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Historians still debate the original purpose of the martial disciplines: combat/defense OR spiritual enlightenment. For example, if one traces the heritage of the Chinese arts, Shaolin styles are deeply rooted in Ch'an Buddhism. According to legend, Indian monk Bodhidharma reformed the first Shaolin Temple in Honan Province in 520 A.D, but Bodhidharma (called "Tamo" by the Chinese) did not invent gung fu; he introduced Chinese monks to the "eighteen movement of lohan," a series of meditative postures based on yoga, designed to not only improve their physical well-being and stamina but to develop an internal energy and inner power referred to by the Chinese as "chi." It is unclear as to when the monks began to expand their yogic postures into forms of combat, but living in fairly treacherous regions, they may have been skilled in some form of martial skill before Tamo’s arrival. Thus, it appears combative warrior training was supplemented and improved by spiritual development. Many other cultures and their disciplines share similar accounts, yet by the 20th century a clear distinction emerged between disciplines seeking illumination, vitality, and well-being with those pursuing authentic battle skills. Spiritual disciplines are also internal martial arts or “soft styles,” using both religious and philosophical principles to guide their training, technique, and concepts. Disciplines focusing on the spiritual aspects of martial training include: Wu Dang gung fu (Tai chi ch'uan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang), Qigong, Aikido, etc.

  • At UNITED COMBAT ARTS we do not have classes specific to developing vitality and spiritual illumination, but training in and functionalizing internal martial skill is at the highest levels of our curriculum and can be found in our Traditional Warrior Training class, Advanced Self-Defense class, Judo and Aikido class, and Russian Martial Art class.

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Recommended read: The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido by William Gleason