The Ch’ing dynasty, the last to rule China, was Manchurian. The Manchu often feared the resentment and possible revolution of the Chinese people under their rule… Historically, the warriors of the Shaolin temple provided the greatest threat, so in 1677 Manchurian troops looted and burned the original temple in Honan. While Imperial attention remained there, other Shaolin temples continued to practice and advance their martial arts in secret.
In 1875, the army of the Manchu Government marched on the Shaolin Temple in Fukien with orders to steal the treasures contained within and destroy it. Rather than let the temple fall into the Emperor’s hands, the temple warriors decided to burn down the temple themselves.
One man emerged from the flames to carry on the tradition of the Shaolin Temple. This man was known as the Grandmaster.
In accordance with tradition, only one person can carry this title. Since that time, only three have. Each an ultimate practitioner of the art.1
In 1943 a boy named Sin Kwang Thé was born in Bandung who would one day become the third Grandmaster of our lineage. His family had several Shaolin ancestors and young Sin was drawn to the martial arts… His father, however, had been injured during martial arts training when he was a young man and opposed his son’s wishes. Nonetheless, Sin Kwang’s mother secretly let him out at 4 am each morning, so that he could study the martial arts. He began with sand burn training. Sand burn training is a crude form of toughening the hands by thrusting them into buckets of hot sand.
After 6 months, the sand burn man stopped teaching. Sin Kwang heard about Grandmaster Ie’s school and went to watch. Grandmaster Ie had 80 students practicing empty hand forms, weapons forms and sparring. The 7 year old Sin Kwang asked to join the school, but he was put off with polite excuses. One evening, Grandmaster Ie spilled a bowl of uncooked rice on the training hall floor. He asked Sin Kwang to pick up the rice, grain by grain, and to blow the dust of each grain. He was to find all of the 855 grains that had been in the bowl. It was late at night, and the Shaolin students had all gone home, by the time Sin Kwang was through dusting and counting the rice.
The rice counting was only the first of many tests of determination and character Sin Kwang passed. For the final test, Ie spilled hot tea on the boy and took hold of him, looking deep into his eyes. He saw no anger, only surprise. Sin Kwan Thé was finally accepted as a Shaolin student.
Five years later at the age of 13, Sin Kwang Thé tested to Black Belt. For his test, he had to spar 7 other students while blindfolded. He also had to do forms blindfolded. At different times during the forms, boards were held in his path. Since he didn’t know when there would be a board, every strike in every form had to be true.
In 1964, Master Sin was preparing to go to Germany to study engineering and physics. He had added German to the multitude of languages that he could speak. Yet the Berlin crisis altered his plans. By chance, however, he met a couple from Lexington, Kentucky who were able to arrange a scholarship in the US for him. Master Sin Kwang Thé came to the United States.
Master Sin studied academic subjects with the same dedication that he gave to the Shaolin art. As often as he could, he returned to Indonesia, for the time had finally come for him to learn the Golden Snake Style.
In 1968 Master Sin’s training was complete. Grandmaster Ie awarded him the 10th Degree and the Grandmaster’s Red Belt. Sin Kwang Thé had become the youngest Grandmaster in the history of the Shaolin art at age 25.
Grandmaster Thé continued his education and was on the verge of completing his Master’s Degree when Ie Chang Ming died at the age of 96. Grandmaster Thé realized that while there were many engineers and scientists, he was the only Shaolin Grandmaster. He dropped his studies in order to devote all his time to teaching the Shaolin art.
Shaolin Grandmaster Sin Kwang Thé could have returned to Indonesia to resume teaching the art. Instead he chose to stay in the US. This was a bold break in tradition, for in the past only full blooded Chinese had been permitted to learn the Art. Yet when American men and women from all walks of life were able to learn what was once taught to a handful of Chinese monks, it was clear that martial arts excellence dependence on time and effort and not race.
Ie Chang Ming was born in 1880. He was admitted to the Fukien Temple as a small boy. Like Su Kong, Ie Chang Ming poured all of his time and energy into the martial arts training, especially the Golden Snake style. Tied hand and foot, he could evade spear thrusts by twisting and turning like a snake. He could also wrap his body around a pole climb it, like a snake on a vine.
Grandmaster Ie’s extensive knowledge, sensitivity, and martial skill were complemented by great personal strength and concentration. For example, he trained wearing a weight vest (equal to his body weight!), and used an iron staff and Kwan Tao. He also did the Iron Bar posture (stretched out between two wooden benches, with his head on one bench and heels on the other) for 2 hours every night.
One evening, while traveling through the countryside, Grandmaster Ie took a shortcut through what appeared to be an abandoned military encampment. Although the camp was almost deserted, it was not abandoned. A sentry stopped Ie. Soon other sentries appeared, bringing the number of soldiers to 11. They taunted Ie, and became increasingly aggressive. When they ordered him to lick their boots, Ie knew he had to take action. All 11 soldiers were killed in the resulting fight.
A price was put on Ie Chang Ming’s head. He escaped to Indonesia, settling in Bandung, where he eventually established a Shaolin school. It was not easy to become his student; there was a long waiting list and each prospective student had to prove his/her worthiness.
Great-Grandmaster Su Kong T’ai Djin was born in Fukien in 1849. He came to the world with a genetic condition hyperthrihos that covered him with hair from head to toe. His confused parents abandoned the infant in a forest near the Fukien Temple. A passing monk rescued the newborn and presented him to the Shaolin Masters. The Masters found it impossible to find a family willing to adopt such a child, so they decided to raise him themselves. They named him T’ai Djin.
From childhood on, T’ai Djin studied the Shaolin art with exceptional dedication. The Fukien Masters responded to his enthusiasm with a rare variance from Shaolin tradition. In the temple it was customary for a student to choose one system in which to study, but he was no ordinary student! He knew that because of his appearance, he could not live a normal life outside of the temple. He chose then to devote all his time to the study of martial arts. He was allowed to study with all the masters at the temple. Over the years he accumulated a tremendous amount of knowledge and material from the various Shaolin masters and eventually earned the title “Su Kong” or Grandmaster. Instead of assigning Su Kong’s training to a single Master, as was the practice, each of the Fukien Masters contributed to Su Kong’s martial education. Su Kong was therefore able to complete every branch of Shaolin training, learning and mastering hundreds of forms and disciplines. It was an unparallel achievement. [Usually the 10 Grandmasters of the temple each learnt 1/10th of the Shaolin art]. Su Kong was a contemporary of Tai Chi masters Yang Lu Chan, Yang Jian Hou & Yang Pan Hou.
Su Kong’s knowledge and strong character led to his appointment as the Grandmaster of Fukien. More than once, his exceptional martial skills were needed to fulfill the responsibilities of his position.
The Fukien Shaolin monks took it upon themselves to protect the Fukienese coast from the raids of Japanese pirates. They were tremendously effective, earning the love and respect of the common people. When word reached the Ch’ing Kwang Hsu Emperor in Peking, trouble brewed. Kwang Hsu saw the Fukien monks as potential rebels with widespread popular support. He secretly dispatched imperial troops, armed with cannons on a mission to destroy the Fukien Temple. He even sent a renegade Shaolin Master, Chi Tao Su, the White Eyebrow Monk, to strengthen the attacking force.
A sympathetic official warned the monks of the impending attack. The Fukien Masters chose a surprising, ingenious solution. They evacuated the Temple, removed all of its valuable artwork and books, and set fire to the temple themselves. They hoped to rebuild the Temple in more favorable times. More favorable times have not yet come.
Grandmaster Su and his disciples retreated into the Fukienese Mountains to continue their training. Among those studying with Su was Ie Chang Ming, the man who would become the second of the three Grandmasters of our lineage. Su Kong died in 1928 at the age of 79.