Although there are numerous schools of traditional Chinese martial arts flourishing across China, the martial arts of the Shaolin school form a particularly important part of the cultural heritage passed down by forefathers of Shaolin Monastery. These arts - sometimes called Shaolin Kung Fu - are unique and brilliant and belong to the body of greater traditional Chinese martial arts. Because of its philosophic sophistication and technical subtlety, Shaolin Kung Fu has become a term familiar to practically every part of the world. Shaolin Kung Fu is able to engender an unusually mighty catalytic mechanism in body of a practitioner; and the mechanism functioning like a catalyst can readily bring his prowess potential and latent physical strength into full play. As time elapses, fame of the monastery has been spreading worldwide because of its seemingly supernatural attributes.
From the beginning of the Ming Dynasty onward, martial arts of the Shaolin school had been growing more and more sophisticated and more mature, which the branches of martial arts growing in number, too. So far as Shaolin repertoire of martial arts is concerned, the number of such arts has now amounted to several hundred; among them are boxing, broad sword, spear, double-edged sword, quarterstaff, qigong, jumping and soft treading, developing prowess potential, juvenile wushu, etc. In fact though these martial arts were originally developed by forefathers of Shaolin Monastery, in developing them they did try their best to draw from the strong points of martial arts developed by other wushu schools. Notwithstanding Shaolin Kung Fu has never been assimilating successful techniques of other schools at the cost of its uniqueness.
Generally speaking, Shaolin Kung Fu consists of three major categories:
(1) Boxing. Boxing includes such varieties as arhat boxing, liuhe boxing, xinyi boxing, hong boxing.
(2) Standardized Series of Movements Intended for Optimizing physique. In this category are included such varieties as "standardized series of movements intended for effecting muscular optimization", "standardized series of movements intended for fortifying bone structure".
(3) Weapon use. In this category varieties are numerous such as shaohuo Quarterstaff, meihua spear, Dharma sword, chunqiu broadsword.
Shaolin Monastery constitutes in itself a realm dominated by the spirit of "forging unity of Zen and Shaolin Kung Fu". The monk population here believes that "both Zen and Shaolin Kung Fu are two outgrowths from the same stalk", that "Shaolin Kung Fu is nothing but an incarnation of Zen", and that Zen remains the quintessence of Shaolin Kung Fu. But for the theoretical guidance provided by philosophy of Zen, there would not have been any development of Shaolin Kung Fu in the history of Chinese culture, but it had ended up in a blind alley many, many centuries earlier. Therefore without an adequate knowledge of Zen philosophy, a trainee's progress in Shaolin martial-art training can be more imaginary than real.