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Shaolin/Ninjutsu Connection

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Monjin Trey with Shaolin Monk
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Shiroto Ellen in The Shaolin Temple
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On the 8th and 12th of January, 2008, Shiroto Ellen and I, Monjin Trey, visited the South Shaolin temples of Quanzhou, Fujian, China in an truly historic event. In addition to making contributions to aid in the reconstruction of the main South Shaolin Temple (which was burned by decree of Emperor Qianlong, 4th emperor of the Qing dynasty, in 1763, and whose extensive reconstruction began on October 13, 1992, continuing into the present), we were also able to learn of many connections between Konigun Ninjutsu and Shaolin Kung Fu, hereinafter documented.

 

The other 2 lesser Shaolin temples which we were able to visit are the Chongfu Shaolin Temple and the Dongchan Shaolin Temple. We are presently investigating to determine if there are any more Shaolin temples remaining in the city of Quanzhou, and planning to visit any other Shaolin Temples there and throughout the Fujian Province.

Chongfu Shaolin Temple Gate
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Shaolin Buddha Making Warfist
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Shaolin Buddha with Tiger

In the Chongfu Shaolin Temple we enjoyed the beauty and heritage, but only found one significant piece of evidence of the connection between Konigun and Shaolin. This was, as shown above, a golden statuette of a Buddha making a war fist (whose thumb position would later be modified by Konigun to better protect the thumb) with a tiger (an important Konigun symbol) at his side. On this Buddha’s right is another Buddha wielding an imperial scepter as a weapon, illustrating the significance of being able to use anything as a weapon- an important defining characteristic of both Konigun Ninjutsu and Shaolin Kung Fu.

 

We only encountered one monk in the Chong Fu temple, who informed us that most of his comrades had already moved to the main Shaolin temple.

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The Dongchan Temple is small and simple but quite ornate, and was unattended save by a cleaning lady and a loquacious but innocuous medium - sized  watch mutt on a four foot leash, complete with a wagging tail to punctuate its barking. The ancestral hall was also guarded by the usual lion statues, but in this case, one of the lions had been either destroyed or absconded with, and a dutiful potted plant was vigilantly standing watch in its stead.

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The primary item of significance in establishing the relationship between Konigun and Shaolin at the Dongchan temple was the placard shown above, which is mounted on the temple’s front entrance. It displays a warrior wielding a straight sword similar to the one used in Ninjutsu, as well as a sash being brandished as a weapon.

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Nearby the Chong Fu temple stands a modest, well preserved stone house which, due to the sign in front of it, we gathered to be of some historical import. However, in the absence of an interpreter, we were unable to determine its significance. We would be much obliged if any visitors who speak Mandarin would be so kind as to translate it for us.

       In the main Temple we were finally able to meet the fabled Shaolin monks in great abundance. Their austere appearance was definitely overcome by their jovial manner.

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The Southern Shaolin Temple is presided over by Abbot Changding. Abbot Changding is an amazing man who, in addition to being the head of the Shaolin Monks, is also doing great good in his community as a member of the Quanhou municipal People’s Political Consultative Conference. He is using his position there to lobby for UNESCO recognition of the Shaolin Temple’s role in world cultural heritage. This will be a tremendous achievement not only for the Shaolin Temple and its monks but for the entire martial arts community. As it is determined by UNESCO that Shaolin Kung Fu is indeed worthy of recognition for its contribution to its nation’s culture and history, Ninjutsu will surely follow suit, as well as many other martial arts that played a vital role in shaping histories and cultures. We support Abbot Changding 100% in this lofty endeavor, and will do all we can to assist therein. 

 

The monks were extremely friendly, helpful and cheerful, bending over backwards to assist us despite the language barrier. It was truly a privilege to meet with these remarkable individuals.

 

       On a humorous aside, one of the monks standing at the table was holding a wallet with a fat wad of 100 RMB notes. As I trained my camera on the wallet, however, it quickly disappeared back into his robe and the monk grinned sheepishly. Laying up treasures in Heaven, I suppose.

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One of the highlights of our visit was the trip to the Dojo/Weapons museum. The Southern Shaolin had previously had a weapons museum located within the city limits, but have recently sold the building to the Ming Jang decoration company to help finance their renovation of the Temple compound, and are now in the process of setting up the remaining exhibits in the Temple complex itself. Very sensible move.

 

       At present, however, this is still in the process of being set up, so now all that is currently on display is an interesting assortment of weapons within the Dojo. We eagerly look forward to the time that the restoration is complete enough to accommodate all the exhibits.

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It was also interesting to note the strength training equipment beside the dojo, echoing Shidoshi Bryce Dallas’s sound reasoning that strength training is an important element of developing one’s martial arts skills.

 

       Some of our observations have led us to establish a multitude of similarities that provide a preponderance of evidence, if not incontrovertibly beyond a reasonable doubt (you, the reader can be the judge of that), that Konigun Ninjutsu did, indeed evolve from Shaolin Kung Fu and bears many remarkable similarities even today, after all these centuries of separate development.

 

       Notwithstanding these similarities, I will preamble this account by stating the obvious; Konigun Ninjutsu and Shaolin Kung Fu are two very distinctly different styles, each fulfilling it’s own needs, niche, and purpose within the realm of martial arts. This is the case in comparing any two martial arts; no two arts are ever alike. It is, nonetheless, amazing to note how many similarities are still present after more than a millennium of separation.

 

       This account will focus on the similarities of weapons, stances, strikes, kicks, blocks, fluidity in movement, angles of movement, stealth, acrobatics, grapples, groundfighting, use of animal names, harmony of nature, dress, etc, between Konigun Ninjutsu and its great grandfather, Shaolin Kung Fu, which is regarded by many historians to be the first martial art, brought from India by Tat Moh, also known as Bhoddidharma.

 

Similar weapons used include the staff/cudgel, swords (straight and curved), sickle/kama, tonfa, chain, pen, fan, thrown missiles, pitchfork/sai, a weapon that was handed down from the Shaolin to the Yama Bushi, Short stick or hanbo, 3 section staff, a straw hat used as a shield, the spear, the sash or belt, and the cane, just to name a few. For more information on Konigun Ninjutsu Weapons click here

 

The Yamabushi, from whom Konigun Ninja derived their training, are also said to have developed the naginata from the Chinese guan dao, a weapon with which the Shaolin still train extensively today.

 

It was Shaolin Kung Fu that first used everyday objects as weapons, a tradition proudly perfected by the Ninja. The first documented instance of this was when the fire tender at the Shaolin temple, Jin Na Luo,  used the stoker from the Shaolin Temple fireplace to defend the Temple against Red Turban invaders.

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The straight sword is illustrated in the photo from the Dongchan temple, while the curved sword is shown on the right, as depicted in the carvings adorning the eaves of the main South Shaolin Temple. The curved blade that was later modified as the samurai’s katana probably was of Persian influence, as the province of Fujian, and especially the city of Quanzhou, known in days of old as the fabled port of aytun, had an enormous Persian population dwelling within it, a fact well documented by explorers such as Marco Polo.

 

It was noted that, despite the similarity of the 3 section staff and techniques thereof employed by both arts, the use of the nunchaku was conspsicuous by its absence.

 

For more information on Shaolin Weapons Click Here

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We also discovered the most likely origin of the short stick on our visit to the Shaolin Temple. Take note in the photo above of the drum in the main temple. On the left and right, just above the Chinese characters, sit two short sticks used to beat the drum, but also capable of defeating an able swordsman in the hands of a well trained martial artist.   

 

Different weapons include the gong mallet (imagine getting your bell rung by one of those), a common wooden bench, the farmer’s pitchfork, the hatchet, and a weapon with a fork on one end and a crescent shaped blade on the other used by the Fujianese to hunt tigers. The different weapons, however, serve to support rather than contradict the similarities between the two styles, as they provide further evidence that both styles were peerlessly adept at both using obvious weapons and also utilizing everyday objects as weapons even more effectively. It should also be noted that many sects of Ninjutsu or individual Ninja probably did use many of the above weapons as circumstances required.

 

 

Notably, Shaolin Kung Fu has developed more weapons that are obviously intended to be used solely as weapons. The reason that this occurred within Shaolin and not Konigun is probably due to the fact that in feudal Japan owning or using weapons of any sort by the peasants was strictly forbidden under any circumstances, whereas the Samurai and nobility could freely own and weild them. In China, however, no such prohibition has been in force, and weapons have ever been a part of Chinese society, whereas the Japanese peasants have been forced to defend themselves from oppression using objects that could not be construed as weapons by the powers that be.

 

It should be noted that under the rule of the Chings and Manchurians weapons and martial arts also became outlawed. The principle difference between China during the Ming rebellion and Japan under Shogunate rule, however, is that the Ming rebels in Fujian did not recognize the Qing/Manchu regime, and were still loyal to the Ming Emperor, who freely funded their insurrection, supported their martial arts training, and supplied the Shaolin Monks and the associated lay warriors with all the weapons they needed.   

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Similar stances include the L stance, horse stance and draw stance. These stances are pervasively used in almost all martial arts today. Konigun’s advanced stance is also occasionally used in Shaolin Kung Fu. The deep bend in the knees in a Shaolin stance also indicates a consciousness of protecting the knees from being broken in combat, which is mirrored in Konigun Ninjutsu and was later built upon in Konigun to include protection of the elbows as well.

 

Principle differences in stances of the two styles include lots of stances in Shaolin Kung Fu with the weight on a deeply bent rear leg, and the front leg kept forward and almost straight, and frequent shifts in direction of such stances. One could reasonably speculate that these stances were eliminated from Konigun Ninjutsu with the aim of further reducing the risk of injuries to the knees due to the development of more brutal, offensive military arts (Imagine getting that lead leg chopped off by a low blow from a swiftly swung katana, or getting it hooked from underneath by a sickle or kama)

 

Shaolin Kung Fu also includes some stances where the placement of the feet is more linear (see the Shaolin Monk above). These were modified in Konigun Ninjutsu to include wider placement of the feet in interest of increased balance and stability in combat.

Similar strikes include the basic punch, knifehand, ridgehand, ox hand, clutch palm or tiger claw, punch rolling into a reverse punch, clutch fist, double punch, spear hand, and double clutch palm. These strikes enable the practicioners of both arts to develop a repertoire of highly effective and lethal hand techniques.

 

Mutually practiced kicks include the whip, side snap (including the same leg motion where the foot is cocked by rotation in front of the body to gain power and momentum), flying sidekicks to dismount horsemen, front snaps, round kicks, hook kicks, double side kicks (both simultaneously and in succession) against multiple opponents, the “dragon’s tail” spinning low sweep and the “tiger’s tail spinning high kick.

 

The two arts share very many blocks in common, including side, overhead, neck & head, kidney, cross & parallel blocks. Konigun Ninjutsu, however, uses the catch block (which I was unable to see used or find reference to in Shaolin Kung Fu, though this is no guarantee it does not exist).

 

Fan blocks and hand rolls, which can also be utilized as strikes, are abundantly present in both arts. Both styles also perform them both with empty hands and with a full assortment of weapons. 

 

Martial arts scholars commonly note that one of the primary differences between Kung Fu and Karate is that Karate is harder while Kung Fu is more fluid. Konigun Ninjutsu shares this fluidity, requiring that katas be not only correct but with a degree of fluidity that progressively increases as one advances in rank.

 

Angles of attack and movement taught in Shaolin Kung Fu and Konigun Ninjutsu  are virtually identical. Shaolin uses eight angles and Konigun uses nine. This is due to the purely semantic difference that Konigun Ninjutsu refers to the state of motionlessness (void) as an angle while Shaolin Kung Fu does not. These angles are also employed in both strikes and weapon rolls(twirls) utilizing  all weapons through all 3 dimensions in  both Konigun Ninjutsu and Shaolin Kung Fu, including overhead weapon rolls and passes. Few other martial arts apart from these two focus so intensely on weapon control skills of this nature.

 

Stealth was developed by the Shaolin and perfected by the Ninja. Shaolin were the first to institute disguises, especially the decrepit old man wreaking havoc with his cane and the farmer using his straw hat as a shield and his farm tool as a weapon of mass destruction.

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The nestling of the Shaolin temples within the mountains and forests also suggests that they were adept at hiding in the woods. This became perhaps the greatest strength of the Yama Bushi and in turn the Ninja in later years. This is depicted above by the Henan North Shaolin Temple, as the reconstruction efforts presently detract from the picturesque beauty to which the South Shaolin Temple will soon be restored.

 

Another aspect of stealth shared by Shaolin & Ninja alike is hidden weapons and attacks. Practitioners of both arts employ all manner of small weapons hidden within their clothing, or disguised as innocuous objects on their persons.

 

A perfect illustration of these hidden attacks within Konigun Ninjutsu is in the Monjin Kata, where a tiger’s eye strike to the ocular region from the rear striking arm is hidden behind the lead forearm until the last instant before impact, followed up by low reverse spear hand that suddenly snakes out from under the lead forearm too late to defend against. In both cases the movement of the lead hand also provides misdirection to aid the striking hand.

 

Acrobatics shared by Konigun Ninja and Shaolin Monks include rolls (front, back, barrel [used to ascend or descend steps and hills while under attack]) cartwheels, flying kicks, jumps from extraordinarily high structures, tightrope walks, rolls under and over weapons and opponents, high cartwheels and vaults with the staff,  just to name a few.

 

Grapples shared by both Konigun Ninjutsu and Shaolin Kung Fu include weapons grapples (both with the hand and under the arm), the grappling of kicks, the grappling of strikes and weapons using round kicks, overarm strike and weapons grapples, and throat punch takedowns (later made more effective and lethal in Konigun Ninjutsu). It is highly important to note that it was these grapples developed by the Shaolin that lay the foundation for the development of the comprehensive system of joint and bone breaks upon which the system of Taijutsu so adroitly employed within the style of Konigun Ninjutsu is predicated.

 

It should be noted, however, that Konigun Ninjutsu uses far more grapples and block and catch moves preparatory to these grapples as part of its superlatively sensible evade, control and conquer approach to any attack. This evade, control, and conquer approach is, as well, a derivative of White Crane Kung Fu, which was also a Shaolin adaptation. Indeed, White Crane's Philosophy of "Sieze and Control" lay the perfect foundation for Konigun Ninjutsu's "Evade, Control, Conquer".

 

"Official research in China has traced the origins and history of the White Crane style of Kung Fu. The founder of the style was Fan Qiang Liang daughter of a famous Wushu Master. They moved to Fujian province after the death of her mother In the best tradition of kung fu her father died defending her honor from unwelcome suitors. Only seventeen at the time . she vow revenge, joining a temple as a nun.

It is said that during this time she dreamt that she was fighting a white crane but it evaded her attacks easily, using its powerful wings to strike back at her . After the third night of this dream she realized that she should adapt her fighting style to incorporate the crane agility and grace, its ability to strike quickly and accurately." (Courtesy of KungFu-Taichi.com)

 

The two styles also share remarkable similarities in ground fighting techniques, including the grappling of a punch and pulling the arm across the body to take control of an opponent atop oneself, barrel roll evasions and grapples, lying crossblock grapples, etc. 

 

The use of animal names for techniques or styles derived from Shaolin Kung Fu and is carried on by Konigun Ninjutsu. Examples of this include bear crawls, tiger crawls, snake crawls, dragon crawls, crane fist, praying mantis form, white crane form, snake technique, monkey style, frog hops (practiced by both arts), duck walks, Monkey Steals the Peach, etc.

 

A particularly notable illustration regarding animal names and techniques is the evolution of the clutch palm, known as the tiger claw by the Shaolin Monks, amongst the Ninja. The tiger claw was more than simply a clutch-palm; it involved, upon impact, the raking of the fingernails in a manner similar to that of a tiger attacking its opponent in battle. This technique was perfected by the Ninja with the development of the Shuko (hand spikes).

 

Harmony with nature was a precept taught and striven for by both Shaolin Monks and Ninja in general. It is interesting that the colloquialism of Ninjutsu within the Konigun Style is also recognized as the study of nature. The proximity of the Shaolin Temple to the forest, where the monks spend much time meditating, also substantiates this relationship. The carvings of trees and animals, as well as the maintenance of Gardens throughout the Temple speaks of this as well.

 

It can also be said that much of Bushido itself can be traced back to the tenets of the Shaolin Monks. This is especially true of the obligations to God, self, family, ryu, community, etc, as well as the admonitions to respect all living things and to never strike a vengeful blow.

 

The common bond of dress between Konigun Ninjutsu and Shaolin Kung Fu, the use of a sash, is both traditional and functional. The sash in both styles is sacred, representative of one’s efforts to attain it; so much so that a Konigun disciple’s sash is never permitted to touch the ground while detached from the uniform, nor may it ever be washed (so doing is symbolic of washing away one’s experience).

Functionally, the sash plays the obvious role of holding one’s pants up, clearly important in combat unless one desires to shock one’s opponent for good or for ill. Secondly, the sash is utilized for carrying weapons at one’s side in both styles. Last but not least, the sash in and of itself can be a weapon that has lethal potential in grappling, as well as effectively striking vital regions such as the throat or groin if properly wielded. The placard shown above indicates that the Shaolin are also aware of the sash’s value as a weapon.

 

These are but a few of the similarities and contrasts between two venerable arts, two of the finest and most comprehensive in the entire world. Volumes could (and eventually will) be dedicated to further elucidation of these similarities and contrasts, but the primary purpose here is to address the most rudimentary aspects of Konigun Ninjutsu’s proud and noble Shaolin heritage, which was so graciously bestowed upon our forefathers in the Saija family by the Yama Bushi of old. We hope that this dissertation will encourage you to explore the martial arts further for yourself, especially Konigun Ninjutsu, which I personally feel is the most effective and comprehensive martial art one can study. This is why, being in a position that I can study any martial art I desire, I choose to study and practice Konigun Ninjutsu first and foremost.

 

Respectfully yours,

Monjin Trey Woodford.

 

Special thanks to Dr. Bill Brown, an MBA professor at Xiamen University, whose writings were of impreciable assistance in carrying out this visit to the Shaolin Temples, and whose historical insights were also of great help in composing this write-up. If you are planning to visit the Shaolin Temple, the Fujian province, or just want to know more about one of the most beautiful and culturally rich areas of China, please visit Dr. Bill’s website at www.amoymagic.com

Konigun Ninjutsu China is proud to have founded the International Martial Arts Academy, Quanzhou, China, featuring such classic martial arts in their pure form as Konigun Ninjutsu, Southern Shaolin Kung Fu, etc. Proceeds from our courses go toward lobbying for UNESCO recognition of the martial arts.
 
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