|Kung-Fu in the Forest of Pagodas, Shaolin Temple|
In 464 A.D. a Buddhist monk from India, named Buddhabadra, arrived in Henan, China, to spread the teachings of the Buddha. He was part of a great missionary movement that brought the teachings of the Dharma to many parts of Asia, from Afghanistan and Persia in the west to China and Japan in the east.
Known as Batuo in Chinese, he became famous for his erudition and wisdom and gathered many disciples from across the kingdom of Northern Wei.
Thirty-one years later, the Emperor Xiaowen built the now-renowned Shaolin Monastery in Henan for this monk, and from then on, the Monastery became famous for its martial arts practitioners, especially in Kung Fu.
Non-violent martial arts is intimately tied in with two things: the spread of Buddhism and, secondly, the philosophy of ahimsa (non-violence.) Ahimsa is one of the five virtues that form the basis of Buddhist ethics. These five precepts are:
2) Abstention from stealing.
3) Abstention from sexual misconduct
4) Abstention from falsehoods, and finally,
5) Abstention from intoxicants
As Buddhism spread from its birthplace in India/Nepal, challenges to the wandering monks arose. Specifically, during travels across the land, they would be attacked by hostile persons, whether belonging to different communities or plain thieves and bandits. To injure or kill them would entail breaking one of the cardinal rules of the monks’ faith. Thus, over the years, they developed ways of protecting themselves without seriously injuring their opponents. These forms of non-violent combat they brought with them to China and other places.
In 527 A.D., an even more important Buddhist monk, from the Tamil region of South India, named Bodhidharma, simply called Damo in China, arrived at the Shaolin Temple. His influence on Chinese Buddhism and culture cannot be underestimated. He is considered to be the transmitter of Chan (the quintessential Buddhism of China) and its first patriarch, and in Japan, known as Daruma (Dharma.) In Chinese art, he is shown as a dark-skinned, wild-haired, bearded and ill-tempered monk. Traditionally, Chinese date the birth of Shaolin Kung Fu to his arrival.
Both Buddhabhadra and Bodhidharma seemed to have attracted, among others, Chinese military men as their first disciples. Buddhabhadra’s first disciples, Huiguang and Sengchou became well known for their prowess. Bodhidharma’s main disciple, Huike, was also an esteemed warrior.
The Shaolin temple combines two different but complementary traditions: Chan (Buddhist philosophy and ethics) and Quan (martial arts.) The monks there have always pursued the philosophy of unification of these two. In a deeper sense, Quan is considered part of Chan. As late Shaolin monk Suxi said in the last moments of his life, "Shaolin is Chan, not Quan."
In China non-violent martial arts developed to a degree much greater than they did in their home lands of India and Central Asia, and from there, Buddhist monks transmitted the teachings to Japan, South Korea and other parts of the world.