Myth of Chinese Martial arts origin

Most Western students of Asian martial arts, if they have done any research on the subject at all, will surely have come across references to Bodhidharma. He is known as "Daruma" in Japan and as often as not, this Indian Buddhist monk is cited as the prime source for all martial arts styles or at the vary least, for any style which traces its roots back to the fabled Shaolin Temple. However, the question of his contributions to the martial arts and to Zen Buddhism and even of his very existence has been a matter of controversy among historians and martial arts scholars for many years (Spiessbach,1992).

As legend has it, the evolution of karate began over a thousand years ago, possibly as early as the fifth century BC when Bodhidharma arrived in Shaolin-si (small forest temple), China from India and taught Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a systematized set of exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises which allegedly marked the beginning of the Shaolin style of temple boxing. Bodhidharma's teachings later became the basis for the majority of Chinese martial arts.

Let us analyse facts to see the legend.

Sholin martial history
It is well known that China has had thousands of years of martial arts development. What is not easily known is where the monk's skills and techniques originated. The often-repeated legend of the Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma, or Da Mo in Chinese, states that he began teaching the Shaolin monks (around the year 600 AD) special stretching and aerobic exercises designed to build up their health and strength for enduring long periods of sitting meditation. He is said to have initiated three sets of exercises: the Book of Muscle-Tendon Changing (Yi Jin Jing), the Book of Bone Marrow and Brain Washing (Xi Shui Jing) and the Eighteen Hands of the Lohan (Lohan Shi Ba Shou). From these three, a set of self-defence techniques was developed and the Shaolin fighting arts (Quan Fa) are thought to have been born.

However, these legends did not appear until hundreds of years after this event was said to have occurred, and there is no mention at all from India or Persia that Da Mo ever existed. What's more, written records show Shaolin as having fighting monks protecting its grounds before Da Mo's said arrival (the temple being in operation since the late 300 AD). Ba Tuo, the Indian monk who founded Shaolin thirty years before Da Mo was said to have arrived, had two disciples, Hui Guang and Seng Chou, who were noted for their fighting skills. In fact, in recent news from China, archaeologists found ancient manuscripts that pre dated Shaolin by many years and which contain illustrations that closely match those of Yi Jin Jing and Xi Shui Jing! So what are where are the roots of Shaolin Quan Fa?

In ancient times- before Shaolin- the martial arts were practiced for military reasons. Usually, only the nobility and professional soldiers were allowed to openly study martial arts. Besides empty handsets, much attention was spent on spear and sword sets. This was true for almost two thousand years before the start of Shaolin. Through the various Chinese dynasties, wars, marauding mercenaries, and highway bandits made fighting and self-defence a survival necessity.

According to the most commonly accepted versions of the legend, the Chinese martial arts trace their origin to thousands of years ago in China. As the Chinese writing system traces back to the Shang Dynasty (1766 BCE - 1122 BCE), claims of entire books regarding the martial arts being written at earlier times are suspect. The Art of War, written during the 6th century BCE by Sun Tzu, deals directly with military warfare. There are passages in the Zhuang Zi that pertain to the psychology and practice of martial arts. Zhuang Zi, the author of the same name, is believed to have lived in the 4th century BCE. The Tao Te Ching, often credited to Lao Zi, contains principles that are applicable to martial arts, but the dating of this work is controversial. Archery and charioteering were a part of the "six arts" (Traditional Chinese: Simplified Chinese: pinyin: liu yi, also including rites, music, calligraphy and mathematics) of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE - 256 BCE), according to the text Zhou Li. According to legend, the reign of the Yellow Emperor (traditional date of ascension to the throne, 2698 BC) introduced the earliest forms of martial arts to China.

The Yellow Emperor is described as a famous military general who, before becoming China’s leader, wrote a lengthy treatise about martial arts. He allegedly developed the practice of Jiao di or horn-butting and utilized it in war. Jiao di evolved during the Zhou Dynasty into a combat wrestling system called Jiao li (between tenth and third century BCE). The practice of Jiao li in the Zhou Dynasty was recorded in the Classic of Rites]] This combat system included techniques such as strikes, throws, joint manipulation, and pressure point attacks. Jiao li became a sport during the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE - 207 BCE).[1] Currently, Jiao li is known as Shuai jiao, its modern form.

Taoist monks are claimed to have been practicing physical exercises that resemble Tai Chi Chuan at least as early as the 500 BCE era. In 39-92 CE, "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 T'uo, composed the "Five Animals Play" - tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird, around 220 CE. As stated earlier, the Kung Fu that is practiced today developed over the centuries and many of the later additions to Kung Fu, such as the Shaolin Kung Fu style, later animal forms, and the drunken style were incorporated from various martial arts forms that came into existence later on in China and have accurate historical data relating to their inventors.

I may not go here to suggest anything here. But what we can infer martial arts existed since ancient times in all parts of the world and chinese are no exception. To say all the martial arts skills were taught byDA MO is too much. But since the martial arts form of Shaolin temple is the most famous and legends associated with carry till today shows that there could be some truth to it.

surviving Indian martial arts
Kallaripayattu :
Kallari is the Malayalam (language spoken in Kerala) word, for a special kind of gymnasium, in which the martial art known as Kallari Payattu, is practiced. It had its origins in the 4th century A. D. Legends claim, that the art began with the sage Parasurama, who posssessed mystical powers. He built temples and also introduced martial arts, which have influenced and shaped many other arts. The art reached its peak in the 16th century, in the days of Thacholi Othenan - a celebrated chieftain of north Malabar.
A Kallari Payattu demonstration includes physical exercises and mock duels - armed and unarmed combat. It is not accompanied by any music or drumming, but is a silent combat, where style matters the most. Kalari Payattu is practiced by women also. Unniyarcha was a legendary heroine, who won many battles with distinction. Today, Kallari Payattu is a method of physical fitness, and an empty-handed means of self-defence. Yet, it is tied to traditional ceremonies and rituals.

Kallari Payattu consists of various techniques and stages. Among them are:
Uzhichil Uzhichil, or the massage with the Gingerli oil, is used for imparting suppleness to the body, but only persons with a thorough knowledge of the nervous system, and the human body, conduct the 'uzhichil'.

Maipayattu Body exercises or Maippayattu includes the twists and turns of the body, leaps and jumps, and poses, designed to gain control over various parts of the human body.
Sticks of Kolthari This is the next stage where training in handling various staffs of wood or canes of different lengths are imparted. The long stick is called 'kettukari' and the short ones are called ' kuruvadi'.

Otta The otta is an 'S' shaped staff, with a knob at one end, made of the toughest portions of the tamarind tree.These sticks, which are about 2 feet long, are specially suitable for attacks on the nervous system.

Metal weapons or Anga Thari Weapons of various metals are used in training and combat sessions, like the sword, sword and shield, two types of knives, daggers, the spear and the 'urumi', which is a flexible two sided sword. Various exercises are performed with these weapons.

Puliyankam (Sword Fight) Wielding the sword in an efficient manner, is considered to be the peak of perfection in Kallari Payattu. Various methods in the use of the sword, as a weapon of offence and defence, are being practiced today, but the most awsome amone these is the Puliyankam, where the combatants fight like tigers.
The Spear vs the Sword In this combat, one contestant is armed with a sword and shield, and the other with a spear. Due to the length of the spear, the swordsman faces a disadvantage, but if he knows how to exploit all the weak points of the spear-man, and take advantage of all the opportunities, that come his way to get under his opponent's guard, he can easily triumph over his opponent.

Barehanded Fight or Verumkai In unguarded moments, there are some special ways of getting out of a tight situation, by using one's hands or a piece of cloth or a rope. Locks and blows are in vogue. Attacks on the nervous system by the edge of one's palm, are enough to paralyse the opponent. Various types of blows with different effects are, therefore, practiced to perfection.

ChakrumThe Chakram (or Chackrum or Chackram or Chackra) is a metal ring that has been used as a throwing device by the Sikhs of India for many hundreds of years. The Sikhs became martial under Guru Govind Singh and used the Chackra effectively against the Moghul dynasty. The Chackrum has a history that is as old as Indian civilization itself. It's useage is embedded in Indian myth and legend. In the epics..the Mahabharata for asura trying to get heavenly nectar from the moon had his head chakra-ed off. Still he tries to swallow the moon and succeeds ever so often before the moon escapes through the cut eclipse myth. Sculptures and paintings of many gods and godesses show the chakra being twirled.

Thang-TaThang-Ta is the term used to represent all of the Manipuri martial arts. Thang-Ta literally means "sword and spear" because these are the mains weapons used, however, other weapons are used as well, including shields, daggers, sticks, and axes.

The Manipuri people have a long history of combat. Their methods involved specific elements of etiquette. For example, if an unarmed man was challenged to do battle, he was given time to obtain his weapon(s) before engaging in a fight.

Another example involved combatants who used spears to do battle. These warriors would agree on a set distance between them. When this distance was reached, the two rivals would begin to throw spears at each other. Receiving even a small scratch was enough for a participant to lose this dual and the defeated man would bravely accept death as his fate. Many times before he would die, he would share a meal with the victor. By allowing himself to be executed, the vanquished warrior was actually following what he believed to be God's laws, the violation of which would be viciously avenged.

The arts of Thang-Ta are serious forms of self-defense, even aggression, now choreographed into well-performed movements on stages. All performances of Thang-Ta often differ greatly from one another, yet they are executed with the utmost skill and precision. Anything less would result in the injury, or even death of one, or both of the participants.


  1. Well.. the logic of one Bodhidharma coming to China to form martial arts doesn't meet common sense at all.. so a buddhist monk started the art of fighting.. so what exactly were the soldiers of that time doing?? Chopping beef?? I rather believe it was a written proof of evidence, that's all it was..

    1. Every Animal knows how to fight, it is inborn in all of us and that is how we survive. So fighting is not new.

      The question is science of Self defence and the scientific steps to attain the same,
      Which could be taught to the students in the simple way. That is what we are looking at this time. This story comes from Shaolin temple.

      (e.g) Everybody knows how to sing. Why do we have training in classical singing then?

      Soldiers were fighting and dying, just like everywhere else. If you don't know the difference between personal self defense of the marital arts and Military tactics, then there is nothing to tell you.

  2. Buddhist monks who traveled to China thru Tibet were forbidden from harming any living thing, including bandits of which there were plenty along the way. At the same time however, they were required to protect the spread of the Teachings. This was the beginning of "self defense" where an attacker was subdued and/or incapacitated without injury or death. Monks protecting themselves in this way against warlords in China became legend and ended up teaching many warlords' soldiers. Inevitably, the non-violent underpinnings disappeared and as the arts moved eastward to Japan, they became more aggressive and violent. The fact that the Sholin Temple is Buddhist should put to rest any speculations of where the arts came from.

    1. "They were required to protect the spread of Teaching"

      Where did you get that


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