China was the communication center between east and west and the union between the nations of the ancient world. Due to this it was an important development center for all of the combat systems that did not use weapons. Indian books, written in Sanskrit, mention this nation as a remarkable culture with great political organizations, called Dynasties.
One of the most important ones was the CHOU dynasty because it would stabilize China in political, economical and social matters and it also lead China to its cultural splendor. In philosophy and religion, for example, it had the presence of great men like Confucio and Lao Tse. This period lasted from the 10th to the 7th century B.C. but the lack of good relations between the different nations of the region brought another dynasty guided by the tyrant SI-HUANG (VII to V BC).
The first piece of historical information about martial arts come from this era, approximately 4000 BC. This Emperor SI-HUANG ordered to burn all books except those of medicine, pharmacy and agriculture. One of the books that were saved was a very ancient book, called the Kantsu. This book had references to a great number of topics like politics, economy, legal matters, cultural patterns, etc. and it also had notes about an ancient combat art called CHUAN-FA. This art had two origins, a Taoist one inspired in Lao-Tse and of course a Buddhist origin influenced by Confucian principles.
1.- TAOISM: The aristocrats and the monks practiced a fighting system influenced by Taoism and the story tells that the origin of this particular fighting art was founded by a Chinese doctor called HUAN-TO, who had a great knowledge of the medical use of plants. He created an exercise system for the preservation of good health. These exercises were created (like all fighting systems without weapons) from the observation of animals like the crow, crane, tiger, monkey and bears. This fighting art was called WAKKIN-Hl and was classified in two styles: internal and external where the internal style is best known today as TAICHI-CHUAN.
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2.- Buddhism: Its creator was BODIDHARMA called TAMO, DARUMA or PUTITAMO by the chinese people. This monk lived during the LIANG dynasty (506-556 A.D.) He was born in India, and had an excellent social position as the third son of King SUGANDA who ruled a southern region of India. This monk belonged to the warrior class and was a student of master PRAGNATARA. He also had a great knowledge of DYANA (Buddhist Meditation) known by the chinese as CHAN.
When his master died (520 A.D.) Boddhidarma goes to China following the expansion of Buddhism to Asia. On the monk's arrival to China, this country was highly influenced by Taoism, the predominant religion. Arriving to China he was accepted in the court of the emperor WU DE LIANG. But due to philosophical and religious disagreements with the emperor (if nirvana is reached before or after death) he was expulsed from the court. After this he went to the northern kingdom of WEI, province of HONAN towards the HAO mountains, where we would find the SAOLIN or SHAOLIN temple. (SHORINJI in Japanese)
This wasn’t the only Shaolin temple in China, there was one in the north and another in the south of the country. The northern temple, SAOLIN CHI monastery, was in the province of HONAN, on the north side of mount SOONG. In the south of China, in the province of FUNKIEN or FUKIEN was the SAOLIN CHUAN temple. Now in days there is no doubt that these SAOLIN temples produced 350 martial art styles that still exist.
There were also other very important temples that had effects on martial arts, monasteries in the regions of NGOR MEE, WUTANG, KWANTUM and OMEI (this last one was a taoist monastery were the internal style was taught)
The doctrine that Boddhidarma taught to the monks was based on extreme hardness. The monks had great difficulty in learning due to their poor physical condition, this is why Boddhidarma tried to improve their physical condition and taught them exercises similar to those practiced by the Taoists. These exercises principal purpose was the interior and exterior development of their bodies as well as for health. He instructed them in the art of combat without weapons which he had practiced in India as a member of the warrior class. When the master arrived to the Saolin Temple, the monks were already known in China for the of the use of the long stick BO and the short stick JO,
The monks were admitted in childhood. They woke up at dawn and dedicated their days to reading, combat techniques and meditation. When the moment was adequate they had to pass a final test. This test started in their rooms and finished outside, coming out victorious when they stepped through the great door as an authentic monk.
This combat art, taught to the monks by Bodhidarma, was called SO-ZU KEMPO, but anciently it was known as SHI PALO HANSHO, the 18 hands of LO HAN, whom is supposed to be the author of the I-CHIN texts.
When Boddhidarma dies, the monks dedicated great time and effort to spiritual meditation. The ZAZEN position was very important to this meditation, ZAZEN was based on the concept that the body is the temple of the spirit and it must be disciplined to find peace and to harmonize both body and spirit. Later on this concept would be the most important principle of martial arts and therefore we can understand why the conception of this art had its purpose in spiritual development.
Long after the death of Boddhidarma in the twelfth century a CHUAN-FA master, the monk SHAN FEN, went to live to the temple of mount WU-TANG. While he lived there he studied the art and the results of his studies included his knowledge of the SAOLIN-ZU-KEMPO. SHAN FEN added more techniques to the 18 already known, going from 18 to 72 Kuens (movements). Later on another master CHUNEG or CHUEN YUAN, considering himself responsible of the SAOLIN-ZU-CHUAN-FA traveled to the SEN SHI province to acquire knowledge from master LEE. After this voyage he extended the combat art to 172 movements and created the external method of this art.
In the year 206 B.C. the HAN dynasty took over China and ruled for four centuries with confucian convictions. It was in this period that these combat systems were transmitted to other countries like Mongolia and the rest of Asia. In year 184 A.D., the final era of the HAN dynasty, a revolution took place and as a result of this revolution, China was divided in three kingdoms.
These kingdoms united themselves in the year 265 with the CHIN dynasty; afterwards this dynasty gave a name to its territory: CHINA. In this era the martial arts fighting methods kept on with the physical and spiritual development and were strongly bonded to religion, Zen Buddhism. The evolution of this art was later known as CHUAN-FA, influenced by many local fighting systems, like PAKUA, TAICHI CHUAN (both internal and external methods). It is most important to mention that in the fifteenth century the SAOLIN ZU KEMPO created more than 350 styles, where the most well known are: