Bodhidharma (440 - 534 CE) played a seminal role in the transmission of Zen Buddhism from India to China (where it is known as Chan). Zen Buddhists consider him the twenty-eighth Patriarch, and he is credited as the founder of Shaolin martial arts.
His teachings point to a direct experience of buddha-nature rather than an intellectual understanding of it (a characteristic sadly lacking in modern teachings). Bodhidharma was known for his terse style that infuriated the Emperor Wu of Liang. Bodhidharma exemplifies hard work, discipline, and determination on the path to spiritual realization. Concrete details about Bodhidharma's life are hard to find since many stories about him are filled with mythical elements that have significant meaning for Zen Buddhists. He was probably born to an upper-class family in India, and—like the Buddha—left his social status to follow Mahayana Buddhism under Prajnatara. He left India to restore Buddhism in China.
Cheng Tinghua (1848 - 1900) was the fourth disciple of Dong Haichuan. He owned an eyeglass shop in Beijing, so some called him Eyeglasses Cheng. During the Boxer Movement (July 1900) Cheng saw the invading armies killing and looting throughout Beijing. Upset at what was happening to his country, he swore to defend it. One day, Cheng Tinghua subdued ten of the looting soldiers before they ordered a patrol with rifles to surround him. Cheng used his Baguazhang skills to calmly evade the soldiers and leaped onto a wall where he started to walk away. The soldiers shot him dead.
Confucian teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced East Asian life and thought. Confucius (551 - 479 BCE) taught personal and public morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Confucius hated disorder and disunity and wanted to find ways to overcome the feuds that characterized the latter part of the Zhou era.
Confucius admired King Wen, valued continuity and wanted to sustain the ancient traditions. He tried--unsuccessfully--to persuade many different rulers to put his social and political beliefs into practice. He died convinced that he had failed.
Dong Haichuan (1797 - 1882) was born in Zhu village, Ju Jia Wu Township in Wen An County, Hebei Province. Dong Haichuan's reputation would go from a criminal and freeloader to the creator of China's last internal martial art. Like his predecessors, he would try to tie his art to an old master hiding in the mountains. But, today, everyone agrees that Dong Haichuan was the creator of Eight Diagrams Turning Palm.
The widely accepted historical account says that Dong was a member of the Quanzhen, Complete Truth sect of Daoism. The Complete Truth Daoist walked in a circle while chanting as a method of meditation.
In Chinese mythology, Fu Xi (or Fu Hsi) was the first of the Three Sovereigns of ancient China. Fu Xi (2852 - 2737 BCE) taught humans all the skills necessary to ensure survival. He brought the waters of the Yellow River into order by digging dikes, canals, and irrigation ditches. Fu Xi taught the Chinese people fishing with nets, hunting with weapons made of iron, cooking, domestication of animals, music, the writing system, sericulture (cultivation of silk worms) and the weaving of threads from silkworm cocoons into textiles.
When Jou the Terrible ascended to the throne of the Shang dynasty (1600 - 1122 BCE), his behavior was so horrific that his name is synonymous with “a debauched tyrant.” Meanwhile, the nearby state of Zhou was gaining influence and the neighboring states would bring their disputes before King Wen of Zhou (1099 - 1050 BCE) to be settled since they knew King Wen provided a wise and fair arbitration.
On one of King Wen's visits to the Shang court, Jou the Terrible threw him in prison, where he was confined for seven years. While in prison, King Wen reflected on Yin and Yang, the Five Phases, and the trigrams of the Bagua. He decided to stack one trigram upon another trigram to form a hexagram--symbolizing a higher level of diversification. He attached a name and a description to each of the sixty-four possible hexagrams. He also rearranged the trigrams on the Bagua circle to reflect the complexity of the natural world--including the change of seasons and the interaction of the Five Phases. This arrangement is the post-heaven Bagua circle.
If Laozi (Lao Tzu)--the old sage usually associated with Daoism--existed, he lived during the Golden Age of Philosophers. The book attributed to him--The Way and Its Virtue (Dao De Jing)--represents the ideal man living agreeably with nature. A legendary figure, Laozi's (600 BCE) influence on Chinese history, thought, and culture has been substantial. He insisted on living in a harmonious and spontaneous manner rather than exploiting the earth and other beings.
Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (563 - 483 BCE) who--through a period of exploration--became The Buddha, or Awakened One. He lived in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent. His father, Shuddodana, was the local king from the Sakya clan and Siddhartha would later become known by the title Shakyamuni, or Sage of the Sakyas. The Sakya were Kshatriyas—the second highest class of warrior—they did not regard Brahmans—the highest priestly class—as in any way superior. Shuddodana protected his son from anything ugly or unhealthy by building a series of palaces populated with young, healthy, and handsome women and men. Anyone who did not fit this description was removed. Siddhartha was so content that he did not ask such questions as why do people suffer? Why do people die? Or what is the purpose of life?
No author had more impact on our understanding of the internal martial arts then did Sun Lu Tang (1861 - 1932). This Grand Master of all three arts broke with tradition and wrote down—in classical Chinese characters (characters that he taught himself)—the practice methods of all three arts.
I have never read a book about the "neija" that did not quote his work. Sun Lu Tang was a renowned master of Chinese martial arts and the creator of Sun Style Taijiquan. He was an accomplished Confucian and Daoist scholar, and contributed to the development of the internal martial arts through his published works.
Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor (2497 - 2398 BCE), is a legendary Chinese sovereign and cultural hero who is considered in Chinese mythology to be the ancestor of all Han Chinese. He emerged as a chief deity of Daoism during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE). Among his many accomplishments, Huangdi has been credited with the invention of the principles of Traditional Chinese medicine.
The Huangdi Neijing (Inner Canon of Huangdi) was supposedly composed in collaboration with his physician Qibo. Legend says that Huangdi became the leader of his tribe which bore the totem of a bear. His tribe went to war with a neighboring tribe bearing the totem of a bull, headed by Yandi. Huangdi, through his superior military and leadership skills won the war and subdued Yandi's tribe. The two tribes united and became one. The legend then says that the Chinese civilization began with these two tribes.
Yin Fu (1840 - 1909 CE) was Dong Haichuan’s earliest disciple at Su Wang Palace. Some stories say that when he started studying with Dong that he did not appreciate circle walking and focused on striking and kicking methods, even laughing at the circle walking practice.
Dong Haichuan was upset at this and said, “If you laugh at circle walking again, you won’t have your front teeth anymore.” Yin Fu began to laugh and Dong used a palm strike to knock out two of Yin Fu’s front teeth. After that incident Yin Fu concentrated his practice on the turning palms.
Yu is regarded with legendary status as Yu the Great (2059 - 2149 BCE), and he is considered one of The Three Sovereigns of China. King Yao ordered Yu's father, Gun, to tame the annual floods. Gun built earthen dikes, but they collapsed, and the project failed miserably. Gun was executed by King Shun, Yao's successor. Shun ordered Yu to complete his father's work. Instead of building more dikes, Yu began to dredge new river channels, to serve both as outlets for the torrential waters, and as irrigation conduits to distant farm lands. Yu spent a backbreaking thirteen years at this task, with the help of some 20,000 workers. Passing his own door three times is a tale of Yu's dedication:
The information we have about Yue Fei and his Song dynasty contemporaries come to us from histories collected during the later Yuan dynasty. As with all such histories it is sprinkled with a lot of myth.
We do know that Yue Fei was a great military leader who is credited with the creation of many qigong and martial forms including Xingyiquan, Eight Pieces of Brocade, and Eagle Claw Boxing. As a child he learned Shaolin martial art from a man named Zhou Tong, who had studied at the Shaolin temple.
Zhang Sanfeng (1247 - 1370) is another legendary figure of Daoism and the mythical creator of Taijiquan. Some stories about Zhang Sanfeng place him as early as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907 - 960 CE) when China was undergoing a period of disunion. Others place him in the Song dynasty (960 - 1279 CE) which saw many achievements in science, philosophy, and arts, including the first use of printing (700 years before it was used in Europe), and the use of gunpowder (invented by Daoists during the Tang dynasty) in grenades.
If Zhang Sanfeng existed he was probably born in 1247 and lived during the years of Marco Polo’s (1254 - 1324 CE) visit to China. He studied Buddhism and martial arts at the Shaolin temple before leaving and establishing the Daoist temples at Wudang Mountain.