Shao-Lin (translated as “Small Forrest” in English, or “Shorin” in Japanese) Kung Fu is a martial art that was originated by monks from the Shao-Lin Buddhist Temple located in the Honan Province in northern China. The birth of Shao-Lin Kung Fu took place when Bodhidharma, named Ta Mo (pronounced Dah Mo) by the Chinese came to the temple. Ta Mo believed that teaching the Shao-Lin monks yoga style practices would help them develop the discipline needed for long hours of meditation. These practices are called the I Ching Ching. Ta Mo also taught the monks the military fighting techniques he learned previous to becoming a Buddhist Lama. This also developed discipline and served as a method for the Buddhist monks to defend their temple from bandits (and sometimes the Chinese government!) The military fighting techniques taught by Ta Mo proliferated into a diverse group of specific styles originating from the Shao-Lin Temple. Some (but certainly not all) of them are Northern Fist, Monkey style, Praying Mantis, Drunken Kung Fu, Snake style, Staff, jointed sticks (slang: Nunchuks), single and double broadswords, tiger hook swords, three sectional jointed sticks, the chain whip, and single and double butterfly knives.
There are no reliable accounts of exactly how Ta Mo died, although there is a legend that he fled to the Wutang mountains with a small group of monks after one of the burnings of the Shao-Lin temple (there were many) and formed the first group of the Triads (a Chinese secret society that still exists to this day). Because the group was in hiding and constantly on the run from the Chinese government, the group expanded on the styles taught at the Shao-Lin Temple, and formed a stripped down martial art that removed all of the aesthetics of the different styles and consisted only of devastating fighting techniques.
Meanwhile, the Shao-Lin temple was rebuilt (as it always was and is still standing today) and martial arts continued to develop there until the People’s Republic of China took control and banned all martial arts (see the boxer rebellion). For a long time the Shao-Lin martial arts had to be taught in secret or the masters moved to different countries that allowed them to teach the arts. Eventually, Shao-Lin Kung Fu spread throughout the world and to the United States (possibly when “the west was born”). At first it was taught only to people of Chinese lineage, but as cultural boundaries were broken, more and more teachers (the most popular being Bruce Lee) began teaching people of different ethnicities. Now anyone all around the world can take Shao-Lin Kung Fu or any of its specific styles and preserve these ancient and fascinating martial arts.