The first Shaolin Temple was built in 495 A.D. by the order of the Emperor Wen of the Northern Wei Dynasty. The monastery was built on a mountaintop in the Western Honan province. The term Shaolin literally means “little forest.” In ancient times, the monastery was surrounded by lush forests. The emperor built the temple for a Buddhist name Pao Jaco for the purpose of teaching, preaching and worship. During the Liang Dynasty, 520-535 A.D. a Buddhist monk named Damo arrived from India to preach at the monastery. When Damo arrived, many of the resident monks were ill and weak. It is said that Damo created the Yi Jin Jink, or muscle-change, a classic exercise to strengthen the body. This technique is often said the be the ancient predecessor of the Shaolin style of Kung Fu.
Kung Fu existed long before the arrival of Damo, but it is clear that the temple became associated with the martial arts as time progressed. From the period of 600-1600 A.D., the martial arts grew through the Shaolin Temple to become one of the most complete systems of Kung Fu in China. During this period many Shaolin Temples were built throughout China.
Shaolin monks researched and developed internal power, external power, meditation, weapon techniques, massage, herbal remedies and other techniques. During the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 A.D., the monks and their systems were viewed as agents of virtue and justice. Everywhere a Shaolin monk went, his martial ability was always used to protect people. It is a matter of history that the monks earned the gratitude of ruling emperors by fighting on their behalf.
During the Tang Dynasty, 618-907 A.D., 13 Shaolin monks aided the first Tang Emperor, Li Shimin, in subduing his enemies. For their assistance, Li Shimin granted the monastery vast land tracts and allowed the temple to grow to 500 monks.
In 1644, disaster struck the people of China and the Shaolin Temple. In that year, the Manchurians invaded and conquered China. This began the Chin Dynasty which ruled until 1911. In order to consolidate their control, the Manchus began to destroy the largest martial arts organization in China, the Shaolin Temple. More than two hundred years of murder and destruction followed the invasion of the Manchus. Around 1760, a massive attack was launched against the Shaolin monks and their followers. The result was wide spread death and destruction of temples.
Never again was the Shaolin Temple to regain its once great prominence.