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A little History of the Martial Arts – Part 2

At the end of part one, we were starting to look at the three main religions of China and how they had an influence on the eastern martial arts.

China’s indigenous religion of Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism) followed the concept of yielding or non-action. Its aim is to achieve a mind at peace without anger or happiness at its extremes, a mind without worry. Taoism proposes that all things in the universe exist perfectly in a state of harmony; the concept of uniting apparent opposites in a constant flow is the essence of the religion.

Buddhism arrived in China from India (remember this is the home of some of the first religious writings, the Vedic hymns, etc and yoga and tantric practices)

By the time Buddhism had arrived in China different sects had been established which were barely recognizable from the original source in India. One sect that was to have a massive effect upon the martial arts was Zen. Zen, or Cha’n as it was known in China, was established at a monastery high in the songshan Mountains at Shaolin, the birth place of Kung Fu according to legend.

Practioners of Zen Buddhism believe that the centre of meditation and the seat of mental power is a place on the body called the tantien or tanden which they believe is two inches below the navel, which is also the site of the second (swadishtan) Chakra in Hinduism/yoga practice and is also found in western occult or hidden spiritual practices, some believe that this is where the serpent energy or Kundalini is often released from during meditation it having first moved up from the root chakra (mooladhara).

The second chakra is a chakra of pure attention and pure knowledge and is associated with the colour Orange (the colour of monks, robes in this tradition and also in Sikhism again originating in India, Sikhism is a warrior religion and has a very extensive martial art covering all aspect of combat).

The chakra system note the second chakra colour orange
The chakra system note the second chakra colour orange

The chakra system note the second chakra colour orange


The significance of Zen is that it provides the underlying philosophy within the martial arts. A beginner enters the place of training full of his own opinions and thoughts. The novice must empty the mind to become a vehicle for new learning, to drink in knowledge therefore to become open minded.

Zen has an aid for emptying the mind ready for meditation, the koan. A koan is an illogical and unanswerable question upon which the student was asked to concentrate, which automatically empties the mind of day to day trivia.

A typical example of a koan is the question ‘in clapping both hands a sound is heard; what is the sound of one hand?’ The answer is not within the field of human reasoning.

The individual continues to solve the problem, concentrating on nothing else. Suddenly, the answer, or perhaps more correctly, an answer becomes apparent. Even if the answer is not decipherable, the Zen student does not give up, for his life is his will, and his will is his Zen faith.

An understanding of Zen and its principles gives us the mentality of the Japanese samurai, and how they looked upon death as having little meaning. One cannot know the martial arts simply by reading about them; they have to be experienced at a personal level before understanding is gained.

“ One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand on the battlefield.”



Join me in part 3 and we will continue our brief dip into the history of martial arts and how are they are intrinsically linked to spiritual practices both in the east and the west.