Description of Ranks in the Monasteries

     Siu Lum (Shaolin) had a limited class structure with three major levels: students, disciples, and masters. At the base was the student class, which held the most individuals. Members of this group cooked all the meals, washed clothes and performed all other menial or manual labor. Their station was such in order to teach them humility and respect, but also to provide the masters with an opportunity to observe potential protégés before entrusting them with martial arts skills. One who entered before you and was still in your class was an older brother or sister.
     The next class of Siu Lum (Shaolin) was composed of disciples. They were students who had demonstrated that they were worthy of learning the martial arts of the temple. Upon entrance into this class, they spent from two to four years in the exclusive study of the Siu Lum (Shaolin) arts of war and medicine, having already received their basic philosophical training as students. As students they learned the principles of ethics; as disciples, their time had come to live those ethics, posing as examples for others to follow.
     Above the disciples were the masters, who were accorded status as full monks of the temple. The title of master had been bestowed upon them because they had learned completely a system of martial arts from their temple and perfected it, thus achieving technical mastery. Also, they had succeeded in learning the philosophy of the temple well enough to teach what they had learned. Indeed, this was their function in the temple. They were the dispensers of knowledge to the student classes.

The Monasteries

Henan: This is "the" Siu Lum (Shaolin) Monastery seen in Chinese kung fu movies, and the one portrayed in the ABC-TV "Kung Fu" series of the 1970s. The physical premises, located in Loyang, a small mountain town southwest of Beijing, have been restored by the Chinese government in the mid 1970s (the temple was destroyed as a result of the Boxer Rebellion of 1901, but probably not until the late 1920s), and subsequently become a tourist/martial arts Mecca. Most of the resident "monks" seen today are actors, similar to the people you would meet in Colonial Williamsburg and other historical sites. During most of its history, Henan Temple was the seat of the most senior monks in the Siu Lum (Shaolin) Order.

Fukien: Probably built around the same time as the Henan Monastery, but originally a mainstream Buddhist Monastery until the early 1600s. This Monastery was integrated into the Siu Lum (Shaolin) order around 1650. Larger than the Henan Monastery, Fukien served as the "headquarters" during times when Henan was either destroyed or under threat. The southern styles of praying mantis, snake, dragon, and Wing Chun were all developed in Fukien Temple, or by its masters. The Monastery was burned during the Boxer Rebellion, and its remains were rediscovered in the early 1980s.

Kwangtung: southern school, taught many great warriors, snake temple. Temple was built in late 1700's as a Siu Lum (Shaolin) Monastery, built in a mountain area overlooking the ocean near the city of Canton in Canton Province. This Cantonese Monastery was close to Fukien, and was home to many southern styles, including Choy Li Fut and dragon (styles often originated in one location and were modified at others). Shelled during the civil warring following the Boxer Rebellion.

Wutang: Tiger Monastery. Located near the town of Wutang. Built in a politically unstable area (near Manchuria and the Korean peninsula). Probably the Monastery most involved with temporal concerns, and consequently often besieged by one army or another. Mercenary monks, including Bok Lei, Hung Si Kuan, and Bok Mei all came from Wutang, eventually moving to Henan (and thus involving Siu Lum (Shaolin) in its biggest political incursion). Very old temple, integrated into the Siu Lum (Shaolin) order around AD 800.

O Mei Shan: (literally, "Great White Mountain"), northern, library and medical Monastery . This Monastery was located in an inaccessible area of the Szechuan province and imported monks much like research institutions do today. The Monastery itself was very old, probably Taoist in origin. Integrated into Siu Lum (Shaolin) order around AD 1500. Was in close contact with Tibet. Crane temple. This was a major medical "school" for four centuries, the libraries filled with tomes from East and West. The buildings were used for artillery practice by the armies of both Shang Kai Shek and Mao Tze Tung, but restored in the early 1970s. Today, the "temple" serves as the conservation service headquarters for the bamboo forests of Szechuan and research center for the pandas.

The first four Monastery had the brands of the tiger and dragon on the left and right forearms respectively. The O mei shan temple had the mantis and the crane on the right and left forearms.

The above information was provided by

Brief History

The Legendary Gee Sin Sim See

Siu Lum Q & A

Back to the Main Page