Of the many religions practiced in China, Daoism is the only one which is indigenous to the country - yet it is one of the least written-about and least understood of the world’s major religions (Wang, 1). The term “Daoism” can, in fact, be misleading, because it can be used to refer to two different practices: Daoist philosophy, daojia, and Daoist religion, daojiao. Although the two are often taught and practiced side by side, daojia and daojiao have separate roots. Daoist philosophy is studied and followed by many who know little about daojiao; and Daoist religion includes a multitude of sects with entirely different practices and sets of rules. While religious Daoists often share the goal of reaching immortality, the paths to this goal range from the strictly monastic to the highly secular, and practices may include anything from solitary meditation to chanting of scriptures, from alchemical experimentation with herbs and minerals to the internal alchemy of qigong, from the writing of talismans to the writing of poetry.
One such practice is the internal martial arts, most often taiji quan, bagua zhang, or xingyi quan. Because Daoism is well-known as a non-aggressive philosophy, it seems paradoxical to use martial arts, or wugong, as tools for attaining the Dao, yet Daoists have been training and developing their arts for hundreds of years. In order to investigate the apparent paradox of Daoism in martial arts, and to piece together the connections between the two practices, I spent the month of November 2006 at Cabin Dao, an approximately 40-minute walk up the mountainside from Dali. There, I trained in Wudang gongfu, Sanfeng taiji, and a very small amount of xingyi quan. My instructor was Xiao Yun, a Daoist who spent his teen years at Wudang Mountain, studying martial arts and Daoist philosophy. At Wudang Shan, martial arts and Daoism were taught separately, so Xiao Yun had to piece together the connections on his own, just as I did. After leaving the mountain, Xiao Yun continued to pursue both intensive martial arts training and the study of Daoism. Because he has integrated both concepts into his own life, he was able to help me understand how the two can be connected. Without a background in both Daoism and the martial arts, however, it is impossible to explain the ties between the two.
History of Religions of Eastern Origins
Kerman, Sophie, "Climbing the Limitless Mountain: Daoism and the Internal Martial Arts" (2006). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 297.