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The Evolution of Kung Fu

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The Evolution of Oriental Martial Arts

Extract from TAI CHI CHUAN TREASURE OF MANKIND by Soon Tuan They

Most Martial Arts teachers claim that their art was created or passed down by an Indian monk called Bodhidharma who came to China in 525 A.D. This belief is based on a preface written by Li Chin for a book called "Yee Chin Ching" which has been dated at circa 628 A.D. He claimed that these arts were passed down by "Bodhidharma", the founder of Wushu.

The earliest known edition of this book was in fact printed in 1827, a period when many books were written in the names of certain gods, heroes or influential people. No statement of Bodhidharma on the arts of "Yee Chin Ching" can be traced in the original Martial Arts texts (inside or outside) of the Shaolin Temple (the temple in which Bodhidharma was claimed to settled) and yet many texts, techniques and pictures have been created based on this misleading tale.

Martial Arts are the product of a complex society, where no single individual can be accredited as their creator. China is a country formed from over fifty different races. People fought and killed each other as one culture struggled for precedence over another, or because justice was then a matter for each individual. Techniques were collected and passed down by the survivors and perfected by their successors throughout history.  During the thousands of years of warring history, China has made Wushu a profound form of art.


Amongst the many chapters of the "Book of Han" written by Pan Ku (32-92 AD), thirty chapters describe bare hand, kicking and weapon combat techniques, etc. Some stone carvings of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-22 AD) have recently been discovered, which illustrate a well developed system of Wushu present in the Nanyang region of the Honan Province during that period.

The flow of Chinese culture, most especially of Wushu from China to Japan, took place a long way back in history.  In 238 AD  two "five foot long swords" were given as a gift to Japan. These are believed to have been modified and developed into the present sophisticated Japanese Katana. In 1962 a Chinese sword made between 184-189 AD was found in a grave in Japan.


During the beginning of the Ching Dynasty, in about 1558, Chen Yen Pin went to Japan at the age of thirty-one to teach Martial Arts at the Shyo-koku Monastery.  Three of his students, Miura Yoshitatsu, Fukuno Masakatsu and Isokai Jino Saemon, formulated the arts they learnt into Jujitsu, which in 1882 was further modified by the Founder of Kodo-Kwan, Jigoro Kano into Judo. Morihei Uyeshiba a practioner of Jujitsu , fencing and spear fighting, incorporated his martial arts understanding with the philosophy of Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism and Buddhism. He aroused a great interest when he began teaching in Tokyo in 1927.

This art, developed by Morihei Uyeshiba, has similar principles to the art of Tai Chi Chuan with a heavy emphasis on the use of the centre and lever principles, and is named Aikido.


Most forms of Karate were developed from the martial arts practised in the Shuri (called Shurite), Naha (called Nahate) and Tomari (called Tomarite) areas of the Okinawan Islands. Karate "the way of Tang Chinese hand" was later changed to "the way of empty hand" by the Gichin Funakoshi, the first person who brought karate from Okinawa to teach in Japan. The Nahate is now presented as Goju Ryu Karate. Goju Ryu Karate was brought over to the Islands by Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1916). As a boy Kanryo Higaonna was fascinated with the stories of China. In 1874 Higaonna went to stay in the Hokkien Province of China for fourteen years. He studied the White Crane System from Master Ryu Ryu  Ko (Liu Liu  Ko). "San Chin", an advanced kata of Karate, is still the foundation set for the White Crane, Wu Chu, Tai Chu and Chu Kar systems.


Like the Japanese arts, the Korean Martial Arts were also greatly influenced by the Wushu of China.

Geographically Korea is situated in North East China and in 108 B.C. the Han Chinese Emperor, Han Wu-ti, successfully sent his army to take over Korea. The natives quickly adopted Han Chinese Culture but due to the natural cycle of birth, growth, maturity and decay, which has always followed the inauguration of new dynasties in China, Korea broke away and reunited with China several times over the millenia. During the Sui Dynasty (581-617) Korea was divided into three separate kingdoms which not only refused to submit to Han rule but also attempted to expand their territories into China itself. In 650 A.D. the Tang Dynasty Emperor sent 100,000 soldiers into Korea, thus reclaiming it for China. In fact, some Koreans still called their Martial Arts "Tang Soo Do" meaning the way of Tang (Chinese) Hands.


In 1895, China was forced to sign an unfair treaty with Japan which included relinquishing all her interests over Korea. During the thirty-seven years of Japanese occupation, the Koreans were forced to practise only the Japanese Martial Arts.


In 1937, General Choi Hong Hi, the father of TaeKwon Do, went to Japan, to further his education. During this time he began to study Karate, under Mr Kim. In 1954 he consolidated the art he had learned as a child, with Karate and Kung Fu, forming the base of modern day Tae Kwon Do. In 1965, he was posted as the Korean ambassador to my country, where he recommended to his government that the name of Korean Martial Arts be changed from Taesoodo to Taekwondo.


Due to the differences in physical, environmental and cultural conditions, these techniques of fighting developed into systems with individual style and flavours. Today there are 129 styles still practised in China. Some appear to be brutal and hard. Some are simple and linear. Some are more sophisticated, graceful and artistic. These are categorised into northern and southern systems, each capable of working as an effective combat system.

However, we are now living in a much more stable environment where to kill each other is no longer necessary and certainly frowned upon. A more modern way of practising these arts is to adapt them as sporting hobbies where the main object is to encourage healthy living and harmonious society to hand down to our children.


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