Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri

This was my eleventh column in Han Wei Wushu, it is about the Emergence of the Chinese Martial Arts - Part 2 - Warring States to Han Dynasty time periods.

Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
(May 1996 issues #24)
Article #11

The Emergence of the Chinese Martial Arts - Warring States to Han Dynasty eras

By Salvatore Canzonieri, New Jersey

Taoism taught that when man takes a natural course, harmony with nature and the correct flow of existence are assured in one's life, leading to a long life and perhaps immortality. Achieving harmony with the Tao (the way) requires first achieving harmony within one's self. Enticed, the common people (and many of the learned) greatly accepted these teachings in this time of great strife and it became deeply entrenched among the populace. Taoism appealed to those who saw little value in a decaying feudal society full of violence and treachery.

Oddly enough, while Confucian officials stressed the peaceful pursuit of culture (but led otherwise to the Warring States period), Taoists emphasized fighting and such martial arts as swordplay. Battle was seen as an element of life, against mortal enemies and against immortals within and outside the body. Taoist ideas greatly impressed various military generals of the time and caused them to rethink their fighting tactics. Taoists adopted the Yin/Yang based fighting techniques of sword play and the emphasis on qi circulation that Yue Nu and others had popularized by this time. Taoists sought to further develop the connection between health improvement and fighting techniques. The non-military functions of Jiao Ti and Shou Bo empty hand fighting were explored and developed.

By the end of the third century BC, there already existed the roots of real martial arts: battlefield-tested, simple, ingenious, and powerful fist fighting tactics; advanced swordsmanship; professional fighters; Taoist and other breathing exercises; herbal treatment of injuries and disorders; beginnings of traditional Chinese medicine and philosophies; and spiritual support for self defense. It took less than 1,800 years for these elements to develop and become combined.

Early Development of Taoist and Medical Chi Gung Near the end of the Warring States period (after 300 BC and before 221 BC)

Breathing methods became more widespread and even the Confucianists developed their own forms. The "Shih Gi" (historical record) of the time, describes more complete methods of breath training. Around 300 BC, the Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, described the relationship between one's health and breathing. He wrote of a Taoist breathing method for chi circulation that involved deep breathing, down to the heels.

By 221 BC, only seven warlords remained and all made themselves king. Amidst this factionalism, the Ch'in king slowly conquered all these areas and thus finally united all of China under one regime. The Qin or Ch'in Dynasty lasted until 206 BC. Land was freed for purchase and feaudalism and feudal aristocracy was abolished. The new Ch'in emperor was very severe and enforced a single teaching, the School of the Law, which stated that all people were under a strictly enforced legal system, criminal law. He also ordered all books be destroyed that dealt with the past, the teachings of philosophers, and anything not considered useful by magistrates. Emperor Qin Shi-Huang or Huang Ti prohibited the practice of boxing and the carrying of any weapons, all weapons were to be confiscated and melted down. Jiao Di and Shou Bo were to be done only as forms of entertainment throughout the Chin Empire.

Huang Ti lasted only eleven years, he died from being poisoned by pills that he thought would give him immortality. The next Emperor Qin Er Shi proved to be much less capable and a mass revolt by the populace drove him off the throne. Members of the old aristocracy and new adventurers led scores of rebellions. Eventually, after fighting amongst themselves, Liu Pang (a former outlaw) emerged victorious from various battlefield campaigns to become the founder of the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD (The Western Han was from 206 BC to 25 AD and the Eastern Han was from 25 AD to 220 AD.). Within two generations, the Han Dynasty replaced feudalism with a social system that endured in China virtually up until the 1945 communist revolution.

He also again permitted the practice of boxing and weaponry. Military arts became a part of government policy, with military training given prominance. Swordsmanship and hand-to-hand fighting were incorporated into regular military training programs. Proficiency with the sword could bring a soldier to a high rank. The Han rulers also enjoyed Jiao Di and further promoted it and it was widely practiced by the people. Envoys were send to Japan who did exhibitions of broadsword, straight sword, and Shou Bo and Xiang Pu techniques. These two influenced the start of Japanese Sumo, which started around 23 BC.

During the time from the end of the Ch'in and to the early Han, a few books were written that further developed the concepts of chi circulation through exercises (called 'Chi Gung' or 'Qi Gong'), such as the Nan Ching ("Classic on Disorders") by Bian Chiueh, Gin Guey Yao Liueh ('Prescriptions from the Golden Champer') by Chang Chung-Gieh, and the Chou I Chan Ton Chi ("A Comparative Study of the Chou Dynasty Book of Changes") by Wei Bo-Yang. Recently, a Han Dynasty excavation unearthed an artifact that illustrated 45 excercises that were very similar to those shown in the I Jin Jing (Muscle Tendon Changing Classic), which had its orgins previously attributed to the Buddhists in Shaolin Temple. These various works on chi gung were characterized by a few factors: they were either used by Taoist scholars for maintaining health or by medical practioners to cure illnesses (using needles or excercises to adjust the chi). All of the chi work was done passively, rather than actively, for gently improving and maintaining health. Except for Taoism, there was almost no religious color to the training.

By the first century AD, Taoism had acquired a strong interest in magic, and many alchemical practices arose. Taoist alchemy thought that immortality could be achieved through the cultivation of qi or chi. Chi was thought to be an energy that gave substance to all things, acting through the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Many chi circulating exercises were constructed in an effort to discover the correct techniques that would change the substance of the body and make it immortal.

Special excercises were used to convert the elements within the body. Chi was drawn up through the base of the spine, called the first gate, and circulated through the body. Passing through the second gate, between the kidneys, and the third gate, the back of the head, and finally down the front of the body, it returned to its origin point. Circulation and breath "control" were done to draw generative forces, which were related to sexual energy, down into the lower dan tien cavity point, called the "cavity of the dragon" or the "golden stove". Here chi was converted into an alchemical agent that completed the process, first in the middle dan tien, called the "yellow hall", then in the brain.

A medical doctor of the time period (100 AD), Hua To developed his own qigong excercies. He used the attitudes of five animals (deer, tiger, bear, ape, and bird) to model the excercises after and adopted Taoist breathing techniques to create gymnastic/aerobic movement, called the "Five Animals Frolics" or Wu Xing Hsi. (This system was later refined by Tai Tzu, the first emperor of the Sung Dynasty.)

Also, during the Han period, China had been able to expand its boundaries and soon began to start trading with the Roman and Arab Empires and with India. The "silk route" opened between China and India, Indian Buddhists used it to enter into China and make settlements and to preach Buddhism. Buddhism began making many converts in certain areas of China, particularly in the north. By 58 AD, it was officially recognized by the royal court.

In response to the inroads Buddhism begain making, Taoists, in contrast to their original nature, begain organizing themselves into a formal religion and set up a priesthood, during the second century AD. Among the peasants, Taoism and Buddhism began competing for converts or adherents. Among the scholarly, Taoism and Confucianism began competing for the same, which led to a major upheaval.

During the Han, property could be bought, and there resulted a rich landowning class, a poor class of peasant farmers, and a large class of landless tenants. Soon there developed a money economy and a class of merchants, because the unification of the empire brought peace and prosperity. During the beginning of the Han Dynasty, the merchant class advised the Emperor of daily economic affairs and the scholars advised on other matters (although they were resentful of the merchants). Taoism was the main philosophy accepted and practiced by the people. The scholars of the court were followers of Confucianism and as such saw the ancient "golden age" of Confucius as the norm, and the feudal time period as an aberration in China's history. By the end of the Han Dynasty, their Emperors had adopted Confucianism as the official religion in order to maintain the legitimacy of their mandate for ruling because Confucianism emphasized loyality to rulers and believed that the Han had reestablished the ancient order.

(Continued next issue)


That's it for this issue! Click here to read article #12

Sal Canzonieri -

(c) 1996 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri