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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Academically rigourous and thoroughly readable, 30 April 2008
Dr. E. M. Cohen (Manchester, Lancashire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
I came to this work as both an academic and a practitioner of a Shaolin style of pushing hands. The evolution of the Shaolin arts from staff fighting to unarmed styles is explored in great detail from a variety of sources (many of which are primary and have been translated here for the first time).

This is one of the first books I've read that makes a scholarly attempt at explaining how the Buddhist monks of Shaolin successfully negotiated the cognitive dissonance caused by commitment to Buddhist principles of non-violence on one hand and mastery of martial arts on the other.

The book also succeeds in recognising and clarifying the role of Daoist thought and cultivation practices (namely the Dao Yin) in the development of Shaolin Gung Fu.

Some of the conclusions (especially in relation to the unarmed styles) lend some support to Nathan Johnson's (2000) thesis 'Barefoot Zen'. After long and careful study of the forms of Shaolin Gung Fu and Karate Kata, Johnson contended that these arts were never intended for fighting (whereas Shahar would likely contend that fighting was not their sole purpose, p.180 and p.200).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history., 1 Jun. 2014
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The book surprised me with a lot of history regarding the shaolin monastery.
That is a big plus in my book.
Also easy to read, even if english is not your primary language.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best we'll ever have, I fear, 15 Jun. 2011
THE SHAO LIN MONASTERY by Meir Shahar (University of Hawaii Press, 2008) is both a Buddhist's and martial artist's dream book - but at the same time it is sadly deficient for those with a more scholarly/historical taste. Shahar, an interested "Shao Lin student" as I call him, is professor of East Asian Studies at Tel Aviv University. As such, I expected a truly well-rounded, highly referenced text on the history of the Shao Lin Order and Monastery.

In a way, this text - at a mere 202 pages of writing though it is in excess of 270 pages - is the definitive Shao Lin history, or shall I say 'historiography'. The remaining 68 or so pages consist of notes, citations, bibliography and index, inevitable in a scholarly work but here, it just seems superfluous.

Though subtitled HISTORY, RELIGION, AND THE CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS, that subtitle is actually the title of the concluding essay - this book is a string of overly long essays dealing only marginally with the history of the Shao Lin Buddhist Order. It is a bit fuller with Shao Lin Temple/Monastery history, but only just. In his defense, Shahar has written what I think is the most comprehensive book that can be written on the subject.

Yet it is still irksome, amateurish in a way. Examples: Shahar insists on doing what many lazy scholars are doing today, and that is writing in "Pinyin" when in fact it is gibberish without the tonal diacritical marks or at least a number to indicate tone. Real Pinyin has the diacritical marks or at worst numbers after each word to indicate tone. Here as in far too many Chinese-themed works, Shahar contents himself with merely spelling out the words American style.

Well, I for one am NOT content with that kind of laziness. What is worse, Shahar seems obsessed with the modern Shao Lin pop-culture martial arts scene, though he wisely sidesteps it after one too many references to the film SHAO LIN TEMPLE. On the bright side, he relies on Gene Ching (author of SHAOLIN TRIPS, vid. my review) as a source for Shao Lin martial history and certain other salient facts. Indeed, Shahar has presented us with a book that Ching's later book companions and complements very well.

Shahar approaches the subject in three main sections: origins of Shao Lin and its martial heritage from 500 A.D. to 900 A.D. (he addresses the Dynasties in brief but beautiful detail). The next section is the same, covering 900 A.D. to 1600 A.D. The final section 'covers' 1600 A.D. to 1900 A.D. with an early apology for not writing a more recent history - something Shahar clearly left open to Gene Ching.

This work is well-illustrated and detailed after a fashion, and even if it does contain some rather silly contradictions due to laziness, it is a must-have for anybody. Though I carp about the substandard Pinyin, the laziness and the last section that sounds like the conclusion of a cheap kung fu magazine article, I am also thrilled to be able to own this compendium of Shao Lin history as best we have it. It was a real thrill to read it in general, and I was deeply moved by the extensive attention Shahar paid to the tradition of the Buddhist staff, the way he blends it in with its preeminence as the Shao Lin signature weapon. (I own about a dozen staves and I use them for walking when I can walk.)

Get this, and if it's Shao Lin you really love, do not neglect to get Gene Ching's SHAOLIN TRIPS as a companion book. It is heavy reading mainly because these writers needed some pruning-editing ... but you'll love every second of it anyway.

I leave you with the following special notes:

'Sino-Shaolin' writing [my term, don't steal it] is not the easiest genre to master. It is riddled with problems that make the hardened skeptic begin to believe in curses or bad luck. At best, it is a field of writing that makes the worst skeptic begin to believe that some things are not possible.

Below are a few obstacles in such writing that I find has made the field so thin and pitiable:

1. The "Punyin" Problem: if it isn't written with diacritical marks or at least tone-indication numbers, it isn't Pinyin. We are getting far too lazy in this regard, and Chinese Pinyin readers have never forgiven us for throwing up this obstacle of lazy stupidity; even I always fail to mark "Shao Lin" correctly. Cure: get the keyboard and printers set up for REAL Pinyin transliteration.

2. The 'Shao Lin Shakers': this is my overall term for fake, misleading or just plain stupid misinformation about the Shao Lin Order, the temple and the monastery. This branches out, covering bad intel about Shao Lin martial arts too. Stephen Chow's film SHAOLIN SOCCER and KUNG FU HUSTLE make hilarious fun of this very problem. Problem is, it isn't funny - not when it occurs in scholarship. Cure: visit China, talk to Shao Lin members and their friends.

3. The 'Keyboard Diarrhea Dilemma': self-explanatory. Cure: good editing and complete lack of desire to 'academically pad-out' the writing.

4. The 'I-Don't-Know-So-I'll-Wing-It' problem: again, self-explanatory. Cure: tireless reading and research.

5. The "Me Me Me Problem': a scholarly work is NOT an excuse to write a complete autobiography - not even a 'professional' autobiography. Cure: get the hell out of your writing and stay out of it, even avoiding first-person language. If your work is autobiographical, SAY SO up front!

There is but a taste of the major issues. Ching and Shahar both suffer from various problems in these areas. My list may or may not be the most significant problems - all I know is those are my biggest pet peeves.

For two decades, I've been begged to write about Buddhism. I'll never do it in any capacity because of that horrid list. Book/film review is something else, and that is as satisfying as any writing.

Though never as perilous as nonfiction book authorship.
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