The origins of Gongfu (Kung-fu) (part 2)

Qinshi Huangdi's Terracotta ArmyGongfu training has always been associated with the military, with militias, with crop guarding, with bodyguards, and with constables under the jurisdiction of a magistrate. The question anyone trying to sort out the historic origins of gongfu must ask is: Since most nations and peoples of the world trained and drilled armies, why did China alone (and later some of its neighbors: Japan, Korea, Tibet, Burma, the Philippines, and Indonesia) develop martial arts? Many cultures developed matched fighting, fencing schools, technical wrestling, and warlike games and dances, but not the sets and routines characteristic of all types of gongfu.

My answers to this question are conjecture, that is, I sometimes stray from what can be supported by the available facts, but I hope my answers are interesting food for thought and perhaps future research. (In other words, I'm doing something good scholars never do but the rest of us wish they would once and a while).

During the Warring states era, as the warrior class was loosing its grip on the kingdoms of China, larger and larger groups of peasants were forced into gigantic armies. The ability to conquer huge areas and incorporate those peoples into larger and larger armies was years ahead of the state-craft necessary to maintain them. A group conquered its neighbors and a few years later another group rose up and did the same.

Qinshi HuangdiAt this time, armies prepared for a fight by singing, dancing and drumming themselves into a blood thirsty frenzy. When Qinshi huangdi, the first Chinese emperor, established his unified state, he banned this type of music and dance because it was within the song and the dance that all of the disparate peoples he conquered stored their enmity. After the Qin fell and the Han dynasty arose, the process of incorporating neighboring clans or tribes into the army continued.

While they wanted the physicality and the energy generated by music and dance, they did not want the enmity it perpetuated. These dances were trance invocations of powerful animals like snakes or tigers and the angry spirits of the unresolved (or un-avenged) dead. By taking the music out yet keeping the dances as a source of power focused on fighting, they developed into set routines that captured the physicality of powerful animals. Later the idea of a form or a set that could be passed down through time made it possible to immortalize the movements of individual great war heroes.

Thus practicing gongfu can be understood in the context of Chinese religion as a kind of trance-medium-ship; whereby, a practitioner regularly and systematically invokes the routine's martial ancestors. Through this act the prowess of those ancestors is received and embodied. (The Chinese term for this type of 'spirit' prowess is ling, but it is taboo to talk about it.)