____________________________________________________________________________ The evolution of Asian martial arts as they are known today is thought to have originated around 500 A.D., when an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma arrived in China. Legend has it that he taught Indian fighting exercises to the Chinese monks in order to improve their physical condition. All kung-fu is thought to have evolved from this beginning, and from kung-fu came karate. The Bodhidharma legend has been examined in detail by Michael Spiesbach (“Bodhidharma: meditating monk, martial arts master or make-believe?” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 1992, vol. 1, no. 4, p. 10-27). The question of Bodhidharma's actual contribution to the martial arts, and even of his very existence, has been the subject of controversy among martial arts historians for many years. Because he is such an important figure, we will review what is thought to be known about him in some detail: The earliest historical reference to Bodhidharma is the Luoyang jia lan ji, (“The History of the Monasteries of Luoyang”) written by Yang Xuanzhi in 547 A.D. Yang claims to have personally visited the Yong Ning Temple and to have met there an old Persian “Barbarian” (foreigner) named Sramana Bodhidharma, who stated that he was 150 years old. The Buddhist scholar Guifeng Zongni (780-841) quoted an old Buddhist Koan (riddle) that asks, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” Dao Zuan's Xu gao seng zhuan (“Biographies of Eminent Tang Monks”), written in 645, gives the earliest record of Bodhidharma's life. The second most important biography is Dao Yuan's Jing de zhuan deng lu (“The Records of Transmission
of the Lamp”), compiled in 1004. Many writings have traditionally been credited to Bodhidharma himself, but current scholarly opinion maintains that none is authentic. Mainstream Buddhist tradition holds that Bodhidharma arrived in China in 520, although there are historical...
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