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Shortly before his master died, he asked his disciple, Indian Buddhist Monk Bodhidharma, to leave south India and travel to China in order to spread Buddhism. It was a long and dangerous journey with stops to teach Buddhism in Java, Indonesia, Bali, Sumatra, Malayasia before ultimately settling in central China at the Shaolin Buddhist Temple some time in 540 CE. The Shaolin Temple had been established 30 years earlier.
Budhidharma was shocked at the poor physical shape of the monks. They were overweight, lethargic and frequently ill. He immediately organized daily classes made up of pranayama (breathing exercises) and, significantly, introduced them to south India’s ancient martial art system called Kalaripayat. This combination of breath work and martial arts training improved the monks’ health enabling them to remain alert while meditating for long periods of time daily. The Kalaripayat martial arts component offered them the added benefit of defending themselves against gangs who roamed the countryside.
Though Bodhidharma's focus was on meditation and Buddhist teachings, many of the monks were more drawn to the physical lessons eventually creating a Chinese version of Kalaripayat which became known as Shaolin Kung Fu. With the passage of time time, the Shaolin Temple came to be associated as a martial arts training school rather than a traditional Buddhist monastery.
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