an early apology for not writing a more recent history - something Shahar clearly left open to Gene Ching.This work is well-illustrated and detailed after a fashion, and even if it does contain some rather silly contradictions due to laziness, it is a must-have for anybody. Though I carp about the substandard Pinyin, the laziness and the last section that sounds like the conclusion of a cheap kung fu magazine article, I am also thrilled to be able to own this compendium of Shao Lin history as best we have it. It was a real thrill to read it in general, and I was deeply moved by the extensive attention Shahar paid to the tradition of the Buddhist staff, the way he blends it in with its preeminence as the Shao Lin signature weapon. (I own about a dozen staves and I use them for walking when I can walk.)Get this, and if it's Shao Lin you really love, do not neglect to get Gene Ching's SHAOLIN TRIPS as a companion book. It is heavy reading mainly because these writers needed some pruning-editing ... but you'll love every second of it anyway.I leave you with the following special notes:'Sino-Shaolin' writing [my term, don't steal it] is not the easiest genre to master. It is riddled with problems that make the hardened skeptic begin to believe in curses or bad luck. At best, it is a field of writing that makes the worst skeptic begin to believe that some things are not possible.Below are a few obstacles in such writing that I find has made the field so thin and pitiable:1. The "Punyin" Problem: if it isn't written with diacritical marks or at least tone-indication numbers, it isn't Pinyin. We are getting far too lazy in this regard, and Chinese Pinyin readers have never forgiven us for throwing up this obstacle of lazy stupidity; even I always fail to mark "Shao Lin" correctly. Cure: get the keyboard and printers set up for REAL Pinyin transliteration.2. The 'Shao Lin Shakers': this is my overall term for fake, misleading or just plain stupid misinformation about the Shao Lin Order, the temple and the monastery. This branches out, covering bad intel about Shao Lin martial arts too. Stephen Chow's film SHAOLIN SOCCER and KUNG FU HUSTLE make hilarious fun of this very problem. Problem is, it isn't funny - not when it occurs in scholarship. Cure: visit China, talk to Shao Lin members and their friends.3. The 'Keyboard Diarrhea Dilemma': self-explanatory. Cure: good editing and complete lack of desire to 'academically pad-out' the writing.4. The 'I-Don't-Know-So-I'll-Wing-It' problem: again, self-explanatory. Cure: tireless reading and research.5. The "Me Me Me Problem': a scholarly work is NOT an excuse to write a complete autobiography - not even a 'professional' autobiography. Cure: get the hell out of your writing and stay out of it, even avoiding first-person language. If your work is autobiographical, SAY SO up front!There is but a taste of the major issues. Ching and Shahar both suffer from various problems in these areas. My list may or may not be the most significant problems - all I know is those are my biggest pet peeves.For two decades, I've been begged to write about Buddhism. I'll never do it in any capacity because of that horrid list. Book/film review is something else, and that is as satisfying as any writing.Though never as perilous as nonfiction book authorship.

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