I have written the following in the hope that future martial artists will find it and learn the truth behind one of the most famous martial arts legends. I am not the originator of this material. It was gleaned from books and papers written by both Eastern and Western authors.
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.
Here are some of the reasons why scholars think it is a forgery (beyond the reasons listed above):
* 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.
Many martial artists have tried in vein to prove Bodhidharma was actually the author of the manual. One very important thing that many people fail to understand is that records from the 5th - 6th centuries do not place him in the Monastery, only locales around it. It is not until the 8th century that he is said to have set foot in Shaolin. Although most scholars tend to agree he was a historical person, a lot of them debate over his position as the patriarch of Zen. (7) If he was not actually in Shaolin during the 6th century, he could not have planted the seed of Zen there. Some scholars even believe they just adopted the monk as their official mascot (for lack of a better term). Therefore, he could not have taught the monks martial arts (even if he knew it) if he never actually visited Shaolin during his stay in China.
* 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.
Excellent work ghostexorcist, here is what I have written on some websites about the Bodhidharma Shaolin Kung Fu myth and Martial Arts or Kung Fu came from India or Kalaripayattu myth
1) Bodhidharma was not the founder of Shaolin Kung Fu or Chinese martial arts. It is a myth. They were already there before he went to China.The attribution of Shaolin’s martial arts to Bodhidharma has been discounted by several 20th century martial arts historians, first by Tang Hao on the grounds that the Yì Jīn Jīng is a forgery. Huiguang and Sengchou were involved with martial arts before they became two of the very first Shaolin monks, reported as practicing Kung Fu before the arrival of Bodhidharma.
Tang’s findings are further supported by the work of Matsuda Takatomo in his book “An Illustrated History of Chinese Martial Arts,” published in 1979. Chinese martial arts are over 4000 years old and predate Bodhidharma.
Huiguang and Sengchou who were two of the very first Shaolin monks were already Kung fu experts, before Bodhidharma went to China. There is no legitimate evidence that Kung Fu came from India. Fighting is natural for humans and there are many martial arts around the world. To fight wars, for defense , to attack martial arts would have emerged independently in countries, it’s not that everybody learnt how to fight from India. Wrestling which is a martial art is natural and universal in great apes like humans ,gorillas ,chimps and orangutans. Grappling martial arts have been there since prehistoric times and in cave paintings like in Mongolia. Boxing is also a very old martial art. Even if the Indian martial art Kalaripayattu is very old, it is unscientific to say that it is the oldest or the mother of all martial arts.
2)This is about the Bodhidharma Shaolin Kung Fu myth. There is no legitimate evidence for Kung Fu or Shaolin Kung Fu coming from India or Kalari being the oldest martial art or first martial art in the world and wrestling(for example in cave paintings in Mongolia), grappling, stone chinese swords were there in prehistoric times.
Bodhidhadharma may have taught meditation in China but there is no evidence for him teaching martial arts or self defense. The attribution of Shaolin's martial arts to Bodhidharma has been discounted by several 20th century martial arts historians, first by Tang Hao on the grounds that the Yì Jīn Jīng is a forgery.Huiguang and Sengchou were involved with martial arts before they became two of the very first Shaolin monks, reported as practicing Kung Fu before the arrival of Bodhidharma.
Tang's findings are further supported by the work of Matsuda Takatomo in his book "An Illustrated History of Chinese Martial Arts," published in 1979.Therefore there is no legitimate evidence of Bodhidharma's connection to Chinese Kung Fu or Shaolin Kung Fu. Many historians have proven that there is no evidence that Bodhidharma created Shaolin Kung Fu like , Matsuda Ryuchi, Paul Pelliot, Bernard Faure ,Stanley Henning and Micheal Splessbach, Tenjiku Naranokaku, Tang Ho and Matsuda Takatomo. Matsuda Ryuchi could attest to the existence of the Yijin Jing only as far back as 1827.
In the course of his research, Matsuda Ryuchi found no mention of—let alone attribution to—Bodhidharma in any of the numerous texts written about the Shaolin martial arts before the 19th century.
Since the Yijin Jing is a forgery it cannot be said that the animal styles or quigong are in Shaolin because of Bodhidharma.The Yijin Jing appears to be the source for two other popular Qigong forms which are also attributed to various authors. Both the Eighteen Luohan Hands (also associated with Shaolin) and the Eight Pieces of Brocade (Baduanjin) forms seem like abridged versions of Yijinjing sets. The Baduanjin is sometimes attributed to Yue Fei. Of the many versions of all 3 of the above, some also contain forms from the older Wuqin, or Five Animal Frolics of Hua Tuo.There is lots of info on the internet if you do a google search for Bodhidharma myth or Yijin Jing forgery. Some sources : Wikipedia, A Venerated Forgery: The Daoist Origins of Shaolin's Famous Yijin ,Kenpukan , blackbelt magazine, Kung Fu magazine.