While the Shaolin Kung Fu we study today may not be taught in a monastic environment, the benefits of the Shaolin art remain the same: the cultivation of applicable and effective martial skills; the development of strong, healthy bodies; the training of sharp minds. Over the last 1500 years, the monks designed an extremely well-rounded and engaging physical, mental and martial system of training which could take any student who was lucky enough to make it inside the temple gates and turn them into an extremely effective and well-balanced warrior.
The past generations of Shaolin Masters had several reasons for developing their martial training systems with such unparalleled dedication and intensity. The most immediately apparent reason is self-defense. The Shaolin Temples were located in secluded areas and were home to countless religious treasures. As a result, they were periodically raided by bandits and imperial soldiers for their valuable artifacts. Hence the monks found it extremely useful to develop the skills necessary for defending both themselves and the temples from raiders and thieves. In addition, many of the monks became wandering priests, journeying alone through some of the most remote regions of ancient China. Their legendary martial skills doubtlessly served the priests well during their long travels.
Beyond its practical application, the monks found that their martial training was extremely effective for extending both the length and quality of their lives. The monks regularly lived well into their 80’s and 90’s, an unheard of feat for the times. Through their continued Kung Fu training, they were able to maintain strong, healthy bodies and sharp, alert minds for the full length of their long lives. From a Buddhist perspective, the monks felt that the longer they could lead healthy lives with keen minds, the further they could advance towards attaining Bodhisattvahood (enlightenment) during each lifetime.