A person from Ukraine told me today that one of the reasons he practices martial arts, and also studies (and practices) religion by residing in religious places in India, is because he believes India had a lot of fundamental knowledge about energy and the human body, and that martial arts had its origin in yoga. He says it is from India that martial arts spread to the world.

I find this a bit hard to believe. Although there is mention of how Indian martial arts were introduced to the monks in China, it does seem a no-brainer that other societies across the world would have developed their own fighting systems before, or at the same time, as India.

Also, the wiki page on Indian martial arts says that there were fighting systems in place much before the incorporation of yoga or ayurveda into the fighting styles.

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    Martial Arts were there even before Yoga. It was created after inspiration from animal fights. From my knowledge, in ancient times, the primary purpose of meditation was to escape from this birth/deadth cycle. The ancient Siddhars (Monks) would have believed even after deadth there will be again birth and it continues. The way we connect to the world is through senses and if we could disconnect them we could stop this cycle and they used meditation for that. On doing meditation they discovered lot of things and one thing is Yoga.
    – VJAI
    Oct 8, 2021 at 15:17

6 Answers 6


Sainid's answer mentions the common story that an Indian monk introduced exercises to the Shaolin temple, and their martial arts practice grew out of those exercises; this is probably what the Ukrainian guy is referring to. There are hundreds of web sites and books sharing that notion, for example (Bodhidharma) "taught various exercises to the monks there that would develop into modern day kung fu".

Wikipedia's article on Shaolin Kung Fu also mentions this popular myth of "Bodhidharma influencing Shaolin boxing" but largely discredits it. See the Wikipedia article for links to further reference material:

Bodhidharma's influence

Some popular stories consider Bodhidharma as the founder of Shaolin kung fu.

The idea of Bodhidharma influencing Shaolin boxing is based on a qigong manual written during the 17th century. This is when a Taoist with the pen name "Purple Coagulation Man of the Way" wrote the Sinews Changing Classic in 1624, but claimed to have discovered it. The first of two prefaces of the manual traces this qigong style's succession from Bodhidharman to the Chinese general Li Jing via "a chain of Buddhist saints and martial heroes."15 The work itself is full of anachronistic mistakes and even includes a popular character from Chinese fiction, the "Qiuran Ke" ("Bushy Bearded Hero)" (虬髯客), as a lineage master.[16] Literati as far back as the Qing Dynasty have taken note of these mistakes. The scholar Ling Tinkang (1757–1809) described the author as an 'ignorant village master'."(p168)

Like other stories of Shaolin, this story has, after all, some basis in reality. Bodhidharma was the founder of Dhyana (Chinese: 禅; pinyin: chán; Japanese: zen) Buddhism.

In the Wikipedia article on Bodhidharma:

According to Chinese legend, he also began the physical training of the monks of Shaolin Monastery that led to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu.

Some Chinese myths and legends describe Bodhidharma as being disturbed by the poor physical shape of the Shaolin monks,[40] after which he instructed them in techniques to maintain their physical condition as well as teaching meditation.[40] He is said to have taught a series of external exercises called the Eighteen Arhat Hands and an internal practice called the Sinew Metamorphosis Classic. In addition, after his departure from the temple, two manuscripts by Bodhidharma were said to be discovered inside the temple: the Yijin Jing and the Xisui Jing. Copies and translations of the Yijin Jing survive to the modern day. The Xisui Jing has been lost.

Your question continues:

...it does seem a no-brainer that other societies across the world would have developed their own fighting systems before, or at the same time, as India. // ...there were fighting systems in place much before the incorporation of yoga or ayurveda into the fighting styles.

For sure, your Ukrainian friend wouldn't be totally mistaken to think that Indian practices like yoga show an extreme mastery of mind and body that could complement martial arts training, and seems quite rare internationally and historically. In my opinion, India is not an unreasonable place for a martial artist to seek knowledge. That said, I've not personally seen evidence of any especially developed martial arts in India, compared to other locations, but for some reason they seem to get less media attention from the Western world that many other countries' arts.

  • Sorry to say this, unless the western world acknowledge only then you believe then I'm sorry. I don't believe you have heard about "Adimurai" and "Varmam" martial arts practiced in KanyaKumari. Both the arts are practiced privately and not without weapons. When british came to India they had to literally cut the fingers of the people whoever practicing this art. Yeah, well good luck they'll record this.
    – VJAI
    Oct 3, 2021 at 14:05
  • Mr. Tony So Wikipedia is the source of truth? Let me tell you a story (for you atleast). There was a queen named Sembavalam from my place who got married to a Korean. Now the Queen's birthplace is changed to somewhere in North India by Aryan settlers. There was a time in wikepedia the queen's name was specified as Sembavalam now it's all changed. Dear friend go and google "Sembavalam" you'll get a search result of this page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heo_Hwang-ok but when you go that document you never see the name there! It's all removed! Now it's changed to Suriratna. Long hail wikipedia!
    – VJAI
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:27
  • History is written and manipulated in the favour of winners!
    – VJAI
    Oct 3, 2021 at 15:29
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    @VJAI: I understand and acknowledge your point, but that doesn't mean that everything in Wikipedia is false. Even when not deliberately falsified, much of the creation and evolution of martial arts is now lost. Still, if you disagree with this answer - please create your own answer quoting whatever sources you feel are most credible.
    – Tony D
    Oct 5, 2021 at 13:43
  • Thanks for your reply. Sure I'll collect the info and share it here. By the way India is a young country, there was no India 60 years back. There were multiple ethnic groups with different kingdoms in this place like different countries in Europe. The colors of the people here range from european white to african black bcoz of the mix between the settler Aryan and the native Tamil race. I belong to the Tamil race and we had a strong connection with Mongolian race. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – VJAI
    Oct 6, 2021 at 6:33

Short Answer: No.

Longer Answer: When and where have there not been martial arts? Individual styles and schools all have their own creation stories. And they can generally be ties to historical events or people. But there has never been a vacuum.

As long as there has been fighting, people have created some form of training environment where mistakes could be made. Always and everywhere.

Just try to imagine it otherwise. Imagine learning to use a bow without using targets. Imagine learning to use a sword without starting with sticks. Imagine learning to grapple without trying it with somebody who isn't trying to kill you.

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    Missed your chance to say "Longer Answer: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO". :) Apr 3, 2017 at 12:20
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  • Different kind of fights would have originated in different regions. It's called as "Art" not "Fight" and that school of thought practicing fight as an art is practiced well ahead of times in now southern india. The fight itself called as "Varma Kalai", Kalai means "Art"!
    – VJAI
    Oct 8, 2021 at 15:25

Though myself an Indian I will not believe this fact that Martial arts originated in India as we never had such great history of Martial arts being part of Indian Culture . Kalaripayattu being one of the oldest we came to know about this during the British rule and it was being kept in secret from the colonial Britishers . We have different fighting warriors who introduced different fighting systems with versatile weapons unlike the Sikhs, Marathas, Rajputs and other different clans whom we never heard that trying to prove their fighting mettle with the help of Martial Arts .

Yoga has a matching aspect with Martial arts whose objective is to bring Mind , body and Soul together . Yoga is just a non violent form of Martial arts for better health and relaxation.

  • Hey @Seth, with all respect you can't speak of complete India. India is a country recently created and it's age is very less. It has lot of communities each having their own culture and practices. When you say "Kalaripayattu" is the oldest one then I understand your proficiency in this subject. There are much older arts created from the inspirations from watching Animals like "Adimurai" and the advanced "Varmam" fought with bare hands. In our district KanyaKumari there are Asans who still teach these arts very privately. The advanced martial art "Varmam" is very dangerous one!
    – VJAI
    Oct 3, 2021 at 14:10
  • To know more about Adimurai adimuraiindia.org/rules.html. There are lot of videos you can google and check out. The Asan/Guru don't easily teach you just for money.
    – VJAI
    Oct 3, 2021 at 14:36

For starters let's look into the term "Martial Arts" Martial, in the dictionary meaning "Of, or to appropriate to war" or warlike. Arts: A systemic practice.

Martial arts is an application of techniques to amplify that capacity to "war" or combat. Martial arts goes as far back, as the first human civilization. Greek wrestling and grappling is as old as antiquity. Boxing dates as far back as the Minoans (1,500 BC)


I know there are gonna be lot of down votes for this answer but anyway I have to speak up. First there was no India before. The age of India is just 60-70 years. This land was occupied by different ethnic groups each having their own culture before British came here. Most of the ethnic groups are formed primarily from the mix of white-skinned Aryan race and dark-skinned native Tamil race. It was not India well connected with Chinese kingdoms but it was the Tamil lands very well connected because through sea routes with Chinese and other east asian countries. The relationship is not just in terms of business but way more than that. For example there was a queen in my place (Ay kingdom) called Sembavalam was married to a Korean and at present atleast millions of Koreans are belong to their generation. There are atleast 100s of words between Tamil and Korean are same with same meaning. You can't say Koreans and Indians are related but more specifically Koreans and Tamilians are related.

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Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_of_the_Tamils_with_the_Chinese

Now coming back to martial arts, as specified by Herodotus the first historians the ancient Palmyra climbers of now southern India were fierce fighters. The ancient martial arts called Adimurai and Varmam were based on fighting with bare hands. The Varmam is basically hitting the vital nerves of your body. This martial art is practiced with only some ethinic groups and within blood relations and that's why it's nearly dead now. When British invaded they literally cut the fingers of the people who practiced this.

Coming to Bodhidharma he is from Pallava Dynasty which got very good relationship with Chinese as specified here. Bodhidharma learnt these martial arts and other medicinal practices from this place called Kanyakumari and the proofs are carved as stones in the temple called Chitharal. Bodhidharma took these teachings and spreaded to chinese kingdoms.

Other references:




Martial Arts:






Please don't ask Indians about Chinese connection. Ask Chinese and Tamils.





  • By the way I tried to learn this art called "Varmam" when I was young but I couldn't. It's not easy anyone can teach this precious and dangerous art for money or fame. Unless you deserve/ready/prepared the Asan is not gonna teach you and even if they teach they don't tell you everything. Lot of palmyra leaflets that has writing about these martial arts and medicine has been stolen during the invasions and lot of people sold them to museums just for money. One of my friend who is a medical practitioner has these palmlets and there is an eruopen already in talk with him for purchasing it.
    – VJAI
    Oct 6, 2021 at 7:18
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    The gist of this answer seems to be: Yes, they originate from what is now India, which the author suggests should be historically Tamil.
    – mattm
    Oct 7, 2021 at 17:53

Yes it did. Although, people have been training to fight since probably humans have existed. The origin of martial arts that your Ukrainian friend is referring started in India more than 5000 years ago uses fighting, yoga and meditation. Spread to China, then from China to Japan, and then to Europe and Americas. India was a colony of British and Muslim rulers for the last 1000 years and they banned the practice of martial arts during that era. So most of the art was lost. After India's independence in 1947, it's now making a comeback and people are trying to discover it now.

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    I don't see how that answers the question
    – Nav
    Apr 2, 2017 at 15:01
  • People have been training to fight since probably humans have existed. The origin of martial arts that your Ukrainian friend is refering started in india more than 5000 years ago uses fighting, yoga and meditation.
    – sainid
    Apr 2, 2017 at 18:59
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    Sainid: the India->China->Japan thing is a common story, so I think you've been a bit harshly treated with the votes! But, if you dig for references about the truth of that story, I think you'll find it's largely a modern invention - I've tried to document that in my answer.
    – Tony D
    Apr 3, 2017 at 5:33
  • Tony, you are wrong in your judgment about the origin of martial arts. The lack of information online really clouds your judgment. I don't blame you. Martial arts started in India and was started by a single people. The rest are just lineage with their own interpretation. But I don't contest that people can not learn to fight just by themselves but that is no martial arts. Once you realize the real history then things will be more clear to you.
    – sainid
    Apr 3, 2017 at 16:13
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    @sainid: when I say "largely a modern invention", I'm talking specifically of the idea that Bodhidharma transmitted actual martial arts (and not just exercises that helped the monks become stronger and better at their own martial arts) from India to Shaolin, and you're welcome to read the Wikipedia articles mentioned in my answer, check the references, and publish any research or references you have to the contrary.
    – Tony D
    Apr 4, 2017 at 13:59

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