The Yijin Jing (易筋經, Sinew-Changing Classic, c. 1624) is a Ming era qigong manual comprised of a series of daoyin (guiding and pulling) exercises attributed to the 5th-6th century Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma (菩提达摩, a.k.a. Damo, 达摩). The common story passed around in martial arts circles is that the Indian monk retired to a cave near the Shaolin Monastery where he meditated for nine years. During this time, his concentration was so strong that either: 1) his image was burnt into the living rock or 2) his gaze burnt a hole in the rock. After his period of reflection was over, he saw the monks of Shaolin were too physically weak to handle the rigors of lengthy meditation, so he taught them the Sinew-Changing qigong and some martial arts he brought from his home of India. Thus, according to believers, Bodhidharma is the father of Shaolin Kungfu. (1) This is actually an altered version of a much older story that is given in two prefaces from the Yijin Jing.
The prefaces tell the following tale: Bodhidarma came to meditate in a cave for 9 years. After his death, the monks of Shaolin found an iron chest buried behind a brick wall. This chest contained two manuals written by the monk during his long seclusion, both of which were written in Sanskrit. The first manual, the Xisui Jing (洗髓经, Marrow-Washing Classic), was taken by his most senior disciple Huike (慧可) and disappeared. Since so few of the monks could read Sanskrit, they could not fully appreciate the great treasure that was the second manual, the Yijin Jing. Sometime later, a monk tracked down the famous Indian holy man Paramiti who was able to translate it in full. After 100 days of practice, the monk gained an immortal body capable of living 10,000 years. The manual later disappeared until it was passed on to the famous Tang general Li Jing (李靖) by the hero Qiuran ke (虬髯客, the Curly Bearded Stranger) during the 7th century. Centuries later, the manual was again passed onto the Song general Yue Fei (岳飞) by an unnamed Shaolin monk who taught him his military skills during the 12th century. Just before his execution, Yue was surprised to receive a recently written letter from the supposedly long dead monk who told him his life was endanger if he returned to the capital. This revelation caused him to pass the manual onto his junior general Niu Gao (牛皋). Feeling no one was "worthy of becoming a Buddha," Niu hid the manual. It was finally discovered during the 17th century by a Taoist from Mt. Tiantai with the pen name Zining (紫凝). The only problem is that none of this is historically correct.
The manual in general is full of numerous anachronisms and total fictions. I don't have time to go over all of them, so here are a few (and they are big):
* The Indian holy man Paramiti wasn't born yet during the time he is claimed to have translated the Yijin Jing from Sanskrit into Chinese. This means Li Jing, Yue Fei, Niu Gao, and Zining would not have been able to read it or reap the benefits of its practice.
* The hero Qiuran ke (虬髯客) is a popular fictional character from 10th century Chinese literature. The first preface (dated 628), in which he appears, is attributed to Li Jing. There is no way Li Jing would have even known about a popular fictional character from almost 300 years in the future. Also, a battle formation mentioned in the preface is a fictional element taken from Chinese literature that post dates Li's life by hundreds of years.
* In the second preface (dated 1142) attributed to Niu Gao, he refers to a posthumous temple name for Song Emperor Qinzhong (欽宗) which post dates the preface by some 20 years. (2)
* Yue Fei did not study under a mysterious Shaolin monk. He did study under two men with possible military backgrounds, but records do not allude to them having any affiliation with Shaolin. (3)
* Literary and stelae evidence ranging from the 9th - 16th centuries show the Shaolin monks historically attributed their martial skills to the Bodhisattva Vajrapani, who, according to them, was an emanation of Guanyin.
* The exercises described in the manual are Taoist in nature and go against the Buddhist concept of impermanence because one is said to gain an immortal body capable of living 10,000 years. It is important to note that the Chinese have a habit of attributing newer works to famous sages. For example, there are verified Taoist works that attribute various other qigong exercises to Bodhidharma, some as far back as the 12th century. Keeping this in mind, it is no surprise that the 17th century Taoist priest Zining is considered to be the originator of the forgery because his name appears on all of the oldest editions of it. One edition is dated 1624, so scholars believe this is when it was originally published during the Ming Dynasty. (4)
* Scholars have analyzed pre-20th century records going back 250 years and there are some that mention martial arts and Bodhidhdarma, but never connect the two. (5)
* The idea of Bodhidharma physically teaching the monks boxing didn't come about until the publishing a popular satirical novel The Travels of Lao Ts'an in newspaper serials from 1904-1907. (6)
(1) Wong, Kiew Kit. The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu: The Secrets of Kung Fu for Self-Defense Health and Enlightenment. Tuttle martial arts. Boston, Mass: Tuttle, 2002, pp. 13 and 19. Much of the history presented in this work is based on legend.
(2) Shahar, Meir. The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008. A full length English translation can be found here. I am not giving any page numbers because a person needs to read the entire book to fully understand the interplay between legend and historical fact regarding Shaolin.
(3) Kaplan, Edward Harold. Yueh Fei and the Founding of the Southern Sung. Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Iowa, 1970, pp. 10-11
(4) See note # 2.
(5) Stan Henning and Tom Green, "Folklore in the Martial Arts" in Green, Thomas A. Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2001, p. 129
(6) Stan Henning, "Ignorance, Legend, and Taijiquan," Journal of the Chen Style Taijiquan Research Association Of Hawaii, Vol. 2, No. 3, Autumn/Winter 1994, pp. 1-7, p. 4
(7) See note # 2.
Edited by ghostexorcist, 15 February 2011 - 10:01 PM.