To say the least, the Shaolin Temple has gone through much turmoil over the last few centuries. Besides being a place of exchange and conservation of martial arts, it was also a political and a military force, both revered, and feared. This means that it wasn't as cut off from the "worldly matters" as one would like to think. There were many threats, wars, involvements of mercenaries, corruption, (etc). which have caused the temple to be burned down (and almost deserted) several times.
Now how can we know for sure that what we practice is indeed what was taught there all this time ago? To make it short: The ancient manuscripts and their copies, which have been preserved by the lay practitioners (Wu Gulun, for example) at times of peril in the temple, or by other temple outsiders, family lineages of Dengfeng, etc.
Many of those documents were written at the golden age of martial arts, and can their content be used to show whether not there is any bias or deviation in our practice. These treasured manuscripts form the most important part of the material heritage of Shaolin Kung Fu. Of course, there is more to the Shaolin boxing tradition than a few old books; there is intangible heritage in the form of oral teachings, which is surviving to this day - against all odds.
Hu Zhengsheng is one of the most dedicated disciples of his now deceased master, Yang Guiwu, who saw in him a humble but extremely talented student. In turn, grandmaster Yang gave most of the artifacts he had inherited from the previous generations of masters down to Hu Zhengsheng. Those artifacts included for example 500 year old scrolls about martial arts and medicine, training manuals from earlier inheritors of the Xinyiba lineage, old weapons, and other objects that he keeps safe in his school.
Hu Zhengsheng, amongst other dedicated teachers of this generation, spends a lot of time analyzing those manuscripts, and tries to get the best understanding out of them. Those were not written to teach beginners, but for advanced students of martial arts to keep their practice in check.
Most of the written material we inherited was taken out of the Shaolin Temple by Wu Gulun (Shi Jiqin) many years before it's 1928 destruction by warlord Shi Yousan, as he went into exile in the 1880s (because the temple was threatened for quite some time before its destruction). He not only saved skill and practical martial arts knowledge, but also quite a few ancient treasures. A great many of those ended up being passed down to Yang Guiwu, who in turn gave them to Hu Zhengsheng.
Researching the real traditional lineages of Shaolin
Because of the fame of modern Wushu, show Kung Fu and the whole tourism industry of the Shaolin brand, people often say "there is nothing traditional left in Shaolin, it's all business". That statement is based on the idea that the real Shaolin traditions disappeared when the temple was burnt down in 1928. However, although many died - and much was lost - not everything disappeared. Traditional Kung fu has been preserved, but the struggle continues to this day.
Wu Shanlin 吴山林（1875—1970）
Was the son of Wu Gulun. He was a very important source of knowledge after the temple was burnt down, and spent about 3 years teaching what he and his father had preserved for several decades. Many people benefited from his teachings: Shi Dechan, Hao Shizhai, Wang Tianren, Shi Zhenxu, Wang Chaofan, Yang Guiwu, Yang Jucai, Xing Sheng, and most importantly Shi Degen, his most advanced disciple. Wu Shanlin came back to the temple one last time in 1963 and demonstrated Xinyiba for famous Taijiquan expert Li Tianji
Shi Degen 释德根 (1914-1970)
Shi Degen started practicing martial arts at the age of 5, in the Chaomi Temple (炒米寺) close to his hometown, Guandimiao village. There he learned from master Suduan (素端), who made him practice Light Body skill (Mainly having many weights attached to the body) and other basic Kung fu. At the age of 16, he went to the Shaolin temple, where he became and advanced student of Shi Zhenxu (释貞緒 1893-1955). In the 1930's, Wu Shanlin was teaching in the temple, and Degen became one of his most hard working disciples. Even when Wu Shanlin left the temple, after 3 years, Degen stayed in contact with him and visited him as often as possible.
Hao Shizhai 郝释斋 (1930-2014)
Hao Shizhai was a farmer and also a traditional doctor from Shutanggou (书堂沟) in Henan. His family had close ties with the Shaolin Temple for several generations, so he started training at home when he was 6, learning from his father. He later learned from a famous folk master named Mei Jinxuan (梅金选), and was also a student of the abbot Shi Xingzhen. He also learned from Shi Degen to a certain extent. He became very famous within the Shaolin temple, and was a great source of traditional knowledge for a whole generation of monks. Actual abbot Shi Yongxin also got his Kung fu knowledge from him.
Liu Cunliang (1934-2015)
Liu Cunliang was a disciple of the famous warrior monk Shi Degen. He started training when he was very young, and specialized himself with Paoquan, Xinyiba, Monk Spade, and several other skills and forms. He was one of the more privileged disciples of Shi Degen, since only few of them were given the chance to learn Xinyiba. He had few disciples himself, but stayed in close contact with Yang Guiwu and Hu Zhengsheng, and was often invited to teach in master Hu's school.
Shi Suyun 释素云 (1923-1999)
First came to the temple after it's 1928 destruction, probably around 1931, due to famine in his hometown. He helped rebuild the temple and worked hard to preserve the old kung fu, learning kung fu from surviving monks or temple outsiders. He is known for his Xiao Hong Quan, Tongzi Gong, and also practiced a bit of Xinyiba, for which he had several sources (amongst others, Dengfeng style Xinyiba, which was better preserved)
Wang Chaofan 王超凡 (1937-1994)
Wang Chaofan learned from Wu Shanlin for about 2-3 years. He also learned from a general, Liu Yuchen. He was a fervent buddhist and also opened a hospital in Dengfeng. He contributed a lot to the martial arts community of Dengfeng, and was chairman of the Songshan Shaolin Quan study group. He was specialized in Paoquan, Qimei staff, and Chang Hu Xinyimen, about which he wrote a book. He also had some knowledge of Xinyiba.
Zhang Guangjun 张广俊
Master Zhang was a disciple of Shi Zhenjun. He was teaching within the Shaolin temple for many years, and was known for his excellent mastery of several weapons, such as the cane, rope dart, Da dao, as well as his Monk spade techniques, for which he was famous all over China. He had several students in the temple, one of which was Hu Zhengsheng, who came to him when he was 12 - and later took care of him in his old age.
Shi Zhenjun 释貞俊 (1865-1939)
Was a martial arts master of the Shaolin Temple. His main disciples were Zhang Guangjun (master Hu's first teacher), Shi Hangshu, Shi Dechan, Shi Henglin, and some others.
He was specialized with Tongbeiquan, Da Hongquan, Paoquan, as well as Xinyiba, which he learned from Shi Zhanju and/or Shi Zhanmo.
Cui Xiqi 崔西岐 (1922-2015)
Cui Xiqi was known for his Twin Sickles (Caolian) and Yuanhou Quan. He had practiced martial arts since childhood with his father and grandfather. He was named one of the 10 greatest Shaolin Quan masters of Dengfeng, and later of the whole Henan province.
Shi Zhanju (释湛举) was of the same generation of monks as our ancestor Shi Zhanmo. He entered the temple in 1790. At the time, the abbot of the temple was Shi Haican (Shì Hǎicān 释海参). He learned medicine, and also martial arts, from Shi Rujing (释如净) and Shi Ruliang (释如亮). He was very talented and was specialized with Liuhe Quan, Liuhe Qiang, Xinyiba, and was said to be the founder of Zhaoyang Quan
The depth of his knowledge, experience and skill level allowed him to later become the drill master of the monastery's regiment of monk soldiers
Shi Henglin (释恒林, 1865-1923) was from Song village, Yichuan county, Henan province. He entered the Shaolin temple in 1875 and became abbot at the start of the Republic of China.
He had learned Xinyiba and several other skills such as Liuhequan, in the monastery's regiment of monk soldiers, under master Shi Zhenjun.
Around 1922, he is said to have taught some Xinyiba to Wang Xiangzhai, the founder of Yiquan/Dachengquan, who was already an expert in Xingyiquan - as a student of Guo Yunshen. Xinyiba's principles of adapting & change, as well as Hunyuan power and some others, probably had an influence on his teachings.
Zhu Tianxi (朱天喜, 1947) was the last official disciple taken by Shi Degen, with whom he studied for about 5 years starting in 1965, and ending in 1970 (the year Shi Degen passed away), and is the best known disciple of Shi Degen still alive today. He was also a favored disciple of masters He Ru (何如) and He Futong (何福同), from the Taizu sect of Shaolin. He is very famous for his Rouquan (柔拳, soft fist) and Luohan Quan (罗汉拳, Arhat fist), which he even wrote books about, but he is also proficient at several other skills, such as Xinyiba, Spiral power generation, combat skills, etc.
(More to come...)