The monk Bodidharma, or Da Mo in Chinese, is the man credited with establishing Zen Buddhism in China, approximately one thousand five hundred years ago. He is also said to have taught the first exercises that would later become Shaolin Kung Fu to the monks at the Shaolin temple.
Da Mo was not Chinese, he is believed to have been a prince in Southern India, who excelled at Buddhist studies. Before his master died, he told Da Mo to go to China. So after the death of his master Da Mo gave up life as a prince and made the long journey to China.
Upon arriving in China, he visited emperor Wu, who ruled over Southern China at the time. Emperor Wu had erected many Buddhist statues and supported Buddhist temples. The emperor asked Da Mo if his actions were good. Da Mo replied that they were not, pointing out that the emperor had done these things out of a desire to show off and accumulate blessings, rather than truly caring for his people. Emperor Wu ordered him to leave the palace.
So he continued traveling, and saw a monk lecturing to a group of people, this monk was named Shen Guang. Bodidharma would occasionally nod his head in agreement at Shen Guang's lecture and sometimes shake his head in disagreement. This angered Shen Guang and he took his monk's beads and threw them at Da Mo, knocking out some of his teeth. Da Mo simply smiled and turned to walk away. Seeing this Shen Guang realized that Da Mo was a great master and followed him, yet Da Mo said nothing to him.
When Da Mo came to a river he is said to have stood on a single reed and glided across on the surface of the water. Shen Guang tried to do the same and fell into the river.
When Da Mo, still being followed by Shen Guang, arrived at the Shaolin Temple in what is now modern day Henan province, he went to a cave behind the temple and proceeded to meditate facing a wall for nine years. Throughout this time Shen Guang stood guard outside the cave, occasionally asking Da Mo to teach him, but getting no response.
When Da Mo finally awoke after 9 years, he moved into a room the monks had prepared for him in the temple and.....meditated for a further 4 years! Shen Guang stood guard the whole time.
After awaking from this second period of meditation, he saw the monks bodies were weak from sitting for long periods, so he taught them a set of exercises to strengthen their bodies—these exercises were later evolved into Shaolin Kung Fu. Da Mo also saw Shen Guang's devotion and taught him Buddhism, Shen Guang adopting the name Hui Ke would later become the abbot of the Shaolin temple.
Da Mo is one of many figures in Chinese history who displayed supernormal skills and an ability to meditate for years on end. These skills were seemingly linked to their ability to show compassion and let go of the troubles of the world, especially when they were harmed by others. The monks of the Shaolin temple followed this tradition and their skills in martial arts reached heights far beyond what is normally considered humanly possible.