It is in my opinion that Shaolin Monks are the embodiment of physical culture.
As Randy roach puts it,
For many, life may be as simple as a strong, banal focus on purely the physical, with little or no exploration of any other horizons. However, for some in the pursuit of a richer enlightenment, it’s a constant seeking of a symphonic balance between the conditioning of the body, the cultivation of the mind, and a continuous unfolding growth of the spirit, all the while maintaining a harmony with their natural environment. In actuality, everyone practices their own Physical Culture whether or not they’re even aware of its meaning. A number of our pioneers of bodybuilding referred to themselves as “Physical Culturists” with their own constituted framework of the term.
According to legend, a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma visited the Shaolin temple and noticed that the monks were weak and could not complete the demanding meditation routines that they should have been practicing. The monks often fell asleep while meditating due to fatigue, and for this reason, could not achieve spiritual growth.
Bodhidharma was moved by the terrible physical condition of the monks of the Shaolin Temple. Likening the monks to the young Buddha, who almost died from rigorous meditation practices, he informed the monks that he would teach their bodies and their minds the Buddha’s law through meditation and physical training.
Bodhidharma created an exercise program for the monks that strengthened their bodies and could be used in self-defense. Bodhidharma’s primary concern was to make the monks physically strong enough to withstand both their isolated lifestyle and the deceptively demanding training that meditation requires. Nonetheless, the techniques he taught also served as an efficient fighting system, which evolved into the marital arts style called kung fu. Bodhidharma taught, however, that martial arts should never be used to hurt or injure needlessly. In fact, it is one of the oldest Shaolin axioms that ‘one who engages in combat has already lost the battle.‘ (source: monkeytree)
Here is a compilation of photos showing the intense physical training of the Shaolin Monks today:
Image credits: Tomasz Gudzowaty of www.gudzowaty.com