Bodhidharma was born on October 5, 470 A.D. in South India as 3rd son of King Sughanda of the Kshatriya caste. As it then was common for king’s sons, also Bodhidharma was taught in all the courtly manners as well as in Vajramushti, the Indian martial art. In South India the old martial art techniques are today still taught and frequently also applied within the Ayurveda in case of orthopaedic problems.
Very early Bodhidharma was attracted to the Buddhism und found in Prajnatara – the 27th successor of Buddha – a master who taught him Buddhism and Yoga. It was the desire of his master, that he should bring the teachings of Buddha to China.
After the death of his master, he became the 28th patriarch after Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. Thenceforward he took the name Bodhidharma.
In the year 526, at the age of 56, Bodhidharma (Tamo, Daruma or Darumi Taishi in Japanese, Dat Mor in Cantonese, Puti Da Mo in Mandarin) travelled via Tibet to China, in order to fulfil the desire of his master. First of all he visited Emperor Wu Di of the Liang Dynasty.
The emperor had great interest in Buddhism, but for Da Mo the interest of the emperor in Buddhism was too much superficial, so that he leaved the palace again after a short time.
Da Mo, as Bodhidharma was called in China, continued his journey und finally reached the Shaolin cloister in the northern province Ho Nan. The monks however denied him entrance, because principally they didn’t accommodate anybody. So Da Mo settled in a cave close by the cloister and observed the walls of the cloister and everything that happened around it.
At that time the cloister was the prey of hold-ups.
One morning, as the monks, after having barricaded themselves in the cloister, looked down from the battlements, they saw a lot of dead robbers lying around the gates. So they asked Bodhidharma to enter the cloister and made him later their patriarch.
Bodhidharma is held as the founder of the Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism. Though the monks had trained meditation exercises, in the eyes of Da Mo their physical constitution but was more than miserable. Thusly he taught them old Indian martial art in order to improve their physical resistance against the stresses and strains of meditation.
That the outcome shall have been Kung Fu and Karate Do however is very doubtful. For the oldest documented martial art, as already mentioned before, derives from China and is more than 3000 years old.
Also that wandering monks shall have brought Kung Fu (Quanfa) to Okinawa in the 7th century may be true.
But without any doubt also there martial arts were already practised and were supplemented by certain Quanfa techniques. Created out of it were finally the Okinawian martial art Te and later Tode – what meansas much as Hand from China.
Bodhidharma died in 543 and was buried close to the Shaolin cloister in Shon Er Shan, the Bear Ear Mountain.