Martial arts history is replete with tall tales of philosophy and heroism. Zen in the Art of Archery and the story of Bodhidharma traveling to the Shaolin Temple are two prime examples. Why do martial artists find them so compelling? Keith Vargo explains.

When a person uses the word “myth,” he is usually pointing out that something is false. What’s more, he is claiming it’s a falsehood many people believe is true, such as urban myths about illegal kidney harvesting or murderous lunatics who make threatening calls from within their victim’s home. These stories aren’t true, but many people believe they are. They don’t seem especially powerful or meaningful. Maybe “myth” isn’t the right word for them. A myth is a story meant to convey a fundamental truth or belief. Usually it’s a mixture of history and fantasy, a kind of cultural ideal. It is, in short, a story so compelling that it doesn’t fit into the easy categories of truth or falsehood. The martial arts are full of myths. For instance, there are stories about Japanese warriors being taught swordsmanship by tengu, or mountain goblins. I don’t think anyone believes goblins were the origin of kenjutsu, but it’s still a story, not a lie. Some people think tengu were actually yamabushi, mountain ascetics whose ritual privations were supposed to give them special abilities. The underlying message is that the secrets of swordsmanship originated in a single-minded, religious devotion. The tengu story is a little closer to what we normally think of as myth, but there are grander stories in the martial arts that mean a lot more to people. Two of the most popular are the myth of Shaolin Temple and the myth of Zen in the art of archery. Most martial artists know the general outline of the Shaolin Temple story: A monk named Bodhidharma traveled from India to China as a missionary for Dhyana (Zen) Buddhism. He found the disciples there in poor physical shape, so he taught them exercises to improve their health, thus enabling them to meditate for longer periods. Those exercises eventually developed into an original martial art, from which all forms of kung fu, kenpo and karate descended.


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Many writers and researchers believe this is myth, not history. There probably was a Bodhidharma, and there are historical records of fighting monks. But it’s unlikely that the Indian patriarch fathered the martial arts. Historians point to records of fighting arts in China long before Bodhidharma’s arrival. Also, the one work attributed to the Indian patriarch, the I Chin Ching (Muscle-Change Classic), suggests he taught the Chinese monks yoga, not kung fu. So why was the story told to begin with, and why does it continue to be so compelling? Probably because it expresses the martial ideal better than the complicated, incomplete and sometimes contradictory facts of real history. Shaolin Temple was likely the first place in the world to produce what we think of as a martial art by combining wisdom, meditation, discipline and fighting skills into a way of life. To be continued in Zen In the Art of Archery, Bodhidharma and the Shaolin Temple: Martial Arts Fact or Fiction? (Part 2) About the Author: Keith Vargo is the author of the book Philosophy of Fighting: Morals and Motivations of the Modern Warrior, a collection of a decade's worth of his thought-provoking Way of the Warrior articles from Black Belt magazine. To learn more about this martial artist, visit his website at keithvargo.org.
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Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon
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Bruce Lee really did have the Midas touch when it came to training. Most people think Bruce was advanced and complicated, but he was the master of simplicity. He was not worried about doing the jump-up flip spin-around back kick. Not sure if there is one. But by the time you land, Bruce would just throw a simple kick or punch to knock you down as you landed to the ground. However, that is the point. Simplicity is often overlooked because of the coolness and the latest and greatest workout when simplicity produces the most significant effect. Super complicated does not mean superior. This is actually reverse in fact. We see super complex exercises that don’t need to be. Truthfully, if an exercise or method is not straightforward in its approach, then it probably is not good.
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Photo Courtesy: CBS Sports

Tommy Fury, half-brother of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, has withdrawn from his upcoming bout with undefeated YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul due to injury, per ESPN. The match was supposed to be contested at 192 pounds for eight, three-minute rounds on December 18. Thanks to former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, the show must go on.

Woodley, who was defeated by Paul via controversial split decision in August, will seek redemption on short notice. The announcement of the rematch comes less than two weeks before the event takes place. According to Paul, Woodley will receive a $500,000 bonus if he is able to land a knockout. However, Paul doesn't expect this to happen, claiming that he is going to "punish" the 39-year-old mixed martial artist.

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A social media sensation versus a former MMA world champion. Two world class lady warriors. A former professional basketball player versus a member of the NFL 2010's All-Decade Team. Who will have their hand raised that night? Stay tuned for more news and updates about the event from Black Belt Magazine, both here on our website and on social media.

Instagram post from Tyron Woodley:



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I have a confession to make: I’m a romantic for cheesy martial art movies.

One of my favorite things to watch in kung fu cinema is a teacher tortu–er, training a novice student. Of course, it is easy to see how we fit in the script. Regardless of our level, it is important to have a mentor who can help guide us properly in our training.

A big part of our growth as people and martial artists is finding the correct ways to be challenged and to promote our depth of understanding. While that duty often is seen as only befalling on the person you study under, there are various things we can consciously do to mix up our training to glean better benefits.

Check out these methods and you’ll soon be able to add new levels of realism to your training and find any hidden holes in your techniques!

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