Shaolin Kungfu

One-Finger Zen is a hallmark of Shaolin Kungfu

It is commonly said that there are 72 arts of Shaolin Kungfu. These 72 arts are sometimes divided into two groups, namely 36 external arts and 36 internal arts, or 36 “hard” arts and 36 “soft” arts.

It should be noted that an external art is often but not necessarily “hard”, and internal art is often but not necessarily “soft”. This is a misconception many people, including kungfu practitioners, have. The Art of Flexibility, for example, is external, but it is “soft”. Sinew Metamorphosis is internal, but it is “hard”.

It is also worthwhile to know that “hard” and “soft” here are not what most people, especially those not exposed to kungfu, may conceptualize what they mean. These two terms, “hard” and "soft", are translated from the Chinese “gang” and “rou”, or “kong” and “yau” in Cantonese. A "soft" force may be more powerful than a "hard" force, a kungfu concept many people may find it difficult to comprehend.

It is also worthwhile to know that internal force is not necessarily more powerful than external strength, though it often is. But it is certain that internal force is more beneficial. It is also independent of age, size and gender.

It is not certain when the concept of 72 arts of Shaolin were first used, but I believe they were probably during the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th century), which was relatively late as Shaolin Kungfu started about the 6th century during the Sui Dynasty. Despite its relatively late entry into Shaolin Kungfu, it still has a long history of many hundred years, considering that many martial arts today are only about a hundred years old. Hence, there are different versions of the 72 Shaolin arts, with some versions very different from others.

There are surely more than 72 arts in Shaolin Kungfu, but terms like 36, 72 and 108 are commonly used in Shaolin terminology. This was in honour of Bodhidharma and the Eighteen Lohan Hands, the first set of exercises taught by Bodhidharma, regarded as the First Patriarch of the Shaoin arts, to the Shaolin monks at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan for nine years starting in 527. Hence, many Shaolin terms, like kungfu sets and arts, take the multiple of 18, such as the 36 Shaolin Leg Techniques, and the 108-Pattern Essence of Shaolin Set.

Let us have a look at three different sets of the 72 Arts of Shaolin. The first is from the popular book available from the internet, “Training Methods of the 72 Arts of Shaolin”, by Jin Jing Zhong; the second is from a modern Chinese book edited by a team of modern Shaolin monks from the Shaolin Monastery in China, based on a classic of the past, “Genuine Shaolin 72 Arts”; and the third is from 72 Arts of Shaolin practiced in our school suggested by our Shaolin Wahnam family members in our Discussion Forum and selected by me.

72 Arts of Shaolin mentioned by Jin Jing Zhong

As some of the arts are literally translated from Chinese, which may not be intelligible to non-Chinese speaking people, I have changed some of the terms, without changing the meaning.

Some of the training is quite brutal, with pain and injury not an uncommon factor. For example, in the training of "Striking with Foot", practitioners are required to kick at rocks with their toes until sending the rocks flying some distance away.

    1. Diamond Finger
    2. Twin Lock
    3. Striking with Foot
    4. Pulling out a Nail
    5. Embracing a Tree
    6. Art of Four Parts
    7. One-Finger Zen
    8. Iron Head
    9. Iron Shirt
    10. Art of Taking Blows

    11. Iron Sweeping Leg
    12. Bamboo-Leave Hand
    13. Centipede Art
    14. Water Chestnut Art
    15. Immortal Palm
    16. Hard-Soft Art
    17. Red Sand Palm
    18. Lying Tiger
    19. Swimming Art
    20. Thoudand-Pound Weight

    21. Golden Bell
    22. Finger Lock
    23. Lohan Art
    24. Lizard Art
    25. Rod-Force Art
    26. Lute Art
    27. Comet Formation
    28. Plum Flower Formation
    29. Art of Stone Lock
    30. Iron Arm

    31. Bullet-like Fist
    32. Art of Soft Bones
    33. Art of Lifting Weight
    34. Through-Curtain Art
    35. Eagle Claw
    36. Iron Bull
    37. Eagle Wings
    38. Sun-Ray Fist
    39. Golden Cicada
    40. Iron Bag Art

    41. Art of Falling
    42. Tortoise Back
    43. Running Art
    44. Light Body Art
    45. Iron Knees
    46. Jumping Art
    47. Iron Palm
    48. Running on Water
    49. Drawing in Testicles
    50. Iron Thrust

    51. Stone Pillar Art
    52. Sabre and Spear Cannot Penetrate
    53. Art of Flying Star
    54. Five-Poison Hand
    55. Separating Water Art
    56. Running on Walls
    57. Art of Somersaults
    58. Cypress Formation
    59. Big Boss Elbows
    60. Pinching Flower

    61. Art of Pushing Mountain
    62. Stone Saddle Art
    63. Jade Belt Art
    64. Well-Punching Fist
    65. Sand Bag Arg
    66. Pierce-Stone Finger
    67. Pull-Mountain Art
    68. Praying Mantis Claw
    69. Stomach Art
    70. Guan Yin Palm
    71. Raising Pot Art
    72. Golden Dragon Palm

Shaolin Kungfu

Grandmaster Wong demonstrating the Art of Tiger Claw

72 Arts of Shaolin mentioned in a Shaolin classic

Most of the 72 arts mentioned here are the same as those mentioned in the above book, but are not in the same order. It is probable that the author of the above book took the list from the Shaolin classic.

The Shaolin classic emphasizes that these arts should be learned from a master, not from books. Practitioners should have basic training before attempting these specialized arts, suggesting (though it is not explicitly stated) that basic information practitioners are supposed to know, is not mentioned.

    1. Iron Arm
    2. Ability to take Blows
    3. Iron Sweeping Leg
    4. Shooting Leg
    5. Kicking Leg
    6. Bamboo-Leave Hand
    7. Hopping Centepede
    8. Lifting Thousand Pounds
    9. Lohan Art
    10. Iron Head

    11. Four-Part Art
    12. Iron Shirt
    13. Twin Lock
    14. Raising Weight
    15. Stone Lock
    16. Iron Pearl Bag
    17. Thousand-Pound Weight
    18. Rod Force Art
    19. Separating Water Art
    20. Jade Belt Art

    21. Eagle Wings
    22. Jumping Art
    23. Big Boss Elbows
    24. One-Finger Gold
    25. Iron Nail Art
    26. One-Finger Zen
    27. Stone Pillar Art
    28. Golden Bell
    29. Iron Hull Art
    30. Whirlwind Palm

    31. Lying Tiger Art
    32. Pull-Mountain Art
    33. Golden Dragon Hand
    34. Push Mountain Art
    35. Kick Wooden Poles
    36. Eagle Claw
    37. Chop-Monster Sword
    38. Empty-Force Punch
    39. Golden Sand Palm
    40. Iron Palm

    41. Flying Art
    42. Sabre and Spear Cannot Penetrate
    43. Five-Poison Hand
    44. Running on Walls
    45. Running on Water
    46. Running Art
    47. Falling Art
    48. Golden Spade Fingers
    49. Plum Flower Formation
    50. Pinching Flowers

    51. Praying Mantis Claw
    52. Running Plank Art
    53. Dodging Art
    54. Fast Palm Art
    55. Light Body Art
    56. Iron Knee
    57. Running on Grass
    58. Through Curtain Art
    59. Standing on Waves
    60. Dotting Stone

    61. Lute Art
    62. Soft Bone Art
    63. Lizard Art
    64. Drawing up Testicles
    65. Art of Somersaults
    66. Stomach Art
    67. Frog Art
    68. Thousand Sheets of Paper
    69. Spring Fist Art
    70. Finger Lock
    71. Chase-Wind Palm
    72. Soft Nebulous Art

72 Arts of Shaolin practiced in Shaolin Wahnam

In a thread in Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum, 72 Arts of Shaolin Kungfu started by Ray in 2005, and revived by Sifu Markus Kahila in 2015, our family members mentioned more than 72 arts practiced in our school. David Langford gave an impressive list of 72 arts, with an extra art, "Art of Being a Cheeky Monkey", practiced by some.

To confirm with the magical number 72, I have selected 72 Arts of Shaolin practiced in our school as follows. Some arts, like Eighteen Lohan Hands and Bone Marrow Cleansing, are collective, i.e. there are many arts under one heading. Some versions of the 72 Shaolin Arts, for example, list "Lifting the Sky" and "Pushing Mountain" as separate arts.

    1. Smiling from the Heart
    2. Art of Entering Silence
    3. Art of Chi Flow
    4. Art of Point Message
    5. Art of Heavenly Drums
    6. Eighteen Jewels
    7. Five-Animal Play
    8. Eighteen Lohan Hands
    9. Art of Massaging Internal Organs
    10. Eighteen-Lohan Art

    11. Art of Flowing Breeze
    12. Art of Floating Clouds
    13. Self-Manifested Chi Movement
    14. Art of Standing Meditation
    15. Art of Sitting Meditation
    16. Bone Marrow Cleansing
    17. Sinew Metamorphosis
    18. Cosmic Shower
    19. Small Universe
    20. Big Universe

    21. Cosmic Breathing
    22. Merging with the Cosmos
    23. One-Finger Shooting Zen
    24. Art of Flexibility
    25. Art of Hundred Kicks
    26. Iron Palm
    27. Cosmos Palm
    28. Eagle Claw
    29. Tiger Claw
    30. Dragon Claw

    31. Golden Bell
    32. Iron Shirt
    33. Iron Arm
    34. Art of Stone Locks
    35. Marvelous Fist
    36. Art of Triple Stretch
    37. Art of Iron Plank Bridge
    38. Art of Bamboo Man
    39. Plum Flower Formation
    40. Art of Exploding Force

    41. Art of Dragon Speed
    42. Art of Dragon Force
    43. Art of No-Shadow Kicks
    44. Art of Thousand Steps
    45. Art of Lightness
    46. Art of Connecting Bridge
    47. Art of One-Breath Flow
    48. Art of Staff Force
    49. Art of Thrusting Spear
    50. Art of Saber Force

    51. Art of Pressing Attacks
    52. Art of One-Finger Gold
    53. Art of Two Finger Zen
    54. Striking a Buffalo Beyond a Mountain
    55. Art of Covering and Taming
    56. Art of Flowing Force
    57. Art of Consolidated Force
    58. Lift-Practice Art
    59. Black Tortoise Method
    60. Art of Hei Sai or Energy-Spirit

    61. Form-Flow-Force Method or Flow Method
    62. Form-Force-Flow Method or Force Method
    63. Art of Mental Clarity
    64. Art of Mind Flow
    65. Art of Through the Woods
    66. Empty Hand Enters White Blade
    67. Tiger Enters Herd of Sheep
    68. Fighting with Fort Behind
    69. Shaolin Marvelous Eye Exercises
    70. Art of Taming Tiger
    71. Art of Disarming an Opponent
    72. Art of Dodging

Shaolin Kungfu

"Lifting Bronze Vessel" is a powerful force training exercise in Eighteen-Lohan Art


Ten Questions on the 72 Shaolin Arts