Shaolin temple 少林寺 (Shaolin Si) was built for a Buddhist Indian monk called Ba Tuo in 495 to preach his faith. Buddhism was becoming very popular and well-respected all over China at that time. Many Chinese monks were sent to India to bring back Buddhist manuscripts to their homeland, where Indian monks were invited to preach their religion. There are no specific writings about what Ba Tuo taught in the temple, but he is known as the first abbot of Shaolin.
The most famous character in the Shaolin history is an Indian prince called Damo, also known as Bodhidharma. He lived in the south of India were he practiced Mahayana Buddhism and was considered to be "enlightened". Invited to China by the Liang Wu Emperor he arrived to Guangdong in 527. After a while he visited the Shaolin temple but found the monks weak, sick, and very unhealthy. He decided to isolate himself in the mountain behind the temple to meditate. After nine years he returned to the temple with two classics: Yi Jin Jing (classic of muscle and tendons transformations), and the Xi Sui Jing (classic of brain and marrow cleaning). He taught the Yi Jin Jing to the monksin order for them to have more Qi and to be healthier but they also noticed that their physical strength was growing significantly. When added to their martial practice, it also improved the efficiency of their techniques. That was a new stage of Chinese martial arts.
During the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) the Shaolin temple was allowed to have its own soldiers and its own private lands. Untill the Qing dynasty (1644) the Shaolin temple continued to improve its martial art training by absorbing lots of information from the outside world.
Many monks traveled abroad in search of new skills, and new techniques to bring back to the temple. This explains why the Shaolin gong fu was so powerfull, and up-to-date compared to outside martial arts. Gradualy the temple turned into a famous laboratory of Chinese gong fu. Unfortunatley the temple has been burnt down 3 times since its creation resulting in the loss of a wealth of information about traditional Shaolin style.
One of the meanings of "gong fu" is to put time and effort in the practice of a specific skill. When practicing gong fu the practitioner focuses all their intention on reaching their goal. It is an excellent way to improves one's body, patience, will and intention force.
Practicing Shaolin fundamentals or Shaolin jiben gong 少林基本 helps to improve the practitionner's body structure. The Shaolin forms not only help to reinforce the muscles and the tendons, but also improves one's movements and motions coordinations. This leads to the discovery of the old essentials of traditionnal Gong Fu, with all its philosophy. Since Shaolin gong fu was an important root to martial arts, many of its basics are common to other styles. It allows the student to adapt to any kind of training regardless of the style.
Master Ruzhong, head teacher of the warrior monks in the southern shaolin temple (Pu tian)