Practicing Martial ArtsThey seem as immiscible as oil and water: Zen, the peaceful practice of tranquillity, and the martial arts, the deadly techniques of hand-to-hand combat. Yet tradition insists that when Bodhidharma introduced them to the weary priests of Shaolin. He presented them together - a solution to the problem of enfeebling Samsara, a compounded tonic for the spiritually ailing. The priests of Shaolin Monastery were keeping a stale, orthodox regimen when Zen's formidable "Blue Eyed Demon" arrived from India. They were following the "polishing" way of inactivity and removal, the way which claims victory over bodily temptations by avoiding other bodies, which claims victory over contentious thoughts by erasing all thoughts. Too much sitting had numbed their brains and let their physical condition languish, yoked in the sluggish pace of spiritual ennui. They gave the stranger from the West plenty to work with.

TrainingBodhidharma taught them how to be still with purpose and how to be active with meaning. Relentless, he sat before the whitewashed walls of Shaolin and demonstrated Ba Guan (wall gazing) meditation, the effective alpha-generating method psychologists today call the Ganzfeld Technique. As such, it became Zen's only original contribution to meditation's vast catalogue of methods. But it was a good one. And when Bodhidharma got up from his cushion he taught the monks how to put Mind into muscle: he taught them the choreographed combat callisthenics of Gong Fu. Or so legend has it.