Ma Lin was from Jiankang, Nanjing. He could play the flute very well and was excellent in martial arts as well. He wielded a pair of bronze sabres into battle, and could fight a hundred men at the same time. He was nicknamed the 'Iron Flute player' (铁笛仙).
After the Liangshan heroes had rescued Song Jiang and Dai Zong from execution in Jiangzhou, they passed by Huangmen Mountain where Ma Lin, Ou Peng, Tao Zong-wang and Jiang Jing lived as bandits. The bandits stopped Song Jiang and paid their respects, requesting that Song Jiang let them join the Liangshan band, which Song agreed.