Chinese martial arts can traditionally be separated into internal styles (nei chia) and external styles (wai chia). Internal arts focus on softer movements and proper breathing in order to develop one's inner energy, called chi in Chinese (ki in Japanese). Tai Chi is an example of an internal martial art. External styles concentrate on putting the body through rigorous training exercises in order to test the boundaries of the body, and thus test the boundaries of the mind. In other words, strengthen the mind by strengthening the body. Shaolin kung fu would be an example of an external martial art. Of course, these two methods of training in the martial arts are not mutually exclusive and, as the yin yang symbol exemplifies, each type will have a little of the other in it. Since karate borrowed many techniques from Shaolin kung fu, the legend of Bodhidharma is a fitting place to begin.
       Bodhidharma (Tamo in Chinese, Daruma in Japanese) was an Indian prince credited with bringing Chan (Zen in Japanese) Buddhism to China. While many scholars doubt his existence, others believe that he was born in Southern India, circa 440-470 A.D. As the son of a king, he was given instruction in the martial arts, most likely Vajramushti. Vajramushti is a martial art that focuses on grappling and striking, and is translated as "Thunderbolt Fist" or "Diamond Fist." Although Vajramushti was indigenous to India, there was a merging of this art with Pankration, a "no rules" match of striking and wrestling introduced in 648 B.C at the 33rd Olympics. When Alexander The Great invaded India in 326 BC, the Greeks introduced Pankration to the Indians, who then combined elements of Pankration with their pre-existing art of Vajramushti.
       Bodhidharma's spiritual teacher, Prajnatara, told him to go to China to spread the teachings of Buddhism. After arriving in China circa 527 A.D., he was invited to Nanjing to speak with the Emperor Wu. The discussion with the Emperor proved fruitless and so Bodhidharma traveled north to the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province. Legend says that Bodhidharma spent nine years in a cave near the temple, gazing at a wall. Upon arriving at the Shaolin Temple, he taught his unique method of meditation in order to cultivate the minds of the monks. Bodhidharma noticed that the monks were in poor physical condition and often fell asleep during meditation. He developed a series of 18 exercises to strengthen the mind and body, called Lo Han Shih Pa Sho, the "18 Hands of Lohan." Many consider these exercises as the foundation of kung fu, the popular name given to Chinese martial arts. These movements were supposedly derived from the combat art of Vajramushti, as this was the art studied by Bodhidharma in his youth. Although the "18 Hands of Lohan" may have contained fighting movements, its initial purpose was for the cultivation of chi. Bodhidharma is said to have left behind two works, the Yi Jin Jing ("Muscle Tendon Change Classic") and Xi Sui Jing ("Marrow Purification Classic"), as manuals on chi gung (breath skill). Chi gung consists of breathing exercises used to cultivate one's inner energy.
       The tale above is probably the most common annotation on the origins of popular Asian martial arts such as karate and kung fu. Unfortunately, the story lends itself more to fantasy than fact. Both the acknowledgment of Bodhidharma as the founder of Shaolin kung fu and the authenticity of the Yi Jin Jing itself have been questioned by historians. Scholars consider the Yi Jin Jing to be riddled with errors. Its authors and sources cannot be validated. There is also evidence of martial arts being developed in China long before Bodhidharma ever began his pilgrimage. Hui Guang and Seng Chou were Shaolin monks, both experts in the martial arts, years before the arrival of Bodhidharma. It is unknown exactly why martial arts became so prolific at Shaolin. Yet the temple continued to attract warriors already skilled in martial arts who would study with the monks and eventually expand the forms into fighting applications.

       By the tenth century, Emperor T'ai Tsu, a serious martial arts adept, further developed the 18 Hands into 32 exercises of Long Boxing. In the 16th century, Chueh Yuan, a skilled swordsman, went to the Shaolin Temple to study their chuan fa (fist way). After mastering the Shaolin chuan fa, Chueh Yuan expanded the form further into 72 exercises. It is believed that Chueh Yuan left the temple to learn more kung fu and met two other masters, Pai Yu-Feng and Li Chieng, whereby they returned to the Shaolin Monastery for further study. More movements where added to the form, eventually finishing with 170 movements, all of which were much more combat oriented than the original 18 exercises. The 170 exercises were then divided into the five animals: tiger, leopard, snake, crane, and dragon. These five animals formed the basis of Shaolin chuan fa, more commonly known as kung fu (great skill) or wushu (martial arts). It is uncertain if a relation exists between the five animals of Shaolin and the original five animals of Hua To. Hua To was a famous Chinese surgeon who lived during the 2nd century. He wrote a book called Wuqingxi ("The Five Animal Frolics") describing a series of animal-mimicking exercises created to improve one's health. The animals imitated were the tiger, bear, monkey, bird, and deer.

Tai Chi
(nei chia)
Shaolin kung fu
(wai chia)
Founder of Chan Buddhism
Shaolin Temple Entrance
       Historically, the Shaolin monks were famous for their martial arts ability. They had fought many battles to protect the Chinese emperors against warlords and invaders, as well as to defend their own temple from bandits. These battles further helped to develop chuan fa as a fighting art. In the 17th century, China was conquered by the Manchu. The supporters of the defeated Ming dynasty sought refuge at the Shaolin Temple. The Manchu government, fearful of a possible uprising, had the temple burned to the ground. Many monks were killed and the rest were forced to flee for their lives, causing the spread of chuan fa throughout much of Asia, including of course, Okinawa. The temple was eventually rebuilt, allowing the monks to continue practicing their style of kung fu. Present-day Shaolin monks can be seen on tour as they travel worldwide, demonstrating their amazing martial skills.