Biography of Bodhidharma

The modern day martial arts that we see now is the compilation of the teachings of a Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma. He was said to have travelled to China in order to pass on the Buddhist teaching ‘Ch’an’. The Shaolin monks at the Shaolin Temple, under the guidance and training of Bodhidharma learned the art of meditation and acquired physical training. Fighting techniques blended with the movements introduced by Bodhidharma were framed by the Shaolin monks which was later developed in to a higher level into many different schools and given the collective name Ch’üan-fa (Kung-Fu). Years later, this spread to Okinawa and was influenced by the local fighting style Tode under the name Te which paved the way to the formation of the different schools. Interestingly, these schools derived their names from the villages they belong to; Shuri (Shurite), Naha (Nahate) and Tomari (Tomarite). The modern karate styles that we see at present have their origin from one of these three schools.

Bodhidharma’s entry into the big picture

Bodhidharma, known as Ta Mo in Chinese set out his journey to China to visit the Emperor who was a spiritual man who believed in the concept that he could attain enlightenment through the good deeds performed by the people in his name. Umpteen numbers of scriptures were translated from Sanskrit into Chinese so as to make it easy for the common people to follow the religion. Bodhidharma however had his own argument regarding the Emperor’s interpretation of religion and hence decided to break up with the Emperor which led him diverge his way to the nearby Shaolin Temple. Unfortunately Bodhidharma was denied entrance to the Temple as he had difference of opinion with the Emperor. Hence as a part of his attempt to prove his worthiness, he meditated in a nearby cave for nine long years. There are many tales that are being said about Bodhidharma, one of them being said that the intensity of his meditation was so deep that with his piercing eyes he burned holes in the walls of the cave. Another tale say that his silhouette was burned by the sun directly onto the rock while he was meditating. With his great wisdom, Bodhidharma was successful in building a healthy and fruitful relationship with the Shaolin monks though he was denied entrance to their temple. He taught the type of Buddhism known as Ch’an which later made a profound influence in the philosophy of martial arts spread widely not only in China but also Japan where it was known by the name Zen.

Bodhidharma found that translating text was taking a toll on the Shaolin monks who spent hours and more in a certain position as it was making a negative impact on their health in terms of physical and mental state. He came up with a smart and lucrative idea of teaching them exercises that were meant to have a positive impact on the internal and external well being of the Shaolin monks. The exercises that he taught were derived from the hatha and raja yoga practices which stemmed from Bodhidharma’s home land, India.

The origin of Kung Fu

Getting equipped with fighting techniques and knowing ways of defending themselves was the need of that hour as the Shaolin monks had to protect themselves from the dangers of wild animals and bandits who were sure to be present in the remote areas where the roads to the temple lead. In the course of time, the Shaolin monks blended the fighting techniques that they already knew with the movements that were introduced by Bodhidharma. These fighting techniques, though they seem different in styles, are sure to have a connection with respect to the roots linked to the Shaolin Temple and is now popularly known as Kung Fu.