Home Discussion Forum Is there a relationship with kalaripayattu, indian martial arts, shaolin kung fu,...

Is there a relationship with kalaripayattu, indian martial arts, shaolin kung fu, and bodhidharma?

Some of websites (such as kalaripayattu websites) claim that bodhidharma learned kalaripayattu or some form of martial art from india and then went to china? However, all of the history books that I’ve read state that Bodhidharma is more legend than fact…. most state the legend that he taught meditative exercises and not actual martial arts…. all the history books seem to state that his association with martial arts is legend… my history professor in Chinese history also states this and further states that most historians believe that his association with Chan/ Zen buddhism is legendalso. However, there are books written by kung fu masters that seem to disagree with them? What’s up with that?


  1. you are right in that nobody knows about this kind of ancient history.
    people like to associate something they do with famous people in history.
    since nobody knows for sure, nobody can discount these claims for sure. so, we are left with deciding whether we want to believe or not.

  2. Whether or not Bodhidharma was or wasn’t a historical figure or whether or not he brought Martial Arts from India to China, I don’t think that there is any doubt that Budhist missionaries from India brought Martial arts to China. Shaoilin Temple Boxing didn’t materialize from nothing. There undoubtedly has been a lot of cross culrural exchanges throught east & south Asia over the centuries. It is not uncommon for those of 1 culture to insist that their culture is free of foreign influences. It is also not true. This applies to Martial Arts as well. India, China, Korea, Okinawa & Japan have all contributed to MA development. It’s hard to know a lot of things with any certainty as written records are very hard to come by. Rice paper just doesn’t last thousands of years, especially in moist climates.

  3. There is no real proof either way . If Bodhidharma did teach anything to the monks of shaolin , it was probably more meditative and possibly encompassed the 18 hands of lo han . I have studied the 18 hands of lo han and they seem more like excersises to be done before actual training . As for his association with kalaripayattu , it would seem feasible that he knew the art . If he did exist , which I think is true , he most likely came from the warrior class , and prior to becoming a zen buddihst teacher he would have learned the fighting arts .
    While actual shaolin history does not credit him with teaching martial arts , there are paintings in the temple of a darker skinned , indian looking monk excersising with the other monks . I know Bodhidharma didn’t start martial arts at the shaolin temple , but he may have added to them .

  4. Here is my take on the subject, following a lot of research (like yourself).
    Bodhidharma is Da Mo. Da Mo was an INDIAN MONK who traveled from India to China. His base existence is in life and philosophy and then the incorporation of Martial Arts. His connection to the Martial Arts is through the meeting/organization/creation of the famed Shaolin Temple.
    Belief from here by some is that yes, kalaripayattu, is the worlds oldest martial art form and that Da Mo was a practitioner. During his travels and quest for enlightenment he studied the ways that animals fought and defended themselves and incorporated (or created) and new form of self defense, using of course his existing knowledge as the foundation.

  5. Ok… this is long… I actually got a pretty bad grade during college for writing a paper about this and unfortunately using too many websites for information. There is a lot of misinformation on the web (I no longer trust anything i read unless it’s from an encyclopedia or reputable source online. Definitely not a martial arts website) There also is a lot of misinformation in books written by authors such as “Si Fu Bob” and “how I will teach you the secrets of Shaolin Kung fu”. Basically, your history professor is correct. If you read textbooks written by college professors on Chan/Zen and Bodhidharma… they think his association with Bodhidharma is legend. Some even dispute his existence at all. If you read books on martial arts history, they’ll say that his association with bodhidharma for sure is legend and that the Shaolin monks most likely harbored retired soldiers who knew self defense. The concise encyclopedia brittanica will state that chinese martial arts harkens back to the 18th century B.C. Go to google scholar (it has a lot of books written for the general public also with some books written by academics) or JSTOR (which has a better reference of articles written by academics) and look up “bodhidharma” and “legend.” All books written by academics will state that he is a legend and his association with martial arts is that… the general books written by regular folks for regular folks like “how to learn martial arts in 20 days” are hit and miss… Hopefully, you didn’t make the same mistake that I made and failed a midterm paper based on reading websites for info!
    Oh, I found this answer in another area about kalaripayattu…
    “As to kalaripayattu….
    There is no association historically between kalaripayattu and shaolin kung fu or any other martial arts. This only came about recently and has been pushed strongly by practitioners of kalaripayattu as an association (i guess to try and generate interest in the art). Unfortunately, the general pracitioners of kalaripayattu are unwilling to admit (although Professor Zarilli’s book “When the Body Becomes All Eyes: Paradigms, Discourses and Practices of Power in Kalarippayattu, a South Indian Martial Art (Hardcover and almost all other books on kalaripayattu reference this)” that the earliest suggested birth of kalaripayattu is around 11th-13th century a.d. and that the earliest proof of kalaripayattu was from portuguese records in the 16th century a.d. No credible records of kalaripayattu exist before this.
    The association between indian martial arts and chinese martial arts is between the legend of Bodhidharma (an Indian or Central asian monk, depending on the legend you use) who founded the Shaolin temple. The rumor began in the 1600’s A.D. and was written by a Chinese Taoist monk who did not like the Shaolin monks….
    The first open association of Bodhidharma and the Shaolin martial arts is made in the 17th century A.d. and it states in the text that Bodhidharma created the exercises that developed into Shaolin quan in a cave in China after staring at a wall for nine years without moving. Between the founding of the Shaolin temple (600A.D.) and 1600A.D. no association has ever been made about Bodhidharma and Shaolin Kung Fu.
    From this legend in the 1600’s A.D., kalaripayattu practitioners today and other people have been trying to push that maybe Bodhidharma was a kalaripayattu practioner. If he was a kalaripayattu practitioner, then that must mean that kalaripayattu was created in the 600A.D. and is the progenitor of Shaolin Kung Fu and hence all martial arts! Of course, this disregards the other martial arts traditions in china that go back to before Shaolin kung fu by a few centuries.
    There is physical and written evidence in China that martial arts as practiced by the Shaolin monks predate the 6th century A.D. and that most martial arts in most countries developed to some degree independently of each other. Evidence exists prior to Bodhidharma’s arrival in China that monks practiced wrestling for recreation. Many people believe that the Shaolin monks harbored retired soldiers who taught them martial arts.”
    Hope this helps!

    • actually kalaripayat is not derived in the 16th century in portugeese records in 16th century only portugeese known this martial aart .actually kalari is orginate well befor ad 600 u can see that if u study indian history well in ad 52 at thomas came southern side of india kerala to expand chritstianity on that period also it exist here.
      and also in vedic period there are four vedhas one among them dhanur veda part of adharvaveda describes this form of martial art

  6. In the absence of records its hard to say which predates which! Also,just because theres no written record doesnt mean that folklores are false.The westerner has always been the one interpreting everything for the world.When the shaolin monks themselves credit this so called fictitious bodhidharma,then there must be something to it.
    Anyway,whatever the truth,kung fu has advanced way ahead of kalaripayatu.In one to one combat,I dont see any kung fu expert getting beaten by any kalari payatu expert.In 2009 there was going to be an exhibiton fight between the two exponents,but I didnt hear/read anything about it.
    If u see these clips u will be able to see the similarities in shaolin stick fights and kalari stick fights,but shaolin has evolved and is more aggressive.kalaripayatu is just basic stick fighting.Of course,no one in china can write that anything was inspired from India.That would be blasphemy.
    Let just enjoy the sports in its own forms,who cares where it came from. Haya!!

  7. oh shiju jacob, you lack of evidence when you concluded. kalaripayattu is not just stick fight..it has all the animal styles and 18 adavus.. I guess more than that… please do not make an attempt if you know nothing about kalari.
    This disagreement is because to establish the Chinese pride thats all. Even if there is a clear proof that shows kalari,bodhi and kung fu , chinese would not agree with it ..because of PATRIOTISM..

  8. mr.qball i think ur reference materials gives you only limited knowledge about the ancient history of central and south asian countries especially india and china….am hailing from kerala which is the birth place of kalaripayattu….you ppl have knowledge abt our lands history only from portugese invasion in 16th century AD…but by that time we had well dvlpd political and social situation here…and abt kalaripayattu we have folks as old as 2000 years..i wonder how that author had such limited knowledge abt dis martial art form…i swear if he had come atleast once to our land he could have easily understnd its history….and talking abt bodhidharma he is from kanchipuram a place near kerala in south india where kalaripayattu had a strong presence since time immemmorial…and during that time as a royal heir its mandatory for him to learn it…naturally he might have undergone training in kalaripayattu….and as he travelled from india to china obviously he would have spread his knowledge in martial arts also….and the 18 hands ol lo han is similar to 18 adavus in kalaripayattu…and if he knows the authir u mentioned above you better point out the mistakes he made…

  9. 18 ADAVUKAL
    Relationship to Shaolin
    Although the art of Kalarippayattu is itself not well known outside of India, legend has it that around 525 AD the Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma traveled to China and the Shaolin Temple. Upon finding the monks weak and listless, Bodhidharama taught them the Eighteen Hands of Buddha, which later became known as the 18 Lohan Hands. This was a specialized set of exercises derived from the eighteen adavukal (adavu = technique) that form the basis of the Vadakkan, the northern style of Kalarippayattu, the introduction of which had a profound effect on the martial arts of China, Shaolin Kung Fu in particular.

  10. actually kalaripayattu was not invented in 11th or 12th centuary but nearly 10000years ago by PARUSHURAM . He invented the art to teach priests and monks of kerala temples to safe guard temples.Bodhidarma was killed by his followers in china by poisonning his food.There are many proofs of existence of Bodhidherma and his teachings of martial arts and hypnotism to chinese buddhist monks.


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