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161 Daoist Principles in the Martial Arts Their Relevance for Illness Prevention MICHAEL M. TOPHOFF In times of diminishing resources and of soaring costs in mental and so‑ matic health care, public health services should focus more on preven‑ tion rather than on the treatment of illness. Through health maintenance and illness prevention, public wellness can be enhanced and individual suffering reduced. Western techniques for health maintenance more often than not re‑ flect the Cartesian dichotomy of body and mind in addressing either physical or mental health care. Chinese martial art and other cultivation practices, on the other hand, encompass the complexity of human exis‑ tence in its physical, mental, and spiritual wholeness. Martial arts, while clearly pointing towards application in situations of warfare and conflict, can yet be instrumental in fostering health and preventing illness. They have a dual focus: enhancing health in its most encompassing (even spiritual) sense, they are excellent tools for the training of mindfulness. Mindfulness is today recognized as one of the most important ingredi‑ ents in the prevention of stress‑related diseases and recurrent depression (Kabat‑Zinn 1996; Teasdale et. al. 2000; Tophoff 2003). Although there is much overlap between forms, Chinese martial arts divide generally into external and internal styles (wai/neijia quan) (Wong 1997; Diepersloot 1999; Lu 2006). External styles emphasize mus‑ cular increase and skeletal strengthening; internal styles mainly address body energy and mental cultivation. External fighting styles are fre‑ quently associated with Chan Buddhist roots in the Shaolin monastery; internal styles are linked, romantically, with Daoist shrines and monas‑ teries on Mount Wudang. Internal styles emphasize change on a more personal level, rather than increase of natural abilities like speed and 162 / Journal of Daoist Studies 6 (2013) force; they seek to increase these qualities by modifying their usual pat‑ terns of response (Lu 2006, 8). Deeply rooted in Daoism, which puts health and longevity in the center of its teaching (Kohn 2004; 2006; 2009; Tophoff 2003; 2006), internal martial arts imply the cultivation of a healthy way of behaving in the day‑to‑day world in order to prevent ill‑ ness and suffering. Legendary Origins The origins of Chinese martial art forms are a point of contention be‑ tween Chan Buddhists and Daoists. Both claim that they go back to their religions, presenting various legends of various kinds. Thus Chan Bud‑ dhists point to Bodhidharma (Damo), the Indian missionary monk, who travelled leisurely on a leaf of grass in crossing the Yangtze on his way to the Shaolin monastery. Here he encountered studious monks who, fol‑ lowing the original Buddhist tradition, shunned the physical activities of daily life in their hope of becoming a paccekkabuddha: a personally enlightened being (Kloppenborg 1974). Since their noble striving fre‑ quently led to illness and untimely death, Bodhidharma introduced physical exercises into the monastic schedule to enhance health and pre‑ vent illness. As a byproduct of their physical activity, the monks gradu‑ ally acquired such degrees of fitness that they could defend themselves against potential aggressors, albeit without arms (see Diepersloot 1999; Liang and Yang 2002; Hung and Klingborg 1969; Shahar 2007). The benefits of physical exercises, however, have a much longer history in Daoism, where they are first mentioned in the Zhuangzi of about 300 BCE and are detailed in various medical manuscripts from the 2nd century BCE (see Kohn 2008). The earliest classic of Chinese medicine, the Huangdi neijing suwen (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, Basic Questions), also from the Han dynasty, similarly empha‑ sizes illness prevention. It says, “To administer medicines to diseases which have already developed... is like beginning to dig a well after get‑ ting thirsty “(Veith 1972, 105). Following this tradition, the 3rd century physician Hua Tuo empha‑ sized physical exercise in the form of imitations of animal movement to improve health (see Wang and Barrett 2006). While the exercise tradition continued to unfold, records also document that Daoist monks of the Tophoff, “Daoist Principles in the Martial Arts” / 163 early 7th century were so well trained in the martial arts that they could fight for the rising Tang rulers (Shahar 2006). The internal martial arts of Mount Wudang, on the other hand, are...


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pp. 161-175
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