Kung Fu got its beginnings somewhere around the 5th Century with a East Indian Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma. "Dharma" as he was also referring to as; was the third son of King Sugandha. He was Dravidian; a member of the black aboriginal population that during his time, dominated most of Asia.
Bodhidharma was born as a member of the Kshatriya caste who at the time, ruled what is now today known as Tamil Nadu India. As a child he was raised in royalty; being waited on hand and foot and entertained daily by beautiful courtesans known as Bhartanatyam dancers. He was the youngest of his two older brothers, and being a heir to the thrown; his father made sure they were well educated in warfare and military tactics.
Back then, India was a much different place than it is today; there were many different warring factions fighting for land, wealth and power.
Because of this, India was a divided nation. With war comes fighting and bloodshed, thus various different Indian nations had perfected the art of war as a means of making their warriors impervious to pain; as well as becoming more efficient killers on the battlefield.
Each nation had developed its own unique style of combat ranging from the use of weapons to hand to hand combat. These India fighting arts pre-existed 10,000 years prior to Bodhidharma exposing these teachings to the Chinese people during the 6th Century.
Very few people are aware of these facts today, as the British rule over India which lasted from 1858 until 1947; almost completely erased this knowledge from historical records by placing a ban on the practice of "Kalaripayattu", one of the most popular East Indian fighting arts.
Kalaripayattu is the precursor to Kung Fu having (10) distinct animal forms: the Peacock, the Boar, the Rooster, the Fish, the Cat, the Lion, the Horse, the Elephant, the Monkey, the Snake.
As a teenager, Dharma had witnessed his elder brothers commit several unsuccessful assassination attempts against both their father as well as one another in their quest for the thrown. His brothers greed for wealth and power made Dharma lose all interest in becoming a heir to his father's thrown as he then degressed to living the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk; giving up all his worldly possessions in search of spiritual enlightenment.
Dharma was taught by a woman by the name of Prajnatara; she served as both his mentor and tutor and lived with his family in the palace for many years serving as the King's personal oracle and adviser.
As a boy, Bodhidharma was trained in the art of Kalaripayattu which consisted of the use of both weapons and hand to hand combat.
Some of the weapons he would have been trained to use included:
The spear, knives, daggers, whips, staffs, swords and shields.
He even would have been proficient in close quarters combat as well, being training in a East Indian form of wrestling known as "Vajra Musthi".
Vajra Musthi wrestling includes the use of a device on the hand known as a "Knuckleduster", which when wore is like having a pair of brass knuckles with spikes on them. Sometimes even a blade would be placed on one end in addition to steel claws.
Prajnatara was skilled in martial arts as well, and was a master Yoga practitioner. Its was with her that Bodhidharma learned to find inner peace and spirituality. This is the balance of "Yin & Yang" that's spoken of in Kung Fu.
During this time in history, the Han's and Mongols were invading many areas of East Asia.
Towards the end of her life, Prajnatara predicted that her country would soon be invaded by the Han's as well; and thus upon her death, she commissioned her pupil Dharma to safeguard their culture and teachings by taking them away to the East to China.
It is said that Bodhidharma was 67 years of age when his master died and he migrated east to China where originally his desire was only to try and spread "Chan Buddhism"; better known as "Zen Mediation" today.
Though Buddhism had already been introduced to China centuries
prior to Dharma's arrival by means of Siddhartha Gautama aka "The Buddha"; the Asian monks had not yet embraced any form of Yoga practices such as prostrations, breath control and meditation. They simply knew Buddhist scriptures written in Sandscript.
When Bodhidharma arrived to China, he was treated like a foreign ambassador. Being from a royal family, he was invited to the court of Emperor Wu in Nanjing. The Emperor, who had already developed a keen interest in Buddhism; was attempting to impress Bodhidharma by telling him of the many good deeds he had performed for the monks such as building new temples and giving charity to the poor all in the name of gaining penance in the afterlife.
The Emperor described in great detail the many Buddhist temples he had constructed, the Buddhist scriptures he had ordered his scholars to copy and the many favors he had granted to the monks and nuns.
The Emperor then asked Dharma....."To what extent of merit will my good deeds bring me in the afterlife?" whereby Dharma immediately replied...."None at all". The Emperor was surprised.
He then asked Bodhidharma...."What is the First Principle of Buddhism?!" Dharma then replied...."Nothingness!"
Somewhat irritated and annoyed with him, the Emperor then asked him...."WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!"...Dharma replied..."I don't know" and left.
Bodhidharma then traveled north to Henan Province where he took up residence at the Shaolin Monastery in Songshan Province.
There he attempted to teach the monks his unique form of meditation which consisted of extensive hours of prostration in meditation.
The monks tried to mimic his training methods but where unable to bear the exhausting and vigorous training due to their poor physical condition. Many would often collapse from exhaustion or fall asleep during their meditations.
This infuriated Bodhidharma who got so angry that he then isolated himself inside of a nearby cave and mediated there in front of a wall for 9 years. The purpose of him doing this was to prove to the monks that ...."Anything is possible if one only has the will and dedication to do it".
When Bodhidharma finally emerged from the cave, he decided to teach the monks a (short hand version) of Kalaripayattu; except he used local animals to replace some of the Traditional Indian animal forms since the Chinese people had not then seen such exotic animals from India such as the Peacocks and the Elephant.
Thus the first Shaolin animal forms where:
The Deer, the Monkey, the Tiger, the Dragon (a mythical creature found in Chinese folklore), the Crane, the Snake, the Bear and the Leopard.
These training techniques where basically..."Gym Class" for the monks and consisted of a combination of breathing exercises and poses largely taken from Harta, Raja and Iyengar Yoga.
Dharma would then write two books known as "The Yijin Jing" (Muscle Change Classic) and the "Xi Sui Jing" (Bone Washing Classic).
These two books which he would leave the monks with upon his departure; contained both the external and internal secrets of the Kalaripayattu fighting arts.
One such secret is called "Varma Kalai".
This ancient art was used for both combat, as well as for medicinal purposes.
"Varma Kalai" is what the Chinese people call today..."Acupuncture."
Hindu mythology states that this knowledge was imparted on mankind by means of (The Hindu God of War), "Lord Murugan" who is the son of Lord Shiva; the God of Creation and Destruction.
According to legend, Lord Murugan came to earth in the form of a old man who taught "Agastya", who then became "The Father of Sandscript Literature" in India.
Acupuncture, as we know it today; is (The manipulation of Pressure Points on the human body) by means of needles; but these points can also be manipulated by "Touch" as well, if one knows where these channels are.
In Chinese Kung Fu, "Chin Na" is...(The art of Seizing and Controlling the Limbs.)
In India it was called: "Varma", and it can be used either combatively or for "Holistic" purposes as well.
Bodhidharma's training methods improved the monks health dramatically, providing them with both internally and external strength as well. These skills would later be very useful to them as they then used their new found skills to ward off wild animals; bandits, and even those who sought to try and desecrate the Shaolin Temple.
According to legend, Bodhidharma only had "One" true successor by the name of "Dazu Huike" who had met him at the Shaolin Temple in the year 528.
Accounts say that Dazu was 40 years of age when we began studying under Dharma for roughly 5 to 9 years, some say.
Dazu would then appoint his student "Sengcan" as his successor as the teachings of Chan Buddhism would later spread all the way to Japan.
As for Bodhidharma's teachings, they would go on to be known as "Gong Fu or Kung Fu" by the Chinese people.
The words "Kung Fu" roughly translate as meaning..."Kung"-(Hard) and "Fu" (Work). This implies that in truth the word can be used to describe anything which is a rigorous task.
But since the words originated in China, they are specifically used to describe a particular form of Shaolin Pugilism we know today as "Wu Shu."
"Wu" means "Martial" and "Shu" means "Art Form."
The Chinese would then later add on additional styles and even make some improvements to existing styles as well.
Overall there are roughly over 300 different Kung Fu styles to choose from, thus any Kung Fu enthusiastic should take care in selecting the right style which best suites them.
The practice of Kung Fu almost went extinct as the Shaolin Temple had been attacked an rebuilt a multitude of times.
The final attack came in 1928 by a Japanese warlord named Shi Yousan.
Today Shaolin Kung Fu is alive and well, thanks to the dedicated efforts of passionate Kung Fu instructors like Shi Fu Angelo and others.
Its our mission try and preserve this knowledge by passing it down to the next generation that proceeds us.
Thank you for reading this.
-Shi Fu Angelo
CEO of "The Chi Hsuan Min Kung Fu Academy" of Concord, NC.