A Brief History
According to legend, it was the Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma who we have to thank for the introduction of both Kung-fu and Zen Buddhism to China. It was he who introduced this sect of the religion to the Middle Kingdom in the fifth century C.E., traveling first from southern India to Canton. His was a school of thought that shunned the pomp and circumstance in much of Chinese Buddhism in favor of an oral tradition, passed down from the Buddha, which emphasizes the importance of simple seated meditation. This was the way, after all, that Siddhartha the historical Buddha, had achieved enlightenment.
He retreated to Shao-lin-ssu temple. It was here that he entered a cave to practice meditation. During the nine years that followed, we are told, he sat motionless before the stone wall in his cave. His concentration was so great that his legs withered, and he cut off is own eyelids to help him stay awake. When he eventually emerged from his isolation and began to teach others, he was disheartened by their lack of physical strength. They were simply unable to endure the long hours of meditation he required of them. Bodhidharma was determined to help his students overcome their physical limitations in order to assist them in their religions pursuits. As the story goes, he introduced various physical exercises, based on the movements of animals, which became the foundation of Chinese Kung-fu.
While the historicity of these accounts is questionable, the story does convey an important lesson; from the beginning, there has been an intimate connection between the martial arts of Asia and Zen Buddhism.