Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Discovering the Origins of Martial Arts: The Dunhuang Caves

According to Shanghai Evening Post, since the 19th century, scholars have paid great attention to, and conducted research on the historical data of the martial arts paintings in China’s famous Dunhuang cave, discovered in 1900, which holds over ten thousand Buddhist scriptures and works of art.

Carvings of a Buddha and of other deities from the famous Dunhuang cave. (“Greatest Works of Dunhuang Art”)

Wang Degong, formerly the vice-president of the Gansu Province Chinese Martial Arts Association, and several other famous martial arts experts in Gansu province believe that the Dunhuang cave paintings give clues to the evolvement of Chinese martial arts.

By chance, these assumptions were confirmed. In April 1992, Wang Degong and other experts conducted an on-the-spot investigation of the martial arts paintings in the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes. The broad and profound cultural connotations, and the rich and colorful pictures of martial arts left a deep impression on them.

During the long course of history, people in the city Dunhuang, which sits near the famous cave, have passed on from generation to generation all kinds of martial arts movements. Wang Degong said, "While we were "copying" the martial arts movements, we delightedly discovered that many of the martial arts movements on the Dunhuang cave paintings resemble the martial arts styles in the local Lanzhou area." People can find traces of it in the images of martial arts from the Han and Tang dynasty up to current versions.

Wang believes that this is convincing evidence that Chinese martial arts all come from the same origin, and also explains how Dunhuang martial arts come from the people and disperse among people.

Starting in 1990, experts on the investigation team, by studying the cave paintings, were able to recreate some of the movements of the martial arts depicted in the cave, which was sealed in 1000 AD. After two years of laborious efforts, the first "Dunhuang Fist" martial arts movements were officially introduced to the public in August 1992. From this experience, the experts created the Dunhuang Basic Fist, Dunhuang Body Fitness Fist, and other series of Dunhuang martial arts in succession based on the contents of the cave paintings.

The movements of Dunhuang Fist are simple, with swift punches and a graceful style. Strength and gentleness, and attacks and defense complement each other in this martial arts style. Those who practice it feel that Dunhuang fist holds both the strength and power of a martial arts system that has survived the test of time and beauty and gentleness of the dancing heavenly girls depicted in the caves doing the movements.

Throughout many periods of time in Chinese history, the Dunhuang area was a region full of battle and warfare. Therefore the population of the region saw the importance of martial arts and put efforts into both perfecting and preserving multiple schools of martial arts.


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