12 November 2007

Taoist and Buddhist Origins of All Modern Martial Arts

The Indian monk named Bodhidharma Sardili (also known as Da Mo in Chinese) traveled from India to China around 500 B.C. It is said that he visited Shaolin monks in the Henan Province. While there, Bodhidharma awed the resident Chinese monks with his mastery of meditation. The secret was physical discipline which Bodhidharma saw lacking in the monks. He trained them in exercises designed to strengthen the body and thus their endurance. According to legend, Bodhidharma had attained such a level of control that he was able to bore a hole through a wall simply by staring at it for a number of years in meditation. These series of exercises the monks used evolved into kung fu. This is why Bodhidharma is credited with spreading Chan (Zen) Buddhism to China and for forming the modern kung fu.

Taoist practitioners have been practicing Tao Yin, physical exercises similar to Qigong that was one of the progenitors to Tai Chi Chuan, at least as early as the 500 B.C. era. In 39-92 A.D., "Six Chapters of Hand Fighting", were included in the Han Shu (history of the Former Han Dynasty) written by Pan Ku. Also, the noted physician, Hua Tuo, composed the "Five Animals Play" - tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 B.C.[9] Taoist philosophy and their approach to health and exercise can still be seen in the Internal styles of Chinese martial arts.

With regards to the Shaolin style of martial arts, the oldest evidence of Shaolin participation in combat is a stele from 728 A.D. that attests to two occasions: a defense of the Shaolin Monastery from bandits around 610 A.D., and their subsequent role in the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 A.D. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, there are no extant documents that provide evidence of Shaolin participation in combat. However, between the 16th and 17th centuries there are at least forty extant sources which provided evidence that, not only did monks of Shaolin practice martial arts, but martial practice had become such an integral element of Shaolin monastic life that the monks felt the need to justify it by creating new Buddhist lore.[10] References to Shaolin martial arts appear in various literary genres of the late Ming: the epitaphs of Shaolin warrior monks, martial-arts manuals, military encyclopedias, historical writings, travelogues, fiction, and even poetry.[11] These sources, in contrast to those from the Tang period, refer to Shaolin methods of unarmed combat, as well as combat utilising various weapons. These include the spear (Qiang), and with the weapon that was the forte of Shaolin monks and for which they had become famous—the staff (Gun, pronounced as juen).[12] By the mid-16th century, military experts from all over China were traveling to Shaolin to study its fighting techniques. The fighting styles that are practiced today were developed over the centuries, after having incorporated forms that came into existence later. Some of these include Bagua, Drunken Boxing, Eagle Claw, Five Animals, Hsing I, Hung Gar, Lau Gar, Monkey, Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane, Wing Chun and Tai Chi Chuan.

References:
9. Dingbo. Wu, Patrick D. Murphy (1994), "Handbook of Chinese Popular Culture", Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-27808-3

10. Shahar, Meir (2000). "Epigraphy, Buddhist Historiography, and Fighting Monks: The Case of The Shaolin Monastery". Asia Major Third Series 13 (2): 15–36.

11. Shahar, Meir (December 2001). "Ming-Period Evidence of Shaolin Martial Practice". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 61 (2): 359–413. ISSN 0073-0548.

12. Henning, Stanley (1999). "Martial arts Myths of Shaolin Monastery, Part I: The Giant with the Flaming Staff". Journal of the Chenstyle Taijiquan Research Association of Hawaii 5 (1), Shahar, Meir (2007), The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion and the Chinese Martial arts", Honolulu: The University of Hawai'i Press
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