72 Shaolin Arts

Sifu Markus and Grandmaster Wong smile from the heart in Finland


We have a valuable heritage, but it might not always be so easy to see all the beautiful utilities in them. Which of the 72 Shaolin Arts would you rate the highest in terms of daily application, health, combat application, spiritual cultivation, and just plain fun?

Are there some arts that carry more benefit than most even realized? For example, the oft spoken and adored Art of Lightness allows an exponent to reach incredible heights by jumping, but shouldn't it also allow the exponent to escape dangerous falls, even dropping off from an airplane, without harm?

What are the hardest Arts to master if the minimum requirements for each are satisfied before training? Which Arts have the most demanding requirements of them all? How much do you see room for improving our current teaching methodology in Shaolin Wahnam?

Can we still push the bar higher without over-training? For example, are there Shaolin Arts that contribute more holistically to learning the remaining Arts, and thus should preferably be learnt first?

Olli, Finland


As it is often the case, the answers to your questions depend on many variables, like personal preferences, the skills of the teacher, the developmental stage of the student, needs and aspirations, and availability of resources.

Indeed, we have a valuable heritage, and it is not always possible to see the beautiful utilities of the 72 Shaolin arts, or of the heritage.

Twenty years ago I would rate Golden Bell, One-Finger Shooting Zen and Tiger-Claw as the highest of our Shaolin Wahnam version of the 72 Shaolin Arts. It was because these three arts represented the “ultimates” of kungfu or any martial art, namely an invincibility to take attacks, dim mark and chin-na.

However, now faced with the same question, I would rate Smiling from the Heart, Entering Silence, and Chi Flow, because these three arts give happiness, spiritual joys, good health, vitality and longevity – qualities any person would like to have in this phenomenal world.

If we wish to break down the benefits into categories instead of referring to the arts as a whole, I would now rate as the best Smiling from the Heart for daily application, Chi Flow for health, One-Finger Shooting Zen for combat application, Entering Silence for spiritual cultivation, and the Monkey Play of the Five-Animal Play for just plain fun.

72 Shaolin Arts

Entering Silence

Yes, there are some arts that carry more benefits than others even when realized. Eagle Claw, for example, is excellent for gripping, but its combat application is mainly a supportive role. In other words, an exponent grips an opponent with Eagle Claw, then delivers the coup de grace on the opponent.

On the other hand, Tiger Claw is combat ending. When an exponent applies Tiger Claw on an opponent, the Tiger Claw itself is the coup de grace, there is no need to apply another coup de grace. On health aspects, Point Massage activates energy flow on the face, but Chi flow activates energy flow over the whole body.

The Art of Lightness not only enables an expert to jump high but also enables him to avoid dangerous falls – within reasonable limits. But I don’t think these abilities apply when the heights and falls are extreme, like jumping up to a flying airplane or falling from one.

It is worthy of note that no matter how hard some people may perceive an art to be realized, if the “three requirements” are present, that art can be realized. The “three requirements” are the method, the teacher and the student. The method must lead to an accomplishment of the art. The teacher must be competent. The student must be ready and willing to learn.

I am happy to say that all the 72 Shaolin arts listed in our Shaolin Wahnam version can be accomplished. Although personally I am not accomplished in a few of the arts, like I have not tried poking my finger through thick buffalo’s hide in One-Finger Gold, or hurting an opponent 108 steps away in Marvelous Fist, I can teach a willing student to accomplish the task. The question is whether it is worth his time and effort, especially when we have better alternatives.

Hence, for us in Shaolin Wahnam, the question of the “hardest” art in terms of most difficult to accomplish, does not arise as all the arts can be accomplished. But in terms of “hardest” in the sense that it is the most difficult to practice, I would state the Art of Lightness. It is “hardest” because it takes the most time and effort as well as needs the most demanding requirements to be accomplished. It should be noted here that “hardest” is relative. Personally I do not find it “hard” if we have the determination to do it.

At present I do not see any need nor room for improving our current teaching methodology, nor push our bar higher. In fact, now we have to slow down our teaching methodology or lower our bar so as not to over-train.

Yes, being the best arts, Smiling from the Heart, Entering Silence and Chi Flow are the arts that contribute more holistically in learning the remaining arts, and should preferably be learnt first. This is exactly what we are doing. These three arts are what we teach all our students when they learn from us in Shaolin Wahnam. This is following the Shaolin tradition as passed down by my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, that the best arts are taught first.

At the least, Smiling from the Heart calms students, apart from making them happy. Students who are calm and happy progress better than those who are not. Students who are angry, agitated, nervous and sad may not progress at all.

Entering Silence is a basic requirement for practicing any internal art. The highest of the Shaolin arts are internal. Without Entering Silence, students cannot practice any internal art.

Chi Flow is also another requirement for any internal art, though many masters who have accomplished themselves in internal art may not realize it. How could they accomplish the art if they did not, and still do not, realize that chi flow is a basic requirement? They had chi flow, but they were not consciously aware of their chi flow. Hence, they need much longer time to accomplish the art.

We are elite and practice some priceless arts. Although we practice Smiling from the Heart, Entering Silence and Chi Flow right at the very start of our training, the 72 Shaolin Arts course provides invaluable skills and techniques for us to get more from our practice.

72 Shaolin Arts

Chi flow

This question and answer are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions on the 72 Shaolin Arts in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.