History of the Traditional Martial Arts:
Around A.D. 525, a Zen Buddhist monk by the name of Boddhidarma traveled from India to China’s Shaolin monastery. There he combined Chinese boxing or fighting techniques with yogic breathing exercises to improve the health of the monks. The monks eventually mixed their religion of Taoism with India’s Buddhism in their martial exercises. From China’s ancient monasteries all martial arts systems are founded, no matter what the name, they all have their roots in ancient China and philosophies in India.
The Chinese monks soon learned to combine physical exercise with breathing techniques, meditation, and inner body control to develop needed fighting and healing skills. Inner strength or a high level of chi development always outperformed pure physical strength alone. Allow me to explain the concept of chi.
Chi is rooted in ancient Chinese medicine and is described as one’s life force to maintain health, energy, and wellbeing. The martial artist is taught that chi development is essential for proper fighting techniques and power. Moreover, what fighter would not want to take advantage of something that could turn them from a good fighter into a great fighter? A martial artist could be taught Chi Kung at various levels from subtle breathing and relaxation techniques to attempting to shoot one’s energy out through the body to forcibly move an opponent. Chi means energy and Kung means work. Chi Kung is simply “energy work.”
Chi Kung combines breathing, postures, movement, and meditation to keep and maintain health and promote a state of wellbeing. It is sometimes called breathing exercises, longevity method, or internal training. Just as in yoga, Chi Kung exercises are often promoted on the belief that it brings health and wellness benefits to its practitioners. Of course, for some martial artists, the promise of extraordinary fighting ability is too much to resist.
In Chinese Chi Kung, meditation is key. The slow subtle movements of Tai Chi (once a real fighting system) are nothing more than a moving meditation, or a moving yoga. Concentrating on the breath and emptying the mind are most important. In the Japanese arts, chi is referred to as ki, and Chinese movements (“forms”) are referred to as katas. They all have the same source as explained earlier.
Philosophies of Traditional Systems:
The sect of Shaolin is an offshoot of the Buddhist school known in Chinese as Ch’an and in Japanese Zen. Most martial arts schools in the West do not concern themselves with the religious aspects, but rather are concerned with the non-religious or philosophical aspects of a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism. The philosophical Taoist is atheist and deity independent looking to nature for harmony rather than to a god. By looking to nature, the ancients observed the fighting skills of various animals, and copied these movements. Thus, many systems of Shaolin Kung Fu are named after animals; i.e., tiger, dragon, white crane, drunken monkey, etc.
Chinese Taoism seems to have originated from a Chinese sage named Lao Tzu, who wrote down his wisdom in a book called the Tao Te Ching, or The Book of the Way. It is also a book of divination, used for centuries to predict the future. It is still highly regarded and used in business. I used to consult the “oracle” and used its predictions to make some of the most important decisions of my life.
It is his philosophy of the YIN and the YANG concept of the universe, which roots philosophical Taoism. YIN and YANG are opposites that make the universe run. Concepts of soft and hard, light and dark, female and male, good and bad cannot exist without one another. The YIN/YANG symbol of two intertwined “fish” can be found in modern businesses and in numerous martial arts schools. I know one Christian martial arts instructor who uses this symbol on his Christian martial arts business cards.
Martial artists apply this knowledge in their art by realizing their “style” of fighting is neither hard nor soft, but all styles combine the essence of both, just as the Tao does. So, one can “softly” deflect or absorb an opponent’s energy within a strike, and then attack the opponent “hard” using the concept of YIN and YANG. An undiscerning Christian or parent may not recognize the Taoist philosophy contained in the lesson, and perhaps even the instructor may not realize the roots of his teaching.
The famous influential martial artist Bruce Lee used the YIN/YANG symbol in his Jeet Kune Do emblem. Lee integrated the martial arts with Taoism. He wrote, “The point is to utilize the art as a means to advance The Way (the Tao).” He also believed, “Technical skill is subordinate to the psychic training, which will finally raise the practitioner even to the level of high spirituality.” Bruce Lee is still admired by many people for his martial arts skills and movies. He has influenced an entire generation of young martial artists. However, his philosophy was pure Taoism.
Martial arts systems that are referred to as “internal systems” because of their emphasis on cultivating the chi such as Hsing-I, Pakua, and T’ai Chi Ch’uan were founded by theistic Taoists, which developed complicated schools of ceremonial magic. Yes, magic. The movements of the martial art Pakua are based on the building of hexagrams contained in the ancient Chinese book of divination, the I-Ching.
Again, after studying some of these internal arts in search for more fighting power, I found myself using the I-Ching to make the most important decisions in my life. I learned the method of building hexagrams by meditating, tossing three quarters and consulting the I-Ching for its divining interpretation. This is considered occult magic.
Next in part V, I will discuss “Meditation” and “Health and Fitness” regarding the Martial Arts and Yoga.
Excerpt taken from the eBook, “Martial Arts: A Biblical Perspective” by Paul Villanueva.