Are kung fu monks and all related Hollywood stereotypes based on any actual historical connection between Buddhism and martial arts? Or is it just a fun movie concept? :)

4 Answers 4


There is a legend that Bodhidharma instructed the monks at the Shaolin Monastery in ways to increase their physical fitness. These exercises later became the Shaolon kung fu. As one of the documents involved seems to be a forgery, scholars now doubt this connection.

Also see here and here.

Additionally the concept of Do has influenced many japanese martial arts, changing the craft (-jutsu) of fighting to a way (-do) of fighting (e.g. karate-do, ken-do)


This is just one more good example on how Buddhism mixed with local culture, Buddhism began in India and spread through Asia, in many countries it incorporated local practices and believes just like all main religions have done, things like Martial arts, Astrology, Tantra, etc were local additions, I'm not saying this is right or wrong, good or bad, but it didn't come from the original teachings and practices.


I heard many of my relatives tell me this(I am a Indian BTW, so I assume what my relatives tell me has some degree of truth to it cause some of their ancestors might have known the correct answer to this and they passed down their wisdom to these folks) that Buddhist roam around all over the world to preach Buddhism and as required by their travel used to go to all the dangerous places where there is a high probability of them getting mugged !

So things like karate, kung fu came into being as a self-defense techniques !!

If you think about it, these Buddhists used to frequent the silk route to spread Buddhism which was also frequented by traders carrying insanely precious goods and hence attracted most muggers ! Given the fact that Buddhism just came into being during that time, these muggers couldn't tell a monk from a trader so its not tough to imagine these monks getting attacked frequently by them hoping to find silk, spices, gold or something precious ! So these monks must have invented Kung fu and Karate as a self defence technique which gradually became more than that ...

  • that's some very interesting hearsay. i hope it can be sourced.
    – Anthony
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 21:02
  • 2
    In the contrary spirit, there is a sutra in the palicanon, where the buddha talks to some monk who wants to go to spread the dharma, and the buddha asks: are you also prepared to bear all physical pain they will possibly do to you? And are you prepared not to go into conflict with them but to stay compassionate and calmly? Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 10:33

A short answer is NO. In the history of Buddhist foundations, there is nothing to do with martial arts.

By the way, these kind of monks in China are real. They have adapted and created their own way to train their minds (and bodies) by applying some "part" of Buddhist philosophy.

  • Maybe not going all the way back to the Buddha himself, but there certainly are historical associations between Buddhism and martial arts that predate Hollywood.
    – senshin
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 5:24

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