1st Edition

Shaolin Kung Fu Exploring Chan Buddhism, Monastic Community, and Martial Arts

By Marta Nešković Copyright 2025
    392 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book investigates contemporary Shaolin Kung Fu, situated between tradition and modernity. Deeply rooted in the philosophical and religious traditions of Chan Buddhism, and concurrently evolving under the influence of globalization, this martial art serves as a Chan Buddhist practice within the Shaolin monastic community. Illuminating the rich cultural heritage of Shaolin Kung Fu and its ongoing relevance in the contemporary world, the analysis is grounded in long-term ethnographic fieldwork conducted at the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province, China. The author argues that the spiritual essence of Shaolin Kung Fu is derived not from its constituent elements such as body movements and techniques, but rather from the Chan Buddhist structures of meaning the practitioners embody. By highlighting the relationship between habitus, lived body, and dynamic embodiment, the book offers a novel perspective on the intersection of spirituality and martial arts. Providing a deeper understanding of the cultural, religious, and philosophical foundations that underpin Shaolin Kung Fu, this is a valuable reading for scholars of anthropology, sociology, religious studies, cultural heritage, and China studies, as well as for academics and practitioners with an interest in martial arts.


    1 Aims, Theoretical Framework and Research Methods

    2 Martial Arts Enthusiasts: Foreign Students at The Shaolin Monastery

    3 Guardians of The Legacy: Warrior Monks at The Shaolin Monastery

    4 Living Chan: Ordained Monks at The Shaolin Monastery

    5 Shaolin Kungfu Between Habitus and Embodiment



    Marta Nešković is a Research Associate in the field of ethnology and anthropology at the Institute for Political Studies in Belgrade, Serbia. She is currently a Visiting Scholar within the President’s International Fellowship Initiative at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    "Marta Neskovic’s valuable book unveils the spiritual and cultural depths of Shaolin Kung Fu and bridges tradition and modernity through rigorous fieldwork. It explores the embodiment of Chan Buddhism within martial art practice, offering a groundbreaking perspective on the lived experience of Shaolin monks." - Professor Jiang Wu, Director of Center for Buddhist Studies, The University of Arizona

    "The Shaolin Monastery in China, birthplace of Chan Buddhism and center for the martial arts, is the subject of this exemplary anthropological work by Marta Neskovic, who carried out immersive long-term fieldwork inside the monastery, bringing new insights with ethnographic mastery of knowledge about local mastery in preserving cultural tradition." - Professor Fadwa El Guindi, University of California, Los Angeles