Natural Traditional Chinese Martial Arts articles by Sal Canzonieri

This was my twelveth column in Han Wei Wushu, it is about the Emergence of the Chinese Martial Arts - Part 3.

Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
Han Wei Wushu Newsletter
(June 1996 issues #25)
Article #12

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

By Salvatore Canzonieri, New Jersey

What followed instead of Confucian order was disorder as various members of the royal families and their in-laws selfishly jockied for possession of the throne. The confusion caused by this in-fighting led to great peasant rebellions to arise among the people, whose needs were increasingly ignored by the nobility. Furthermore, the offical adoption of Confucianism was seen by a great many as a betrayal against the natural order of Taoism (which was followed by the masses). Taoist leaders felt that enough was enough and they organized many of these great peasant rebellions, which proved to be rather bloody.

Various secret societies were started by the Taoists to organize the people. First, there was the Red Eyebrows or Chi Mei, during the end of the Western Han time period (near the end of the first century AD). After they were put down by the empire's forces, the Yellow Turbans were started (184 AD) and they held bloody rebellions until the end of the Eastern Han (200s AD). During this time, almost 100,000 fighting Taoists rebelled against the Empire. First, their efforts had tried to be peaceful. Around 200 AD, the (Taoist) School of the Way of Supreme Peace was founded and they held mass ceremonies of prayer and fasting. When these tactics were repressed by the Emperor's troops, the Taoists were angered and staged the Yellow Turban rebellions in an effort to set up their own separate government. These Yellow Turbans rebellions were suppressed with extreme force by the Han Empire troops.

Many warlords took advantage of the confusion and fought amongst each other. The value of martial arts was appreciated by many people and highly respected. To protect themselves, the peasants adapted the fighting methods of military training and adjusted the techniques to suit their self defense needs. Kuao Yee developed a system of fighting that was called Chang Quan or Long Fist that emphasized long range fighting, of which allowed the practioner to overcome an opponent from a greater range of fighting than that required by older fighting methods. This was the beginning of hand-to-hand fighting methods being used for self defense rather than the battlefields of war. Many empty hand forms were developed that could be used against weapons.

An outcome of the family feuds among the royal families led to the army siding against the Emperor's (eunuch) advisors. The army massacred them carried off the Emperor, who was passed from general to general. A complex civil war developed, with the peasant Yellow Turbans rebels continuing to be a nuisance in the background. Finally, three major figures emerged, with no one strong enough to destroy both rivals, and no one trusting the other enough to combine and destroy the third. The Empire became divided into three kingdoms: Wei in the north, Wu in the south, and Shu Han in the far west. Thus, started the Three Kingdoms period, which kept the Empire in pieces and lasted from 221 to 280 AD. Throughout this time period, Xiang Pu wrestling and boxing matches were held regularly.

Buddhist Influence on Qigong
After the severe military repression of the Taoist Yellow Turbans, Buddhism spread rapidly during the wars and disasters that followed the fall of the Han Dynasty. A flood of Buddhist missionaries surged into China with the Mahayana Buddhist doctrine. The Wei King converted to this new religion, as did many others in the north. The south continued to be a strong Taoist area.

Buddhism stated that: all life involves suffering and that the only way to avoid suffering in the end was to escape from life and from an endless cycle of reincarnations. Suffering is due to desire. So, ridding oneself of desire, rids one of suffering. Happiness is an illusion, people seek to take personal advantage to achieve this false happiness and they also hope and fear. By these means they bring suffering on themselves and do evil unto others. But, the universe is self regulating and returns evil unto those that do it to others and rewards to those that practice virtue. The ulitmate aim is to escape these illusions via enlightment and non-being (non-seperateness from all other living things).

In 316 BC, the three kingdoms were invaded by numerous northern tartar tribes, who destroyed and ransacked much of the northern Chinese cities. With their armies, they set up 15 kingdoms in and along the Yellow River. The north was unstable for seventy years, with no central govenment. The south continued with various Chinese dynasties ruling what was left of the empire. Finally, the Toba Wei tribe took over all of the north and established the Northern Wei dynasty. This period was called the Northern and Southern or Six Dynasties and lasted from 386 BC to 581 AD. During this time, martial arts had become further developed as they were very important to a person's survival. Training methods were codified into concise formulas or poems. The Taoist, Ge Hong (283-363 AD), described in his book, Bao Pu Zi, how he learned many weapons and fighting techniques through rhyming songs. This quote, from such an early time, proves that Taoists were practicing the martial arts of their time and that martial arts were a long time tradition of Taosim (from before the Shaolin period of the 500s AD).

During the 300s, Buddhism spread rapidly to many new converts, as many people grew disillusioned with the breakup of China and the constant warring. Since Buddhism preached withdrawal from the world, it appeared enticing to many. First it found its converts among the educated, then the nobility, and later the general populace. In 452 AD, the Wei Emperor Wen Cheng converted to Buddhism and allowed many monks to live and eat vegetarian meals in the palace. After these meals, it was noted in court records that the Emperor practiced martial arts as a health inducing excercise. He also went to state fairs in the countryside to watch Jiao Di matches, which were performed by the empirial troops when they were not busy.

In the year 495 AD, Shaolin Temple was built for monk Batuo of India by the then Emperor Xiao Wen. Written records of the time period prove that the monks there liked to do martial arts as physical excercises to stay fit. The book, Tai Ping Guang Li, stated that many monks in their spare time liked to practice Jiao Li. This proves that some Shaolin monks already knew martial arts when they got there (before the suppossed legendary times of Damo many years later) and that they practiced the grappling art of Jiao Li (now called Shuai Chiao) as a matter of choice.

After 520 AD, Dhayana Buddhism was introduced to Shaolin, supposedly by Damo / Buddhidharma. This Buddhism preached personal enlightenment rather than ritual was the only true means of salvation. Soon after this time period, various Buddhist Chi Gungs were introduced that allowed for not only health maintenance but spiritual cultivation. Many Taoist journeyed to Shaolin to understand what this teaching was all about and why they were gaining so many converts in the land. Within the next fifty years, Religious Taoism was developed by a Taoist scholar named Chang Tao-Ling. He combined the traditional scholarly Taoist philosophy with the Buddhist enlightenment cultivation theory to form "Tao Jiaw" - Religious Taoism.

In turn, Shaolin Buddhism was influenced soon enough by Taoism and the two fused into Ch'an Buddhism, a sect that was unique to Shaolin Temple. The main belief was of sudden enlightenment through personal insight. Toleration and the non-disturbance of the natural order of things were also preached. Ch'an Buddhists could also marry if they wished and do other things that were not part of traditional Mahayana Buddhism (such as engage in martial arts). Also, Tibetan Tantric Buddhist beliefs were incorporated into Shaolin's after contact with the Tibetan monks.

The main non-religious importance of Shaolin was the Chi Gungs and later, the martial arts they practiced there, and of which went on to later influence the whole world. By 500 BC, the monks of Shaolin were practicing a chi gung exercise called the I Jin Jing (Muscle Tendon Changing Classic) to promote their health and well being. The stretching movements allowed the body to move in two different directions, simultaneously, with the limbs moving up and down and the waist used as an axis that whirls left and right. Movements found in the I Jin Jing were already known since the Han Dynasty and were practiced by martial artists and Taoists alike. The stretching and retraction of the muscles promoted their elasticity. Once the tensed muscles are rotated to their full extent, the naturally squeeze both the acupuncture points and the lymph glands, accelerating the production of energy and lymph, and thus promoting health throughout the whole body (muscle, skeleton, circulation, nervous, immune systems, etc.) and increasing one's strength and power.

The monks also practiced a unique type of Chi Gung (perhaps coming from Dayian type Taoism), called the Shii Soei Jing (Marrow/Brain Washing Classic). This was a spiritual Chi Gung, as well as a health Chi Gung. The exercises involved moving the Chi to clean the bone marrow and strengthen the blood and immune system, as well as how to energize the brain, leading to enlightenment. The Chi Gung was taught and passed on secretly and only to the members of Shaolin. But, most documents that have been found that speak of these two Shaolin Chi Gungs come from Taoist and martial arts sources. It is thought that perhaps the founders of Religious Taoism introduced their use into Shaolin (and not Buddhidharma as is generally thought. There is speculation that Buddhidharma never existed and that the Religious Taoist made him up to hide their infiltration of Buddhism). Since the Taoist and Buddhists essentially shared the same goals and had many practices and philosophies in common, it was not unusual for the two systems to come together and develop in Ch'an Buddhism and Religious Taoism. The Taoists already know of martial art and their own Chi Gungs, besides that of the Traditional Buddhists. It was natural for them to share these and acquire more at Shaolin. Taoist' libraries contain many Buddhist training documents, and are the main way these documents have been preserved (since Shaolin was burned down many times). The Taoist organization, Harn Fen Lau (Tower of Fragrance), had documents that contained the most complete theory and training methods, including the I Jin Jing.

What the Chi Gungs promoted was a state of being (or heightened awareness) by which body movements, under the control of the will and in close coordination with breathing methods, can induce Chi, which in turn exerts force. Thus, Jing (essence of the body), Chi (vital energy), Shen (mind), and the limbs, etc., are augmented by the Yi Shi (human will) and Chi Xi (respiration). Thus, Chi Gung exercise coordinates the whole being into one integrated and focused force, which promotes automatically the internal and external; health of the body and mind. These types of Chi Gungs are considered to be "moving meditations". Another Chi Gung exercise that focused exclusively on moving energy was developed at Shaolin and was called the Shi Ba Lo Han Gung or the 18 Enlightened Ones Exercises. These exercises featured moving postures of aerobic routines.

Besides these health promoting Chi Gungs, Shaolin also practiced traditional Buddhist Chi Gungs that involved not the body but the spirit. These practices were meant to help produce enlightened states and cleanse the soul of past life karmic debris and emotional attachments. These Chi Gungs were called Nei Gung, which meant "internal works". They involved both natural and controlled breathing and standing, sitting, or lying meditation in static postures. Taoists generally practiced natural breathing, and when breathing in the diaphragm contracted and when breathing out the diaphragm expanded. Buddhists generally practiced controlled breathing, and when breathing in the diaphragm expanded and when breathing out the diaphragm contracted. Taoists were interested in the still mediation of the Buddhists, because it was found that Taoist Nei Gung was quicker for achieving health results and Buddhist Chi Gung was quicker for achieving spiritual results, once the Taoist Chi Gungs were mastered, but equally effective. They modified the Buddhist Chi Gungs to suit their own needs, and often practiced the Shii Soei Jing more widely than the Buddhists did.

Taoist Nei Gung by this time period (about 500 AD) were trained in basically three ways:
- Gin Dan Dah Tao (Golden Elixir Large Way) - which worked from the idea that one can find the elixir of longevity or even enlightenment from within one's own self;
- Shuang Shiou (Double Cultivation) - which worked from the idea of using a partner to balance one' s own Chi more quickly. Some people and individual channels can be too yin or too yang and a partner of either sex is used to exchange energy with to bring both into balance;
- Tao Wai Tsae Yaw (Herb Picking Outside of Tao) - which uses herbs to speed and control the cultivation of Chi. This "herb" also mean the Chi obtained from sexual practices.

For the next 100 years, these Chi and Nei Gungs were practiced at Shaolin by both Buddhists and Taoists and visiting martial artists. During this time, the fighting techniques of martial arts such as Shou Ba and Jiao Di were combined with the Chi work in one system, the result was a group of techniques and forms that were called the Shaolin Lohan or Luohan style. This was the first Shaolin created martial art and the source and foundation for all later Shaolin derived arts now in existence. The Lohan style has its roots in the Shuai Chiao-like Xiang Pu/Jiao Di styles (which emphasized manipulating Yin/Yang forces, redirection, and balance) and the Shou Bo style (which emphasized hard striking military-like boxing), which were popular throughout the land. These were combined with Gung work to make a complete martial art system. The forms of the Lohan style can be examined and the throws of Shuai Chiao are seen to be implied as hidden applications of the Shaou Bo movements. (See Part One of this series for more information).

During the 500s AD, Taoists that returned to their own temples and areas (Wu-Tang, etc.), also built upon the internal/external movements of Jiao Di, Xiang Pu, and Shou Bo and combined these with their own Chi and Nei Gungs to begin developing their own styles of martial arts practice, rather than using that of others, as they had done in the past (See Part One of this series).

During the Tang Dynasty, a struggle erupted over the selection of the 6th Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. Sheng Hui declared himself the 6th Patriarch and emphasized orthodox Buddhism with a strong dash of Confucian orientation in Northern China. The 5th Patriarch’s choice for successor, Hui Neng, fled to the South where his more Taoist influenced form of Budhhism flourished. Ultimately, a subsequent Tang emperor declaring the Southern lineage as the rightful Patriarchy later served political purposes. With this declaration, Chan Buddhism’s roots had left Northern China. Journeys from North to South were to be expected. The nature of Chan Buddhism seen today is fundamentally a fusion of Taoist and Buddhist thought and culture.

Later Chi/Nei Gung Martial Art Development

Outside of the Temples and Monasteries, the Jiao Di, Xiang Pu, and Shou Bo arts continued to be practiced by the people and grow in popularity. The practice of non-religious Chi Gungs also continued during the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581 to 907 AD). Many books were written describing Chi circulation, treatment of diseases, massage, herbal therapies, and the like. Also, during the Sung, Gin, and Yuan dynasties (960 to 1368 AD),' many more books were written that discussed Chi Gung practices. From then until the end of the Ching Dynasty (1911 AD), many other Chi Gung styles were developed, especially among the Taoists.

That's it for this issue! Click here to read article #13

Sal Canzonieri -

(c) 1996 / 2007 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri