The Shaolin order dates to about 540 A.D., when an Indian Buddhist priest named Bodhidharma (Tamo in Chinese), travelled to China to see the Emperor. Tamo travelled to the nearby Buddhist temple to meet with the monks who were translating these Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese. The temple had been built years before in the remains of a forest that had been cleared or burned down. At the time of the building of the temple, the emperor's gardeners had also planted new trees. Thus the temple was named "young (or new) forest", (Shaolin in Mandarin, Sil Lum in Cantonese).
When Tamo joined the monks, he observed that they were not in good physical condition. Consequently, the Shaolin monks lacked the physical and mental stamina needed to perform even the most basic of Buddhist meditation practices. Tamo countered this weakness by teaching them moving exercises, designed to both enhance chi flow and build strength. These sets, modified from Indian yogas (mainly hatha, and raja) were based on the movements of the 18 main animals in Indo-Chinese iconography (e.g., tiger, deer, leopard, cobra, snake, dragon, etc.), were the beginnings of Shaolin Kung Fu.