The history behind ‘Mark of the Shaolin’ by Steven Gilshenen

Perhaps its no surprise my first favourite TV show was Monkey considering I write Wuxia (Kung Fu Fiction) and little else. Or that I loved Shogun Assassin, the Man From Hong Kong and Big Boss when I was little along with Star Wars (Jedi being the first “Shaolin-like” philosophy I came across). Like most kids in Australia I tried to learn Martial Arts when I was 6 inspired by these stories but the mythology appealed more to an uncoordinated kid with his head in the clouds than the usual punch-kick-block.
Twelve years later I came to see I had missed the true essence of Martial Arts entirely when a Chinese doctor taught me Qigong and what he called the Dragon Game, a form of Qinna. When the doctor returned home I began learning He-Style Taijiquan in Sydney and dedicated my life to it, now teaching He-Style Taijiquan in Japan. .
Throughout the whole time I tried to find Wuxia books in English but had very little success (finding Monkey/Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Lo Kuan-chung and Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Naian as the closest I could get) so began creating my own story.

The title, Mark of the Shaolin, came about before even the main character had been given a name (his birth name, not the name he is known by in the story, Shi Di came from a cup I was given when I was 12 that had my name written in different languages) and planted the seeds of what would grow into the Tigers of Wulin Series. That said, Zhen Di is not me. (If I’m being honest, the two main characters are taken from different aspects of me and magnified for the story. Even their respective Arts are the two I practice.)
This all existed in my head long before it was written down (my first attempt at writing it was when I was 12 and the two main characters were joined by a Ninja…yeah, I had my cultures a bit mixed up) and as I learned more history and legends from teachers and research it all took shape naturally in my imagination. Shaolin, the legendary birthplace of Chinese Martial Arts, took the centerstage. Yet Shaolin was Buddhist and I had become infatuated with the Internal Martial Arts of the Taoist Wudang Temple, especially the “Patron Saint” (bad translation) of those Arts, Xuanwu. The balance of External/Internal, hard/soft, unsure/confident became reflected in the two main characters Shi Zhen Di and Iron Wu.
Although this existed solely in my imagination with the intention of one day writing it, it was extremely important for me to be as accurate as possible. For example, Shi in the characters name is one the Shaolin Monks adopt (it’s explained why in the books) and each has a generation name, hence “Zhen”. I had initially set this in an earlier Dynasty but certain Arts would not have been invented at that time. Working out which Arts were developed throughout the story I could work out which Shaolin Generation Name would be applicable. This type of accuracy is probably why it took so long to write the book in the first place! But I think it’s worth it now that each Book flows out with little effort needed as it already exists in my mind.
But the Tigers of Wulin Series also serves a higher purpose. Too often, as in my own experience, the moral aspect is left out of today’s Martial Arts classes. As a teacher and a father I hope to instill those values that are told in the legends and saw the books as a great opportunity to share them with people who may not come across the stories elsewhere. Ancient legends, historical figures and their guidance is weaved throughout the story of a young Shaolin Warrior Monk in search of balance and his immensely powerful wandering Taoist companion.
And this is just the start. A problem with writing a story that has been cooking for so long is condensing it into novel sized pieces. The fights are detailed and written with an accuracy only a Martial Artist could write, I believe. Each fight was tested to see if it would work and not omit a better “technique” but combat is only one part of the story. At its core, the Tigers of Wulin Series is about family.
At the moment, I am trying to cut something that could be seventeen volumes down to nine core books and a couple side stories without losing the essence.  With Mark of the Shaolin the seeds are planted that tell of the destiny Shi Zhen Di and Iron Wu have inherited as Tigers of Wulin, a destiny that has led to the creation of Shaolin, Wudang and their Orders in the first place.
Traditional Martial Arts, mythology, spirituality and Drunken Fist all in one.

Let us know what you think?