Mother of All Martial Arts? Think Again!

I added a question mark in the title because the term mother hardly applies in this context. Mother means a direct ancestor. Hence, mother of all martial arts means an art to which all martial arts in the world trace a direct lineage. This title is often given to the South Indian martial art Kalaripayattu. Being a person from Kerala, I was proud to see Kalaripayattu referred this way. However, my skepticism grew overtime and recently I have started to question the very premise of Kalaripayattu being the originator of all the other martial arts practiced in the world. I had written on similar grounds in a previous blog post and was met with violent criticism from devotees of Kalari. I don’t maintain any grudges towards the people who were abusive in their comments but I thought it was necessary to reiterate some aspects I discussed in that post for the sake of clarity. As I said before, and will say again, this article does not demean Kalaripayattu in any manner.

image of kalaripayattu

Kalaripayattu

Origin of a martial art like any other art has two levels viz. the historic and the legendary. It is hard to trace history to a time when data redundancy was much higher when compared to modern times. Further, it is often the legendary version that grows out of proportion overtime and overshadows the historic part. For example, it is said that Parasurama created the state of Kerala by throwing an axe which caused the water to recede away from Gokarna to Kanyakumari. Well, on the face of it, the story is funny and unbelievable. What kind of a person can pull off such a feat? Similarly, legends say that there existed aircrafts in ancient India such as the Pushpaka Vimana, which is quite questionable. The Vaimanika Shastra written by sage Bharadwaj was studied by the Indian Institute of Science and was proven to be just a fanciful text without any scientific credence. Legend attributes many superhuman feats to Jesus, which are scientifically impossible since he was nothing but a normal human being. Hence, legends are unbelievable without investigation.

The reason I spoke so much on legends is because the famous Bodhidharma is also a legend. The alleged creator of Shaolin Kung Fu could be just another ancient legend which went out of proportion due to poor data management. Just as I spoke about Jesus, the person Bodhidharma would have very well existed. And it is also possible that he had gone to China. But then attributing the currently existing martial arts forms to him is incredible. Especially the claim that he taught Kalaripayattu to the monks of the Shaolin monastery since he wanted them to have a fit body to cope with the strenuous sitting meditation. However, there are a few logical errors with this claim as discussed below:

1. Kalaripayattu as a martial art came into prominence during the 11th and 12th century. Some claim its existence as early as 9th century. One must understand that India was not a single country in the past. Kerala itself was divided into many small kingdoms. Fighting arts were required for survival since each of these kingdoms fought among each other. Bodhidharma was a person who lived in the 6th century, which was well before the emergence of the art of Kalaripayattu. Therefore, his attribution to this martial art is questionable and hence the claim that he went to China and taught Kalaripayattu breaks down.

2. If Kalaripayattu did not exist in 6th century, what was the art that Bodhidharma practiced? Was it called by a different name? These are questions that historians find difficult to answer. If the art that Bodhidharma practiced was an earlier version of Kalaripayattu, then it could be an ancestor to both Kalaripayattu and Wushu if that is what he taught the Shaolin monks. But then the notion that Wushu came from Kalaripayattu would not hold. Humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. It means that humans did not come from chimpanzees but are cousins to them. Similarly, if Bodhidharma indeed teach the Shaolin monks a primitive Indian art that is an ancestor to both Wushu and Kalaripayattu, then it cannot be claimed that Wushu came from Kalaripayattu.

3. The Chinese civilization existed in different dynasties over 2,500 years before Bodhidharma arrived and allegedly taught the more “superior” martial arts which he brought from India. It is quite hard to believe that the Chinese waited for over 25 centuries without a superior fighting art for themselves. Throughout the history of China, there have been wars both internally and externally. The need for a superior fighting system was paramount since the beginning of their civilization. They would not have waited for Bodhidharma in any case.

4. As discussed in my previous post, even after the creation of the martial arts at the Shaolin, the real application of that in combat outside the temple came much later. The events between the 8th and 15th centuries are not well documented. What were the monks doing during that period? And then from 16th century onwards the martial arts of Shaolin flourished and spread across. Either the systems of Shaolin were kept a secret during that period or there wasn’t much to show outside. There were and still are martial arts that are superior to Shaolin kung fu that were developed outside the temples.

5. The martial arts practiced in China today have little or no influence from Hinduism, which is an integral part of Kalaripayattu. If Chinese Wushu is a direct descendant of Kalaripayattu, there has to be at least a trace of Hinduism in it. I never found it and neither has any martial artist I know. Even non-Hindus who practice Kalaripayattu worship and abide by the covenant of the Kalari Gods. Even though Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk, if he did practice Kalaripayattu, there would be at least some reference to the Kalari Gods in his teachings. We don’t see them mentioned in the Shaolin martial arts at all. Hence, him being the practitioner of Kalaripayattu is quite questionable.

My previous post mentioned about several martial arts that existed before the arrival of Bodhidharma. And it is quite evident that the currently existing arts are descended from those arts and not from Kalaripayattu due to the reasons stated above.

I would also like to bring into light the concept of independent development. There is a limit to the type of movements that can be performed using the human body. We may use permutations and combinations to find out the number of movements that are mathematically possible but physical limitations drill down the number. Hence, any martial art used in war would eventually settle down to a few practically possible moves. There would of course be extra movements that are practiced to maintain flexibility and strength. Therefore, martial arts can and do indeed develop indigenously and independently without requiring an ancestor.

To summarize, the following issues need to be addressed by people who taut up Kalaripayattu as the mother of all martial arts:

a. The temporal disagreement between Bodhidharma’s arrival in China and the documented origin of Kalaripayattu.

b. Existence of martial arts in China before and after Bodhidharma. Especially those that have direct links with the martial arts practiced today.

c. Lack of Hindu Gods and teachings in Shaolin as well as other martial arts in China.

If anyone wants to address the points mentioned in this article without getting emotional, nationalistic, ad hominem or outright wrong, I would welcome the discussion. As a word of caution, unlike my previous post, if someone resorts to ad hominem in this, I would simply remove that comment without wasting time answering them.

References

1. Bodhidharma. (2013, September 21). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhidharma
2. Brief History of Gongfu. (2013, May 19). Retrieved from Wu Taiji Quan: http://www.wutaijiquan.com/wutaijiquan_history.html
3. Chi You. (2013, September 22). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chi_You
4. Chinese martial arts. (2013, September 23). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_martial_arts
5. Chinese Mythology. (2013, July 11). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_mythology
6. Eighteen Arms of Wushu. (2013, September 24). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eighteen_Arms_of_Wushu
7. Is there a relationship with kalaripayattu, indian martial arts, shaolin kung fu, and bodhidharma? (2013, May 19). Retrieved from Mystic Banana: http://www.mysticbanana.com/is-there-a-relationship-with-kalaripayattu-indian-martial-arts-shaolin-kung-fu-and-bodhidharma.html/
8. Josey, J. (2010, January 20). Kalaripayattu – A Game of Eyes Shut And Mouth Wide Open. Retrieved from Tales and traumas of a ‘Teenage Pretty Boy’: http://my.opera.com/prettyboy/blog/kalaripayattu-a-game-of-eyes-shut-and-mouth-wide-open
9. Kung fu (term). (2013, August 20). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_fu_%28term%29
10. Kung Fu Styles. (2013, May 19). Retrieved from Learn Me Kung Fu: http://www.lmkungfu.com/styles.html
11. The Mother of All Martial Arts : Kalari or Kalarippayattu. (2007, June 23). Retrieved from HitXP – A Blogzine by Gurudev: http://www.hitxp.com/articles/sports/kalarippayattu-oldest-martial-arts/
12. Yellow Emperor. (2013, September 18). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Emperor

A Tribute To Dharam Dev Anand

Image of Dev Anand

Entitled Bollywood’s Peter Pan, Dev Anand was the quintessential yet the most inimitable actors of the Indian film industry. Revered and fondly known as Dev Sahab the nation over, the endearing actor passed away at the age of 88 on 3rd December, 2011 at the Washington Mayfair Hotel in London following a cardiac arrest. Born on 26th September, 1923 in the Gurdaspur district of pre-partition Punjab, he was the third of four brothers and had a younger sister. He began his illustrious acting career, spanning almost 6 decades, in 1946 with Prabhat Films’ Hum Ek Hain. It’s on the sets of this film, that he began his life long friendship with Guru Dutt. In 1949 he opened his own production company, Navketan Films, which would go on to produce and contribute many gems to the Indian film industry, such as Baazi, which was its inaugural film, to ground-breaking films such as Kaala Paani (1958), Hum Dono (1960), Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963) and Guide (1964). His films were regularly nominated for Filmfare Awards and he himself won the Best Actor award twice for Kaala Paani and Guide. In addition he was also honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke award, which is India’s highest award for cinematic excellence in 2002 and had been awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001.

Frequently compared to Gregory Peck, Dev Anand held his own in an era of constant competition from the likes of the immensely talented Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. Infact he developed an exclusive niche for himself, and there was no one in Bollywood who could quite emulate his unique mannerisms or the depth of his acting. Women adored and loved him for his grandiosity, while men wanted to be like him. To quote Shekhar Gupta, the editor of Indian Express, “We all also know that he romanced three generations of Indian women. My mother loved him, and my daughter adored him. And women of my generation, well!”

His most famous liaison was with singer-actress Suraiya who he met in 1948 when he was paired opposite her in the film Vidya. However, they were unable to consummate their relationship due to religious differences and Suraiya’s family being orthodox and conservative. He eventually married Kalpana Kartik (aka Mona Singh) who made her debut in Navketan’s first venture Baazi. However, it was during the shooting of Taxi Driver in 1954, that the couple fell in love and then subsequently married in a quiet ceremony. They bore a son, Suneil Anand in 1956 and then a daughter, Devina.

Image of Dev Anand with Madhubala

He is perhaps the sole actor credited with launching and establishing the careers of most of his leading ladies from Kalpana Kartik to Zeenat Aman. In addition, actresses like Waheeda Rehman and Hema Malini owe it to him for pushing their careers to the stratospheric levels that they eventually achieved. In the 1970s his directorial ambitions took flight even though his first directorial venture Prem Pujari was a flop. However, Hare Rama Hare Krishna in 1971 turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the Indian film industry and made an overnight sensation out of Zeenat Aman. He later also launched Tina Munim’s career in the 1978 film Des Pardes. He directed a total of 19 films with his last film Chargesheet having been released as recently as September of this year, out of which 7 were commercially successful. Despite being credited with launching the careers of many a star, Dev Anand and his work has been widely lauded by critics with most of them describing his directorial ventures as well ahead of their time. His movies were also revered for their melodious, titillating music. In September, 2007 he also released his autobiography “Romancing with Life”.

Having been variously termed as evergreen, flamboyant, debonair, energetic and romantic, Dev Anand’s demise has left a gaping hole in the Indian film industry and in the hearts of millions of his followers. He was one of the first actors of Bollywood to embody a sex appeal and mystique that made him the heartthrob of women of all generations, a rare feat in that time and age. As he himself told Shekhar Gupta, “A star is always a star, Shekhar, and a star has to be always predictable. You are too simple to understand this. Once you become a star, you have to lead a star’s life forever. Stardom is like your skin. You either lose it, or die in it.”

Dev Sahab did it like no one else. His swagger, mannerisms, awkward dance moves, hairstyle, had the whole nation enthralled. From the innocent, charismatic architect in Tere Ghar Ke Samne to the tortured Raju in Guide, he had us all experience the spectrum of emotions he went through. There has never been another one like him and never will be. He is an irreplaceable legend, someone to look upto with utter and absolute reverence. The world will miss Dev Sahab and will always love him!

Origins of Kung Fu – The Intricate Reality!

Image of Wushu

Kung fu Wushu

Kung fu” or “Wushu” is one of the most lethal methods of unarmed combat in existence. The origin of this incredible martial art is poorly recorded and often subject to many debates especially by scholars studying the Indian arts who claim inaccurately that it is a direct descendant of the South Indian martial art Kalaripayattu.  I feel it is a shame that despite the advent of the information age, people still entertain inaccurate notions about kung fu and its origins.

In this post, I would like to debunk the belief that kung fu came from kalaripayattu, especially the accounts pertaining to Bodhidharma (or Bodhidharman if you prefer) and his contributions to the Shaolin monastry based on all available information. I request the reader to read the article completely before making comments. I was stimulated into writing this because recently I happened to watch a two-part video in YouTube titled “Birthplace of Kung fu: China? Wrong! Guess Again!” that attributes kalaripayattu as the mother of all modern fighting arts. When I viewed these videos, I found many logical inconsistencies and historical anomalies. You can view those videos here and here.

Image of Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching

In order to counter the hypothesis that kung fu originated in India than in mainland China, we need a thorough understanding of what kung fu is, how the art originated and flourished and its various techniques and philosophies. I will give a brief account on all these aspects and then move on to attacking this inaccurately expressed theory.

The video shows practitioners of Contemporary Wushu and Kalari performing a few movements which according to the creator of the video, are similar. However, those few movements portrayed probably are the only forms of resemblance to wushu has to Kalaripayattu. Another resemblance cited in many websites is the “eighteen hands of Buddha” and the “eighteen arms of wushu” which is claimed to have been derived from the “eighteen techniques” or “pathinettu adavu” of Kalaripayattu.

Image of Shaolin Monastry

Shaolin Monastry

The story originated probably with the knowledge that Bodhidharma, an Indian monk traveled to Northern China in the 6th century AD, where he established the earliest form of Zen Buddhism in the Shaolin Monastery. This combined with the fact that Shaolin has been a famous branch of Chinese Wushu led people to believe that Bodhidharma had experience in Kalaripayattu which he taught the monks of Shaolin thereby giving birth to the Chinese martial arts as we know today. This theory led people to analyze Shaolin systems and compare the movements with kalaripayattu. But those comparisons are often skewed and inaccurate. Besides, resemblance, if at all any, is not proof of origin since it is poorly recorded whether Bodhidharma had any sort of martial arts training at all. Hence it is not clear whether he introduced martial arts to Shaolin or someone else did after him. Even if we buy into the premise that Bodhidharma indeed taught Kalaripayattu to the monks of Shaolin, it still cannot be attributed as the mother of all modern martial arts, especially Chinese wushu. We know this by looking at the evolution of the art and its various styles which not only pertains to just Shaolin (as we shall see later) but also spread throughout mainland China.

Image of Incredible Kung Fu!

Incredible Kung Fu!

Kung fu, also known as Gong fu or Gung fu is a generic term used to refer to the many styles of Chinese infighting though the original meaning of this word is unrelated to martial arts and refers to any type of skill achieved through hard work and practice. The Chinese use the term “Wushu” which literally translates to “war art” to describe martial arts. The term kung fu is a compound word with two components viz “kung” which means “achievement” or “merit” and “fu” which means “man”. Hence combined, it means an “adept man” or “human achievement”. “Kung fu wushu” thus would mean “a man adept in martial arts”. It was not until the 20th century that the term “kung fu” started slowly replacing “wushu” to describe the fighting arts of China. In this article, both kung fu and wushu are terms used interchangeably since they are basically the same thing (please do not confuse with Contemporary Wushu, which is a sports variety of the traditional systems developed for athletic purposes).

Numerous styles of wushu developed over many centuries of Chinese history and it is estimated that the number of kung fu styles may range between 300 and 500. It is impossible to fully classify and label all the different fighting systems of China since a single style may fall under multiple categories. It is however possible to approximately classify most of them into certain groups as follows:

Image of The Five Sacred Animals

The Five Sacred Animals – Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Leopard and Crane

1. Based on “families” or “jia”, “sects” or “pài” and “schools” or “mén” of martial arts. These styles flourished in closed groups or families and were passed on from one generation to the next. Examples are Choi Gar, Hung Gar, Lau Gar and Mok Gar.
2. Based on whether it is a mimic boxing or not which means whether the style has adapted the movements of a bird, beast or an insect or arachnid. Such styles are influenced by movements of birds like eagle, peacock and crane, animals like tiger, snake, monkey, leopard, elephant, horse and fox or insects and arachnids like the praying mantis and scorpion.
3. Based on what type of philosophy the styles follow. Almost all Chinese fighting systems have a spiritual aspect influenced by philosophies like Confucianism, Taoism and Zen in addition to various religions, myths and legends. Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua and Liuhebafa are Taoist while Drunken Boxing, Wing Chun, White Crane, Monkey, Eagle Claw and Praying Mantis are Buddhist. There are also Muslim styles like Tan Tui, Baijiquan, Zhaquan, Qishiquan, Piguaquan and Huihui Shiba Zhou.
4. Based on how the manipulation of internal energy or “qi” called “qi gong” takes place, the styles are classified as internal or “nèijiaquán” and as external or “wàijiaquán“. Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua, Xing Yi, Liuhebafa and Yiquan are examples of internal systems while almost all others can be classified as external. Styles like Wing Chun, White Crane etc fall midway because they include aspects from both extremes.
5. Based on the geographical location in China, the styles originated. Styles are labeled as northern or “beiquán“(examples are Changquan, Tai Chi Chuan, Northern Praying Mantis and Baijiquan) and southern or “nánquán” ( examples are Hung Gar, Wing Chun, White Crane, Choi Li Fut and Dragon).

We need to pay particular attention to the concept of mimic boxing here because there is an assumption that the concept of mimicking animals in fighting came from Kalaripayattu. That is also far from the truth because the animal concepts taught in Kalaripayattu speaks only about certain postures, jumps etc. The animal systems in Chinese martial arts are much more advanced since they mimic the animals and adapt from it in highly refined manners which includes fist positions, stances, footwork, shouting etc. In Chinese wushu, the practitioner must temporarily transform himself into the animal while practising and the “dim mak” or pressure point attack is performed so as to mimic the effect of the said animal’s attack. For instance, within the snake style itself there is cobra and viper systems which affects the opponent in different ways just as the bites of these two snakes affect their victims. Further, the concept of birds, insects etc are unique to Chinese fighting systems and have no relation whatsoever to any Indian fighting system. In addition to that, there are weapon systems unique to these animal styles like the monkey staff and the straight sword and spear in snake style. Apart from all these, the Chinese Dragon style kung fu is a highly unique animal kung fu style totally based on the philosophies and myths pertaining to the mythical and legendary Chinese Dragon found in folklores.

Image of Yellow Emperor

The Yellow Emperor

Like any other martial art, wushu evolved because of the need for self defense, hunting and military training. All these requirements created unique styles of hand to hand as well as weapons techniques for soldiers, imperial guards, merchants etc. Chinese legends attribute the origin of wushu during the oldest “Xia Dynasty” over 4000 years ago when the Yellow Emperor Huangdi who according to legends reigned from 2697 to 2597 BCE created the earliest fighting systems in China. The Chinese describe him as a famous general who wrote lengthy treatises on medicine, astrology and martial arts before becoming the ruler of China.

Another legendary figure during the same period was Chi You who is credited as the creator of “jiao di“, which is thought to be the predecessor of the modern Chinese Wrestling. According to Chinese Mythology, he was a tribal leader and tyrant who fought against the then future Yellow Emperor during the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors era.

The best examples of ancient Chinese martial arts practiced before the arrival of Bodhidharma are “Shoubó“, practiced during the Shang dynasty (1766–1066 BCE) and “Xiang Bo” (similar to modern Sanda), practiced from the 7th century BCE. It was in 509 BCE that Confucius suggested Duke Ding of Lu that people should practice martial arts alongside literary arts thereby beginning an era of martial arts where laypeople outside the military and religious sects started practicing them. The “Classics of Rites” written in the 1st century BCE describe a combat wrestling system called “juélì” or “jiaolì” which used strikes, throws, joint manipulation and pressure point attacks. During the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BCE), Jiao Di became a sport.

Image of Tai Chi Chuan

Tai Chi Chuan

The Han History Bibliographies have accurately recorded on the distinction between no-holds barred weaponless fighting called shoubó, for which “how-to” manuals were written and sportive wrestling, then known as juélì or jiaolì during the Former Han (206 BCE – 8 CE) period. Further, information on wrestling can also be found in the Shi Jì, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian (ca. 100 BCE). The theory of hand to hand combat that includes integration of the concepts of “hard” and “soft” techniques have been expounded in the story of the “Maiden of Yue in the Spring” and “Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue” written during 5th century BCE. The Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai has written accounts of sword dances. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, contests of an art called “xiangpu” were sponsored by the imperial courts and by the Ming and Qing dynasties, the modern concepts of wushu were fully developed.

Image of Art of War

Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Chinese philosophical texts have extensive accounts on the martial arts. For instance, in the “Passages in Zhuangzi“, a Taoist text written by the eponymous author Zhuangzi who is supposed to have lived in the 4th century BC, describes psychology and practice of martial arts. Another Taoist text, “Tao Te Ching“, written by Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism contains several principles applicable in martial arts, especially in the internal systems. In the classic Confucian text “Zhou Li“, archery and charioting were an integral part of the “six arts” or “liu yi” which also included music, rites, calligraphy and mathematics during the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BC). The “Art of War“, written during the 6th century BC by Sun Tzu deals directly with ideas on military warfare and martial arts.

These examples demonstrate how wushu changed with the evolving society over time and acquired a philosophical basis. many practitioners of Taoism used to perform a set of physical exercises similar to today’s qigong called “Dao Yin” as early as 500 BC which many believe is the predecessor of Tai Chi Chuan. The “Han Shu“, written during the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku included “Six Chapters of Hand Fighting” in the years between AD 39 and AD 92. Noted physician Hua Tuo composed the “Five Animals Play” which included the movements of tiger, deer, monkey, bear, and bird around 220 BC.

The role of Shaolin Temple in influencing the development of Chinese martial arts happened much later in the history of China. The oldest evidence of the participation of Shaolin in combat has been recorded in 728 AD which describes two incidents in which defense of the monastry took place from bandits around 610 AD and the defeat of Wang Shichong at the Battle of Hulao in 621 AD. There are no documented evidence of Shaolin’s participation in combat from the 8th to the 15th centuries. However, from the 16th century onwards, the Shaolin system flourished to epic proportions when it became an integral part of monastic life of the monks. The theory also revolves around just one Shaolin temple in Henan province when in fact there are many such temples in Fujian, Omeishan etc teaching and practising different forms of wushu.

Image of Kalaripayattu

Kalaripayattu

Thus, it is very clear and evident that martial arts were well established in China centuries before the arrival of Bodhidharma or the construction of the Shaolin temple. Almost all of the philosophical as well as technical aspects of Chinese Martial arts were already well developed before Bodhidharma or Buddhism itself (which arrived in China between only 221 – 206 BCE). It is also logically fallacious to assume that Bodhidharma had introduced martial arts to China. Because assuming that would mean the warriors of China did not have a fighting system for 2500 years and they waited for Bodhidharma to come and teach them kalaripayattu in the 6th century.

I am in no way trying to demean the contributions of Bodhidharma or the art of kalaripayattu. However, based on historic and technical evidence, it is clear that India is not the birthplace of kung fu. Both kalaripayattu and kung fu are two great martial arts that developed in two separate cultures that have more differences than similarities. A detailed analysis of each system will reveal staggering differences between the execution of techniques practised in them. Even if we accept the theory that Chinese martial arts came from kalaripayattu, it is still not going to make a difference since the art has undergone over forty centuries of refinement making it one of the most advanced, most in-depth and most scientific methods of combat in the world.

Anyone who has a counter opinion is welcome to post their comments or email me. Thanks for your time.