The concept of Shaolin kung fu originated when Huang Zongxi defined Chinese martial arts as either the Shaolin school or the Wudang school. You also sometimes hear the Shaolin school referred to as the external school, and the Wudang school referred to as the internal school. This was 1669, and since then people call external Chinese martial arts “Shaolin kung fu” even if the style or student has no affiliation to the Shaolin monastery. Learning the Shaolin fundamentals can help anyone improve their understand of the martial arts and help them better protect themselves in case they are attacked.
The Shaolin fundamentals start by teaching basic attacks such as punches, kicks, open hand strikes, elbow strikes, and knees. After the fundamentals are like second nature, then the student works on combinations. The goal is to string together attacks in a logical way that will break through the defenses of the opponent and flow in a fast and fluid fashion. As the opponent tries to defend against one attack, another attack is already coming and heading for a target that is not defended. By keeping pressure on, the opponent will eventually falter in his blocking.
After basic combinations are mastered, the student can learn some more advanced Shaolin fundamentals. Grappling and joint locks are great skill sets to learn because they are very practical and often have a huge impact on the outcome of a fight. It is important to have tools to control the attacker even when he moves too close for effective striking. Restraints and vital point striking allow the student to control an attacker without having to expend a large amount of energy. Leverage is the key to controlling someone that is bigger and stronger while at the same time using very little of your own energy.
The Chinese martial arts also stress the use of kiai, or what the Japanese usually call chi. By focusing your kiai you can inflict more harm on an attacker with strikes because the sum power of your strike will exceed what your muscles can do alone. The Shaolin fundamentals of training your kiai usually involve focusing and mental strength rather than putting the kiai into physical action.
Learning the Shaolin fundamentals makes a martial arts student more prepared for close quarters unarmed combat and is a great stepping stone to more advantages techniques and even other disciplines and martial arts styles. It is all about being ready to protect yourself while hoping that you never need to prove yourself.