Brief History, The Birth of Chan Buddhism and Kung Fu


Asian martial artists trace their roots back 5,000 years to India and the Greek martial arts of Pankration. The armies of Alexander the Great brought this brutal art of boxing and wrestling to India in 4 BC.

Dr. Hua T’o, the first doctor to use anesthesia during surgery, is credited by the Chinese as the founder of the first martial art. Around 220 AD, T’o devised a series of exercises modeled on the deer, bear, bird, tiger and monkey. T’o designed these exercises to relieve stress, tone the body and provide a means of self-defense.


The Zen Buddhist patriarch Ta Mo, or Da Mo, was a prince of a small tribe in Southern India and arrived in China after a harrowing trek over Tibet’s Himalaya Mountains.

The Shaolin Temple of Songshan, in the Hunan province, was a sacred place used only for fervent religious study and deep meditation. Ta Mo arrived in 526 AD. and implimented the first system of martial arts study in the temple.

Ta Mo, was a member of the Indian Kshatriya warrior class and a master of staff fighting. He created a system of 18 dynamic tension exercises which found their way into print in 550 AD as the Yi Gin Ching, or Changing Muscle/Tendon Classic. We know this today as the Lohan (Priest-Scholar) 18 Hand Movements, the starting point for Shaolin Gongfu (Kung Fu).

Ta Mo’s introduction of the martial arts to the Shaolin Temple was purely self-interest. He saw the monks as solitary types content to live their lives within temple walls. He dreamed of developing mobile, fearless warrior missionaries able to spread Chan Buddhism throughout the world.

Shaolin Mural

Ta Mo died in 539 AD at the Shaolin Temple at age 57. However, he helped to establish the the basis of Chinese Gong Fu.  Which evolved over the years to be a complete martial art system and approach from which which countless other styles emerged.  Even influencing and providing the framework for the martial arts of others cultures, such as Karate, Kenpo, Akido, Judo, Shorinji Kempo, Tae Kwon Do, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Hapkido, Tang Soo Do, and Krav Maga to name a few.



This is a very brief overview and not a complete history by any means of all Chinese Martial Arts styles taught at Monk Wise Academy. At Monk Wise Academy we teach many different styles of Gong Fu (Kung Fu) or external styles of martial arts as well as many different styles of Internal Martial Arts.  Taijiquan (Tai Chi) just being one of them.