Many people know Kung Fu through movies or famous martial artists like Bruce Lee. But where does the martial art originally come from and how did it get to the current spread? In this article, we would like to give an insight into the history.
First foundations in the Shaolin monastery
It was an Indian monk named Bodhidharma who laid the foundation for martial arts in northern China in the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province in about 500 AD. In the beginning, he taught the Chan or Zen. This means that he spread the philosophy of self-respect through meditation techniques. During his stay in the monastery, he gradually added other movements to his meditation exercises, which were intended for physical training. Thus he created the basis for the later development of martial arts. In addition to the physical exercises and breathing techniques, he also developed the mental strength (Qi) that was necessary for resistance and endurance.
But it was his successors who redefined the concept of struggle. Bodhidharma considered fighting as a new discipline for attaining enlightenment, while subsequent monks used and further developed his “Shiba Luohanshou” – that is, the “18 hands of the Buddha disciples” – for fighting. These were gymnastic exercises that could also be used in combat.
Wuqinxi: Art of the five animals
Since new methods of fighting were always being researched, Bodhidharma’s exercises and teachings were eventually combined with Chinese medicine according to Hua Tuo to create the art of Wuqinxi. It was practiced in the monastery and was able to develop into Shaolin Quanfa in the following centuries. The Wuqinxi is thereby the “art of the five animals”, which contains a series of exercises for animal imitation.
Hua Tuo, himself a physician and a pioneer in anesthesia, took up the art of the five animals again and combined them into basic movement exercises that served to maintain the vitality of the body. In doing so, he attempted to observe the movements of bears, deer, cranes, monkeys, and tigers and translate them into human behavior. Exercises included jumping, crawling, twisting, and bending. But muscle contractions through tension and breath control were also important components of the exercises.
Combination of several fighting techniques
In the end, both Bodhidharma’s philosophy about self-respect through meditation techniques and Hua Tuo’s exercises to maintain the vitality of the body laid the foundation for today’s martial arts and thus also for Kung Fu. The development, which at first took place only in the Shaolin monastery, spread very soon through followers in China and later throughout Asia. From this foundation, new martial arts styles developed over the centuries.