Origin of Martial Arts

By Edwin A. Noyes M.D., MPH

In the mid-fifth century, an Indian Buddhist Monk, Bodhidharma came from India to the Shaolin Temple (Hall of Three Buddha’s) in the Hunan province of China. He had revised Hinduism (referred to as Chan Buddhism), and he brought yoga to the Shaolin Temple monastery. “Legend tells that it was he who taught the monks the methods of physical movement combined with their meditation to enhance spiritual (occult) abilities. Through certain breathing, visualization techniques, and acts of worship, the monks were said to develop almost supra-natural psychic and physical powers.” Bodhidharma had written a small book The Muscle/Tendon Change Classics which was found at the temple following his death. The book outlined spiritual and physical exercises which would enable the Buddhist to reach enlightenment. Thus, from Indian yoga developed the martial arts of the Buddhist. The practice spread to Japan, Okinawa, and Korea. Each country brought forth additional styles and names for the practice.

This book by Bodhidharma is given great respect by martial artists worldwide. It outlines the foundation of all martial art forms including qi gong. The book presents meditation, attention to breathing, and visualization practices which have great similarity to a book written in 1522-1524, The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. The philosophy of Ignatius’s book has very close similarity to those of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.