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 brothers, and being a heir to the thrown; his father made sure he and his brothers 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 had many different martial arts fighting systems in place which pre-existed in India 10,000 years prior to Bodhidharma exposing these teachings to the Chinese people during the 6th Century. One of the most popular East Indian fighting arts at the time was called “Kalaripayattu”. 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 on one another in their quest for the thrown. His brother greed for wealth and power made Dharma lose all interest in becoming his father heir as he then degressed to a live of being 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 in the palace for many years serving as the King’s personal oracle and adviser. Prajnatara herself was well skilled in martial arts and was a master Yoga practitioner as well. Towards the end of her life, she predicted that her country would be invaded by the Han’s; a ruthless band of bandits from the north. Thus upon her death, she commissioned her pupil Dharma to safe guard their culture and teachings by taking them away to the East of China. So when his master died, at the age of 67 Bodhidharma migrated East to China to originally spread “Chan Buddhism”, better known as “Zen Mediation” today. Though Buddhism had already been introduced to China prior to Dharma’s arrival; the Asian monks had not yet embraced any Yoga practices such as meditation.
When he arrived to China, Dharma 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 had 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. 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 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 to will and dedication to do it”.
When Bodhidharma finally emerged from the cave, he decided to teach the monks a watered down version of Kalaripayattu; except he used local animals to replace some of the Indian animal forms. Thus the first Shaolin animal forms where: the Deer, the Monkey, the Tiger, the Dragon (a mythical creature), the Crane, the Snake, the Bear, the Leopard. These training techniques where basically…”Gym Class” for the monks and consisted of combination of breathing exercises and poses from Harta & RajaYoga. 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 he would leave them, contained both the external and internal secrets of such great East Indian fighting arts like Kalaripayattu and Vajra Mushti.
These arts consisted of techniques based on a medicinal practice conducted in India 10,000 years ago known as “Varma Kalai”; which we know today as “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.
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”.
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.
“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.
Dharma’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 the monks who then used their new found skills to ward off wild animals; bandits, and 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.
Today Bodhidharma’s teachings are 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.”
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.
Thank you for reading this.
-Shi Fu Angelo
CEO of “The Chi Hsuan Min Kung Fu Academy” of Concord, NC.